As far as I know, Toronto’s “counterculture” NOW Magazine has been pretty much like PuffHo: celebrating the hijab and other Islamic coverings as signs of both diversity and courage (e.g., here). But of course they are mostly signs of religious oppression—of a modesty imposed on many women against their will. Even in Western countries, I tend to doubt many of those who say they wear the hijab “by choice”.
Canadian writer, artist, and ex-Muslim Eiynah, also known on her website as “Nice Mangos,” has bucked the NOW tide with a new piece in that magazine called “Liberal Muslims face an uphill battle.” Besides detailing the threats received by ex-Muslims like her and Ali Rizvi, she pushes back, properly, against the liberal trend to glorify the garments of Muslim oppression. An excerpt:
During last year’s federal election and the controversy surrounding Stephen Harper’s veil ban, Tabatha Southey of the Globe and Mail tweeted, “By fighting a veil ban, Ms. Ishaq schools us on how to be Canadian” with very little regard for what the face veil represents to many other Muslim women – like those who are forced into veils and are fighting to be free of them. Around the same time, The Huffington Post Canada declared, “someone made a ‘Niqabs of Canada’ Tumblr and it’s Great, comparing them to hockey masks, helmets, scarves and hoods shielding from the cold – all of which have other purposes than to shame women into modesty.
The Guardian touts headlines like “My hijab has nothing to do with oppression, it’s a feminist statement” with seemingly no appreciation for what kinds of strict modesty guidelines lay behind the wearing of hijabs. Yes, some women in the west have the privilege of choice, but many, many of the women wearing face veils or headscarves in the Muslim world do not have such a choice, especially when it is mandated by the state. Even in the west, there lies the threat of being shunned by your family if you reject religious dress code. Articles glorifying this are doing women in vulnerable positions no favours at all. Yes, we must oppose anti-Muslim bigotry, but we must keep in mind that this doesn’t mean glorification of modesty codes that target women.
My social media feeds are inundated with well-meaning liberal friends sharing article upon article praising, celebrating, glorifying religious garments like the hijab/niqab. But it’s a garment used exclusively in its original form to ensure women cover up lest they provoke the lust of men. Ironically, even Playboy has jumped on this trend. The Muslim girls who want to be ballerinas, athletes or models and aren’t hijabis simply aren’t given very much coverage. All this achieves, is that it synonymizes Muslim with “conservative Muslim,” which is incredibly unhelpful to our community in this political climate.
As someone who immigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia, who was forced by morality police to cover her hair, threatened with a cane, I cannot stomach the fetishization and praise surrounding these practices that are primarily used to control and hold women back.
Here’s one of Eiynah’s cartoons, “Naughty Niqabis”—a recurring feature on her website and Twi**er feed: