Jeff Tayler back in the saddle again: criticizes the “first hijabi” trope

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know of my frequent and splenetic posts about “The first hijabi  [Muslim wearer of the hijab, or headscarf] to do Y,” where Y represents various forms of athletics, ballet, contestants in beauty pageants, news anchors and so on (see, for instance, here, here, here, and here).  This ridiculous glorification of a scrap of cloth is found among many Western white feminists, most vocally among the privileged white editors of The Huffington Post. And you’ll know my objection to this glorification. While I agree that women shouldn’t be banned from wearing hijabs, or reviled because of them, I don’t think they should be celebrated for wearing them, either. My reasons are several.

First, the hijab is a garment of modesty, worn by many Muslim women to protect their hair from the prying eyes of men. The assumption here is that if a man glimpses a woman’s hair, he’ll turn into an uncontrollable bag of testosterone and possibly attack the immodest woman. This idea that men must be prevented at all costs from seeing bits of women, and that women are responsible for snuffing this incipient lust, reaches its apogee in the burqa, which, worn with a face covering, turns the woman into a shapeless sack of cloth.

Further, some hijabis are engaged in activities incommensurate with the religious reason for wearing the cloth. Look at this hijabi, for instance, a Cover Girl Ambassador celebrated by PuffHo as a “fearless dreamer”. I may be wrong, but I don’t think she’s trying to hide her beauty, since her makeup must have been laid on with a trowel.


And the loud acclaim for the hijab- and burquini -(full body bathing costume) wearing contestant in the Miss Minnesota pageant? What is that about? How does parading your assets on stage comport with modesty?

Futher, what about celebrating non-hijabi Muslim women who have achieved good things? Well, that doesn’t often happen, even when the press knows about it. No, it’s the religious headscarf that’s being celebrated, not the Islamic breakthrough women who, bravely, refuse to hide their faces and hair. This leads me to believe that many of those celebrating the hijab are actually applauding their own perceived open-mindedness, by supporting Women of Color. But why does the celebration vanish when the Woman of Color doesn’t wear a scrap of cloth on her head? Because the hijab stands for Islam; and that is is not to be celebrated. In fact, no religion should be celebrated, since the vast majority of them are based on fairy tales, wish-thinking and engage in various forms of oppression based on warped views of what the deity wants. Islam is one of the worst, what with its mandates to kill infidels and apostates, and its demonization of gays and pervasive misogyny. Why on earth should we applaud such a faith?

Finally, we must remember that in many places in the world the hijab is required, and in many others might as well be because of familial and social pressures to conform to religious dictates. That’s even true in the U.S., where in some Muslim schools girls as young as 5 are forced to wear the hijab. What kind of “choice” is that? At the very least, I think, those women who do wear hijab without any social pressure to do so should speak out against the fate of their sisters in Afghanistan and Iran, who have no such choices.

All this I’ve said before, but Jeff Tayler says it better, more eloquently, and with more data in a new article in the upcoming website Quillette: “The hijab and the regressive left’s absurd campaign to betray freethinking women“. Tayler used to write antitheistic pieces for Salon, but no longer (I suspect they didn’t want more God-bashing on their site!). Fortunately, Quillette has taken on the contributing editor of the Atlantic, where I look forward to some good old religion-bashing in the future.

Jeff gives some of the same examples I cite above, and more as well, and then sets out the problem:

Headlines proclaiming such “firsts” — performed by Muslim women living, nota bene, in the United States and Canada — have appeared often in the press over the past couple of years. Surely by now you’ve seen them.  The associated coverage is frequently gushing, but when it is not, it is not probing, and certainly not critical.  It is, in fact, part and parcel of the regressive left’s insidious attempt at brainwashing well-meaning liberals into lauding what should be, in our increasingly diverse societies, at best a neutral fact: freedom of speech means freedom of religion.  Women should be free to dress as they please.  Some Muslim women wear hijabs and are the first to do so in various endeavors.

By no means does freedom of religion, however, confer on religion or religious customs exemptions from criticism, satire, or even derision.

. . .Hence, few spectacles are more puzzling, disturbing, hypocritical, and potentially damaging to women’s rights — and therefore to human progress as a whole — than the de facto campaign in some purportedly liberal press outlets to normalize the hijab and portray it as a hallmark of feminist pride and dignity, and not as a sartorial artifact of a misogynistic, seventh-century ideology, forced upon its wearers by law in some countries and by hidebound cultural norms and community and familial pressure, even violence, elsewhere.

And the consequences, limned by Tayler’s dry wit:

The Huffington Post also apprised us of the case of the fourteen-year-old Stephanie Kurlow, an Australian who converted to Islam at age ten, and her hopes of being the first hijabi ballerina.  Young Kurlow tried to crowd-fund her dance school tuition, but eventually, Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg (who professed to be “really moved” by her story) stepped in, and his organization offered to foot the bill.  Upon learning this, Kurlow declared that she sought to “bring the world together by becoming the very first hijab-wearing ballerina” and wanted to “encourage everyone to join together no matter what faith, race or colour” and thereby “leave [sic] in a world with greater acceptance.”

How Kurlow intends to “bring everyone together” by espousing a faith mandating everlasting hellfire for non-Muslims — still the majority of humans on this planet — and death for apostates and gays, is anyone’s guess.  Nevertheless, Bjorg’s marketing director swooned over her.  “The strength and the courage that it takes for [a] 14-year-old to not give up in a situation like this, to see possibilities where others see problems, is exceptional.”  (Italics mine.)

Noor Tagouri is a hijabi news anchor who appeared (clothed, of course) in Playboy. And she’s said some bizarre things. Tayler again:

 The headline for the Huffington Post article about her states, without intimations of satire, that “Noor Tagouri Makes a Forceful Case for Modesty.”  Again, by appearing in Playboy.

(Google Tagouri and you will find quite a few photos showcasing boldly — that is,immodestly — her model-level looks on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  You will also come across a saccharine Hollywood Life piece about her career, which leaves readers no doubt about how she has leveraged her faith to make a name for herself.)

The Huffington Post also publishes, without commentary but with typos, Tagouri’s assertion that she believes “in rebellion as a form of honestly [sic] . . . .  To be our most authentic self is to rebellious [sic].”  Wait – to be one’s most “authentic self” as a twenty-first-century American woman means adopting a 1,400-year-old religion that demand wives submit to their husbands (even abusive husbands), sets outinegalitarian inheritance rights for women, permits taking captive women as sex slaves, and even sanctions the savage butchery that is female genital mutilation?  No one at the Huffington Post thought to ask her such impertinent questions.

Finally, on the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant contestant, Halmia Aden (she didn’t win):

Most recently, Halima Aden, a nineteen-year-old Somali-American teen from Minnesota, won attention for a two-for-one: for being, again according to the Huffington Post (notice a pattern?), the “first ever contestant . . . to wear a hijab and a burkini” in, of all things, the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.  A tweet reproduced shows a video of Aden, thus attired, swinging her hips – modestly? – as “contestant number one” on the catwalk in the swimsuit competition.  Emblazoned above her Huffington Post accolade in hot pink letters is PAVING THE WAY.

One wonders, paving the way to what? to the dawn of Islamic theocracy in Minneapolis?  To the shaming of non-hijabi Muslim women across the land?  To the shaming of uncovered nonbelieving women in general?  A hijab- and burkini-bound beauty contestant “paves the way” to nowhere I would want to go.  And hey, aren’t beauty pageants something to which we progressives should object?  In any case, a shame-based retrograde view of the female body (as nothing but a provoker of male lust) forms the core of modesty dress codes, be they Islamic, Christian, or Jewish.  Such codes implicitly brand the women who choose not to comply as impious sluts inferior to the Righteous Ones strutting about in their ostentatiously self-segregating getup.

There’s a lot more, so go read Tayler’s piece. The solution? In my view here’s what we should be doing:

  • Stop celebrating Muslims unless they achieve something in the face of discrimination. They’re a religion, not a race, and their religion is often vile, even when held by Western Muslims.
  • Hold Muslims accountable for their beliefs. Before osculating those beliefs, ascertain what they are: see if they think apostates should be killed, gays demonized, and women oppressed. See if they endorse a literal reading of the Qur’an. If they do, ask them about the horrible bits of the Qur’an (and hadith) that, for many Muslims around the world, promote bigotry, oppression, and immorality.
  • Ask hijabis why they’re wearing the garment, and if they had a choice to do so. If they say they did, but they wear glamorous clothes and makeup, ask if they really are trying to be modest. Then ask if they think veiling should be mandatory in some Middle Eastern countries.
  • If a hijabi says she wears the garment for modesty, ask her why women and not men are responsible for curbing the lusts of men.
  • Stop celebrating women who achieve something while wearing the hijab by concentrating on the hijab. By all means celebrate Muslims for overcoming obstacles (see point 1), but not for wearing a headscarf. That’s like celebrating an achieving Jewish male who wears a yarmulke for wearing the yarmulke. Remember, in the U.S. per capita rates of hate crimes are still twice as high against Jews as against Muslims. Why don’t we see “first American yarmulkabi bobsledder in the Olympics” articles? What about the Sikhs? “Paving the Way: First turbani in the Mr. Universe Contest”.

It’s time for this nonsense to stop. But it won’t so long as PuffHo and other regressive leftists thoughtlessly worship a symbol of women’s oppression.


  1. Brian Salkas
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I always thought that defending Islam should be a conservative view, and criticism of it should be the more liberal view. The bible demands that women cover their hair, the bible condemns homosexuality. With the conservative christian right being so against islam and the otherwise progressive left giving a wink and a nod to the same kind of bigotry they harshly (and rightfully) condemn in christianity, its clear that both sides are misunderstanding this issue.
    My hypothosis is that the conservatives misunderstand how similar the two religions are and the left is just reacting to the rights bigotry toward muslims. The support from liberals should not be to support islam, but rather muslims basic human rights and to protect them from bigotry while condemning any false beliefs of the religion reguardless of who is oppressed.

    • Historian
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      I essentially agree with you. The knee jerk response of the so-called “regressive left” is to immediately identify with those groups that they perceive to be oppressed by a dominant group. In their defense of an oppressed group they describe the situation in stark terms, i.e., the oppressed group can do no wrong. Hence, the wearing of the hijab must be defended despite the fact that it symbolizes the repression of Muslim women. Unfortunately, for the regressive left the end often justifies the means. The end in this instance is the termination of the discrimination and prejudice against Muslims. If the regressive left believes (rightly or wrongly) that the wearing of the hijab is a means to help to end this discrimination, it must be defended.

      I again emphasize that not all those on the left hold these views. Many liberals, perhaps most, do not believe that a symbol of the repression of Muslim women, the hijab, somehow serves to end discrimination and prejudice against Muslims. In other words, most liberals do not believe that that somehow, magically, every practice or belief of an oppressed group is admirable. In fact, all too often when the underdog becomes the top dog, the formerly oppressed becomes the oppressor.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        I agree with you both, and would add that most feminists don’t agree with the regressive left on this either. Our wish is for equality and that cannot be attained by celebrating women for their clothing rather than their achievements.

  2. Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink


  3. Frank Bath
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to media coverage of the first US muslim woman wearing a hijab to – take the rag off and burn it in public.

  4. Posted December 8, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    “Modesty” is a technical term for some. I had a friend who joked that her modest miniskirt was the one that was 2 inches above her knees, as opposed to something else.

    Or, put another way, I don’t think you can rationalize it at all.

  5. Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I chuckled quietly about a young woman I saw on campus this week, wearing a hijab, bulky sweater that came down to about her pelvic bones, and skin-tight leotards. Hijab? Yes. Modesty? No.

  6. Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Hijabis whose feminine curves are starkly outlined or whose faces are extremely embellished but insist they are embracing modesty are like alcoholics who insist they don’t drink or vegetarians who eat meat (I have met one from each group, just so confusing, that’s a drink in your hand, no? That’s a hamburger on your plate, no? So you do still imbibe alcohol/meat? The answer, yes, but we don’t talk about that.) Compartmentalizing morphing into delusion.

  7. Carl
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    First Burqa Clad Miss USA

    George Rogers goes down in history as the first winner of the Miss America Pageant to appear throughout the contest wearing a burqa.

  8. tubby
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    “Why don’t we see “first American yarmulkabi bobsledder in the Olympics” articles?”

    And thus, the Williamsburg Haredi Olympic Bobsled team was born. There’s a men’s and women’s team, but they have a curtain hung between the sled lanes to make sure no one thinks any lustful thoughts.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    If you are trying semi-subversively in invert(!!) the traditional meaning of the hijab by re-contextualizing it then more power to you (but no one is admitting to doing this.)

    Christians did this quite cleverly with the crucifix- turning a symbol of oppression into one of victory.

    The word “gay” is now a badge of honor although originally used in a derogatory way (after meaning “happy”.)

    Charlie Chaplin cleverly used the “Holy Grail” music from Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” in his movie “The Great Dictator” BOTH for dictator Hynckel’s globe balloon dance (hoping for world domination), and for the Jewish barber’s final speech for democracy and liberty, thus trying to rob Nazis of their beloved Wagner.

    I find the burqa irredeemably grotesque, but a hijab CAN look quite attractive. But if you want to wear it in a way that subverts the traditional implications, at some point you need to admit that’s what you are doing.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Meanwhile, let us celebrate this work by contemporary Israeli painter Boris Dubrov

  10. Kevin
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Hijab = Mohawk.

    Will it distinguish you from your peers? Yes.

    Did it take any effort? No.

    Hijab wearers: distinguish yourself through actions that take effort. Otherwise you are acting while you are wearing your oppression on your head.

    • eric
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen punk mohawks that probably take a lot more effort to prepare every day than a hijab.

      I think the saddest thing in the ‘first hijabi…’ trend is that it hides the accomplishments of other women. Being a muslim woman in the US is to be in a very small and fairly discriminated-against minority. Its worth celebrating when such people rise to the top of some career or activity in any event, no matter what they’re choice of clothing. But I get the distinct feeling that if you went to a major news outlet and told them “my daughter is the first Muslim women we know about to bench press 200 lb at age 10”, the response by the press would be “unless she’s wearing a hijab, we don’t care.”

  11. Henry Fitzgerald
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    There’s something especially ridiculous about the hijabi ballerina. Aren’t ballerinas stage performers in works of fiction? Isn’t it their job to wear whatever the costume designer thinks is right for the part they’re playing?

    If one of the swans in Swan Lake is swathed in a hijab the audience is bound to get confused. “What’s wrong with that swan? Has it injured its neck?”

    • Pikolo
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      I like your thinking, but I’m afraid that this thing called modern ballet often refrains from using costumes “to let imagination take over”(or because nobody is willing to pay for them 😉 )

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic post Jerry, and great article by Tayler. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you both say, and wish we heard more from proper liberals like you and not the faux liberals on the regressive/authoritarian left.

    The true feminist is one like Jerry, who says women should be able to wear whatever they want and not be defined by their clothing.

    The ‘Huffington Post’ et al are perpetuating the worst of identity politics. In celebrating only those Muslim women who wear the hijab, they are giving Muslim girls a standard they have to meet – wear hijab or your achievements don’t matter.

    And a 10 yo converting to Islam? Wtf? How can you know at 10 that you want to dedicate your life to a religion? There are implications she can’t possibly understand. It’s a belief system, not a part of herself she can’t change like sexuality or gender identity.

    And what if she does become a famous dancer, then decides she wants to leave the religion? Or she stays but conservative Muslims decide she’s not suitably modest? She’s just marked herself with a great big bullseye that wouldn’t be there without the conversion.

    • Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      + 1

    • eric
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Sorry I didn’t see this post before I posted my own. You’re exactly right. The left is setting up a sort of ‘body shaming’ problem just as invidious as earlier ones, where every Muslim woman who makes a name for herself in sports or art or science can now be expected to be judged and commented on for her clothing – instead of her actual accomplishments.

      And, ironically, its happening to women again. Muslim men aren’t caught up in this. Its like the pushback against body shaming and the skinny aesthetic has left the news organizations with a woman-judgment-gap that they must fill. “Gosh, we can’t shame women for being big any more. Time to think of some other irrelevant, non-competency thing we can judge them on.”

    • Henry Fitzgerald
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      On the point about being 10 years old… yes, I’ll agree 10 years is not old enough to know enough. But so far as I recall, 10 years is old enough to think you know enough.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, that’s true, and that’s why we have parents. It worries me that hers aren’t guiding her better about such a big decision, but then when it comes to religion, there are a lot of parents who just do exactly what was done to them, and who can blame them really.

        • Brian Salkas
          Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          Well its slightly better than the psycholocical abuse that billions of children endure when they are forced into some crazy ideology from day one. This girl will most likely grow up and realize that this was not a rational choice. Cant say the same about many people who were forced into their ideology from birth. Although the encouragement is defiantly not going to help her.

          • Brett Oliver
            Posted December 9, 2016 at 3:07 am | Permalink

            In response to Heather Hastie: It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that her parents converted; suspect the children didn’t have much choice

    • zytigon
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes agreed, Heather Hastie, “Fantastic post by Jerry, and great article by Tayler. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you both say, and wish we heard more from proper liberals like you and not the faux liberals on the regressive/authoritarian left.”

      Today I saw a woman wearing a hijab like Nuralailalov in the article and it amused me that she had her iphone wedged in next to her ear as she chatted while pushing her stroller with toddler in.

      Maybe the early Islamic folk foresaw the advent of iphones and this was the real reason they stipulated the wearing of the hijab – to be ready for them – but the reason was forgotten in the 1300 odd years they waited ( yes I am totally joking )

      None of the old time prophets showed any sign what so ever of knowing how technology would develop as it has over the last 500 years. As such I doubt if they earned the title prophet for what did they ever prophecy that came true and wasn’t just written by ghost writers after the fact ?

      It is sad that someone could have an internet enabled phone and not find the reasons to show beyond reasonable doubt that the religions are more akin to fairy tales than reality.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I never would’ve supposed that there was such overlap between the left (regressive or not) and beauty-contest audiences. If there is, then the pro-feminist left I’ve long been simpatico with is no more, or has descended into incoherence.

    • Carl
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      I only watch for the talent competition.

    • eric
      Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      It does seem subtly racist. White westerners in a beauty pageant = ‘exercise in objectification.’ Ethnically/religiously dressed brown people in a beauty pageant = ‘wonderful expression of individuality.’ Because, y’know, difference!

  14. GBJames
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Great to see Jeffrey Tayler back commenting as only he can do.

  15. Jbaldwin
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that these same folks decry this “new” era of “post truth.” The lack of self awareness has reached maximum derp level.

  16. Ken Elliott
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    What a nice Christmas surprise, to see Jeffrey Tayler back writing about issues of religion in his clear and insightful way. Nothing warms my heart more than to find Jerry Coyne sharing new work by Tayler.

  17. Pikolo
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    “” is a dead link(in the article under “sanctions the savage butchery”)

  18. cooeerup
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Your questions are great. I just offer one criticism that I learned from Maajid Nawaz. In their religious texts is the command to obey the laws of the land they are in (until the opportunity presents itself to change them), so Maajid frames the questions by beginning with “If you were living in an ideal Islamic state, with all the sharia conditions having been met, (insert question here)”

  19. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    If anyone can suggest a more pointless and self-defeating activity than a burkini swimsuit contest, I’d like to know what it is.


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