Our VoiceNews & Politics

The Hijab in the United States: a Symbol of Choice or Oppression?

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Jun 27, 2011

Recently, a protest took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capitol, when thirty to forty women participated in a Right-to-Drive campaign. These women did so, of course, in the traditional Islamic garb that many “Westerners” openly recognize as counter-intuitive to all exercises of freedom.

Which begs an important question: why can’t the West seem to come to terms with the Hijab?

Here, the campaign didn’t seem to receive wider notice until Secretary of State Hilary Clinton publically supported it:

“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them [….] This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognized.”

Clinton’s support while commendable fails to acknowledge what ranges from a distant, lurking facet to a far more terrifying, omnipresent facet of the daily lives of Muslim women living in the Western world—the fear of being targeted by willfully ignorant, even proudly sexist and xenophobic, individuals who view them as representatives of an infinitely larger movement to over-throw social and legal systems.

Such thinking the world over is manifesting some ugly mistreatment of Muslim women by myriad sectors of the Western world:

  • FIFA recently disqualified the Iranian women’s soccer team from the Olympics. Its reason: their Hijabs “could cause choking injuries.” Why this wasn’t explained prior to months of qualifying, who knows? Though, Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, once infamously explained how women’s soccer could gain greater viewership: “tighter shorts.” Blatter’s home country of Switzerland, incidentally, recently banned the building of minarets on all mosques.
  • On June 16, John Hugh Gilmore, a Minnesota conservative blogger, allegedly drunkenly harassed a group of mostly Muslim women, some of whom were wearing Hijabs. Here is his arrest sheet, video eyewitness testimony, and video of him at the scene.
  • 19-year-old Riham Osman, hired to work for Air France at Dulles International in Washington, DC, was forced to quit during her first day on the job because she refused to remove her Hijab. Apparently, she “violated” Air France’s dress code. Osman explained:

“The hijab, to me, it’s empowerment. When people, men and women, talk to me, they’re looking at my personality, they’re listening to what I’m saying, they know that I stand for something.”

On this blog, we have closely covered the boiling Islamophobia movement in this country; of the efforts of “experts” here and here; of the John Tanton Network of anti-immigrant groups and larger Islamophobia movement stoking bigotry for socio-political ends here, here, here, and here; and how their efforts have even crept into the GOP candidacy race, here.

None of who are likely to acknowledge that for so many Muslim women, like Riham Osman, the Hijab is a symbol of empowerment and religious devotion, a stern impediment to the prying, penetrating gazes that seem an ocular birthright of Western males.

Though this garb may confuse and even frustrate some of us, we must learn to distance rationale understanding from ridiculously bigoted sentimentalities. If we cannot “understand” the Hijab, how will we ever spot the lies a pack of xenophobes are attempting to wholesale us?

By 2030 Muslims are projected to comprise only 1.7% of the US population. None, now or then, deserve to suffer the fear that results when one’s family is held up in gross caricature and abused as a tool of political propaganda.


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