How Did We Let The Headscarf Become The New Swastika?

Illustration for article titled How Did We Let The Headscarf Become The New Swastika?

Perhaps you have already let out a long woebegone sigh re the news of the two Obama volunteers who barred headscarf-wearing Muslim women from sitting near him at a rally in Detroit on Monday so as not to generate any more photographic fodder for the insane wing conspiracy. I would say this was a low point, but that would be to pretend the French ban on the things or the senseless murder of Alia Ansari — or for that matter, Monday's other headscarf debacle, the judge who ordered a London beauty salon owner to pay £4,000 to a Muslim woman she'd denied a job on account of her headscarf — hadn't happened. So here's the thing: can we drop this subject? And if not, can I somehow blame society's irritating insistence that the way a person dresses is the purest expression of a woman's identity for this fucking mess? Because back in Catholic school, I associated headscarves with Jesus' mom, and nuns. I didn't really get it with the nuns. No one was forcing them to don sixty pounds of black polyester in August. But guess what?


They called the thing a "habit" for a reason. We all have them: I buy all my clothes at American Apparel despite a general unease with the institution's values; if I could I'd go back to wearing a Catholic school uniform despite unease with the institution's values. The biggest community of hijab-wearers I ever met worked with me at the phone sex call center, where I would regularly watch one habitually fiddle with her scarves as she regaled clients with detailed descriptions of her denim miniskirt and red lace thong and horny San Fernando Valley cheerleading squad's locker room antics.

Obviously, one cannot bear witness to such a spectacle and emerge without entertaining thought: "God I love this country." Which is, seven years on in this dumb Terror War, what makes this headscarf thing so infuriating: where K-Mart is free to peddle track pants that advertise abstinence from sex on their asses and the Secretary of State can don boots that look swiped from an S&M dungeon and pop culture celebrates bearded cross dressers…what does anyone give a shit about headscarves for? Where the perpetuation of conformity and envy is still the primary role of fashion, a lot more civilians will die at the hands of those who covet their Nikes than those who hate their "freedom" to wear them.

Muslims Barred From Picture At Obama Event [Politico]

How I Nearly Lost My Business After Refusing To Hire A Muslim Hair Stylist Who Wouldn't Show Her Hair [Daily Mail]



Turtleface: Yes, that's wrong. She has a different culture from you, and in any case, you don't know about why she wears it, her particular beliefs and her life. Accept it. You wouldn't want someone coming and telling you what to wear and what not to wear and feeling pity for you based on how you dress or worship, right? So why should you feel that towards her? Maybe you can actually try to talk to her once? She might be a really interesting person.

Also, it really sucks being Muslim and having people treat it like it's some kind of infectious disease or some terrible crime. There are 1.2 billion Muslims in this world and guess what? Most of us are totally normal people. Like any religion, we have our freaks and extremists who we are ashamed of and horrified by. Maybe more, because by and large, Islam is a developing world religion, and poverty and underdevelopment fuel terrorism. A lot of times religion is used by leaders to express anger over other economic and political grievances and this is wrong. Also, people need to understand that not all Muslim anger is the same. Al Qaeda is a very different thing, worlds apart, to the struggles of the Palestinian people, for example (perhaps the only connection between the two is that groups like Al Qaeda hijack the Palestinian cause to justify their crimes).

Personally, I could never understand headscarves - the Qur'an doesn't say to wear them - but I can understand them a bit more since 9/11. My identity as a Muslim was incredibly unimportant to me before, but there is so much Islamophobia and misundertanding now about Muslims that I can see that wearing one could be a powerful statement - that yes, I am proud to be Muslim and I am not a terrorist and I am not oppressed or any of those things. I always say I'm Muslim now when I never really would before, because I want to take my religion back from the freaks who have hijacked it, and I also want people to understand that there is a huge amount of variation amongst Muslims. I just wish that Muslims themselves were more educated about the history and philosophy of their own religion - it would be less easy then for people to be able to claim that it is what it isn't (violence, the oppression of women, etc).

This was so rambling but I just want people to understand that Muslims are not some weird exotic creatures from an alien culture. I'm Muslim, my best friend is Muslim, my flatmate is Muslim, and we're not friends because we're all Muslim, I mean, if you met us you might not think we are at all. We're just like you - we look normal and wear normal clothes and listen to normal music and do normal things and whatever. We're from Africa and Jordan and Pakistan and we're not oppressed in the slightest. Some Muslim women are. Some are not. Muslims need to take back their religion generally, and that's a struggle we need to fight with constantly -to create more debate within our own religion and release it from the overwhelming conservative stranglehold on it. But please just realise that we aren't strange or weird or alien. And that there is nothing wrong (Obama), with being a Muslim. Far from it.