World Hijab Day


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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116 Responses

    • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

      I cannot claim any real expertise, but that is my thought. It really depends on why it is being worn, which would change with the individual.Report

  1. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    My mom used to wear something a lot like a hijab. She called it a scarf and it was to keep her “doo” in place.

    I think hijabs can be quite attractive. Nothing wrong with them and I don’t understand why they have to be a symbol of anything in particular. A burka on the other hand…Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    Due to neck injury, I frequently wear a scarf (or multiple scarves) around my head in this style; back of my neck/head gets cold, and I get migraine.

    And people do treat you differently; typically more polite, but I’m talking about people in Maine, who are generally pretty polite. On the other hand, those who are not polite are extremely rude.

    So I understand a day for solidarity.

    But any religion that sets women apart and makes special rules that restrict and control them peeves me to no end, godless heathen that I am. So I could also see myself dressing in a very conservative headscarf and then doing something pretty outrageous in public, given what would be expected of my behavior/dress. But I do like street theater.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I feel -so much- more comfortable around loud, sassy Muslim women.Report

    • Avatar DRS says:

      But any religion that sets women apart and makes special rules that restrict and control them peeves me to no end, godless heathen that I am.

      Name a religion that didn’t set women apart and make special rules for them. Religious society = social control = woman control. The hijab is simply a piece of cloth that is easy to see even from a great distance and makes it impossible for the wearer to disappear in a crowd – unless it’s a crowd of other hijab-wearers.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        “Name a religion that didn’t set women apart and make special rules for them. ”

        My first instinct is to name the Unitarians. I don’t know enough about the Quakers, but they might be another likely candidate.Report

        • Avatar dhex says:


          • Avatar M.A. says:

            As a point of order, the question of whether scientology qualifies as a religion should be discussed first before making that claim. There’s a very solid argument to be made that it’s not.Report

            • Avatar dhex says:

              if tithing, being often abusive, founded by a wacky jackass, and otherwise being spurious and totes cray cray disqualifies a group from being a religion, then the only things left are unitarians (maybe) and those people who buy candles to help them win the lottery.

              and i’m not so sure about candle people.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                (i’m joking about the unitarians)Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                I would say more that:

                – It was not originally founded as a religion, but a pop-crazy “alternative to psychology” and later, according to members of the organization, crosses were “dragged in the door” as little more than a tax dodge and a dodge to allow them to continue to make medical claims about the e-meters.

                – It is the only religion on the planet that quite literally sells levels of advancement.

                This and This.

                – Harassment of journalists (see BBC Panorama’s special investigation “Scientology and Me” and followup “The Secrets of Scientology”, in particular the part where a formerly high-ranking member admitted to giving the orders to tail and harass the BBC journalism crew) and ex-Scientologists, including using copyright law to try to suppress “unapproved scientology”. No real religion attempts to use copyright law for this purpose.

                The question remains: is Scientology really a religion, or is it operated as a scam to take money from gullible people who will fall for it? A very, very, very good case can be made for the latter.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “It is the only religion on the planet that quite literally sells levels of advancement.”


                (… & hmmReport

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                One could never purchase sainthood in any of the christian faiths, even with “indulgences.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The Papacy was usually for sale and with one exception, all the Popes have been canonised over the course of time. Why, just recently, Pius XII was given a posthumous promotion. There were some sharp words on that subject from the Jewish community.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                78 out of 265, with 16 more “on the track” is “all but one”?

                I think you’re misinformed on this one, BlaiseP.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                No legitimate religion carries a “doctrine” like R2-45, but scientologists tried to kill Paulette Cooper and nearly killed her cousin, who had just moved into Ms. Cooper’s former apartment when they tried.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                L. Ron and the Reverand Moon both know: If you want to get rich, start a religion.


                But it did make my heart happy to see Travolta star in Battlefield Earth and actually crown his silliness.

                But turning back to the hajib; notice how there’s not upper crust Scientologists who are women? All rich dudes.

                But today is Imbolc, the celebration Brighid, of women as divine. Like St. Nick and St. Claus, St. Brighid would visit your house and bless your clothing, bless the sheep that there are lambs in the belly — the meaning of imbolc.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                But today is Imbolc,

                Actually, that was yesterday. Happy Candlemas!Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Hmmm. My Wiccan friends celebrate today; they invited me, hope to initiate me. I persist in resisting. It’s Christian to peg a day, St. Brighit’s day or Candlemas, no? Wiccan on or about Feb. 1, the mid-point between the solstices; the mid-point mattering more then the date.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                “The question remains: is Scientology really a religion, or is it operated as a scam to take money from gullible people who will fall for it? A very, very, very good case can be made for the latter.”

                for me, i could give two figs. some people obviously get something out of it, just like they do wicca and catholicism and whatever else you might care to name.

                if taking money from people and then doing nefarious stuff with it disqualified successful religions from being “real” religions, we’d not have one on the planet that would be considered legitimate. you don’t get to be top omelet without breaking some legs. or hella stabbing babies, as the case may be.

                anyway, my original point stands – they’re gender neutral in their cray cray. deal with it.Report

              • Avatar dhex says:

                yeesh son i am what you might call a scientology hipster – i was into making fun of el ron well before it was cool.

                all you johnny-read-an-article-in-esquire-latelys are bringing the scene down.

                so yeah i’m sure, even if only because they haven’t figured out a way to give men abortions yet.

                and yet for all that, it’s still remarkably gender neutral for a religion.

                if you’re going to use a yardstick for abusive and lousy leadership making something not a religion, does pre-chinese-invasion tibetan buddhism get kicked out for being an extremely less than cool place to be a peasant? does the catholic church lose it’s status because they fedexed pedophiles across the country like so much pederastic chess-by-mail?

                besides, i think in 50 years or so they’ll basically be shakers, especially if cruise does something totally nuts before he dies.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Set the Waback Machine to the middle 80s and I was writing a paper on religions invented in America. They all have a few things in common. Hard to put it all into a single comment but they’re all equivalently goofy, answering a uniquely American problem: belonging and identity.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Hijab chic is a cute enough idea.

    It will pass, however, and there will continue to be people who can’t *NOT* wear one.

    The whole “authentic yes” problem that we have when it comes to a woman deciding to be a homemaker? We have that problem with the hijab.Report

  4. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    This is one of those things where I see individual and community as… a bit too entwined for me to call the game even.

    Look, there are people in this country who have relationships with their significant other that are much more power-imbalanced (by traditional definitions of power-imbalance) than the common marriage of 1046 A.D. There are people who wear things that produce a much more submissive outward appearance than a hijab.

    Knowing just a tiny bit about some people in this sub-community of America, I can state that it happens in a healthy way often (albeit weird to some), and it happens in an unhealthy way often as well. On the face of it, I can’t say “this is healthy or unhealthy behavior”, since it’s not a generalization that applies to the communities of people that are into that sort of thing.

    They are, however, at least a largely voluntary subsection of the greater American melting pot. So the fact that this community exists, and has community standards that might be considered oppressive to an outsider (and may actually be oppressive to the members who aren’t healthy)… that doesn’t make the community oppressive by design. In fact, you’ll generally find people inside the sub-community trying to help unhealthy members exit the sub-community.

    Culture-wise, having an entire culture with very broad-based roles that are chosen and enforced based upon something so badly generalizable as double-X chromosomes, I think that’s wrong, pure and simple.

    I find the system to be irretrievably gamed and inflexible and unjust, and worthy of opprobrium.

    Are there people involved in the system who are involved in it in a healthy way? Sure. Of course. Are they rightly fed up with seeing the words ‘oppressed’ or ‘subjugated’?

    Nope. Because they live in a society that is structured in such a way that it by design is oppressive and subjugating to those who can’t participate in it in a healthy way. The fact that they aren’t one of those people doesn’t make the system right. It just means that their observer bias encourages them to give it a pass. “I don’t feel subjugated, my husband does what I say. If anybody’s subjugated, it’s him! Therefore my society isn’t unjust…”

    They – as an individual – might say they’re not oppressed. Certainly, some of them aren’t subjugated… wearing or not wearing a piece of clothing is not going to make my wife subjugated, let me tell you.

    That doesn’t make the practice oppressive. The fact that there is no reasonable exit scenario for unhealthy members that doesn’t require them to leave not just a sub-community but the whole gig is damning, frankly.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      What that comes with isn’t just the idea that the woman’s wearing a scarf, though. There are a whole host of subjugating rules that the hijab symbolizes. They’re not supposed to talk to men who are outside of their family circle – this has led to very bizarre pronunciations from time to time, such as the Saudi clerics who were insisting women with male coworkers should bring in a cup of breast milk for each of the coworkers to sip, thus making them “family.”

      The other thing that makes it oppressive is that it isn’t really a choice; there isn’t a “wear it, or don’t wear it” option within Muslim culture. It’s “wear it, or be a horrible muslim and berated by the other women until you give in”, and in countries like KSA, worse than that.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        The other thing that makes it oppressive is that it isn’t really a choice; there isn’t a “wear it, or don’t wear it” option within Muslim culture. It’s “wear it, or be a horrible muslim and berated by the other women until you give in”, and in countries like KSA, worse than that

        Muslim culture is not homogeneous. In Singapore, Muslims from more liberal congregations don’t wear it while those from more conservative ones do. In Malaysia, you tend to have a lot more conservative congregations. But then again, Malaysia is a de-facto theocracy. Theocracies are habitually oppressive. Will Muslim women raised in America feel the same pressure? No. Will they undersand religious obligation in the same way as they do in Malaysia or Iran? No. In America, they will be relatively more lax and flexible about religious obligation. American catholics tend to be fairly blase about contraception, not so catholics from catholic countries. The same thing is going on. Religious obligations are usually interpreted by the local Ulama to bring them more in line with social mores. When this happens, it is not that they are bad muslims for not wearing the hijab, the modesty requirement fails to include a hijab.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          Theocracies are habitually oppressive.

          I think this is the most salient point, though. The vast majority of theocracies in the world today are Muslim-based. The vast majority of theocracies in the world today are uncoincidentally very oppressive towards women in particular, much more than towards men.

          When a woman in less oppressive, non-theocratic country says that “for religious or cultural reasons” she’s wearing the hijab, there has to be some understanding on her part that there’s great potential for her to be misunderstood. Especially when there are tips of the iceberg even in those supposedly less-oppressive or non-oppressive societies.

          I would try to compare it to another clothing tradition. The hijab visually bears some similarity to the garb traditionally worn by members of monastic orders of other religions. Yet nobody would look at a monk, a brother, or sister of those orders and say that they are subjugated and downtrodden. The difference is that there is a widely held belief that should they choose, those members could walk away at any time and in most cases, receive support from their orders in transitioning to the new life they were choosing.

          The hijab doesn’t have that background to support it, even in countries where there may be a minority group of women who have both converted to Islam willingly rather than being indoctrinated into it as children -and- chosen, based on the religious teachings, to wear it.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        I’m not sure that you read my comment.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “So the question on the floor is, the hijab — symbol of oppression or symbol of cultural pride?”

    Like everyone else said, ‘it depends’.

    Which also ties into Mr. McLeod’s “Prostitution!” post – in some cases, it’s a woman expressing her individual sovereignty, in others, her exploitation.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    JB and Pat have answered far better than I could, but I’ll say this anyway: Choosing to wear one is fine and good; made to wear one through extortion is troubling.Report

  7. Avatar Murali says:

    It really depends on the society, culture and even the family in which the girl finds herself in. As it happens, a lot of the muslim societies in which women find themselves with the least power do not settle for making their women wear the hijab. They go straight for the hard core stuff like burqas etc. But of course, social pressure can be oppressive. In Malaysia, there is srong pressure to wear the hijab, so you find that most muslim women wear one. Of course, in places like KL and Johor and Malacca, you might find some malay women who don’t. In Singapore, there are plenty of muslim women who don’t wear the hijab. It is still possible that of those who do, there is strong famillial pressure to do so. But this is much less likely in an advanced industrial society which is sufficiently enlightened as to treat the genders equally. It is to be noted that in many malay families, the woman earns more than the man.

    Note: The place of Malays in singaporean society in many ways is highly similar to that of african americans in american society. As an ethnic group they occupy the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy, their men go to prison and are involved in crime and drugs out of proportion to their demographic composition, their kids listen to rap music etc etc.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      Also note that Malaysia is a quasi theocratic society. In Malaysia, absent constitutional protections, vigourous and competitive democratic elections have only served to further reduce the religious freedoms of religious minorities.Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I wonder how the women who voluntarily and happily wear the Hijab for religious and/or cultural reasons feel about today.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      There are comparisons that could be made, in very good faith, to the clothing requirements and other behavioral requirements made by Warren Jeffs or Jim Jones.

      That includes getting women pregnant and using their children as a means of control to prevent their leaving; the hijab and stricter forms of dress also make it difficult since women will not be able to reach out to other women for help, or reach out to legal authorities (universally male) without either breaking the gender-mixing restrictions or risk of being treated as property.

      Women who voluntarily and “happily” wear it for religious or cultural reasons today, are making a choice, but to pretend that their choice invalidates the real problems with the cultures that force women to do it (in a “tip of the iceberg” sort of way) is itself a subjugating aspect of the hijab. I have a hard time not comparing it to stockholm syndrome.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        It doesn’t invalidate the real problems with cultures that force their women to do it, but to compare it with stolkhom syndrome is just flame bait. There is no either or here. There are real probems with cultures that force women to wear the hijab. That doesn’t mean that we can taint those women who voluntarily wear it by association. Those women who voluntarily wear it are not providing cover, and have not fallen in love with their oppressor. Just because some cultures illegitimately force a person to X doesn’t mean that people in other cultures who voluntarily X suffer from false consciousness or provide cover for oppression etc etc.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          The word “voluntarily” leaves a lot to be desired in this conversation.

          Voluntarily could mean “I wear it because I think it looks good”, “I wear it because it covers my thinning hair”, “I wear it because it keeps my head warm after most of my hair fell out due to chemotherapy.”

          Voluntarily could mean “I wear it because it’s easier than being gossiped about by the other muslim women”, “I wear it because I’m tired of being lectured about it by the religious authorities at the prayer house”, “I wear it because I need to engage in cultural signaling that I’m outwardly adopting my new husband’s religious views.”

          Voluntarily could mean “I wear it because I’ve never known any other way”, or “I wear it because the alternative is massive pressuring and potential spousal abuse.” And make no mistake, for Muslims in the USA, spousal abuse is a real concern and there are organizations of more moderate Muslim leaders trying to not just educate their own Muslim-raised men not to cross the line, but also trying to educate Muslim-raised men from those much more oppressive, hardcore Muslim societies who have emigrated to the USA.

          There are whole levels of coercion that can be reworded as “voluntary.”Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            I wear it because the alternative is massive pressuring and potential spousal abuse.”

            Of the range of motivations you provide, this is by far the most problematic and the one that definitely does not count as voluntary. Everything else? in a pluralistic society with a multitude of cultures, it becomes difficult to make inter-subjective claims about which of those other motivations sufficiently problematic as to not count as voluntary.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              “I love my husband, so I choose not to give him reason to get angry and beat me” is stockholm, though. And yet the women who are in that position will insist their actions are voluntary.

              Therein lies the problem with this conversation. Worldwide, the hijab is not seen as a symbol just of women embracing Islam. It’s seen as a symbol of women embracing the darker side of Islam; second-class status, the “right” of husbands to beat wives or even abduct children back to Muslim theocracies, countries where women aren’t even allowed a driver’s license and have to find a male relative just to talk to officers of the court for them.

              Trying to push back against that, insisting that the hijab doesn’t have that baggage, or insisting that women in those countries or under Islam generally are not under some form of oppression, is troubling. Whether the women doing it admit the fact to themselves or not, it will be seen by many other people as an attempt to provide cover for worse behavior from within Islamic culture, and not without reason.

              And I’ve seen all three arguments made by women who had convinced themselves of this, one by a former catholic nun who travels around these days after converting to Islam, giving talks about why all women ought to convert to Islam and how women in the theocracies “aren’t really oppressed” because they are “liberated from the amorality of western society” instead.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Worldwide, the hijab is not seen as a symbol just of women embracing Islam. It’s seen as a symbol of women embracing the darker side of Islam; second-class status, the “right” of husbands to beat wives or even abduct children back to Muslim theocracies, countries where women aren’t even allowed a driver’s license and have to find a male relative just to talk to officers of the court for them.

                The passive voice is doing a lot of work here.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Reality is doing a lot of work here.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I’ve never seen such naked display of bigotry on this site against a particular religion since the Mormon bashing that occurred last yearReport

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                So it’s “a naked display of bigotry” to recognize that in Islamic theocracies, women are treated as second-class people or worse yet, property to be bought and sold and that this is a result both of culture and the coercion of religion?

                So it’s “a naked display of bigotry” to recognize that one of the tools used to keep women down by Islamic theocracies is separatism, an enforced blockade of both clothing and custom that requires women to interact with most of the rest of society through male relatives?

                So it’s “a naked display of bigotry” to recognize that when those same tools of separatism are brought out of that culture into another, that there is not a little bit of dissembling involved in telling others who observe this problem that it’s ok because “all good muslim women choose it of their free will”, and that we shouldn’t at all pay attention to the man behind the curtain holding the women hostage to the dictates of their husbands or the ability to see their kids as is done in Warren Jeffs’ name, or their connection to other relatives hostage to adherence to the religion as the Scientologists do? That just as in Hildale and Colorado City, these women can’t go to the authorities because the “authorities” are the religion and vice versa?

                That domestic violence in western Muslim families isn’t a real problem and isn’t connected to the religion and cultural baggage it brought with it?

                Reality =/= Bigotry.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                M.A. do black people next. What are and are not the only and correct ways for African Americans to express their culture? And remember, the symbols can only have a solitary and unique meaning, so pick and chose wisely.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                So it’s “a naked display of bigotry” to recognize that in Islamic theocracies, women are treated as second-class people or worse yet, property to be bought and sold and that this is a result both of culture and the coercion of religion?

                We weren’t talking about that, though. We were talking about the hijab. You generalized a discussion about the hijab to a couple of recursive declarations about what the hijab signals to the world.

                There’s a very nice young woman who wears a hijab who is a graduate student in my building. There are three others who have been in classes of mine at another institution.

                Typically, one does not send repressed minorities abroad to gain higher education. So I think you’re overgeneralizing.

                How much, I don’t know. I’m not claiming any certainty, here.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                M.A. do black people next.


                Your insinuations are beyond worthless and you have provided absolutely no point worthy of consideration.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think it’s refreshing that we haven’t had an vigorous defense of cultural relativism. It wasn’t so long ago that we’d have had an argument over how we had no footing to judge this, that, or the other.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                @Jaybird: “think it’s refreshing that we haven’t had an vigorous defense of cultural relativism. It wasn’t so long ago that we’d have had an argument over how we had no footing to judge this, that, or the other.”


                I’m not big on “any way another country treats its citizens is fine; it’s variety!” On the other hand, I’m not big on “evangelicals all beat their children” or “Muslims all beat their wives.” Each seems the opposite side of the same lazy coin, to my eyes.

                Fortunately, I think there’s a lot of ground to explore between those two positions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Hey, I’m not saying I think that M.A. isn’t holy crap abusive. M.A. is, like, totally out there.

                But, seriously, it’s so much better than “you Middle Class White Males steeped in American Privilege have No Right to judge people from another culture.”

                Because, seriously, that’s where I totally saw this going when we started.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Personally, I think it is less “you Middle Class White Males steeped in American Privilege have No Right to judge people from another culture” and more “how many of us really know anything about the whole practice of wearing a hijab”.

                I haven’t weighed in here because, really, I don’t know. I went to school with girls who wore hijabs and other head pieces, but wasn’t particularly close friends with any of them and that was many years ago. My lone visit to the “Muslim world” was a trip to Istanbul, where most women wearing hijabs or other head coverings were themselves tourists. Personally, I’d prefer to hear from Muslim women. And Muslim men, too. But, first and foremost, the people who actually wear the hijab or actively choose not to.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                MA, I seriously doubt you have met that many people from all over the world to know how the hijab is seen all over the world. We ridicule conservatives for thinking that America is the center of the world and that the American perspective is the world perspective. I would expect better of you.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:


                I have, so you’re wrong. I don’t think the rest of your comment warrants response.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Much have I travelled in the realms of gold / And many goodly states and kingdoms seen. Also a fair number of horrible ones, too. Such was my fate or luck or what have you.

                I simply do not accept the notion that Americans have to travel the world over, as I have, to have an opinion on the hijaab and those cultures . The world has travelled to us and set up shop here. Somali refugees who sell their daughters, they wear the khimaar. Saudi and Kuwaitis caught out enslaving Sudanese and Somali kids in Orange Country, right under our very noses. Sex slaves imported to Brunei, oh the list is very long and the day a Christian church is built in KSA, do let me know for there will be two moons in the sky that very night.

                Reality does a lot of work. Your culture, for all its cosmopolitan nature, features fewer cultures than ours, far and away. Please retire that argument. It’s just wrong.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Except that I live in a society where 14% of people are Muslims and where various degrees of covering up are more often than not signalling acts of allegiance to a conservative islam or ways to signal piety etc.

                But signalling explains a lot of other overt religious behviour and we don’t have to posit any kind of coercion or abuse in those other cases. So at least in my corner of the world which is a secular society, headscarves are just symbolic of religious commitment, not of oppression.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                I’m not disputing that there are lots of muslim cultures which do in fact abuse their women terribly.

                I just dispute whether the headscarf is seen the world over as a symbol of oppression of women. I’m sure that there are a lot of places in the world where it is seen as such. I am also sure that there are other places in the world where it is not. And not all of those places are horrible women abusing cultures, though many of them may be.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You’re projecting, Murali. Their motivations are their own and Singapore has tolerated the sharia courts alongside its own, taking sides in all that mess with the Shafi’i sect, rather to the detriment of other denominations.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Maybe I am projecting, but perceptions often tend to be in part projection. And all I was disputing was the perception of headscarves.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Worldwide, the hijab is…seen as a symbol of women embracing the darker side of Islam;

                I find this…astounding. Almost one-quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, not all of whom wear the hijab, but many of whom do. So “worldwide” would appear to exclude approximately 1 in 4 people in the world.

                And for many non-Muslims, the hijab is seen as one of various Muslim religious/cultural accoutrements, representing “a” side of Islam, but not necessarily “the darker” side.

                And I’m reminded of a non-Muslim student I had who told me about a year she spent in, iirc, Tunisia. Where she lived women wore the hijab, so she did, to0, both to fit in and to try to understand their world better. She said she was surprised to find that she liked it, because she felt more protected from the leering of men.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                because she felt more protected from the leering of men.

                How nice that the way to “protect” women from the leering of men who ought to grow the fish up is to institute a “separate-but-equal” sort of scheme that ends up, just like all “separate-but-equal” schemes, to be merely a tool for oppression.

                The solution to a society like that isn’t to tell the women to cover their hair up and be both unseen and unheard, the solution is for that society to learn to tell its men to grow the fish up and behave like adult human beings.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                And while we’re still struggling with that, let’s be sure that women can’t choose their own response. That’ll show how much we respect their freedom!Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Or how about we engage in a little honesty for once?

                A woman wearing the hijab in an Islamic theocracy isn’t doing so as “her own response”, she’s doing so out of fear.

                A woman wearing the hijab in an enclosed group, a group signaling “piety” as an enclave that treats their women as they did back home in the KSA or elsewhere, isn’t doing so as “her own response”, she’s still doing it out of fear.

                A woman who puts on the hijab “because she felt more protected from the leering of men” is doing so out of the coercive element of ear. Absent that fear, her justification goes away. “Well it feels better than being stared at by a bunch of pervy old muslim men” is not a good way to make the case that she is not being coerced any more than “well she shouldn’t have worn that short skirt if she didn’t want to be raped” is any sort of justification.

                The women who are putting on “international hijab day” have told themselves that they are operating in “solidarity” with a very small percentage of western-society muslim women who state that they are wearing the hijab as a choice to signal religious piety. They may actually believe it. They are probably actively trying to ignore the rest of the signals they are sending with this activity, none of which are appropriate in a world where some of the things I have discussed are very much reality.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Or how about we engage in a little honesty for once?

                Oh, you’re going there.

                Didn’t see that one coming.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Oh, you’re going there.

                When your response is flippant accusations that I don’t “respect freedom”? Yes, I fully admit that do not think you are here for serious discussion.

                All you have is the standard libertarian “freedom yay” rhetoric, devoid of meaning and substance.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                All you have is the standard libertarian “freedom yay” rhetoric,

                I did see that one coming.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                “Freedom Yay”? Have I been misunderstanding EYIGM all this time?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                (FYIGM, of course, dammit.)Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                If you’re ever going to get round to a single point of actual conversation, Hanley, even a single piece of discussion around the salient points, then start doing so already.Report

              • “the standard libertarian ‘freedom yay’ rhetoric”

                How dare libertarians be logically consistent!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Would FYMAIGM count?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Taking a leaf from the comment culture post, this is a bit of advice to cool it. Not only are you responding to the person instead of the agument, you are becoming downright abusive.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I have a great book on Arabic culture that I picked up in a bookstore in Beirut. It has a good chapter on the revival of hijab in, iirc, Egypt, which was viewed internally as a feminist movement. Unfortunately it’s at my office right now, so I can’t quote it or give a link to the book, but I have to stop by there tomorrow, so if I remember I’ll provide all that.

                I predict a bashing of the hijab-revival-as-feminist argument by a white American, even though the argument is made by an Arabic Muslim.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Not only are you responding to the person instead of the agument, you are becoming downright abusive.

                I brought forth a number of salient points, Hanley’s only response was to bring an accusation that I don’t “respect freedom.”

                He’s the abusive one.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                He’s the abusive one.

                I’m not sure there’s a way outof this type of problem. You said some very general (almost sterotypical) things Muslims that some people objected to. Hanley, in particular, presented a scenario in which what you claimed to be the case isn’t the case. You dismissed his his evidence supporting a different view by recasting it thru the same filter that he was initially criticizing as overly and inaccurately broad.

                His response, at that point, was to express the opinion that you’re discounting individual choice – and evidence of individual choice – as being part of the analysis of why women wear the hijab.

                Personally speaking here, I don’t think Hanley’s being abusive. He’s engaging in a dialogue.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Arab Society and Culture: An Essential Reader, edited by Samir and Roseanne Saad Khalaf. “The Veil Becomes a Movement,” by Fadwa El Guindi.

                “In Egypt, the Islamic dress word after the mid-1970s by women replaced modern secular clothes and is part of a grass-roots activist movement.”

                “No overt pressure or force was exerted, only perhaps the indirect influence of a change in public moral climate…In general they used no coercion to make others join. They themselves, small in number but strong in presence, became living models to emulate.”

                “In the early phases of the movement, college students made up the core of its ‘informed membership.’…At the university they did not form their own separate organizations. Instead they continued as assimilated students interacting with the rest of the students and participating in university activities. It was common at the time to find a secularly dressed student discussing how, slowly, she was becoming convinced of the new trend and how she was considering making the commitment. Friendships between the secularly dressed and the Islamically dressed continued as usual.”

                “Privacy, humility, piety and moderation are cornerstones of the Islamic belief system.”

                “This Islamic dress was introduced by the college women in the movement and was not imposed by the al-Ashar authorities, who ordinarily prescribe Islamic behavior by issuing decrees. Instead this was a bottom-up movement. By dressing this way in public these young women translated their vision of Islamic ideals by becoming exemplar contemporary models. Encoded in the style of dress is a new public appearance and demeanor that reaffirms an Islamic identity and morality and rejects Western materialism, consumerism, and values.”

                Two notes: First, apparently my memory was faulty in thinking there was an element of feminism in the revival of the veil in Egypt. However there are arguments for a feminist aspect to veiling. (I’m unqualified to judge the strength of those arguments, so I just note them without further comment.)

                Second, the author of the chapter is not making a general claim about veiling or chador, and explicitly notes that the Egyptian veiling movement contrasts with, for example, Iran, where the veil was imposed on women after the revolution. I think this supports the very first comment in response to the OP, Kim’s simple, “It’s both.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                M.A., your response simply belittled the personal experience of my student. I didn’t find that deserving of a more respectful reply.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yet consider what your student said, that she felt protected from leering men. Couldn’t an impartial observer conclude the problem is the leering men, that wearing the khimaar was a reaction, not a choice?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m not saying leering men are not a problem. I’m saying this was the student’s personal experience, coming from a western culture and immersing herself in a new culture, she found the chador more freeing, less depersonalizing, than she had anticipated. It’s not that she would have wanted to have no choice about wearing it, and not that she wouldn’t want a world where men didn’t leer, but that she felt a certain liberation in anonymity, and a power in taking away men’s ability to see her just as a sexual object.

                It’s not a perspective that should make us complacent or unconcerned about men’s leering, but it’s a perspective that deserves an effort to understand it, rather than just an easy dismissal.

                And if the other response had been more like yours, it would have received a similarly engaging response.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The old BlaiseP Rule about 1000 litres of water comes into play here. Want to understand a given culture? It’s as simple as drinking 1000 litres of their water.

                We’ve already established leering men are a substantial part of the problem. So far so good. Do you remember Barack Obama romanticising the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, how it was so beautiful … actually sang a little bit of it?

                Here’s the BlaiseP take on the adhan. Imagine a world where gigantic alarm clocks would go off five times a day. The adhan says prayer is better than sleep and you will get no sleep with those enormous blaring bullhorns blasting away all over the city. Traffic grinds to a stop, everyone gets out and makes salat prayers.

                I drank my thousand litres of water. Islamic cultures are just barely tolerable to me. All that glorious immersion stuff is for the tourists. Let ’em enjoy the illusions while they can. Islamic cultures are often surprisingly beautiful and people are pretty much the same everywhere, for better or worse. Islam doesn’t make people mean or kindly or smart or stupid. The Christian society I grew up in, the missionary fishbowl, was awfully oppressive, too.

                Your student is a great person, it’s wonderful that she was willing to enter another culture and feel good about it. But for me, it’s like BB King says, “The thrill is gone.” I see how Muslims treat their wives and it ain’t pretty, especially these idealists who think love conquers all and it just doesn’t. Islam isn’t a religion so much as it is a way of life. It’s not a buffet-style belief structure, you either accept it or it will beat you down and make no apology for it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m not going to argue anything there, but I’ll just say that in my personal experience the call to prayer quickly became just part of the background, an element of the whole tapestry (although at first the early morning calls, when I was trying to adjust to the time change, were brutal). But then I grew up near a railroad crossing, and the sound of train horns in the middle of the night is a homey, comforting, sound to me.

                But I don’t assume everyone has the same response.

                I should also add that in the cities I’m familiar with (Damascus, Latakia, Dubai, and Beirut), nothing ground to a halt at the call to prayer except one of my conversations with a shopkeeper who befriended me. But of course those are comparatively secular cities. I don’t doubt I’d be highly irritated if nearly everything stopped completely 5 times a day.

                Overall, there are aspects of the culture that I liked, but also of course aspects I don’t like, and you touched on some of them. But I get the impression you’ve spent time in more heavily religious cities than I did.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Symbols being what they are, we who see them are left to interpret them by our own lights. Other cultures have adapted to the modern world according to their own standards of modesty.

    Hijaab doesn’t even mean “a scarf”. The Arabic word hijaab means a whole set of Islamic regulations governing the interactions of men and women. Literally, it means “a screen”, the way an Islamic house is set up. The Qu’ran says women ought wear khimaar to cover their breasts. That’s it. Everything else, the burkha, the chador, the niqab, jilbab coat, all were later additions, depending on just how misogynistic the individual Islamic culture became over time.

    This whole issue is just too precious and silly for words. Let’s demonstrate solidarity with Islamic women, sure, and lets all dress up like Old Order Amish, too.Report

    • Avatar Michelle says:

      In some ways, the hijab is similar to the wigs and modest dress married women in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities wear. These dress requirements are also part of a larger religious context governing the relations between men and women. One reason for the dress code is to make married women less attractive to other men. Only the woman’s husband should be allowed to gaze upon certain parts of her including her actual hair.

      Most women in these communities probably think that they freely chose to adhere to these codes and, on a certain level, they do. Yet, to me, as a non-orthodox Jewish woman, it’s hard not to see these practices as sexist, part of an outmoded patriarchal religious tradition that, at it’s heart, promotes a view of women as being unequal and lesser than men.

      So, is it a choice? For Muslim women who live in liberal democracies and who aren’t being pressured to do so in some way, yes. But, on another level, the hijab comes weighted with a lot of sexist cultural baggage that makes it difficult for me to see it as any kind of feminist statement.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Well-put, Michelle. The hijaab rules of Islam have an exact parallel in Judaism, the yichud rules, though I’m sure this comes as no news to you.

        When dress becomes a matter of identity, subject to religious oversight, the tzniut rules of dress for the Orthodox Jews, the Ordnung rules of the Old Order Amish, the hijaab rules for observant Muslims (which also apply to men!) , there’s a common thread which runs through them all: that men’s lusts are beyond control and women ought to cover themselves in consequence.

        Telling boys they’re lustful animals, imposing these rules on everyone, men and women, is an emotional, psychic, built-in, perennial disaster for these communities. They’re not teaching modesty, they’re reinforcing insanity, they’re twisting kids’ minds. They’re saying boys can’t be restrained from rape, that women can’t be restrained from fornication and adultery. Ever been round the block with the Issurei Biah? It’s an exhaustive compendium of sexual crimes and their punishments with amazingly intricate exceptions to the rules.

        ‘Memba those Purity Rings the Evangelicals were giving girls, so they’d save themselves for marriage? Turns out 60 percent of them go ahead and do the dirty anyway.

        Such rules systems fundamentally deny free will, both positive and negative. Positive, insofar as people will be sexual beings, negative insofar as we can restrain ourselves from improper sexual contact. I am horrified and amazed to see folks, especially women, trying on the khimaar like so many kids playing dress-up in their mother’s high heels. Why don’t they just get a damned old chador and try that on for size? Available for sale at your local Salafi retailer.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          The more rules, the worse the environment for kids growing up. Also, the more abuse. If you make everything bad, then people just get off on the naughtiness of it, anyhow…

          Humans aren’t well designed for endless lines of rules. Instead, they learn to worship the rules.
          And then the entire society becomes about punishment, who’s breaking the rules, and holier than thouism.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Despite growing up in a town that had a large Orthodox Jewish population and knowing about the head covering requirements and use of wigs, such a fact was not at the front of my brain when I stupidly remarked that the Satmar women in my area all had such beautiful hair. Zazzy quickly pointed out the foolishness of such a remark.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    You might recall that. when Speaker Pelosi was in Syria. she covered her hair with a designer scarf when visiting a mosque. You or I might call this elementary politeness (like a non-Jew covering his head before entering a synagogue), but the right-wing noise machine called it subservience to the evulll Mooslims.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Exactly, just like when i was in Prague i put on a yarmulke out of respect when i visited all the jewish sights. Darn Muslims.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Madame Speaker clearly did understand how the hijab is seen as a symbol Worldwide. (and she probably thinks she’s some kind of cosmopolitan too, ha!).Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Ecch, here’s where I turn into a big old hypocrite. I have this policy, sorta akin to the Japanese idea about torii and shimenawa. They delineate the sacred from the profane. Once you’re inside them, you’re respectful.

      My problem is with cultures that won’t make that distinction. I’m still chewing my cud, working on my next Azawad essay. It’s only getting weirder as I go along. I’m hesitant to even put it out. Anyway, there’s a sign the Islamists put up in Mali. Al-Hezbah, ensemble pour le plaisir de Dieu tout puissant et la lutte contre les péchés, starts out in Arabic, the party, switches to French, gathered for the pleasure of Almighty God and the fight against sins.

      Here in the States, we can’t conceive of a whole nation run by a religious system. When Islam arrives here, butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth as it tells us we ought to be more tolerant of it. But in the UK, where whole neighbourhoods have gone over to as-sharia, seemingly with the acquiescence of the local governments, all in the name of such fine ideals as Tolerance, Islamists aren’t exactly so tolerant.

      Sure, I suppose some girls want to wear the khimaar out of solidarity with their Islamic roots, all fine and good in its own way. It’s all so much dress-up and being true to your school and all that. But let’s not kid ourselves here, the French, who’ve lived with Islamists in their midst for many long years don’t tolerate it. They know what it means. I repeat myself in saying hijaab isn’t a scarf. It’s a system.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        the French, who’ve lived with Islamists in their midst for many long years don’t tolerate it. They know what it means.

        Speaking only for myself, I struggle to conclude the French are intolerant of hijab solely out of concern for protecting civil society.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          The French Revolution was as much a reaction to and rebellion against the Church as it was to Le Roi. Both kinda thought they were tout puissant and their powers interlocked. Think about it rather like our own nation’s position on the Bill of Rights, every last one of them was a reaction to specific abuses of power, including the power of a State Church. In the USA, the several states had their own churches, (though some didn’t), so our First Amendment reads that way. It says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” which didn’t exactly undo the rights of the Church of England states such as Virginia and South Carolina to keep their own state religions.

          As for what other concerns might vex the French, their Laïcité seems an entirely reasonable reaction to their long history of religious wars, massacres of Huguenots and Cathars. The First Crusade was sent off from France with a merry bonfire of Jews.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            True. It is an interesting empirical question, though, which is more likely to lead to a new religious war, suppressing religious expression or ignoring it.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              James, religions don’t need friends. They need enemies. I’m a religious man, after my own fashion, my buttocks moulded from earliest youth to the shapes of the church pew and the organ bench both. But I don’t trust religions outside their little shimenawa circles, especially not my own. Every time these religious jamokes are given an inch, they’ll take a mile. Politicians and Relijis Types have always cuddled up to each other in the most revolting and incestuous displays of power-mongering and we know how it always ends up, every time, without exception.

              Well, these days, we’re all sposta be loving and kind and the only Sin these days is Intolerance. I don’t buy it. When it comes to religion, civil society had best be on its guard, for the pulpit and minbar feature many sermons against the Secular World and its Evils. I figure it this way, if they get to preach fire and brimstone sermons about the Sinful World, civil society should take those sermons seriously.Report

              • “if they get to preach fire and brimstone sermons about the Sinful World, civil society should take those sermons seriously”

                If civil society did take them seriously, it might come to the conclusion that it has nothing to worry about, on the supposition that any religious doctrine so fearful and skeptical of the sinfulness of this world wouldn’t try to become part of the world, would not try to become Ceasar himself in lieu of simply giving him his due.

                Of course, many who preach those sermons don’t see it this way, either because they don’t practice what they preach or the put some sort of political perfectionist twist on it in the hopes of bringing in the new millennium. So yes, in that sense, “civil society” should be suspicious of such preaching, and it should guard as much as possible against capture, but then we enter into a discussion of the best ways to resisting capture by the state, and I agree with James that it’s more effectual to ignore than suppress religious expression that does not impose itself on unwilling participants.

                And I admit, this last part of what I just wrote can be the occasion of a lot of controversy (“aren’t children raised by religious parents unwilling participants?” “what about FLDS?” etc.).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let history show these fire-breathing sermonisers have always backed the Caesars of this wicked world without exception. Their visions of the Millenium always feature someone on a big white horse And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. Yeah buddy. That’s the Book of Revelations, chapter two verse 27. And these jamokes are looking to the horizon for that guy on a white horse, every day.

                Don’t let’s kid ourselves about these folks, Pierre. They are the most potent threat to civil society and they’ve been at it since religions and civilisations began. In American society, we have the First Amendment which keeps the steam boiler from exploding and I’m all for letting them say whatever they want, however obnoxious and unpatriotic it might seem to the rest of us.

                But ignoring these people, nossir, that’s the worst of all possible strategies. They mean what they’re saying and they’re preaching lots of it right this very minute in churches all over this country of a Sunday morning while the Sabbath Gasbags drone away on the next monitor here on this bright sunny day in Louisiana.Report

              • I’m not sure that “without exception” is true–I suspect there’s at least one such sermoniser, somewhere, who doesn’t do it. I’d be more amenable to “most,” or “almost all,” do. In those cases, I submit that they are straying from what ought to be the lessons of their own teachings.

                At the same time, I think I had misunderstood you, and I think I agree that no, we oughtn’t “ignore” those who would use the state to impose their own religious norms.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The purpose of religion, in a “civilization” sense, is to be the speakers who persuade the ignorant to worship and look up to those in power.
                “Keep the Tsar far away from us” and all that (it’s a good pun in Russian).

                Taoism’s about the only exception I can think of, and that’s never done brimstone.Report

          • I’m inclined to think of la laicite (sorry, I don’t know how to do the diacritics) as a quasi-religious worldview when it results in banning certain expressions of religion. Maybe sometimes it’s a fine line, and I don’t know all the in’s or out’s when it comes to the French policy of outlawing le voile. But I have a lot of suspicion of such policies.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Diacritics are lots easier in Linux and LibreOffice/OpenOffice. I just bound the Windows Key through my desktop to my macro library. Win->a->` et voilà, à.

              As for laïcité in France, their constitution starts with the statement “France is an indivisible republic, secular, democratic and social.” Ours starts with the First Amendment. There’s the difference, as tightly as the argument can be made.Report

              • Thanks for the pointer on diacritics, although I don’t think I have open office (it’s free, right?….I’m not the sharpest nerd in the ‘net when it comes to such things).

                Thanks for reminding of those words of the constitution. I had actually encountered them before (i.e., sometime in my studies I had run into that statement, but I forget the context).Report

  11. Avatar rexknobus says:

    I don’t know if this will add much to the conversation, but what the heck…

    I’m a male in the midwestern U.S. I wear pants to work every day. At home, relaxing, I wear a nightshirt. If I were Hawaiian, you might call it a muumuu. The nightshirt is a lot more comfortable than the pants (and my jeans are pretty comfortable). But I simply cannot wear a dress to work.

    Is that oppression? There’s no law saying I can’t wear a dress. My co-workers would probably not accost me with much more than puzzled glances and a few letters to advice columnists (“I work with this weird dude who…”). Nobody tells me what to wear, but I would not be at all comfortable in a dress. That’s purely cultural, isn’t it? It’s just how I’ve been raised. I don’t walk out to the mailbox in my nightshirt (in the daytime) either. I’d feel funny.

    My point is that I imagine a certain percentage of the women wearing the scarves, or even the burqas, are really wearing them because they just plain wouldn’t feel comfortable in anything else. It’s just how people dress where they are.

    I’m certainly not denying the existence of oppression; I am glad that at least legally I could wear a dress if I wanted to. But my pants are neither a symbol of oppression (to me) nor a symbol of cultural pride (to me). So you need a third choice, is all I’m saying.

    (FWIW – I also understand that my wearing jeans instead of slacks is a sort of message. I’m a boomer — jeans and flannel shirts were probably a signal that I was “down with the common working man” sort of thing. But, no matter, it’s still what I’m comfortable in. And, again FWIW, I have worked in places where I wore slacks. Jeans just weren’t appropriate. But while I fit in better, and that was a good thing, I also felt less comfortable in my own skin, which was a bad thing. Was I oppressed?)Report

    • I think one thing enters into the calculus that is absent from your situation (or mine, as a white male now in the Midwest but who grew up in the Rocky Mountain west), namely, that as men, we have a lot of power, and historically, we have had a lot more political and economic power than women, (I’m using of course broad brush strokes…Eleanor of Acquitaine and all that). But I think whether you are oppressed depends in part on that past history.

      Now, if you really had a desire to wear a dress–say you wanted to experiment with being transgendered–you (and I) might find the current cultural norms to be oppressive. So yeah, in that sense, you are potentially oppressed.Report

  12. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    It’d be nice if cultural pride didn’t hinge so often on the behavior of women.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Well, have you seen the behavior of MEN in most cultures? Can’t hang our pride on *that*, that’s for sure. 😉Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Seems like most of the effort to control women is rooted in the effort to control men. Why, I wonder, do we have so many centuries of deflected behavior modification?

        Even here, post after post after post about women’s behavior; abortion in particular. The posts on men’s behavior seem more esoteric and abstract. Some days, it boggles the mind, at least the simple mind of this woman.Report