Right. Let’s see if I can discuss the hijab debate without dragging in my King Charles’ head, the anonymously abusive waiting socialists. Oh look, no I can’t, there it is now. Yes I can – I did that on purpose.
It has been decreed by omniscient (albeit nameless) people who can see into the minds of other (not nameless) people that I have been pretending all this time to be somewhat divided, to have qualms, to see the point of arguments on both sides. It’s not in fact true that I’ve been pretending, but I’ve stopped havering now. Some of the arguments I’ve read over the past few days have pushed me off that fence. There is what seems to me an extraordinary amount of denial involved in all this, and also an extraordinary amount of sentimentality that makes the denial possible.
The sentimentality is about religion, and freedom of religion, and ‘self-expression’, and culture, and the hijab, and Islam. The denial is about the hijab, and Islam, and Islamism, and coercion, and what the hijab stands for, and its history. It seems to me (if only because what people are saying makes no sense on any other terms, at least I can’t make sense of it) that people think the hijab is kind of a colourful bit of exoticism, a whiff of the Other, a badge of rebellion, a sign of authenticity, a piece of (of all things in the world!) self-expression. Self-expression! It’s self-immolation, self-immurement, self-extinguishment.
It’s also a very obvious, conspicuous, non-ignorable sign of inferiority, degradation, and subordination. People who object to the ban constantly refer to it as a sign of ‘religious belief,’ thus bestowing on it that air of taboo and hands-off that invocations of religion and ‘religious belief’ always do bestow. But religious belief is simply not the only thing it stands for, to put it mildly, and it seems to me very disingenuous to talk as if it were.
What else does it stand for? It stands for the Taliban whipping women with antennas broken off cars for showing a bit of hair, that’s what. It stands for religious police in Iran beating up women (or worse) for not dressing ‘correctly’. It stands for men blaming women for exciting them, for being able to get pregnant, for having genitals and breasts and bodies and hair and arms and necks. It stands for men fearing and hating women and doing everything they possibly can to keep them ground into the dirt. It’s not benign, it’s not harmless, it’s not just some quaint cultural artifact. But you’d never know it.
Here is one staggering remark, from A Fistful of Euros:
No, the French government and a large part of the French population doesn’t really understand freedom of religion and they don’t understand it in exactly the same manner that most Americans don’t understand diversity, multi-culturalism or freedom of expression. Islam is entirely secure in France, so long as it has no measurable significance and makes no meaningful demands on believers.
Meaningful demands. Do you mark that. The French people who support the ban are being rebuked for disapproving of the ‘meaningful demands’ that Islam makes on ‘believers.’ Not all believers, mind you. No – slightly over half of them, as a matter of fact. The other half is fully exempt from those ‘meaningful demands’ and in a position to enforce the demands on the other half. The demands are made of women and girls, and not of men and boys. Males can walk around in public freely with their heads and necks poking out into the air as if they were not filthy or contaminating or polluted or dangerous – as if they were just ordinary heads and necks like anyone else’s. It’s women who are obliged to wrap theirs up, who are not allowed to walk around freely in public without having a piece of cloth swaddling their necks, hair and shoulders, on pain of being called whores or raped or beaten. That’s the meaningful demand we’re supposed to feel embarrassed or guilty for opposing.
And then there’s the bottomless well of sympathy for the girls who want to (or have been trained or bullied to want to) wear the hijab, and the staggering absence of sympathy for the girls who don’t and who don’t want to have to see the degrading thing next to them in class all day. Here, for instance, from the discussion at Twisty Sticks
You’re right, though, that Muslim women could have a very positive influence on Islam. But banning what some of them think an important part of their religion is not, I’d suggest, a very constructive way of encouraging them.
Okay, but what about not banning them? What about what allowing them in the classroom does to the women who want nothing to do with it? Why so much concern for what the wearers want and none for the others? Do the anti-banners really think about what it is they’re supporting? The right of people to insist on the inferiority of women in a highly visible manner in public schools, all day every day. Now there’s a cause to fight for!
But someone else at Twisty Sticks made the point I’ve been meaning to make for days:
I have a very inelegant hypothetical here. What if groups of immigrants from India, who were of the (formerly or not so formerly) “untouchable” class, settled in a number of cities in the U.S. These untouchables believed that it was important to their Hindu history to wear a black headband so that all the Americans would know right away that they were second (or is 7th) class citizens. The untouchable children, male and female, all in black headbands, were trained by their parents that they should walk behind their betters, keep their heads down, not dream for better….You get the picture. Is this freedom of expression or freedom of oppression?