Agenda in Plain View

RC makes a good point in a comment on the post below. Guilt by association certainly is a classic Bad Move, one that functions just as the word ‘brown’ does: as an attempt at intimidation via guilt-tripping. Maybe that’s one of the uses of entities like B&W, actually – to make moves like that just a bit less likely to work. That would be a worthy goal. If we could, by just a little, detach inquiry from ideology – maybe we could do some shaming in our turn, but in our case, I hope, by legitimate means and to good effect. If we could get people to realize and notice and accept that saying a given truth-claim is associated with a particular group or political stance is not the same thing as saying that it’s not true – that would be useful.

But there is also a tactical question, and that’s another matter. It’s also one that comes up endlessly. Feminists who oppose pornography find themselves on the same side (on this one issue, and for different reasons) as conservative Christians. Various human rights campaigns find themselves on the same side (on some issues) as libertarians with whom they disagree strongly on other issues – and so on. There’s no end to it, which is not at all surprising, since politics is a very large field with many possibilities, so the notion that there could be only two possible answers to any and every question, and they would all neatly harmonize each time, is an odd one. So it comes up endlessly, and one just has to keep deciding afresh each time, it seems to me. On one issue one might decide it’s not worth giving support to a party or movement one doesn’t agree with, while on another one might decide it is. It boils down to deciding which enemy trumps which, really.

But one thing it is possible to say very flatly indeed. There is no need whatever to spy out some hidden racist agenda to explain my, at any rate, opposition to and dislike of the hijab. [I call it the hijab, by the way, because the English alternatives seem unsatisfactory. It’s more than a headscarf, because it wraps around the neck and the whole face: it looks far more like a nun’s headgear than it looks like those triangles the royal women wear when out with the horses. But it’s not a veil in the English sense either, because it doesn’t cover the face. Ibn Warraq tells us ‘The Arabic word “hijab” is sometimes translated as veil, but it can signify anything that prevents something from being seen – a screen, a curtain, or even a wall…’ {Why I am not a Muslim, p. 314} So since both headscarf and veil are a bit misleading, I’m going to go with hijab.]

I loathe and detest and despise the damn thing, not because I’m a racist, but because I’m a woman. It’s not about tender concern or sympathy or piety or altruism – it’s about sheer gut loathing and fear. That’s how all women would look, all over the planet, if the Islamofascists got their way. The hijab is a badge of inferiority, slavery, obedience, submission. Of course I hate it! Are Jews fond of yellow stars and tatooed numbers? Are slaves and the descendants of slaves fond of shackles and brands? Would they take them up as either a fashion statement or a religious one? You can tell me it’s voluntary and chosen all you like, but I don’t have to believe it, and I don’t. And I’m not going to, either, until men start wearing them.

Of course, it doesn’t follow from that that the ban on conspicuous religious garments is a good idea. It may well be that the believers’ right to wear what they like ought to trump all other rights, not only the right of women and girls in general not to have to see symbols of their own putative inferiority in school all day, but also the right of girls who want to resist pressure to wear the hijab not to have extra pressure applied by compliant schoolmates. But I think it’s far less debatable what the basic meaning of the hijab is. I think it’s evasive and dishonest to pretend that it’s solely an expression of identity or religion, to deny that it is at least also a badge of submission, inferiority, degradation, and powerlessness.

4 Responses to “Agenda in Plain View”