Let me begin by saying two things. First, yes, in Islam wearing a hijab (the head covering) is a sign of virtue, designed to prevent men who cannot control their raging lust from seeing your salacious hair. It is a garment of modesty. But by “virtuous” above, I mean, this: you’re not a better person because you wear a hijab. All you are doing is displaying your adherence to one of the world’s many forms of superstition.
Second, this post is not meant to encourage bigotry against Muslims. Those women who wear a hijab have every right to do so, and are not bad people because they do so, although the hijab is probably a sign of coercion far more often than we think. Nevertheless, it’s laudable for people to fight bigotry: the unwarranted prejudice against someone on the basis of ethnicity or adherence to a religion.
But in these days of Regressive Leftism and Virtue Twerking (see Grania’s earlier post), people often seem to post not to reduce bigotry or improve society, but to congratulate themselves for not being bigots. Often these posts center on hijabs, and, to me, boil down to this statement “I am awesome for not being a racist. I am not a racist because I don’t hate women who wear headscarves.” (For one blatant example, see here.)
I became aware of another example from the Twi**ter feed of Sarah Haider, once a Shia Muslim and now, a nonbeliever, a co-founder and outreach director of Ex-Muslims of North America:
Why should a Muslim Olympian be remembered as an athlete, when she could be a token to make a political gesture? https://t.co/3gYsCl6S7Y
— Sarah Haider 🚀 (@SarahTheHaider) August 9, 2016
Here Haider is talking about Ibtihaj Muhammad, the American Olympic fencer who wore a hijab under her headpiece during competition. For this Muhammad has been lauded as a role model, as having made history, and for showing exemplary courage. But Muslim women athletes who don’t wear the hijab are no less courageous—in fact, they could be seen are more courageous by bucking the social pressure to cover your hair. What is being celebrated seems to be not Muhammad herself, but her hijab, and I’m not wholly comfortable with that. (I do recognize that it’s also a self-congratulatory gesture by the U.S. on our supposed liberality.)
Yes, Muhammad has reported sporadic cases of bigotry against her, as has surely every black athlete on Team U.S.A., but I don’t see that as heroic. Persistent, yes, determined, yes, and tenacious, yes, but an American hero? Not to me. Sarah Haider, who speaks openly of her apostasy, thereby risking death or injury, is a greater hero. As is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who travels with an armed bodyguard in the face of many death threats—all for speaking up against the oppression of Islam. Wearing a headscarf in the U.S. is simply not a gesture worthy of the term “heroic.” You want heroic? How about not wearing a headscarf in Saudi Arabia?
Your stepping back will allow this moment to become something bigger than just another opening ceremony. No offense, but right now America has enough tall, successful, rich white guys hogging the spotlight trying to make America great … again.
Is this the kind of comity we want our flag-bearer to instantiate? Is this what we want as our symbol of America? Did Hillary Clinton know about this when she paraded her own virtue?:
In Rio, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American Muslim athlete to compete while wearing a hijab. pic.twitter.com/OrRSHnH2Ra
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 8, 2016
I doubt you’ll find anything close to Muhammad’s lies and hatred on the Twi**er feed of Michael Phelps. Muhammad is simply a dupe for false stories about the nonexistent Israeli dam and the distorted story of birth control drugs (women asked for them and then lied when their husbands found out); and Israel does not, of course, practice apartheid. Muhammad has simply used those lies to gin up public hatred of Israel. Some hero!
So kudos to Muhammad for following her dream. But no kudos to those who, as Haider says, want to use her as a symbol to feel better about themselves. We all agree that people should be able to wear whatever clothes they damn well want, but perhaps what’s in order is a little less self-congratulation about our open-mindedness, and a little less celebration of a garment that, in the end, is a sign of anti-Enlightenment values.