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One the one hand: hijab is pretty much purely an instrument of sexist religious repression. And, you know, fuck sexist religious repression, right? And, while I'm on the subject, fuck religion.

On the other hand: it seems like the only behavior mode chosen by my fellow anti-religionists these days is to be as obnoxious and intolerant as possible, which really isn't going to get anyone anywhere.


On the one hand: France's recent decision to ban the hijab is consistent with their official position of state atheism, a position I have always felt is the only rational way to go for a government.

On the other hand: there's no denying that, in a practical sense, this ends up being obvious discrimination, since it smothers the freedom of one very specific ethnic and religious group.


On the one hand: the more conservative a culture is, the more heavily veiled they insist women become. And even in the most liberalized Muslim cultures, the veil is, essentially, a religious obligation, and thus an infringement of freedom for anyone who doesn't want to wear it. It is not incorrect to think of hijab as a form of intrinsic religious persecution, like when Mormons disallowed blacks from the priesthood, or how Baptists teach that homosexuality is a sin.

On the other hand: it cannot be denied that for many women, wearing hijab is not an obligation, but a choice. It is a cultural statement as well as a religious requirement, and banning them from wearing it is clearly a form of discrimination. It is not incorrect to think of hijab as a cultural/religious preference, like when Jews choose not to eat pork, or how Hindus have arranged marriages.


On the one hand: I am absolutely and unconditionally against any kind of enforced religious obligation, and I despise the way that women are generally treated in Islamic countries. This certainly includes the hijab, and there is no doubt there's a double standard for how men and women may dress.

On the other hand: A lot of the resentment against hijab comes from Christian conservatives, and there can be no question that much of it is driven by hatred of Islam and discrimination against/fear of Arabs. Many critics of the role of women in Islam are themselves advocates of extremely sexist view of women in society, and lots of people who criticize veiling have nothing to say about dress codes that exist in Judaism and some forms of Christianity.


On the one hand: I am in favor of abolishing hijab, or at the very least, allowing Islamic women who do not wish to be veiled to make that choice without fear of reprisal.

On the other hand: I think a governmental decree outlawing hijab is probably the worst possible way to get such a result.

NOTE #1: In one of the odder permutations of our culture recently, anti-Islamic American conservatives have co-opted a panel from the 2005 Paul Dini/Alex Ross comic Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth in which WW, standing among a group of veiled Islamic women, strips off a burqa to reveal her skimpy bustier-and-star-spangled-panties outfit. The image appears on a number of right-wing Muslim-bashing sites, and apparently is meant to convey the idea that WW will show up those snotty repressive Mahometans by showing off her awesome Amazon body. This is all well and good as long as you totally ignore the context of the story, but the irony becomes downright indigestible when you consider that Wonder Woman is, in fact, from a society so devoted to sexual separatism that men are literally not allowed to set foot in her homeland.

NOTE #2: I've always thought that veiled women are pretty hot, which means that the entire stated raison d'etre for veiling is wrong.


Sep. 17th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
While it's not as strong as the prescriptions regarding veils, in many Islamic societies a man MUST have a beard if he's old enough to grow one. A clean-shaven man is as scandalous as an unveiled woman (although the punishment isn't likely to be as severe). And, of course, there's the branches of Judaism that insist on a head covering in public, just to beyond Islam in the "covering up part or all of the head for religious reasons" category.

In short, the hijab isn't the only example of stupid religiously-enforced "modesty clothing," although it's probably the worst offender of the common ones.
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
It's the one people get most riled up about, anyway.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)
Take up a collection! I'm not proud.
Sep. 17th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. As a woman, the entire idea of the hijab drives me absolutely insane, not to mention various other aspects of Islamic law. But I also believe in religious freedom, and the freedom of women to make choices. So I can't back outlawing such a practice either.

I will note, however, that many women even in western societies who wear hijabs do not in fact have the free choice to abstain. While the government may not come after them, they may be ostracized or victimized by their families and "friends" if they do not conform.

The best action to take in a free society is to help women obtain the resources and support to exercise whatever their actual free choices would be. Frankly, I suspect that when given an actual choice, very very few women will choose to wear a hijab.

Wonder Woman is, in fact, from a society so devoted to sexual separatism that men are literally not allowed to set foot in her homeland.

well yeah, but to be fair she rejected that.
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
She rejected it for herself, though, by leaving Paradise Island. She didn't go around insisting that everyone else who lives there go along with her crazy new idea. Shit, she won't even let her best buddy Superman come visit.

You're totally right, though, about the 'choice' of going veiled being a somewhat nebulous one. Like a lot of things, it relies on a pretty narrow understanding of the idea of consent.
Sep. 18th, 2010 04:57 am (UTC)
Here via vito_excalibur
I will note, however, that many women even in western societies who wear hijabs do not in fact have the free choice to abstain. While the government may not come after them, they may be ostracized or victimized by their families and "friends" if they do not conform

How is this different from any women's choices? We all have to deal with social pressure every day, sometimes backed up with the very real threat of violence for nonconformity.
Sep. 19th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC)
Re: Here via vito_excalibur
I really don't think that the pressures I personally face can be compared at all to the coercion women in muslim countries/enclaves face to wear the hijab.
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
I can't believe France actually passed that law-- it is just so backwards and speaks to the same type of world policing we tried to do in Iraq...

I absolutely do not believe that women should be forced to wear the hijab, but it's not a government's place to step in. Such changes need to be cultural, and it is likely that in only one or two generations these women will be allowed to accept a more modern, Western culture. The reasons for the hijab in Islamic culture can't be solved by just banning the hijab.

And on days when I'm cat-called and oggled on the street, I realize the ways a hijab can be a protection as well.
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
You've hit nicely on the reason why, despite having pretty much the same mixed feelings described above (which was very nicely done), I am so annoyed with France. Given freedom of choice in clothing and worship, it's extremely likely immigrant groups will conform to local norms in most ways within a couple of generations. A group that feels marginalized or attacked, however, will retreat further into those things which define their distinct identity - in his case, hijab in its more retrictive forms, and more fundamentalist religious expression. By passing laws such as this, France is only exacerbating the problem of unintegrated immigrant groups.
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
Here in Seattle, I have seen women around town who not only cover their hair, but are completely robed and veiled. The only part visible is their eyes, which tend to be covered by eyeglasses.
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
They're probably just trying to keep the rain out.
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
allowing Islamic women who do not wish to be veiled to make that choice without fear of reprisal.

Yeah, good luck with that. That's like expecting the gay children of fundies to be allowed to come out without punishment, or black Mormons to not be second-class citizens, or catholic children to not get raped by catholic priests.

Which is to say, it will never happen as long as the religion itself exists.
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC)
check yo stereotypes at the door, son
There are millions of Islamic women who do not wear the veil, including pretty much the entire Muslim populations of Bangladesh, Cyprus and Albania, as well as substantial Muslim minorities in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Many Egyptian women do not follow hijab; about half the female Muslim population of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon also do not follow hijab.

A number of predominately Muslim countries ban the wearing of full hijab -- that is, veils that cover the entire head and/or face -- for women involved in government, public service, or education. The niqab (face veil) is banned for public servants in Malaysia, for students and teachers in Syria, and in schools, libraries and public buildings in Tunisia and Turkey. Many of these countries, which are almost entirely Muslim, have banned the veil as a cultural practice and point out (correctly) that the Quran does not require veiling.

There are also countries where there is no official policies enforcing the veil, but it is worn to show religious devotion (as in Pakistan) or social status (as in Indonesia).

The Muslim world is a lot more complex than you might think, and you're conflating their religious practices with their governmental and legal practices, which are often quite distinct. Why, you might even be surprised to learn that a few Catholics were not molested as children.

Edited at 2010-09-17 09:20 pm (UTC)
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
Re: check yo stereotypes at the door, son
There are gay people with supportive "we remembered that God is love" fundie parents, too, and there are even a few Mormons out there who don't buy into the white supremacist teachings of their religion.

And at the same time, we're not worried about any of them, because they're not the problem.

The problem, shifting the analogy back, are the women who WILL suffer reprisals, or the ones who are AFRAID of reprisals.

And the problem of irrationality-based reprisals for nonconformity with irrationality will continue to exist as long as irrationality that insists on universal rules exists.
Sep. 18th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
Re: check yo stereotypes at the door, son
Well, you know, like I said, fuck religion, right? But as a great man -- well, not a great man, or even a non-fictional man, but a man, anyway -- once said: "You do not fuck the future, sir. The future fucks you." Forces greater than you or I have tried to rid this world of religion, and so far they've come up wanting. In the absence of an effective program plan to do away with the beloved superstitions once and for all, I'd re-suggest that the way to go is to put the emphasis on governmental and legislative progress, so that people become more used to a secular comprehension of society, and less used to thinking of the behavior of religious fanatics as normative. Despite centuries of progress, there are still hundreds of millions of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and other religionists in Europe; but the act of subordinating their authority to that of society and the state has rendered their occasional acts of mania shocking and uncommon rather than quotidian and uncommented-on.
Sep. 18th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Just to add to your list...
Many more of my female Kuwaiti students go uncovered than covered, and some of them lose the covering (mostly scarves, which, I guess, qualifies them as hijabs?) when they come to America.

The Saudi and UAE females stay covered without exception. But I set up a women-only self-defense class as a student activity last spring. About half a dozen Saudi students took the class with a few more from other countries and a couple of teachers. The teachers told me the next day that as soon as they got in the door, the coverings came off. They were floored at how quick and natural an act that was for them.

None of my Turkish students have ever worn any kind of head covering, but it's possible that we're drawing the more liberal of the population.
Sep. 18th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
This summer I had a group of 24 Europeans, many of them second generation, including a few Muslims. There were also five from France (though none of the Muslims), and people from every other country were critical of the "burqa policy" in varying degrees of vehemence. The French, surprisingly, defended the policy not as one of state-sponsored atheism, but of national and public security. The point they repeated often was that the law was equal; no one is allowed to wear a face covering in public.

None of the students from any country seemed particularly reluctant to criticize their own government, so this came across as genuine agreement rather than nationalism. It seems there is a real cultural difference between France and other European nations/America in their approach to multiculturalism.

A similar major point of debate was the longer-standing law that it is illegal to deny the Holocaust in France and Germany. On this, again, the people from those nations saw it as an acceptable infringement on free speech, with students from the other nations mostly agreeing to various degrees, save the British who mostly had an "American" point of view: that repercussions should be social, not legal.
Sep. 18th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
That's pretty interesting. I don't really buy the equal-under-the-law argument, though, since it only applies to one specific group; it's like when anti-gay-marriage advocates argue that gays ARE free to marry, as long as they marry people of the opposite sex. Or the old "the rich as well as the poor are forbidden under law to sleep beneath bridges" thing.
Sep. 18th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Your wobbling to and fro on this issue almost exactly mirrors my own. Heartily agreed.
Sep. 18th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
Or, more accurately, a "Free to Imprison My Own Face" token?
I wonder if the practice of covering one's nose & mouth with a mask when sick will be illegal in Franchland. I suppose those who have to wear a respirator will have special "Get Out of Face Jail Free" cards.

The sign on the door at my bank says to take off hats and dark sunglasses, but I saw a woman in line wearing full niqab. What's going to happen when she gets to the teller window? Will a female employee take her into an office to check her ID? Or will they just trust she's not draining someone else's account?

A Somali woman I met recently seems fairly Americanized, has no accent, actively avoids the local Somali community, but covers her hair.

Once again women are going to bear the burden of these dramas.

Muslim activists have charged the West with being more worked up by the veil than, say, ladies' human rights. This law proves that accusation. The West is insulted by the act of a woman covering herself. We say it's because it suggests women are second class citizens. Until we get our own womens rights situation in order, criticizing others seems... well, you know...
Sep. 18th, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
Re: Or, more accurately, a "Free to Imprison My Own Face" token?
"Sorrow is the key that gets our tears out of eye jail."

As usual, it comes down to two warring authoritarian groups battling over who owns someone else, with the one possibility left unconsidered being that the person owns themselves.

Here, it's 'secular' Western individualism arguing that a woman cannot make her own religious or cultural choices, and must go unveiled, because Western society owns her image and demands she show it. And in opposition, it's 'traditional' Islamic religion arguing that a woman cannot help but be a temptation to men, and must go veiled, because Islamic tradition owns her image and demands she hide it. What the woman thinks is of no particular importance to either side.
Sep. 18th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
Here via vita_excalibur, and I feel compelled to correct some of your misapprehensions.

I am Pakistani-American, and was raised Muslim (although I disavowed Islam more than ten years ago). No one in my family covers, except in the mosque, and even then, only on holy days.

And even in the most liberalized Muslim cultures, the veil is, essentially, a religious obligation, and thus an infringement of freedom for anyone who doesn't want to wear it.

You're just wrong about that. Before 9/11, you could walk through the streets of Karachi and see fewer covered women than non. It was nearly unheard of to see a woman with her face veiled. In rural areas, more women cover (and there is a difference between covering the head, and veiling the face. The two are not synonymous, as you seem to be using them) but it was by no means universal . . . until the headscarf became a symbol of ethno-nationalist pride thanks to America's war on Islam. The same is true in Bangladesh and Turkey. In Egypt, although the scarf is nearly universal, my Coptic Christian relatives and their entire community never cover in public, with no more or different repercussions than those they already experience for being a religious minority.

The sexist, patriarchal enforcement of covering or veiling is regional and cultural, not religious, and is most certainly not unique to Islam. If you disbelieve me, do some research on tznuit, or the compulsory dress of conservative christian groups.

I agree, of course, that the french ban on face coverings is pretty clearly targeted at Arab & North African Muslims, not Orthodoz Jews or Plain People, and is motivated by bigotry.
Sep. 18th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing.

I'm aware of all that you're saying, but the fault is mine for phrasing it badly -- I should have said "in the most liberalized Muslim cultures in which veiling is required". As you see in my response to theweaselking above, I know that many predominately Muslim countries do not require (and some even ban) hijab, and that in areas where veiling is not a cultural tradition, most especially the Muslim areas of central Africa and eastern Europe, hijab is almost completely unknown. My point was more that, regardless of its cultural origins, Muslim religious leaders have made it out to be a religious obligation, especially in those countries where the separation of church and state is weak.

I'm also well aware that other faiths and cultures besides Islam have the concept of compulsory dress; that's why I mentioned in the original post that it frustrates me that much of the criticism of veiling comes from people who have nothing to say about, or are even supportive of, the dress codes enforced by, among others, Orthodox Jews, the LDS, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Amish and Mennonite churches, and so on. Even a group as 'mainstream' as Pentecostals forbid women to wear pants, but no one seems to care about any of that, while Islamic dress drives them to distraction.

Anyway, you're right, of course, and I apologize for my insufficient phrasing. It's valuable to have your perspective.
Sep. 20th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
I have no opinions I can add to this--my feelings have been articulated quite well by what you and the other commenters have said. I'm only writing to ask if you've seen Bill Maher's Fall Fundamentalist Fashion Show from an old ep of Real Time? I'll dig up a link if you like, but it's easy to find on YT. It's one of the funniest things I have ever seen, though the comments, when I last watched the video, had of course turned into "Who are you to judge our society?"/"Muslims are terrorists so fuck you."
Sep. 21st, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say that I followed one of vito_excalibur's links here and completely love how you sorted out all the intersecting issues so neatly and clearly. Nice post!