The threat on hijabis underscored need for solidarity

Recently, a story was spread on social media regarding an incident in Canada in which a girl was attacked by a man who tried to use scissors to remove her hijab from her head. While there has been dispute on whether or not the event actually took place, it still offers a much needed opportunity to have a conversation about the hijab and the people who wear them.

First, let us consider some of the criticisms that have been proposed of the article of clothing. For one, some people consider the hijab to be something that has no place in North America, or in most of the western world. In the same vein of thought, the hijab is seen as an article of clothing that belongs only in West Asian areas, or at least places that are not predominantly white. This notion moreover prescribes to the idea that in living in the Western world, one must give up aspects of their previous culture as it is no longer relevant in their current home. After all, if they should want to be considered American/Canadian/French or whatnot, they should make the effort to assimilate to that culture. And that means losing the scarf.

Other criticisms of the hijab come from certain feminist perspectives, who view the hijab as a symbol of a sexist and patriarchal culture, one in which women are denied sexual freedom or expression and are instead expected to cover up. Within this, many feminist critics of the hijab attempt to rally people to spurn the hijab and instead dress as they like, regardless of their religious or cultural background. This view still requires that people assimilate, to a certain extent, in order to fulfill what is seen as female empowerment. It is the same erasure of context and identity, but through a different lens.

While it may be understandable that someone may reach these conclusions, it’s important to understand that all in all these are mindsets that contribute to feelings of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia within the west. The first is most easy to illustrate as being actively harmful: the policing of identity, particularly within a dominant group, perpetuates concepts of inequality while also pursuing the false narrative of white Christian normativity, in which everything else is seen as a deviation from that norm. Because of this, the forced assimilation of non-white, non-Christian western peoples is something that must be eradicated due to the harm it portends.

The second is a little more well meaning, but still misguided. It’s a perspective that lacks self awareness, particularly regarding women, which is ironic considering how essential womanhood is to feminism. But at the end of the day, these people must be reminded that women are not a monolith, and empowerment looks different for everyone. Some women find power in their nakedness, while others find it in modest dress. Neither one of these is inherently bad or patriarchal, and we must remember to respect how people present themselves through clothing, and to not pass character judgements on this.

As for us at St. Edward’s, this means standing in solidarity with our hijabi peers. Understanding the decision to wear, or not to wear, a hijab is essential to helping protect and promote the individuals on this campus, which is, after all, what St. Edward’s is all about.