Women & the Hijab

From Her Circle Ezine:

At the heart of Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow lies the dilemma of the Hijab. The plot centres around a writer who has come to a remote town to investigate reports of numerous suicides among the so-called ‘headscarf girls’, high-school girls who are killing themselves under pressure from the authorities to remove their headscarves. He puts the following speech into the mouth of one such girl. ‘If a lot of girls in our situation are thinking about suicide, you could say it has to do with wanting to control our own bodies. That’s what suicide offers girls who’ve been duped into giving up their virginity, and it’s the same for virgins who are married off to men they don’t want. For girls like that, a suicide wish is a wish for innocence and purity.’ (trans. Maureen Freely). Now, there are real problems for women living in Islamic cultures, there are evil traditions of oppression and domination, false and murderous notions of honour, a whole catalogue of horrors, sometimes justified, however unjustifiably, in the name of religion. But I don’t think we can just ignore the voice of that girl. We ought to listen, and try to understand what she is telling us. Salma Yaqoob, a British-born Muslim and political activist, has spoken eloquently of the ‘woman’s right to choose’. She sees the banning of the Hijab, rightly, as racism and xenophobia in the west, and insists that both banning and enforcement are equally oppressive, as both deprive a woman of the right to choose for herself what she will wear. [Salma Yaqoob,‘Women and the Hijab’, speech to the European Social Forum, 16 October 2004] If you doubt the racism and xenophobia, just try a little experiment – put on a headscarf and go for a walk in London. I sometimes wear one, just to keep my hair dry – it rains a lot in London, not generally a steady downpour but more of a persistent drizzle that soaks gradually into your clothes and hair, and a headscarf makes sense. The Queen often wears one, for example. And more than once I’ve had strange men shout insults at me such as ‘Go back where you came from!’ or ‘OOOOHH I can see your HAIR!’ and so on. There you are, men shouting at you again. In one part of the world they shout at you because you’re not wearing a headscarf and in another part of the world they shout at you because you are. Can’t win.

Grace Andreacchi, “Women and the Hijab or Why Is That Man Shouting at Me?”

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