A few weeks ago, my W&G studies class watched a video about the burqa (oh hey look, that word isn’t in the Microsoft Office 2013 dictionary) and life for Muslim women in a particular country (can’t quite remember which).
I tried finding the title online, but alas, it was one among many in the long line of videos and articles documenting the Western fascination with clothing of religious modesty—a fascination that often has Westerners stumbling clumsily in its attempt to understand.
After nearly 20 minutes of various key-word searching I found nothing except some additionally annoying article. Like this one, for example. It was one of many, “non-muslim girls going out in hijab” articles. Now, some of these articles are enlightening and non-offensive, but alas, this one was the opposite.
The writer compared a burqa wearer to the Grim Reaper and scoffed at the idea of a burqa with fashion sleeves. (Un)fortunately the writer was an equal-opportunity offender, stating that she dressed up as a pregnant nun for Halloween. Classy. Another gem among the awfulness was something I’ll add in full quotes for emphasis.
“I didn’t realize the significance of visiting one of the tallest buildings in New York dressed in Islamic garb until we reached the entrance. I felt like a jerk.”
So, I’m getting that the implication is Muslim women shouldn’t visit tall buildings?
To add a bit more richness to the crap that was this article, a response article by Vice staff and the original author was made against the criticism. They mock their critics by claiming that it was a sociological experiment. As a student of Sociology, I find this to be total bullshit. There was barely an ounce of scientific methodology in what they did. It is frustrating that an academic discipline I find so wonderful was dragged into this mess and made to seem unscientific (as if being a social science hasn’t given it enough crap to deal with already).
Also, big surprise here, the garment she was wearing wasn’t even a burqa. Despite her claim that she extensively google-searched the subject and she specified in her article that it was an abaya, she continued to refer to it as a burqa (she also added a niqab, which isn’t an actual part of the abaya, but an additional piece of clothing).
Let me school you up, guys. “Burqa” is not a catch all term for any form of Muslim female dress. If you must mash them all up into one category, at least use the term “hijab.”
Now, some of you that have slight knowledge of the subject may be thinking, “but wait, I thought that’s just a headscarf.” Well, no. The term hijab generally refers to the idea of a sense of modesty that Muslim women (and, as I understand it, men) should possess, and specifically to the kind of scarf that serves only to cover the head. The burqa is a form of hijab, as is the niqab (covers the face except for the eyes).
In her big ‘ol response to critics she admits that she incorrectly called the garment a burqa, so I guess that’s a minor plus, but she argues that if it had been a burqa she would have gotten the same response. She tries to make the point that if people had reacted differently, then it would have been simply a fashion blog. This explanation just seems to fall short. Derailment anyone? And she tries to say she “was in no way making any kind of statement about Muslim women or Islam,” but her irrelevance for their culture shone through the whole article.
Personally removing the symbolism of something does not achieve a thing. No matter what one’s personal belief is, to a large number of people, the hijab has weight and meaning, just Catholic rosaries, Native American headdresses, U.S. purple hearts, white wedding dresses, and Olympic medals carry weight and meaning for many. Failing to hold the proper reverence for something important to a culture simply offends. For some reason, being irreverent and offensive, or mocking political correctness, is cool now. People seem to believe that being confident and not caring what other people thing is an excuse for ignorant actions that make other people uncomfortable. This is incredibly frustrating.
Every hipster wearing war bonnet, pop-star wearing a bindi, or white girl covered in wedding henna she got from a festival is contributing to a culture that disregards and disrespects other cultures (these examples are specifically examples of cultural appropriation, which you can read more about it here and here and see here).
This just further emphasizes the “AMERICA IS #1” attitude these “totally multicultural appreciation appropriation” people are trying to dispel.
I think my next post will be about my personal journey with the hijab, or my initial struggle accepting the idea of white privilege and cultural appropriation.