In an article on how political correctness has made Britain vulnerable to terrorist attacks from the inside, M. G. Oprea’s terrific analysis shows that given the demand for “absolute tolerance for all things Muslim,” Britain has placed itself in an impossible situation. Who will dare to open her mouth about anything suspicious when there’s a chance she may get accused of racism (or worse)? In this Orwellian world, good is bad and bad is good.
We Iraqi immigrants call it the abaya. Annahhariri and Modanisa have a chic modern line that contrasts the drab black sheet my Christian mother had to wear while on her first teaching assignment in a small Iraqi village. There’s of course also the hijab, the burqa, and other articles of clothing belonging to the Muslim religion.
One of the benefits of colonization in Iraq was the modernizing of cities like Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul. Slowly the hijab, abaya, and other religious dress were shed for modern fashions. At that time, in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, no law in Iraq enforced the dress, but in small villages societal pressures still existed. Those few decades were an anomaly. Before and after there have existed either strong societal pressures or mandatory covering laws depending on the Arab country.
The hijab and other head and body covering for women waxed and waned during the twentieth and thus far in the twenty-first century depending on the level of cultural secularization in the Arab world. In other words, when Muslim piety grew, even in minor pockets, the enforcement grew, and head and body covering grew as a result. In Iran today it is illegal for any woman (native or visitor) to be in public without a head covering.
For some Middle Eastern Christians, Muslim head and body covering in the West has become a trigger that reminds them of their life in the Arab world under an Islamic government. Those memories bring back all the harassment, prejudice, and discrimination they experienced. It sometimes even brings back bitterness that they had to leave their homeland because of the inhospitable environment. Even if in some places head and body covering wasn’t enforced on Christian women, the practice is tied to Islam, which in turn is tied to the state.
Is Muslim Covering Strictly For Religious Purposes?
The Huffington Post has been falling all over themselves over 23-year-old Newsy journalist Noor Tagouri, who made it into Playboy’s 2016 Renegades issue. Playboy featured her as a “badass activist” who is “mak[ing] a surprising bold case for modesty.”
She claims her ultimate goal is to be the first hijabi anchor on commercial U.S. television. She’s “burning down stereotypes,” “demanding change,” and apparently advocating for “unapologetic individuality.” When asked about her “call to action to readers” she responds with: “Live your life as your truest self and encourage others to do the same!…. continue to break barriers and glass ceilings and reclaim our power.”
Playboy hasn’t (in their entire history, I’d suppose) been too interested in the thousands of Christian women trying to make a case for modesty. What gives? Tagouri is peddling Western autonomy and individuality, sexed up with a hijab. She denies the empirical evidence that the endgame of hijab culture in Islam is totalitarian. For all their talk of “renegades,” Playboy and The Huffington Post are actually hawking the banal conformity of this age: Anything but Western Christendom.
It’s a good thing that Tagouri is living in America. All this “unapologetic individuality” talk would not go over well in Muslim countries. This leads me to what I’ve said before: some Muslims come to this country and game it, using political correctness, progressive talk about individual rights, religious freedom, and other distinctives of the secular West for their purposes. When Middle Eastern Christians see a hijab-clad woman on national TV claiming she is the subject of prejudice, they’re incredulous. They see it as a foot in the door to making this country like the places they left.
I’m not saying that this is what Tagouri is doing. Frankly, I just think she’s a millennial doing the same rebellion dance as the rest of her generation, only in a different flavor. But she says something in a video about the hijab which I would like to address: “The truth is, people all over the world cover for a lot of reasons: to maintain a sense of modesty, to empower themselves, to honor tradition, or just because they think it’s the right thing to do… For a lot of us, it’s just a way to express ourselves.”
That’s true up to a point. I’m also not against head coverings — I’ve written about my reasons for wearing the mantilla during Mass. But she also makes false comparisons in that video.
In Dominant Forms of Islam, Religion Is Politics
Like other religions, the clothing and covering aspect of Islam is an outward manifestation of the theology—only, unlike in other religions, it is not separated from the laws of the state. Tagouri doesn’t believe it to be so. She says in that same video, “In some places, women are forced to cover their heads or faces. But that might have more to do with politics or culture than with religion. After all, the Quran says, ‘There is no compulsion in Islam’” (emphasis added).
In other words, the politics or culture of some countries force their girls and women to wear the hijab or niqab, but that compulsion is not intrinsic to the religion. Yet give me one example of a country that compels the hijab or niqab and isn’t a Muslim country.
Her logic here assumes a progressive Western understanding of the relationship between politics, culture, and religion—that they are separate and do not inform one another. She’s taking this and mapping it back onto her religion to sell us the idea that head and body covering is a private form of individual choice and religiosity.
That progressive and secular interpretation of the separation of church and state is the same mindset that chased religion out of the public square in the first place. It is what has led to a depraved public square here in America, and made Islamic radicalization in the West possible. (I am not advocating for an established religion. Neither the extreme secularizing of the public square nor the amalgamation of church and state is healthy for people, but rather a secular state informed and shaped by tradition and a public morality benefitting civility and the common good.)
In his letter to America, Osama bin Laden gives it as one of the reasons why the Islamic nation will continue to fight against us: “You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies.”
This separation of church and state in America stands in contrast to the Middle Eastern understanding of politics and religion. After relying on the progressive secular Western understanding of separation between church and state, and a public square devoid of value judgments, Tagouri then proof texts her claim with: “There is no compulsion in Islam.”
Granted, Islam has its variety of interpreters, but that verse, even with the variation of seven translations, reads: “There is no compulsion in religion. Certainly, right has become clearly distinct from wrong. Whoever rejects the devil and believes in God has firmly taken hold of a strong handle that never breaks. God is All-hearing and knowing.”
This verse is saying not to force the faith since right and wrong have become evident within Islam. First it is a claim about the self-evidence of Islam. Second, the scholarship is complicated with moderates who try to temper the punishments on apostates being outweighed by the denigration of unbelievers in the Qur’an, coupled with real world treatment of non-Muslims or rival sects.
Even if they can’t compel belief, there still exists punishment for those who reject the faith. Anyway, it does not mean what Tagouri thinks it means. It does not mean that Islam does not have rules for its followers that it enforces via sharia law, because itdoes. And it is within the Muslim understanding that the laws of the religion should be the laws of the state.
That’s Fine for Muslim Countries, But Not For America
In that same letter, Osama bin Laden tells us that we are “the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind,” and he calls us to turn to Islam, in his words, “the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme.” This is what the Islamic nation raising hell in the Middle East right now wants from America. It wants us to adopt the Muslim religion.
Contra Tagouri, head coverings and body coverings in Islam are not only a matter of personal choice, they tie religion to the state. This may be fine for Muslim countries, but it’s not fine in ours.
I am not saying we should ban all religious garb. I’m sure there are good and pious Muslims who have come to this country to live a peaceful life. I am saying two things: Firstly, this is the United States of America. We have our own language, traditions, and laws. It is our right and responsibility to ask more from those who want to come and live in our country.
This responsibility is to the existing population and culture, to care for and protect those already here. In fulfilling this responsibility to its people, it is the right of the host country to put forth a reasonable demand for assimilation from its immigrants. Better assimilation will reduce the chance of becoming unmoored from our constitutional principles, such as some western enclaves that now support a parallel Muslim justice system with sharia courts.
Secondly, we must work against Muslim groups in our country co-opting progressive language and PC culture. There was a time you could look at something like that and just call it out for what it is—manipulation—weaponizing our laws and language against us. If they can do it in Britain and Europe, they can do it here.
Luma Simms is an associate fellow at The Philos Project. She writes on culture, family, philosophy, politics, religion, and the life and thought of immigrants. Her work has appeared at First Things Magazine, Public Discourse, The Federalist, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter: @lumasimms.