Monday, June 9, 2008

on taking off the hijab

Zainab Mineeia, an Iraqi and a former translator for the LA Times in Iraq, has an op-ed in the Sunday paper about taking off her hijab when she came to the United States. She talks about the pressures she felt on both sides - the pressure she felt in Iraq to wear a hijab because it was safer to blend in:

But even as the hijab kept me safe, it became a burden for many others. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, there was a dramatic increase in the number of women wearing the hijab. Since then, as religious groups have gained more power, it has become dangerous to be spotted without one -- so much so that even Christian women now wear the hijab when they go out. To me, that signified that something was wrong with my country.
And, in the United States, the pressure she felt not to wear it in order to be more normal. She shares a story about a friend of hers, who used to veil, and found that, when she moved to a new city, it was a struggle to find a realtor who would rent her an apartment.

We shouldn't have to hide the fact that we're Muslims in order to be treated like everyone else. In some ways, it's as bad to feel pressure to take off the hijab in the United States as it is to be pressured to keep it on in Baghdad. It's sad that people here do not always accept you for who you are.

Interesting that the hijab issue has become so complicated and so fraught with symbolism - or, I guess, not very interesting; it isn't as if using women's bodies and appearances as turf for culture wars is a new idea. It's an upsetting sort of irony, though - in seeking to 'liberate' Iraqi women, the United States has framed them in a way that's the opposite of liberating.

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