By INNA SHEVCHENKO
This is the #MeToo of clothing harassment. Voices of Middle Eastern women living in the West—or not—who had to wear hijab—or still do—are rising. They claim that the Islamic veil is not a harmless trivial garment and even less a freedom for women. Hoping to be heard by some feminists who repeat like a mantra that the veil is a choice.
It all started as a new episode of intellectual cowardice and capitulation to accusations of Islamophobia. After the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a photo of children on its cover in which a little girl was wearing hijab, pediatric surgeon Dr. Sherif Emil sent a letter to the editorial team entitled “Do not use an instrument of oppression as a symbol of diversity and inclusion.” The doctor takes issue with the commonplace use of such images in Canada’s largest medical journal: “It has become ‘liberal’ to see hijab as a symbol of diversity and inclusion… Hijab, niqab and burka are instruments of oppression for millions of girls and women around the world who are not allowed to make a choice.” The National Council of Canadian Muslims called for the immediate removal of the text from the journal’s website. The letter was immediately removed and the editor in cheif apologized for making the doctor’s “wrong, hurtful and offensive” words public.
This time, however, the cowardice of some has revealed, in contrast, the bravery of many others. Many Middle Eastern women living in the West reacted to the incident, launching a major campaign on social networks and demanding that they be listened to on issues that affect their lives, such as the religious dress code. The #LetUsTalk campaign went viral within days.
“In Iran I was told if I don’t wear hijab, I get kicked out from school, I get jailed, lashes, beaten up, and kicked out from my country. In the West I’m told, sharing my story will cause Islamophobia. I’m a woman from Middle East and I am scared of Islamic ideology. Let us talk.” It is with this tweet that the famous Iranian activist against the mandatory hijab, Masih Alinejad, reacted to the censorship of the doctor’s letter. With these words, accompanied by a childhood photo of herself wearing hijab, she inspired an avalanche of similar confessions. Her tweet was liked by more than 30,000 people and the hashtag #LetUsTalk began to spread.
“I used to secretly remove my hijab just to feel the air in my hair. This ideology stole my life,” tweeted an exiled Saudi woman, Rana Ahmad. “Another day in Germany, where I walk under the sun without this hijab that makes me feel like a second-class citizen, like I did when I was in Saudi Arabia…,” wrote another exiled Saudi woman, Loujain. “In Yemen, I was forced to wear the hijab at the age of six and the niqab at the age of thirteen, and when I decided to take it off, half of my family abandoned me, and then when I took off the hijab and the abaya, I lost everything,” confesses Basma Nasser, who now lives in France.
Hundreds of similar stories are now being posted and shared on Twitter, contradicting both the defenders of Islamism, who stage Islamophobia trials, and some Western feminists, who have blindly adopted the mantra “hijab is a choice.”
To be honest, I didn’t expect my message to create such a wave around the world,” Masih Alinejad confessed to Charlie. This time it’s not just Iranian women speaking out. I see how this campaign has united many women from Muslim countries or Muslim communities in the West. All these stories are full of pain. We are trying to make the rest of the world understand that we, the women who have lived under Sharia law, are the ones who know the most about Islamic ideologies and that we have the right to be afraid of all the brutality we have suffered. I have the right to tell my story!”
They want to be able to tell their stories without being accused of Islamophobia.
But they also want to be heard by Western feminists, many of whom have taken up sexist religious rules of modesty and disguised them as symbols of “empowerment”. “#LetUsTalk is aimed at Westerners, especially feminists, asking them to stand in solidarity with women oppressed by Islamic law,” another Iranian woman, who resides in France, Aghdas Khanoom (pseudonym), tells Charlie. “I have been silenced in my country, and now in the free world. And it is even more painful.” A sentiment also shared by Shammi Haque, a Bangladeshi journalist exiled in Germany: “I decided to participate in this campaign in the hope that Western feminists would understand our pain and suffering, that they would understand what the veil/hijab really means and stop promoting it. In the name of diversity or to protect minorities, German feminists are blinded by their privilege.” Basma Nasser, a Yemeni student exiled in France, also insists that “there are some political currents in France that consider hijab as a choice and see it as an Arab culture, which is not true; how can we say that hijab is a ‘personal choice’, if there are no other options, if rebellion against hijab is a crime in many countries.”
And while in the West rebellion against hijab is not a crime under the law, confessions posted via #LetUsTalk reveal that many women do not experience hijab as a “choice” in Western countries either. “I converted to Islam when I was 28. I fully accepted all the rules and practices. Hijab was never an option. I never questioned it until the end of my marriage, when I started to take it off sometimes when I was alone. When my husband found out, he told me it was grounds for divorce,” tweets Deborah from the UK. “In Canada, I was forced to wear hijab at age 9, the niqab at age 19. I was disowned and threatened with death because I choose what I wear on my body,” says Yasmine Mohammed, who escaped a forced marriage and became a women’s rights activist. She points out that in the West, women in Muslim communities can be forced to cover themselves not by law but by devious methods, “including being told that only whores don’t cover themselves and being threatened with burning in hell for eternity.”
Indeed, while Iranian women continue to be imprisoned for removing their hijab, while Afghan women resist the Taliban who are once again erasing women from public space, in the West we are busy promoting the wearing of hijab, in fashion, in advertising, and in the media, all the while patting ourselves on the back for our tolerance… And Middle Eastern women in the West who dare to speak out against the dress code of modesty are silenced by the Islamists on the right, and by the “progressives” on the left. Let them speak!