I was inspired to write this series of posts–part 1 is here–after reading The Hijabinist’s post, “Here’s what’s wrong with hijab tourism and your cutesy ‘modesty experiments.’” The post takes note of and criticizes a pattern that the author traces back to 2007 of “nice, middle-class White wom[e]n” wearing–and usually getting paid as journalists to wear–some form of Mulsim women’s dress and then “translat[ing] the experience into a narrative that’s palatable to a Western audience.” As a result, she argues, “hijab and niqab are…shorn of their cultural, religious and social significance and reduced to tourist attractions and teachable moments for privileged outsiders.” Non-Muslims who read these narratives, she argues, end up with “a reductive, one-dimensional and over-simplistic view of how Muslim women experience their faith, their identity and their bodies.” She goes on:
Hijab and niqab are positioned as central to our experience, such that the only thing one has to do to understand how Muslim women feel is put on the ‘costume’ of one. In a society obsessed with externalities it’s not terribly surprising that Muslim women’s lives are constantly reduced to the most salient external symbol of our identity; but it is frustrating and depressing. We are more than just a veil. For a start, we don’t wear it all the time – when we go home and take it off, are we not Muslim women anymore? I’m still a Muslim even when I’m lying in bed in my pyjamas writing blog posts on my laptop, but if you perceive of Muslim womanhood as inherently tied to the practice of veiling then that aspect of my life and my experience becomes invisible.
Liz Jones’ 2009 piece in the MailOnline provides a perfect example of what The Hijabinist is talking about right in the title, “My week wearing a burka: Just a few yards of black fabric, but it felt like a prison.” The first four paragraphs continue in the same tone:
Squatting next to me is my burka. It looks so innocuous: just a few yards of black fabric. But, my goodness, how oppressive it is, how suffocating, how transforming.
Moved by the plight of Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese woman who faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public, I decided to spend a week enveloped in what she should have been wearing.
Out shopping one day, I caught sight of myself in a Knightsbridge store window. Instead of me staring back, I saw a dark, depressed alien. A smudge.
As I argued in Part 1 of this series, a government–even a local, tribal government–that imposes a religious dress code on women and then (not only but especially violently) punishes women for violating that code is oppressing women, and I think it would be wrong for people to remain silent about that oppression, even people who are not Muslim. However, it is one thing for a white, non-Muslim woman like Liz Jones to protest the actions of such a government; it is quite something else for her to decide that her experience of wearing a burka in the UK–that it transforms her into “a dark, depressed alien,” “a nothing”–can somehow stand in for the experience of a Muslim woman who, whether by force or by choice, puts one on in a country where women are, both legally and culturally, expected to cover themselves.
Danielle Crittenden, in her piece for the Huffington Post, is no less arrogant or presumptuous, placing what she calls the “disturbingly familiar” sight of fully veiled women “in shopping malls, airport lounges and Muslim neighbourhoods across North America” in the context of misogynist cultural practices that are oppressive without question: “In the free and equal societies of North America and Europe, we are hearing of more and more cases of forced marriage, confinement of women in their homes, honour killings and female genital mutilation,” she writes, and it’s as if she thinks that each of those fully veiled women dons her veil always and only because she fears becoming a victim of such practices. Not once does it seem to occur to Crittenden that a Muslim woman might choose to veil, fully or not, for reasons that are a good deal more deep than that it is the required “uniform” of her religion.
I am not Muslim and so I will not presume to speak as if I have anything but the most cursory knowledge of that tradition, but I do know that in orthodox Judaism, a tradition that I can speak about with some small authority, the modesty that is enjoined on both men and women–as it is in Islam–is not simply a matter of culture, of uniform, of proper manners; it is part of spirituality, about what it means to be human–physical, sexual, desiring, objectifying, and objectifiable–in relation not only, and not even primarily, to other humans, but first and foremost to God. My guess is that whatever else may be true about the veil in Islam, the practice of veiling has its origin in a very similar idea. What makes “hejab tourism” like Crittenden’s so offensive is that she doesn’t even consider that idea and how it might shape Muslim women’s interior experience of veiling, whether it is forced on them or not:
When I see a woman entirely masked in black cloth, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to be her — and what it would be like to be fully cloaked in my own life. The garment is at once so alien and so personal, so mundane and yet so fraught with meaning. (Emphasis mine.)
Note, again, the word alien. Of course the veil is alien to Crittenden. Of course her experience of wearing it, like Jones’, is almost certainly going to be alienating. There is no way Crittenden, or Jones, or any of the other women whose articles The Hijabinist cites can know “what it [is] like to be” the “woman entirely masked in black cloth” because they are not Muslim, and to pretend otherwise is to engage in the worst kind of cultural appropriation, silencing Muslim women’s own voices and rendering invisible both the image Muslim women have of themselves and the image through which they want us to know them. Lubna Hussein, for example, the woman whose arrest so inspired Liz Jones, wears a head scarf. Whatever else may be true about the burka and how it is used in her culture, in other words, it is not alien to her. She prays. She is a practicing Muslim, but nowhere does Jones acknowledge that fact. To Jones, Lubna is simply a woman being punished for not dressing the way the men of her culture expect her to dress. As a result, the only meaning Jones can conceive of for veiling is the meaning she (Jones) believes was imposed on her (Hussein) by the Sudanese government; and it is that meaning that Jones finds when she puts on her own burka. Whatever meaning Hussein might find in veiling appears to be, if not entirely irrelevant, then certainly not worth Jones’ trouble to understand given that she does not mention it once while telling us about her own experience as a temporarily veiled woman.
Of all the articles or blog posts that The Hijabinist cites, only one, Ela’s post about wearing a hejab to the mall has a kind of naive integrity to it. Not because the story it tells does not reflect “hejab tourism”–it does–but because Ela did not pretend that putting on her hejab would gain her access to the interior experience of a veiled Muslim woman–which is what Crittenden and Jones pretty explicitly said they were trying to do. Rather, Ela’s goal was to experience for herself the way people in her community treat veiled women. Her focus, in other words, was not the meaning of the veil as a sign of women’s oppression within Islam, but the meaning of the veil as the symbol of a hated Other in the United States. More to the point, her purpose in writing was to expose that hatred and to issue a call for its end, not to call the practice of veiling itself into question. Obviously, Ela did not have to wear a hejab in order to issue that call–which is why what she did qualifies as hejab tourism–but her decision to wear the hejab makes sense to me as a seventeen-year-old’s sincere and naive act of empathy and solidarity.
To be fair, none of the women whom The Hijabinist critiques start out with the goal of denigrating Islam or its followers. Rather, these women see themselves as speaking up for other women, as giving voice to women who are, in the writers’ estimation, mostly voiceless. That estimation is a large part of the problem. Muslim women are not voiceless. Not only are individual Muslim women, like The Hijabinist, like Lubna Hussein, perfectly capable of speaking for themselves about their experience of veiling, whether they have chosen it freely or not, but there is actually a rather lively discussion going on among Muslim women and between Muslim women and Muslim men not just about the purpose, meaning, justification for, and necessity of veiling, but also about the place of women in Islam as a whole. It would seem to me that any non-Muslim woman who wants to write responsibly about veiling, especially if she is going to cover herself in an attempt to experience firsthand what it feels like to be a veiled Muslim woman (assuming for the moment that such a thing could be done responsibly)–such a woman, it seems to me, owes it to herself and her readers to inform herself about this discussion. Neither of the women I have quoted did that. A quick search reveals the titles I have listed below. They are not, in other words, hard to find:
- The Veil and the Male Elite, by Fatima Mernissi
- Beyond the Veil, Fatima Mernissi
- Qur’an and Woman, by Amina Wadud
- Woman’s Identity and the Qur’an, by Nimat Hafez Barazangi
- Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, by Leila Ahmed
- Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence, by Kecia Ali
I am very aware that nothing I have written here changes the fact that the veil, in all its forms, is used by men in many places throughout the world to oppress women–whether that oppression takes place in individual families, in local communities, or in entire nations; and I remain committed to the notion that speaking out against that oppression is not exclusively the purview of Muslim women (or men). However, if you are not Muslim and you are going to speak out against it, even if you are a woman identifying as a woman with Muslim women’s oppression, you should be doing so as an ally, which means having the humility to know that you and your experience are not what is at stake; that you and your experience do not belong at the center of the discussion. This–putting their experience smack at the center of the discussion–is the mistake the women I have talked about here have made. The way that mistake erases the experience of Muslim women is what I mean by the casual hatred that is cultural appropriation. (This paragraph has been slightly edited to improve clarity.)
Why should you speak out as an ally? You’re dancing around it a bit – but you seem to be essentially saying this can’t be approached from the perspective that Islam is incorrect.
Before I answer your question, I wonder if you’d explain more fully what you mean by this:
Given the way the assertion is loaded, I assume that you think Islam is “incorrect,” and so I am wondering what you mean by that word and on what authority you make that claim, since I also assume you would agree that if one is going to make this kind of generalization about a world religion, one ought to do so from an informed perspective.
I’m not going to get into an argument about the truth of Islam. I might just have trouble with reading comprehension, but the above just seems to be a weaselly attack on (1) arguments from outside the Islamic tradition and (2) arguments from common humanity, couched in liberal language. I’m just asking you to be direct about this.
I would say you’re having trouble with reading comprehension, but maybe I have missed something in my own writing. Where specifically do you see this weaseling? If you point to specific passages, I can respond more meaningfully.
I can see the argument, but I’m not sure I buy into it: at heart, my objection to the hijab (or other things which have nothing to do with hijab) is based on individual morals rather than rational practicality. I think it’s wrong and problematic, and I wouldn’t think differently just because people have been brainwashed by their religion/culture into believing that they like to wear it. The fact that an individual woman might claim she’s OK with it is relevant but not determinative.
I share SOME interests with SOME Muslim women. For example, I share an interest in removing the hijab. But I also have many interests which are opposed to many beliefs of many Muslim women, particularly those who are relatively orthodox. Why should I subsume my opposing interests and force a fake “ally” status in order to opine on an issue that’s important to me? It’s pretty obvious that the reverse isn’t true; plenty of Muslim women (well, those who actually get to speak in public) have all sorts of opinions about non-muslim-women affairs and I don’t think I’ve ever said (or heard you suggest) that they should subsume those opinions.
The experience which people are thinking about is collectively
-people who are wearing the hijab;
-people who might wear one in the future, or who might have worn one “but for” some sort of intervention/decision;
-dead/unborn people in the past and future who fall into those categories;
– the people who interact with others wearing the hijab;
Sure: if you decided that you were going to pick a random woman off the street and functionally oppose your individual views on her personally by forcing her to act, that would be horrific. But your framing is bizarre, because it ignores the collective issues.
Sigh. I know it’s agitprop, but it’s tiring: can y’all stop conflating “erasure” with “saying something else?” You have your opinion and I have mine; neither of us is being erased. Focusing on the individual experiences of Muslim women isn’t “erasing” anyone else’s beliefs, either. It’s called “disagreement” and “speech” and there’s no sense it giving it a negative label.
It’s actually a bit ironic in this particular case: if the writings of a few white women were actually capable of entirely “erasing” the experience of Muslim women, it would put the lie to the concept that they are entirely able to speak for themselves.
Re: Given the way the assertion is loaded, I assume that you think Islam is “incorrect,” and so I am wondering what you mean by that word and on what authority you make that claim, since I also assume you would agree that if one is going to make this kind of generalization about a world religion, one ought to do so from an informed perspective.
I’m not Alex, obviously, so I don’t know what he was referring to. But I would assume that any non-Muslim thinks Islam is incorrect. If they thought it was correct, they’d be a Muslim. I have both theological and secular grounds to think Islam is incorrect, but I assume you aren’t interested in my theological criticisms (of Muslim beliefs about strict monotheism, Jesus, the authority of the Quran, etc.). So leaving that aside, I’d also say that Islam is incorrect on basic issues of morality and philosophy as well, of which specific things like the demand for women to cover themselves, the belief in an all-encompassing and unchangeable legal system, killing apostates, is only part.
I’m also not sure why I would be expected to be an ‘ally’. As Gin-and-Whiskey says, I’m sympathetic to these women in one sense, since they’re victims of a legal system I find abhorrent, but inasmuch as they’re Muslims and hold to that worldview, I’m critical of them. So I’d say I’m in some respects their ally and some respects their opponent.
And, again, I don’t really see what ‘erasing’ means here. I’m not erasing their opinions, I just think that their opinions are wrong, and I’m not that interested in hearing them. It’s rather obvious that people are very, very commonly wrong about what their real interests are, or what’s good for them, or what they really want. This shouldn’t be news to anyone.
Richard – I share the uneasiness of a lot of people on this thread about the imperative of being an ally. Like G&W suggested, I feel that speaking from the vantage of an ally is a choice that must be done sincerely or not at all. Let us take what to me seems to be a rather analogous situation – anti-abortion laws in Catholic countries such as Ireland. Should a pro-choice, non-Catholic American woman in the US present herself as an ally to Catholic women advocating for perpetuating anti-choice laws in their countries? Is this somehow different because Abortion is also an issue in the US?
Or am I misunderstanding what you are saying?
In thinking about how to respond to these comments, I was reminded of something I read in James Scully’s book Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. Scully is talking about the fact that “most protest poetry is conceptually shallow.” He goes on:
I think Scully’s words capture well the problem I have with the articles written by the women I talked about in my post. I also think it points to what I mean when I say that if one is going to speak out against the ways in which the veil is used to oppress women–which is different from speaking out against the significance of the veil within Islam as a whole–one ought to do so as an ally, from a perspective that does not place your own experience at the center of the discussion–and, I would also add, from a perspective that includes the entirety of women’s oppression in such situations, so that one’s analysis/opposition gets at what Scully means when he says what is actually, systemically going on.
(I feel the need in this regard–and I hope this does not make me sound too much like an English professor–to point out that the antecedent to “it” in this sentence from my post
is “that oppression” in the previous sentence, and the antecedent of “that oppression” is “the fact that the veil, in all its forms, is used by men in many places throughout the world to oppress women.”)
I realize that this does not answer the specific points raised in the preceding comments, but it is late and I am tired, so I will come back to them in more detail tomorrow or the next day. For now, I want to say just this:
You and I can each have our own opinions about the hejab, and if they are simply your opinion and my opinion, and they are not amplified in the press to become the lens(es) through which our community views the hejab, then I think it’s not entirely unfair to say no harm no foul, no matter how ill-informed our opinions might be. However, if our opinions do become amplified like that and neither of them accounts for the actual lived experience of Muslim women in relation to the hejab, then that experience is invisible to people who look through the lens our amplified opinions provide. This latter case, in other words, is not simply a matter of different opinions.
Finally, Hector, I said in my other thread that I was not going to engage with you, and I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of why. Simply put, it is the appalling, patronizing arrogance of statements like this:
And the willful ignorance of statements like this:
As I said before, I am not asking you not to post in my threads because other people do occasionally seem interested in debating you, but I will not be one of them.
After I read the essay, but before I read the comments, I thought–if I’m understanding this correctly–that the writings of non-Muslim women about their experiences would not be as problematic if their audience were likely to also consume writings by a significant number of diverse Muslim women as well. It’s the net effect of what you call hejab tourism that is problematic, because the authors probably have reason to believe, or even desire, that their own writing becomes central in the cultural discussion that they’ve entered.
I think that is similar to what you meant when you wrote
Perhaps another way to phrase your ally line would be, “Don’t convince yourself that you are advocating on behalf of the women affected by [the oppression/the policies in question] unless you are doing so from the position of an ally who has learned about their actual perspectives.”
I’m curious about this statement in the comments:
I guess it depends what you mean by an informed perspective, but it seems to me that what you suggest here is something that sounds very reasonable: that before one determines that a word religion is incorrect, one ought to be somewhat knowledgeable about it. But even though it sounds reasonable, surely this practice has only been attempted by a tiny, tiny fraction of human beings in all of recorded history.
Without turning this into another of my “religion leads to paradoxes precisely because of the nature of religion” paragraphs, I’ll suggest that maybe there are two reasons that almost every human being feels perfectly comfortable declaring that a world religion is incorrect with little or no knowledge of that religion.
1.) If you believe in a faith that purports (because of divine revelation or some other reason) to be true, then you are likely to dismiss other world religions simply because they cannot also be true.
2.) If you approach the universe from a framework that does not allow for the truth of an entire school of thought, then you are likely to dismiss all religions that fit into that school of thought, whether you are informed about them or not. So, for example, if your view of the universe is materialist, then you are likely to reject all supernaturalist philosophies and religions, whether you know their specifics or not.
Do you think it’s offensive to say that a religion is incorrect?
I find the word incorrect odd in this context, which is part of why I asked Alex to clarify what he meant by it, but, no, I don’t necessarily that that it’s offensive to say a religion is incorrect, especially if one is taking the position that religion itself is incorrect, something like the second position you outline in your comment. (I don’t mean to imply by this that I think it is offensive in the first example you give either; it’s just that I don’t have much to say about that first example.) I asked Alex to explain what he meant because I read his comment in the context of my original post, which is specifically about veiling in Islam and about the problems I see with (what I would characterize as) the dominant western discourse about veiling. In that context, to say that Islam is incorrect in requiring women to cover themselves, without acknowledging any number of things, including but not limited to the fact that Islam also requires men to cover themselves, that this covering has a meaning within Islam, that the veil–even the veil mentioned in the Quran–was a traditional form of women’s dress before Islam, seems to me to be problematic.
In the same way, there is a difference–and I think this goes to what G&W was saying in his comment–between having a problem with the Muslim concept of the veil as part of a critique of religious views of sexuality as a whole, or even of sexuality within Islam in particular (assuming one is not singling out Islam’s view of female sexuality), and presuming to speak for Muslim women, which is what the women I critiqued in my post presumed to do.
I’m not sure the analogy works, but I’m not exactly sure why, so consider this my thinking out loud:
1. I am not suggesting that a woman in Iran, say, who believes the government is right in forcing women to wear the hejab is doing anything other than participating in the political oppression of women in that country, and I have already said that I think all people have a responsibility to speak out against that oppression. More to the point, that woman is obviously not an ally.
2. I’m not so sure that your analogy is any different from, say, the relationship between a feminist (male or female) and a woman who is not a feminist, who embraces traditional gender roles, etc. Clearly that woman is not an ally in the struggle against patriarchy/sexism/etc., but her existence does not, I don’t think, absolve me of the responsibility not to center my experience when I am speaking out against the ways in which patriarchy/sexism/etc. oppresses women.
Ah, I am looking at the clock. That’s probably all I have time for for today. Sorry.
Richard – thank you for responding; I also do not have much time to write today, but I’ve been thinking of how to better express what the cause of my discomfort is with what you are saying here. However, one thing that is bothering me is that, at the moment, this is a thread consisting entirely of men debating how women should express themselves (in a particular situation). I don’t think that’s what the thread is really about, but it is something that is making me want to be more careful than I usually am (and have been in my earlier post) about what I’m saying. So it may take me a while to get back to you.
That’s not really true.
RJN is talking about some women who should, perhaps, limit their speech.
I am taking the opposite tack: I think that all people should feel free to express themselves however they want. Muslim women can talk about non-muslim women, and vice versa. Women can express thoughts and opinions on issues that affect men, and vice versa. I’m only talking about women’s speech because I don’t think anyone should be telling any of them to shut up.
Included in that is the assumption that other people can also feel free to talk about limitations on speech, even if they’re wrong: they can argue that certain people shouldn’t speak, for example, or that there should be preconditions such as expertise (who judges that, I wonder?) for speech. Me, I choose to argue against the “tell that person to shut up” folks.
No. I am criticizing the speech of the women I wrote about in the post–and, by extension, the speech of those who share their agenda/perspective–and I am suggesting that to speak responsibly about the topic about which those women have spoken, for the reasons those women state that they have spoken, brings with it the obligation to observe certain kinds of boundaries. They are quite obviously free to say, write, publish, what they want; that freedom does not immunize them from criticism nor does that freedom mean that what they have said is by definition responsible, valid, persuasive, etc. I do believe that the cultural appropriation in which these women engage, however well-intentioned, represents a kind of casual hatred. Calling that out hardly represents a call for them to “shut up.”
Any recommendations for accounts by women from inside hijab-wearing culture/religion who have worn the hijab outdoors some of the time and sometimes not? I’m curious about how wearing a hijab or not feels to women for whom a hijab is a normal thing rather than an exploration.
Also, as far as I know, this discussion has revolved around either individual choice to wear a hijab, or government action to require hijabs. Does family pressure fit into the discussion?
RJN, this is ridiculous.
I said: “RJN is talking about some women who should, perhaps, limit their speech.”
You began: “No.”
but in the same paragraph, you say: “I am suggesting that to speak responsibly about the topic about which those women have spoken, for the reasons those women state that they have spoken, brings with it the obligation to observe certain kinds of boundaries.”
Boundaries are synonymous with limits. Suggesting that someone has an “obligation to observe… boundaries” is absolutely suggesting that there should be limits on their speech, and as a functional matter it is absolutely suggesting that there are things about which they should shut up: because if not, what on earth are those boundaries/limits for?
Maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean by limits. My reading of phrases like the highlighted one here: “Suggesting that someone has an ‘obligation to observe… boundaries’ is absolutely suggesting that there should be limits on their speech” is that you are saying that I think the women who’ve written the articles I’ve critiqued should be somehow prevented from speaking. And that is not what I am saying.
On the other hand, I do think that there are responsible and irresponsible ways to speak for someone or some group, which is what the women in those articles claimed to be doing, and that to speak for someone in a responsible manner means, at the very least, observing the boundary between your experience and the experience of the people you are presuming to speak for; but I’m not telling the women who wrote the articles in question to shut up; I’m telling them that I think they spoke irresponsibly, and I am asserting what I think it would mean to speak responsibly.
You’re absolutely right, of course, if you are talking about the English language.
This is a bit different dialect, Academic Newspeak, and I’ll try to translate:
“obligation to observe… boundaries” is simply a reminder that the women should not stray far from the narrative.
Putting limits on women, on the other hand, is just an awful thing to do.
To say that ‘to speak responsibly on issue X, one should avoid certain kinds of speech’ seems to me both to obviously be true, not censorship, and not a call for speech restrictions.
I mean, if I’m speaking on, say, 9/11, and what I say is, “LOL IT WAS FUNNY WHEN PEOPLE JUMPED FROM WINDOWS AND DIED,” when someone says “if you want to speak responsibly on 9/11, you shouldn’t say that,” the function it serves is not to restrict my speech, but to say that that sort of speech is irresponsible. Which it is.
Similarly, to say that if you’re speaking on behalf of Muslim women, the only responsible thing is to do so in ways which accurately represent their beliefs is not to say not to speak all kinda of crap on behalf of Muslim women, it’s just saying that to do so is irresponsible. Which it is.
In other words, it’s criticism of speech, not silencing.
Or vice versa. I misunderstand at least one person per day and you may be today’s winner!
No, I don’t think that. I’m 100% confident that you would not argue for literal prevention, i.e. some sort of official mandate.
I read that as “you shouldn’t have said that.” I don’t join Varusz’ snark, but I do get the sense here that you’re sort of dancing around the idea.
Which, again, comes off as “you shouldn’t speak unless you ____.” And in this particular case it seems to involve a significant and time consuming amount of research and understanding*. You aren’t just saying something basic like “don’t say towelhead;” you’re arguing for a perspective and approach that (if they listened to you) would probably act to stifle the vast majority of people who don’t share your views.
It’s hard to read that as a good match for the claims that you don’t intend to suppress the speech of your opponents.
*Or, without being insulting, perhaps it just means they need to agree with the narrative. I don’t know if you’d be telling white women who entirely agreed with the Muslim perspective if they were being irresponsible. I doubt it. There seems to be an inherent catch-22 in that the “ally” definition is largely defined by whether or not you agree with the minority in question. Saying that you should be an “ally” has an EXTREMELY close overlap with saying that you shouldn’t disagree too much, lest you break the thin ice.
Of course you’re free to criticize other people’s speech. I don’t think the criticisms in this case are well founded, though..
First, I think there’s something disingenuous about this. Recall what these women did: they invested time, money, energy in procuring a burka or a hejab (or whichever version they wore); they spent anywhere from a few hours to at least two weeks (and one woman, I think, spent more time than that) wearing it; they took the time to record their feelings, impressions, experiences. If they had spent even a small portion of that time doing a little bit of the research that I think would have been the responsible thing to do, they might very well have written very different kinds of pieces. So I am not sure that asking people who want to speak not theoretically about veiling in Islam, but from the perspective of someone who has worn the veil, to do that kind of research is really asking all that much.
For me, the issue is not whether one agrees with the Muslim perspective–assuming that there is a single, unified Muslim perspective to agree with. Personally, I find the view of human sexuality that is often used to justify the veiling of women very troubling, and I have no problem speaking out against it, but I also recognize that my disagreement (for want of a better word), then, is not about the hejab per se, but about how and why and by whom and to whose benefit it is enforced. I can imagine a view of human sexuality, of modesty before one’s god, that places women’s voices and experiences at the center of the question of veiling and that I would, therefore, find less troubling. (And, indeed, there are Muslim women and men who are having that discussion; and if I were going to write about the veil in Islam, I would want to know about that discussion and the different perspectives that it contains.)
In other words, I see no reason why one could not acknowledge the validity of the range of experiences that exist amongst Muslim women who veil–whether by choice or not–allow those women their own voices within what you have to say, and still take a position that is critical of the practice.
One last thing, about the question of being an ally. Remember that the women I talked about in my post took the time to give themselves an experience that they presumed (I think arrogantly) would allow them to speak for Muslim women and against the oppression of the veil. They were, in other words, trying to be allies to those Muslim women, and I think that what they wrote ended up compromising that position, if not having precisely the opposite result. Why? Because of everything I wrote above.
Does that mean that I think those women, had they done some of the research, would have ended up saying, “Oh, okay, now I understand and I have nothing critical to say about the veil”? No.
Do I think they should have ended up saying that? No. Why? Because, as I said in this piece and in the previous post, I think the practice of enforced veiling is oppression.
Finally, do I think that those women would have/should have ended up thinking that there is nothing problematic about the veil even separately from the oppression I just described? No. Why? Because, as I suggested above, there are reasons to be critical of the veil as it is currently understood and practiced that have nothing to do with whether or not a given family or community or government forces women to wear it on the pain of some kind of punishment.
In other words, it is not that I think those women should not have spoken unless they ended up agreeing with me. [Edited to remove content that was not really relevant to this comment.]
And now I am done for the day. My technical writing class needs prepping and I am using a new textbook–I’ve actually been asked to rewrite the course from the bottom up–and so I will need to work undistracted. I may not be back to commenting until Thursday.
Well, of course you don’t, but that’s irrelevant to where the discussion is.
By “suppress” I mean “to communicate that they should not be saying what they are saying. I distinguish that entirely from disagreement.
To use two examples:
If you were to say “I think that these white women are wrong in how they present hijab”
that is , obviously, simple disagreement.
I read you as saying (in a grossly summarized way) something more like “I think that these people should really withhold comment unless they are Muslim women, acting as allies to Muslim women (with all that this entails;) experts in the field or at least possessed of what I deem adequate knowledge; etc.
That isn’t formal suppression of speech, of course. It wouldn’t even be informal suppression unless you were someone in a position of power–for example, if you said that to your students then it would have a “chilling” effect on their expression of opinion and would be improper. But it is an anti-speech position nonetheless.
A few questions, because I am honestly curious:
Do you consider it anti-speech to say something like, “It is not responsible speech to engage in Holocaust denial*?”
Would you have a different answer to “if you engage in Holocaust denial, you are acting irresponsibly?”
How about, “That was irresponsible of you to say all those things denying the Holocaust?”
I ask because it seems implied in, “this speech is irresponsible,” that the person engaging in it ought to not, but it also seems fairly straightforward that saying. “this speech is irresponsible,” is generally acceptable as criticism.
*Chosen because (hopefully) we can all agree that this is irresponsible, and not for any other reason.
As noted above, I am reasonably confident that most folks on this board wouldn’t support some sort of official restriction. (I can’t be entirely confident; there may be some canadians and europeans here who think that their countries’ laws are OK, and I think we have at least a few pro-hate-speech-laws USians, etc.)
I am really confused by this assertion.
That statement is obviously designed to tell the speaker three things:
(a) what she said is irresponsible; (b) she should be responsible; (c) therefore she shouldn’t say it. Otherwise, the “shouldn’t say that” language would not be there.
Could you please explain how the words “you shouldn’t say that”have meaning other than their plain English meaning?
Since nobody here is suggesting official restrictions, this is a weird non sequitur. I don’t think that saying irresponsible things ought to be illegal, but neither do I think that “not being illegal” makes it responsible speech.
The same way that the worlds “you shouldn’t jump into the swimming pool” can have meaning other than their plain English meaning. Because you are ignoring the introductory clause.
IF you don’t want to get wet, THEN you shouldn’t jump into the swimming pool.
That’s not a blanket restriction on ‘jumping into swimming pools.’
Your objection seems to be that we shouldn’t ever call speech irresponsible … which … seems pretty restrictive to free speech.
My position: I think it’s okay to say what you like. If someone else calls it irresponsible, you should consider that maybe it is. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe they’re wrong. Whether you say it or not is up to you. Whether you believe in their argument is up to you. In neither case are they restricting your speech.
I don’t think it’s anti-speech to say that it’s irresponsible of the anti-vaccine jerks to encourage people not to vaccinate their kids. I think it’s irresponsible of them to say that, and that IF they want to engage in responsible speech, THEN they’ll stop.
No. People can have the right to say whatever they want, including the right to tell other people NOT to say things. As an example, I support the right of folks to advocate for increased speech restrictions, even though I obviously would oppose those restrictions. As a further example, I would prefer it if you and RJN didn’t oppose this particular type of speech.
But if you’re going to say things which are designed and targeted to produce a particular result and if that result is “Jane isn’t going to make that comment,” it would be inane to assert otherwise. I don’t pretend that I can magically get you and RJN not to take a generic anti-speech stance without simultaneously engaging in some degree of suppression of my own.
Your example is ridiculous. Getting wet is an objectively unavoidable and wholly understood consequence of swimming.
This is a bit more like
“if you don’t want to get in trouble you won’t jump in the swimming pool;”
“if you want to be invited back you won’t jump in the swimming pool” or
“it would be irresponsible to jump in the swimming pool.”
Each of those statements would be read by almost anyone as a means to discourage folks from jumping in the pool.
I am really surprised that you are disputing this. When’s the last time that you expressed the sentiment “it would be really irresponsible to ____” or “it would be a bad idea to ___” for reasons OTHER THAN to try and stop the behavior?
Would you view all criticism of speech as anti-speech, then?
Edit: I mean, if you call an idea ‘wrong,’ you’re presumably saying that they ought not express that idea. If you call it ‘mistaken,’ you’re presumably saying that they ought not express that idea.
This is the problem with getting comment notifications by email. I’m taking a break and I can’t resist.
I am not going to argue anymore about whether or not what I wrote is about suppressing speech. G&W, you and I will have to agree to disagree.
Instead, I will say this: it is interesting to me, frustrating, and telling, that no one in this thread has taken on either the substance of the critique I offered in the original post or anything having to do with the hejab in general. Rather, this thread has devolved into a what is essentially a he-said-he-said (since it has so far only been men who have posted) argument over whether my admittedly strong critique and assertion of a similarly strong position constitutes an attempt to shut down the speech of people who disagree with me.
I am sure that we can, at some point, reach a relativistic analysis where we’re both right about something. But I am discussing THIS topic.
Now, if you want to concede a specific point and then move on, fine. It’s not reasonable, though, to continue making up hypotheticals which stray further and further from the actual point, in what seems to be an effort to avoid that kind of concession. You don’t answer any direct questions, and you keep asking them of me.
Seriously: I talk about RJN’s comment and use quotes from it… you respond by talking about 9/11.
I bring it back to a closer analogy… you talk about swimming.
I talk about swimming… now you want to talk about generalisms.
This is not an honest or reasonable form of argument.
My previous comment (#14) was about hijabs.
I keep using analogies because it seems to me that what’s happening is that you disagree with RJN on this topic, and instead of just saying, “I disagree that this is irresponsible speech,” you are accusing him of being anti-free-speech because he’s critical of a type of speech.
This is obviously foolish, and I think that you would be able to see how obviously foolish it is if we would extend the same logic to a topic on which you do not have an irrational emotional attachment. Or perhaps to a topic where we could all agree that the sort of speech used is irresponsible (which is why I chose things like holocaust denial and anti-vaccination stuff).
Your logic does seem to lead to the conclusion that any criticism of a type of speech is therefore anti-speech. I realize that you don’t like that, so maybe rather than doubling down on it and accusing me of dishonest argument, you might want to take a moment to reconsider.
Man, I think you’re doing the same thing. I can go back and point out all the direct questions I’ve answered, and all the direct questions you’ve not, but that seems pointless.
How about instead, you, once again, pause and reconsider your position that all criticism of speech is therefore anti-free-speech.
You’re right, Nancy. I apologize. I don’t have the time right now to dig out any links, but it shouldn’t be hard to find something, though perhaps not specifically what you are looking for, if you start googling around.
You’re right of course, and my comment was, I guess, somewhat irrelevant. criticism of a particular type of speech isn’t ‘anti speech’,
OK. Moving on, then…
I oppose it; I think your critique is arguably accurate w/r/t some things, but inaccurate overall insofar as you don’t seem wholly opposed to the wearing of the hijab, and seeing as you seem to dance around the negative aspects while focusing primarily on avoiding cultural appropriation.
In fact, I would suggest that your position is almost opposite of what I believe to be true. You imply that we can’t really understand the choice to wear a hijab unless we’re familiar with all the details of the culture. But you seem to automatically accept the framework of that choice. In order to make a fully free choice to wear a hijab, it seems likely that one would have to be in a situation where “wearing hijab” was not an assumption or a cultural norm, much less an officially-enforced or legal requirement.
This disparity in our views may be explained by this passage of yours:
To which I say, so what?
First of all, religion is no excuse. In a place where it’s all interwined, there’s no especially functional way in which you can easily separate the effects of “culture” and “uniform” and “proper manners” and “religion.” That’s especially true in a situation where the countries that have an official, relatively orthodox, state religion. Or whether they are embroiled in cultures that provide immense pressures to conform. Or when they are minors, who probably have no say in their own religious beliefs, or culture (how do all of the “children are an oppressed class” people feel about making girls wear a hijab?)
Also, at heart it seems that you are giving a sort of “extra respect” to orthodox folks because their belief stems from god. That doesn’t fly with me. The fact that someone’s particular set of cultural brainwashing includes “because God says so” does not make it any less susceptible to challenge than “because I think so” or “because we’ve always done it this way.”
Rather than saying “well, that’s their belief since they’re orthodox” I think it might make more sense to say “well, to the degree that the claim of voluntariness stems from orthodoxy, it is less credible, since higher degree of orthodoxy is pretty much linked to lesser degrees of independent thought.” not to mention that pretty much across the board, higher degrees of orthodoxy are linked to some extremely limited and often very problematic shit. (And this is by no means limited to Islam; it’s true for most everyone. Those crazy islamic folks who beat and kill people for apostasy are doing so because they’re orthodox; those crazy jewish folks who insist on building illegal settlements and then shooting “trespassers” because they think god has granted them the property are also orthodox; the list is endless.)
When you say “this is religiously based” that seems to make it LESS suspicious in your view. When I hear it, it makes it MORE suspicious. I think that your analysis is colored by this.
Finally: you talk about this in a sense of cultural appropriation. Islam is the second largest religion in the world; it is growing rapidly; it is the main and/or official religion of multiple countries. At some point the “cultural appropriation” claim is ridiculous, because the “appropriated” culture is so large and ubiquitous. To the degree it has value the term is designed to protect minority powerless cultures, not a religion with a population of 20% of the entire damn planet.
Islam as an entity is large and powerful enough to be mocked, analyzed, and discussed with impunity. Islam-with-hijab is the same.
I will need to think a bit about how to respond to your last comment because you seem to be responding to an argument I did not make. But I do have a question I would like to ask: What is your understanding of the hejab that you are–if I have understood you correctly–wholly opposed to it, and what exactly does that opposition mean?
Just to be clear about my own position: I am neither for nor against it in and of itself; I am against its being used as a tool of women’s oppression, and I think that the question of whether or not it is being used as such a tool should be answered first and foremost from within Muslim women’s own experience–which does not mean that I think all Muslim women have to agree that it is oppressive before anyone else is allowed to say anything, but rather that I don’t think my emotional, psychological, and intellectual responses are the criteria by which I, or anyone else for that matter, ought to judge whether or not Muslim women are being oppressed.
Okay, more after I have had a chance to think about your comment more fully.
I am not sure I under stand this. Is oppression simply subjective in your view? Why aren’t you capable of judging? Why don’t your criteria matter? Are Muslim women such a foreign creature that you are incapable of empathizing with them?
Okay, those are mostly rhetorical questions, and the last one bordered on condescension, but I wanted to get to the point of empathy. Because what you call hijab tourism could easily be spun into a positive light as an empathy building exercise, or an attempt to understand, through experience, the experiences of other people.
And, this is not an unusual thing. How does the saying go: don’t condemn someone until you have walked a mile in his shoes (something like that). Walking a mile in someone’s shoes is looked at as a good thing, something you should do. Isn’t there even a feminist event about walking a mile in her shoes (high heels)? So, far from being about appropriation or casual hatred, it can be (not sure if it is in the instances you are bringing up) an edifying experience.
Optional digression (or alternative illustration): While reading this post, I was repeatedly reminded of John Howard Griffin’s book, Black Like Me. It has been a long time since I read it, but Griffin (a white guy) spent a month or so “passing” as a black man in the segregated South. I do not think that dying his skin black constituted cultural appropriation, and it certainly was not done out of some casual hatred of black people. To the contrary, his observations and experiences were extremely enlightening, both to himself and (hopefully) his audience (though I believe he also received death threats from white people who did not like what he had to say).
Sorry for the double-post.
Is your issue that the exercise is undertaken for the purpose of judging the experience, as opposed to understanding it?
As I understand it, the objection to privileged people trying out non-privileged situations is that it implies that privileged people aren’t going to listen to what non-privileged people say for themselves, and privileged people are obligated to try harder.
There are also issues with a privileged person doing a simulation because the simulation may not be accurate.
That last might be especially relevant when the question is how it feels to wear a hijab as distinct from how one is treated while wearing a hijab.
In re “casual hatred”: I believe it’s a bad habit to tell people that they have malign motivations, especially if you don’t have a lot of evidence.
I wouldn’t presume to say why it’s so common to have that bad habit, though perhaps part of it is reversed causality. Remorse is painful, but it’s hard to induce remorse, so people settle for causing pain in the hope that it will work out to being the same as remorse.
I do not think that it is ever really appropriate.
-If it’s worn at the directive of men, it’s inappropriate, because patriarchy.
-If it’s worn to avoid the unwanted attentios of men it’s a signal of something inappropriate.
-If it’s worn because god orders “modesty” then it’s inappropriate, because (a) god-definitions are, in this case, patriarchal, and (b) that particular social construct of “modesty” is, in my view, also inappropriate, and (c) all sorts of other reasons which I won’t go into as they are religiously based and will lead to a side track.
and so on.
What are you asking here? “Mean” in what way?
JutGory, I am a Jew living in a place where most people are Evangelical Christians. Quite a number of them are quick to express, in the context of casual conversations, how happy they are “to have been freed from the yoke of the Law.” “The yoke of the Law” encapsulates, for most of those who use the expression, about the entirety of their understanding of Judaism. One year, the local daily paper ran a picture of one of this group, wrapped in a huuuuuge tallis and holding a shofar aloft in a very dramatic position, with a caption identifying him as a rabbi (which he is not), to illustrate an article on what Jewish holidays mean to Christians. If you asked the guy in the picture, he would tell you that he was not being appropriative, but simply attempting (through the use of Jewish garments and ritual objects) to understand the Jewish religious experience. But the minor detail of never having bothered to try to find out what Judaism, tallis, shofar, the title of Rabbi, etc. mean to Jews suggests that he can’t understand the religious experiences of Jews, and that what he feels when he puts on a tallis isn’t going to tell him anything about those experiences. And whoever claims that they have learned something about Jews or Judaism from that guy’s experiences is wrong.
I suspect that Richard’s emphasis on women wearing hijab or burkas, without troubling themselves to find out first how women who usually wear them react to the experience, is pointing out a similar problem.
G&W: I will get back to you.
Broadly speaking, I think that is one way of putting it. And thank you for the example of Black Like Me, which I knew about but have never read. A more accurate parallel to that book would, it seems to me, be a non-Muslim woman going to a Muslim country, passing as a Muslim and veiling herself in whatever way is required/considered appropriate in that country. That would be an example of someone trying “to walk a mile” in a veiled, Muslim woman’s shoes–an authentic attempt at empathy–because it would (potentially; if it was done well) tell those of us who read her account a whole lot more about the entirety of Muslim women’s experience.
NM: Thanks for that example.
Nancy: While I hear what you are saying about assigning motives to people without evidence, I do think that cultural appropriation, regardless of people’s motives, expresses a kind of hatred in that it inevitably renders invisible the people of the culture being appropriated (see NM’s example above).
I personally find the Christian appropriation of Jewish trappings to be asinine and incredibly annoying: as far as I’m concerned, Christianity is Christianity, Judaism is Judaism, and the two don’t have a great deal in common with each other. That being said, the standard explanation I’ve heard of why people do these silly antics is that they believe strongly in the continuity between the two religions, and that their faith is a lineal descendent of first-century Judaism, to the same degree that modern Judaism is. I think that’s false and ignorant of history and theology, but I don’t think it’s necessarily malicious.
(On a side note, it seems particularly silly to me to celebrate ‘being set free from the law’ by, um, adopting the trappings of the religion that features that very same law.)
Gin and Whiskey,
I think I mostly agree with you, and I don’t believe in wearing the hijab either.
It’s not malicious in the sense of someone setting out with the conscious purpose of pissing off Jews. I’m quite aware of the ostensible motivations. But it does erase the actual existence of Jews and Jews’ religious life when a person acts this way and claims that s/he now understands something about Judaism, while actually contradicting what Jews understand about Judaism. And I have to say that being erased and having my own perception of my own experience denied feels a bit like malice, even if that wasn’t what was consciously intended.
I am composing my response to your longer comment, but I was struck by this:
It seems not to allow at all for the possibility that Muslim might find a way to (re)claim/redefine the idea of veiling on their own, non-patriarchal, and even feminist, terms. In this way, your position sounds much like some radical feminist positions that I have heard. I’m not trying to bait you by saying this, but so many of your arguments on this blog seem to be about allowing at least some wiggle room for differences of opinion or whatever, that the absolute nature of this comment felt, to me anyway, out of character for you.
Back to hatred: I’d really like to see more nuance.
There’s a difference between nm’s fool playing Jewish for a news story, Jews for Jesus (who, as I understand it, are stealth Baptists), and Jewish Identity, who believe they are the real Jews and occasionally commit murder.
Non-Jews who dress up as Jews can range from annoying to infuriating, but as far as I can tell, the vast majority of them don’t have imaginations that encompass Jews. This isn’t the same thing as taking action against Jews, and I take the latter much more seriously.
Nancy Lebovitz and NM,
I have different reasons for thinking so than you, but I’d gladly agree with you that evangelical Christian philosemitism, down to borrowing Jewish trappings, is idiotic at best, and they should knock it off.
As far as I’m concerned, the idea of ‘Jews for Jesus’ is as preposterous and, I’d venture to say, blasphemous as ‘Christians for Muhammed’ or ‘Christians for Buddha’.
thanks so much for writing this – it’s been like a balm for my soul reading that someone finally “gets” it! I’m also a non-Muslim (in fact, I’m a White East-European immigrant) who became a Muslim ally by default because I was horrified by the level of discrimination and hatred my Muslim classmates had to face at the community college where I started my journey towards my degree. I didn’t have any particular interest in Islam before; in fact, if someone asked me what my thoughts were, my answer would have been negative because most of what I “knew” about Islam were bits and pieces from media, usually promoting Islam as a violent, women-discriminating religion.
All I can say is that a lot has changed on my side!
Anyway, I’m really getting sick and tired of people, especially White Americans, who consider themselves liberal and open-minded, and as such feel qualified to “liberate” the peoples of the world from oppression – without considering that imposing their own values on someone is oppressive as well. In the case of the veil it’s more evident than anywhere else. Veil became such a powerful symbol of female oppression that feminists and other activists don’t even consider the possibility that it doesn’t HAVE TO be so. If they actually took the time to read – or listen to – what the Muslim community has to say on this topic, they might find out that historically, often the role of veil in womenfolk’s lives was just the opposite. For example Leila Ahmed in her book A Quiet Revolution describes how in Egypt, where the veiling got largely abandoned after the WWII., became a symbol of female liberation, national pride, and high education for women in the 70s. It was young, educated women who voluntarily started to put the veil on, often despite of objections of their horrified families.
I had a similar experience with some of my friends back at college. Neither of those who chose to wear the burqa did so because of their families. In fact, most of my covered friends’ families OPPOSED their daughters’ covering, because they (rightly) feared that the young women will become even more vulnerable to the verbal attacks they had to face so often in public. In fact, one of them, let’s call her Aziza, had to order her burqa secretly on-line and left her house through the bathroom window when she first put it on, so it wouldn’t upset her father.
I did an extensive research on this topic for writing a paper about whether veil necessarily has to be oppressive, and found out that there is a great diversity between Muslim women when it comes to beliefs and attitudes about veiling. Interestingly though, they share one opinion almost universally: They do not care for Western women, feminists or not, telling them what to do. Yes, there have to be changes in countries like Saudi Arabia, as one of my friends, a writer Rajaa Alsanea notes, but they will be WITHIN Islam and WITHIN their traditions, not based on Western values, that are often considered by Muslim women confusing and sometimes downright screwed up.
If I were to put on burqa tomorrow and start walking around in it, of course I would feel strange. I might even feel like an alien. I’m not a Muslim, therefore the burqa is a foreigner concept to me; I’m not a religious person, therefore I don’t submit to rules supposedly made by God; if anything else, I’m not used to wearing such a thing – chances are, I wouldn’t feel very good in it. But neither I feel particularly good when a bunch of female fanatics with mustaches are screaming at me that I’m a disgrace to a feminist movement because I shave my legs and wear lipstick (a true story).
I personally think that people, who consider their values so superior to others that they feel obligated to “liberate” cultures who neither need, nor want their help, have a problem. It’s the same kind of thinking that historically justified colonization and even slavery – because we as White Westerners had to “save” those poor, uneducated, deluded “savages.” Islam has its own history of Muslim feminism and I have faith in Muslim activists to eventually make their communities just and fair for everyone. I get angry like everybody else when I hear in the news about a woman who got brutalized for breaking her country’s dressing code, but I get equally angry when I hear about Muslim women (often physicians, architect, writers, lawyers!) being ridiculed and/or pitied here in the United States or United Kingdom for choosing to wear whatever they want. It’s up to them, people! and we should save our time and energy for causes that really need our help!
What, precisely, is that faith based on? With a few very limited exceptions, the larger Muslim countries are not beacons of human rights, justice, and liberty. Or, perhaps you’re just waiting for Godot: how long is “eventually?” 50 years? 150 years? What happens to everyone in the meantime?
Equal? Seriously? If that’s true, you have a serious moral problem.
I didn’t mean to make it sound like being brutally beaten and being ridiculed is the same thing – I apologize if that’s how it looked to a reader. I would certainly choose the latter, if I had to! The point I was trying to make was that I disapprove of one culture imposing its values on another, no matter what form it takes. It’s horrifying to see a photo of a woman who was beaten for breaking a dress code, but it’s not fair to immediately conclude that it mean that all Islam as a religion is wrong or that wearing a veil is wrong.
Veil can become a symbol for oppression for many Muslim women – or doesn’t have to. A friend of mine I already mentioned in my first comment is an activist in her home country, Saudi Arabia, fighting for the dress code being abandoned. She is a liberal Muslim who believes that covering of any kind is optional in Islam, not necessary. Yet when she arrived to the U.S. to get her advanced degree, she voluntarily and consciously made a choice to wear hijab in public – even though she didn’t have to – because she wanted to make a statement that despite of her progressive views she was still a Muslim and that she was proud of it. She shocked me when she told me that despite of fighting the oppression in her home country, she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else! I couldn’t understand why an intelligent, highly educated woman, who would have had no problem to obtain a green card, chose to return to a country where she can’t even leave the airport, unless accompanied by a male relative. But that’s the thing – I come from a different culture and so naturally, my priorities are very different from hers. That’s what is all about…
As for my optimism, well, if Rajaa can remain optimistic about the progress in Saudi Arabia, which is probably the most conservative country when it comes to women rights, so can I :) No, seriously, Richard offers in his article so many resources – maybe you could start reading them for a start – it’s a little unfair to be talking about Muslim women without being willing to hear (or read) what THEY actually have to say on the topic, don’t you think?
I agree that the situation in most Islamic countries is less than perfect, but trust me, progress IS being made. Women are organizing themselves, fighting for social changes, advocating – in Egypt, the Muslim feminist movement goes back several centuries. But I bet that 99% of Americans have no clue that it even exists, because all the news we are being fed by the media are the negative ones.
I appreciate every person who is trying to do some good in the world, but Americans really need to come to the terms with the fact that they cannot always rule it.
I wonder if parallels can be drawn to other symbols of oppression that have different meanings to different demographics. I’ve often wondered why (some) Southerners can’t get over using the Confederate flag as a symbol of pride, but I’m also not a Southerner.
I wonder about other culturally-specific icons of female oppression like foot-binding, Sati, and arranged marriages.
If an adult woman freely chooses to participate in an oppressive practice, is that the end of the story? If a woman was raised from infancy to adulthood in a version of a religion that teaches her and everyone in her life that she _must_ accept an oppressive practice, is that a mitigating factor?
Is there value to criticism of a cultural practice that comes from wholly outside the culture? Does the answer to that question change depending on how immersive a culture is for the adults who might be oppressed by it?
Phil: Very good points!
When it comes to symbolism, I can tell you one thing: I spent a decade of my life eating frozen meals every day because of my stubborn refusal to learn how to cook. Why? Because to me, cooking symbolized oppression. I grew up in a traditional Czech family, where the expectations were clear: Finish high school, get married, have children. My mother tried to raise me so I would be prepared for this role. I resisted – and cooking became such a powerful symbol for me that it took me years to realize that it didn’t have to be – if I cooked on my own terms :) These days, I love cooking and baking with passion!
As for a woman’s voluntarily practice in oppressive practices, well, first of all
people from other cultures might sometimes have a different operational definition of the word “oppressive” than we do – that’s a problem right here, to be open to a dialogue and to accept that my beliefs and values don’t have to work for everyone. Second, that goes for every religion, not just Islam. I personally would rather wear a headscarf than “save myself for marriage,” if I absolutely had to choose ;) Almost every religion brings some kind of restrictions on people’s behavior and we can either consider all its followers brainwashed (and many atheists do!), or simply accept it as a valid life choice.
Just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean that everyone is obligated to dislike it too, right?
P.S. I appreciate you bringing up some forms for female oppression that don’t have anything to do with Islam. Honestly, people these days fear and hate Islam so much that it’s almost like they forgot that Muslims are certainly not the only culture guilty of this crap.
Phil, your mentioning of sati (which was very often, ‘voluntary’ on the part of the widows who went to the pyre, and my scare quotes there are very deliberate) puts me in mind of this great quote from Charles Napier, the conqueror of Sindh. It’s perhaps the best answer I’ve seen to multiculturalism, as well as a good illustration of what Indian ‘civilisation’ in the early 19th century really looked like.
“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
I have a few things I’d like to add to this conversation now that Global Chick–thanks!–has gotten it started again, beginning with my response to G&W’s comment #35. This response is very long, and I apologize for that, but I thought it would make it easier to follow if I quoted more completely than I might otherwise have done from both my original post and his comment. I will post my other responses to what has been newly added to the thread a little later today.
So, G&W, first, thank you for responding in such detail. There is a lot that I agree with in what you have to say about the Muslim practice of veiling, broadly speaking, and so what I want to do in this comment is point out where I think you are responding to something that I don’t think I wrote. I suspect that, just as with the question of whether or not what I wrote is an attempt to suppress speech, we will end up having to agree to disagree. Still, I think this will be a useful exercise, since it will help me hone and clarify my own thinking. I’m going, for convenience sake, since I am doing this in between other work, to proceed linearly through your comment, and so some of what I write might get a little repetitive.
So, to start:
Actually, what I wrote was:
I also wrote this:
In neither case did I imply that one has to be “familiar with all the details of the culture.” Rather, what I think I said rather explicitly is that it is wrong for Jones’—along with the publications that paid and published her work—to pretend that her experience can be used as a basis for an authentic understanding of the interior experience of Muslim women who cover themselves, whether they are in their own countries or not, and whether they are forced to veil or not.
Then you wrote:
I accept that framework as the reality of the lives in which those women live and as therefore emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and metaphysically real for them. That is not the same thing as accepting its validity as some kind of objectively true way of seeing/being in the world. I can make an intellectual, political, philosophical argument against that framework without pretending to speak for the people who do accept it as a way of life. Also, by your definition of “fully free choice,” there is no such thing as a free choice, since there is nothing—at least nothing that I know of—that exists independently of a cultural norm that it either fits into or reacts against.
Then you went on to respond to this paragraph in my post:
I think your response takes that paragraph out of context. I wrote it as further explanation of this:
My point, in other words, was not that religion is an “excuse” for anything—and I am assuming you mean an excuse for not subjecting the hejab and the system within which it exists to a rigorous intellectual, political, and ideological analysis. Rather, my point was that Crittenden and Jones write from a perspective that treats the hejab only as a uniform, as something imposed from without, almost against Muslim women’s will. Certainly there are places where that is true for many Muslim women, but it is not true for all, and it may not be true even for a majority—if you consider Islam from the perspective that it is a world-wide religion with billions of followers. Of course girls are socialized into wearing the veil, into its purposes and meanings, long before they are capable of making their own, independent choices, but not only is that true of all gender norms. More importantly, it was not my focus. I simply wanted to make the point that someone claiming to speak out agains the veil for Muslim women—and that for is crucial for me—have a responsibility to be as inclusive of the range of Muslim women’s experience as possible. I do not think that Jones and Crittenden—or you or me or anyone else—should therefore exempt that experience from critique or analysis, or that it is deserving of the “extra respect” you think I give it, or that I think it is, in your words, “less suspicious.” But if that experience is not even represented, or is represented grossly inaccurately, then whatever is being said, it seems to me, is being said for someone other than Muslim women—regardless of the stated motives of the speaker. And I think that, too, deserves critique—hence my two posts.
The fact that I make a distinction between, say, the policies of the government of Iran regarding the hejab, which I think are oppressive without question, and the religious decision an individual Muslim woman might make does not mean that I think the latter is any less susceptible to analysis and critique. Indeed, I agree that to the extent that choice has been shaped or compelled by patriarchy, it can be said to have been made, at best, under duress. Still, I do think it’s important not assume that one’s critique of the former will apply to it completely and by definition. I share your reservations about religious orthodoxy as a whole, but I do not think those reservations give me the right to speak for the orthodox of any faith in a way that rides roughshod over their own experiences and perspectives. And I want to emphasize that point: the women who wrote the articles I critiqued were not merely providing an analysis of the hejab and its underlying ideology; they were presuming to use their limited experience wearing the hejab to speak for Muslim women.
First and most obviously, Islam is not ubiquitous in the countries where these women wrote–indeed, it is clearly still a minority religion in those places–and so the question of cultural appropriation is not a ridiculous one at all. Perhaps more to the point, though, the fact that the United States is predominantly Christian and that its dominant culture is a secularized Christian one does absolve me of the responsibility of knowing what I am talking about when I presume to write critically about Christian anything. This is, it seems to me, a matter of basic respect for the Christians who will almost certainly be among my readers and their faith and for the non-Christians whom I am presuming to inform and educate. The women I critiqued, it seems to me, did not live up to that responsibility.
Passing the veil off as personal dress code is a real cop out. There are plenty of instances where it is – gypsies, people from northern england, cancer survivors – and no one cares. People object to veiling under Islam because it is propagating nonsense about divinely instituted gender relations. (That’s what I mean by incorrect btw, Muslims have an inaccurate understanding about Gods views on modesty).
I also think you are dramatically understating just how totalising Islamic views on veiling are. In some religions the elect are expected to behave one way, but they don’t really care what the muggles do – like Jewish views on circumcision or Catholic views on penance or Christian Scientists on blood transfusions. The Islamic theology behind veiling is nothing like that – it is condemnatory.
One thing to consider is that, in the real world, it is virtually never the case that we are faced with a stark choice between “local cultural practices must never be questioned” and “have no respect at all for the local culture.”
This is because no culture anywhere is one-dimensional. It is virtually always the case that there are activists who have grown up all their lives in the culture, who are part of the culture, who are working to change the culture. There are Iranian women (and men) working for women’s rights in Iran. There are lesbian and gay rights activists in Russia. There are Islamic feminists working to create change in Saudi Arabia. Etc, etc, etc..
For western feminists who want to help (for instance) women’s rights in within Islam, step one needs to be listening to the Islamic activists who are already there working for change, and find out what their priorities are.
And one thing that I’ve heard over and over, when I read Islamic feminists, is that they find the Western focus on the veil over all other issues to be extremely frustrating. That should be listened to.
I’d like to give an example of the need to understand the cultural practice you are critiquing that does not involve “symbols of oppression,” if only because that is such a loaded term. Consider someone from outside the United States who wants to talk critically about the issue of gun control. Whatever her or his personal opinions might be about gun ownership, whatever the culture of gun ownership might or might not be in the country he or she comes from, if that person wants to write responsibly about the gun control controversy here in the States, he or she would need to understand something about the Second Amendment and its various interpretations, as well as how the fact that gun ownership is defined in our constitution as a civil right shapes the conversation. I do not want this thread to devolve into a discussion of gun control issues; my point is simply that it would be irresponsible for someone who is not part of this culture to write about those issues without having at least some substantive and accurate understanding of what they are in context. The same, it seems to me, is true of the other examples that Phil gives: the Confederate flag, hejab, sati, and arranged marriages (though I think you would need to distinguish forced arranged marriages from those that are not so different from what we might call “fixing someone up with someone”).
Phil also wrote:
I think that depends on what you mean by “wholly outside.”
Richard – I just thought I’d post to say that since I last posted here, I read the articles that you are talking about carefully, and all the responses you gave G&W, and I think that I understand what you are saying a lot better, and that I no longer think my earlier concerns (that I couldn’t articulate here) are particularly important or relevant. So I don’t think I’ll be commenting further on this post, though I’m still reading the discussion.
Exactly! I couldn’t say it any better! People very often have this idea that all Muslims think and act alike but there is as much diversity (and opposition) within Islam like within any other culture. How can somebody write “Muslims have inaccurate understanding of God’s views on modesty,” when almost every Muslim I have ever talked to had a different understanding of God’s views on modesty!? Some believe that veiling is mandatory, some believe it’s optional, some believe that it’s obsolete and should be abandoned. The Qu’ran doesn’t say that all women have to cover their faces, and the instructions for modesty are addressed to BOTH men and women. Whether Islamic extremists and fundamentalists interpret it that way, that’s of course another story… But doesn’t every religion have this problem? Do Westboro Baptist Church members speak for ALL Christians? Of course not (at least I HOPE not!!!). Why not give Muslims the benefit of the doubt and ASK them first what they think about the veil, before throwing them into the same category with the Wahabis and the Muslim Brotherhood?!
What a pathetic load of apologetics.
You can’t preach diversity as a get out. Religions aren’t totally diverse, at a minimum all Muslims believe Mohammed was a prophet and the Koran was a revelation. If (a) god exists but didn’t lay down his beliefs on modesty in the Koran or (b) god doesn’t exist; then, even by the broadest understanding of the word Muslim, all Muslims are wrong about modesty. Neither (a) or (b) are remotely extreme positions.
No. (1) Hierarchical religions can remain ideologically coherent by excommunicating crazies. (2) Religious without coherent texts which claim divine dictation undercut dogmatism. (3) Some religious just have a more sensible view on modesty.
If you’re a Pagan, you don’t have the textual backing. If you’re a Catholic, the Pope will have an opinion. If you’re a Buddhist, good luck with claiming the dictated word of god. Islam is particularly crappy in that any nutter can assert that god said x about modesty.
Inasmuch as they foolishly believe that there is a God, and that God gives two shits about what parts of our bodies we keep covered, any religion that has any view on modesty has an inacurate understanding about Gods views on modesty.
This applies, at the very least, to Christianity and Judaism.
So how many crazies has Christianity recently excommunicated? Because it seems to me that there is still quite a lot of them out there?
I wish I could respond more to your post, but it doesn’t make much sense, so I’m not sure how. When you write “all Muslims are wrong about modesty,” what does it mean when there are so many different Muslim interpretation of modesty? ALL of them are wrong? Including those who beliefs that NO restriction in clothing are necessary? So when a Christian says that there are no restriction in clothing are necessary, that’s correct, but when a Muslim says the same thing, it’s still wrong?
Or it doesn’t really matter, because all Muslims are by default wrong about anything just because they are Muslims?
But other religions are all right, if I understood correctly? So when some Christian churches teach their version of modesty in clothing and require their female members to wear long skirts and long sleeves, and forbid two-piece bathing suits and makeup of any kind, I’m assuming that’s acceptable?
And my high school teacher, a very conservative Catholic, who spent hours lecturing us that God didn’t want us girls to wear makeup because “it is in the Bible that such a thing comes from the Devil” – how does she fit into the mix? Please, clarify! (Last time when I checked, she was still teaching at the same school and the local Catholic church did NOT excommunicate her.)
The following link shows one of the many Christian theories about modest clothing, as “supported by the word of God.”
The requirement for women never to wear anything that’s being worn by men explains why so many colleagues from my former church (long time ago, when I still considered myself a Christian) worn long skirts. And never shaved their legs. And in one case, shaved her head, because apparently St.Paul says in one of his epistles that as a woman, either you have to cover your hair, or to shave it. WAY before Muslims invented the hijab.
Actually, here is another one:
The Mennonites are always a lot of fun!
And one more for a good measure:
I feel sad because the guy from the link above wouldn’t let me wear any jewelry – this is what he wrote about rings:
“Wearing finger rings is not compatible with the Biblical principles of modesty; historically, they have tempted people to wear all kinds of jewelry.”
What a spoilsport! My Muslim friends can wear as much jewelry as they like. Well, at least I know what camp to join if I ever had to…
Muslims who ignore the Koran’s view on modesty are correct. But I think it is a stretch to call that an “interpretation”, it is simply a decision to ignore the text of the Koran,
I think it is difficult to coherently believe that and that the Koran was a revelation. But, yeah, I’m all for “Muslims” ignoring their religion – you got me there.
It is sad that you are taking pot shots to distract from Islam’s vile beliefs about modesty. But it is sadder that you can’t even do that properly. The OT view is explicitly the reverse of your claim – God didn’t give two shits about covering – created man naked, and clothing was man’s response to sin. Of course in the Koran, Adam first appears clothed.
You know, I usually do enjoy discussing things with people and exchanging opposite viewpoints – it sharpens the mind and expands one’s horizon’s. I don’t take personally when somebody doesn’t agree with me, especially when the somebody can offer some convincing arguments. But it’s really difficult to do it with a person who is not even willing to read through and consider a counter-argument.
You keep repeating over and over how Muslims’ views on modesty are “vile,” but when I show you a practical example of Christians, whose views on modesty seem also rather strange, you choose to ignore it completely.
By different views on modesty Muslims don’t make a decision to ignore the Qu’ran. They just have different ways how to interpret it and apply it to the modern life. If you know anything about Christianity at all, which I’m assuming you do, than surely you cannot deny that such differences exist in Christianity as well?! There are churches that are very fundamental and teach that the Bible is “the word of God” and has to be interpreted literally (and that whoever doesn’t come to their church every Sunday will burn in hell forever) and then there are churches who teach that Christianity is mainly about love and that the Bible is more of a symbol than needs to be interpreted with regards to modern times.
Or what about all the different Christian denominations in the world? There are so many of them because each interprets the Bible a bit differently. I wrote about a friend who shaved her head BECAUSE SHE BELIEVED THAT THE BIBLE TOLD HER SO. Most of my other friends from the same church were horrified and agreed that in her passion for following the “God’s world” went way too far…
So why there is a double-standard for Muslims and for Christians? Christians are doing the same with THEIR holy scripture, which they believe was written by God – but somewhat that’s okay. But when Muslims show differences in their interpretation of THEIR holy scripture, that’s not okay.
Well, I’m trying really hard to find some logic, but I must admit, at this point I’m seriously lost.
@ GlobalChick. With respect, you don’t understand the basic differences between the religions.
The Koran is supposedly dictated to Mohammed, it is written in the first person by God. There is a definitive version of the Koran in Arabic.
Isn’t there a double standard, don’t Christians believe the same thing about the Bible? No, they don’t.
Christians don’t have a common holy scripture. Various factions have bibles consisting of different books from different sources in different translations. Is it “written by God”? No mainstream group believes in divine dictation. (On a basic textual level much of it is written in the first person by someone who claims not to be God). The common view is that it is inspired.
Your view isn’t worth anything. How am I supposed to reply to “Christians have an opinion on modesty, gotcha”? You don’t seem to understand the Islamic view stems from enforcing sex segregation and the Christian view from asceticism. None of the Christian views you cite are segregationist.
So? He’s right and you’re wrong. If you have money and a choice between spending it on bling or helping to remove some of the enormous suffering in the world, the correct choice is to aid the poor rather than to ape JLo. Sorry that upsets you.
This is a moderation warning; please dial back your tone a couple of notches. Thanks.
If you want to argue with this moderation warning, please take it to email or to an open thread.
Well, to reiterate the points in mod friendly language.
Re: Christian modesty is “strange”. That is just your personal taste, and you don’t give any reason for it, it doesn’t sway my opinion any more than whether you like oranges.
You are making a transparent attempt to defend Islam by trying to arouse sympathy. I don’t see why your personal sympathies with religion should matter to me.
That is a difference between Christianity and Islam, but it’s not as big a difference as you’re implying. A *lot* of Christians refer to the Bible as “The Word of God” and argue that the Bible should be taken completely literally and used as a rule book. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it,” is a quote about the Bible, not about the Koran.
A number of those Christians include a certain dress code for women as part of that. (Long hair, long skirts, no makeup, no jewelry other than a wedding ring.) If veiling is objectively bad, then those Christian modesty codes are also bad, and yet I don’t see you condemning them.
Amp beat me to the mod warning, but thank you fit dialing it back in your last comment.
I do have a question: the content and tenor of your comments suggest that you think there is an accurate understanding of God’s–by which I assume you mean the god of monotheism’s–commandments concerning modesty. If you do, I’d appreciate your being up front about it rather than simply attacking Islam. For those who want to respond to you, it’s only fair for them to know the perspective they’re responding too; second, since the point of my post was not to engage in a debate about the concept of modesty within Islam or any other religion, I’d like to decide for myself if you’re comments add anything to this conversation. I’m not saying they don’t; indeed, I find at least one of your points–about the difference between sex segregation and asceticism–intriguing. I’m just not sure it moves this conversation forward. Thanks.
I feel much better now. After I re-red Alex’s comments, old and new ones, I realized what my problem was: I was looking for logic where there is none.
There is so much more I could write about how every Christian church I ever belonged to insisted that the Bible was “the true word of God,” but why bother? I believe I contributed enough to this discussion and I have better things to do than arguing with one person, who is accusing me of “not understanding the differences between Islam and Christianity,” when it’s painfully obvious that he seems to be unaware of many, many facts about both.
What I found extremely hilarious was this: “I don’t see why your personal sympathies with religion should matter to me.” Um – maybe because you are on a thread that discusses Islam? If you are not interested in other people’s opinion about Islam, then WHY are you here?!
Anyway, thanks again for an awesome article, Richard, I will make sure to check out more of your work :)
I didn’t start Christianity vs. Islam, I just responded when Myca and Global Chick thought they could take an easy shot.
I don’t think veiling is objectively bad, as I said before it is obvious that no one cares about people undergoing chemo wearing a headscarf. It is subjectively bad because of motives.
The Christian view is essentially one of modesty for the purpose of helping personal spiritual growth through rejecting materialism and vanity. That’s admirable. Peter is normally cited:
1 Peter 3:3-4 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
If we look at Islam we get this:
Koran 24:31 And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husband, … their women … small children who have no sense of the shame of sex…
This includes a public/private distinction as to when modesty is required, so you can be immodest in private. A gender distinction, it is impressed upon women and only required around men, so it enforces segregation. There are some nasty views on bodily shame. I could go on. None of that is in the interior Christian justifications for modesty I admire.
To say they both require some sort of a costume in some circumstances, so they are basically as bad as each other, seems to me to miss the point. Christian modesty is for good reasons, while Islamic modesty decidedly isn’t.
In practice, Christian churches that are focused on modesty adhere to that same gender distinction. Women’s bodies are tempting and dangerous to men and to be covered up. Men, not so much. There’s definitely a common train of thought that women are responsible for men’s lustful thoughts, *exactly* the thing you’re criticizing in Islam.
I think a huge portion of the disagreement here is that you think grabbing Bible or Koran verses “settles” a comparison between Islam and Christianity, without looking at how those verses are actually interpreted by members of those faiths.
Which is fine, because neither I nor Global Chick actually said that.
No, you’ve defined a small subset of the reasons (the direct quote from Paul) as “good.” Many of the reasons are exactly the same.
Strictly speaking, this is not true. You started the discussion when you said you thought I was saying you cannot talk critically about hejab from the perspective of Islam being “incorrect,” which certainly implies a comparison on your part to other religious/spiritual systems of belief; and if you still want to discuss what I think was your misreading of my original post, that’s fine, though I don’t think I have much more to say on that topic than I’ve already said.
I don’t, however, think it’s useful in terms of this thread to have a discussion about modesty in Islam vs. modesty in Christianity, at least not as you have framed the conversation. Not only does your framing seem to me ahistorical, but it also seems to me that your stated bias in favor of Christianity means that you would not accept a Muslim’s–and in particular a Muslim woman’s–very different understanding/experience of modesty in Islam as valid.
As I said above, it’s not that this conversation might not be interesting, but it’s not what the original post was about and I’d like for this thread not to devolve in that direction.
When it comes to interfaith discussion of religious beliefs, I don’t see why an appeal to the authority of a text should have any more weight than an appeal to personal conviction, personal interpretation, or other personal systems of forming beliefs. It may be valuable for people within a faith tradition to discuss what they think is “true” with each other, but it always seems hypocritical to me when someone outside of a faith (be they Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc.) says, in essence, “Your beliefs–which I find false–are inaccurate. Instead, you should hold this _other_ belief–that I also think is false–because I interpret your faith differently than you do.”
I find this form of argument to be hypocritical. In the U.S., for example, it often takes the form of “You oppose homosexuality but you don’t oppose the eating of shellfish! You pick and choose from your holy book, and that’s wrong!” Coming from a biblical literalist, there might be justification for an argument like that. But coming from an atheist, for example, it’s just rhetorical masturbation. All a person like that is really saying is, “If you’re going to hold beliefs that I find false, you should only hold false beliefs that I find pleasant.”
But there is no difference between what a person believes their faith to be and what that person’s faith actually _is_. Do some Christians, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, and Scientologists contradict themselves? Very well, then. They contradict themselves.
I bring this up because I think that metadiscussion is useful when you’re talking about outsider perspectives on beliefs. You (read that as the third-person “one”) cannot support the claim that Christianity’s view of modesty is not segregationist, for example, because Christianity is made up of Christians, and some Christians do, in fact, hold segregationist views of modesty. Citing a biblical passage to convince me that these Christian’s views are inaccurate is completely beside the point, because I’m not a Christian. If a belief is held, then that belief exists.
To be clear, I’m not trying to personalize this or sound argumentative by using “you” and “me,” it just seems to make the point more clear than saying “one cannot convince a person,” etc. I’m also not trying to further the discussion about whether modesty in one religion is better than modesty in another; that was just the example that helped me think this through…
Richard/Phil. What I am actually doing is treating Islamic thought with a great deal more respect than either of you. Richard thinks Islam was cobbled together over centuries and just adopted a prior modesty tradition, and my being ‘ahistorical’ is a bad thing. Phil thinks religion is just social and merely whatever a group happens to believe, and thinks I’m being hypocritical by quoting text. For what it is worth, on a factual level I wouldn’t disagree with you.
But those aren’t opinions any Muslim would agree with. They think there was a revelation which has been passed down to the present. I’m taking that seriously, even though I strongly disagree with the content of the tradition.
Richard takes a shot because he thinks I wouldn’t accept a “Muslim woman’s … experience of modesty in Islam as valid”. Well, I think it is incorrect. But it seems extraordinarily for him to level that accusation at me when he casually writes off her core beliefs in the most blase manner possible, but suggest we should demur on the hejab as an ally.
Phil. The religious don’t just believe stuff because they believe it. They make very serious attempts to educate themselves. If a religion like Islam takes textual authority seriously, then citing text is appropriate. If they disagree, then people do think critically and change religions. I don’t think they are doomed to remain in a mess of contradiction.
There is nothing hypocritical or not accepting of the validity of someone’s religious experience in taking them seriously and criticising them. The deeply patronising view is that we all know religion is a collection of cultural detritus which can change and be reinterpreted like fashion, but as outsiders we should be respectful and not engage.
A religion cannot take textual authority seriously, because a religion is not a person who can do things. A person can take textual authority seriously.
What I said was neither disrespectful nor respectful, nor was it specific to Islam. It’s just a true statement about the nature of faith: there is no difference between what a person believes their faith to be and what that person’s faith actually _is_. It’s one thing to proselytize, to say, “Hey, I’d like to persuade you to believe what I believe.” But it is another thing–and I think it a bit silly–to say, “Hey, I want you to change your wrong beliefs to different wrong beliefs” or something like that.
Why a person believes a thing is irrelevant to the point I was making. Your statement is not wrong, though.
Religions do change and are reinterpreted, whether or not it’s patronizing to acknowledge that. I have no problem with engaging, though, and I think our society and the world would be well-served by a lot more, and more serious, criticism of religious beliefs. I just don’t think the practice of pretending that certain beliefs don’t matter (because they’re not the kind of false beliefs you’re comfortable with) makes much sense.
Since you have so fundamentally, if not willfully, misunderstood and misrepresented what I have said I am not sure there is any value in engaging in this discussion with you.
Phil, your views are really interesting, but I have trouble with the total focus on personal psychology. Two questions.
(1) As an extreme example. Can we talk about the religion of ancient egypt? Religion where we have text, but anyone who believed is long dead. What I’m trying to get at is that – particularly for scriptural religions- there must be something which which exists independently of believers? To be frank, I feel that if was citing the Book of the Dead, rather than the Koran, I wouldn’t be getting any pushback – and that’s largely politics rather a theory of religious text.
(2) As another extreme example. Take the religion of the very ancient greeks. Where you had lots of inconsistent verbal myth and personal revelation. But no text. I think that is a good example of a religion where there is no textual authority. On the other extreme there are cults run by people who claim to be living gods, they seem to have a great deal of authority, could followers deny their writing as definitive? I don’t think textual authority is just a product of human belief. Surely peoples beliefs are constrained by the material they have to work with?
I am going to ask you to stop commenting in this thread. I am being polite about it, but I really do mean it. Not only, as I said in my previous comment, do I think you have willfully misunderstood and misrepresented my position, but–as I said further upthread–your comments are taking this conversation further and further away from what the original post was about. If you want to continue this conversation with Phil, please take it to an open thread.
Phil, if you decide to respond to Alex, please do so on an open thread.
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