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One Woman’s Pride, Another Woman’s Oppression

While some in the West hail the hijab as a symbol of identity and freedom, in some Islamic countries women are fighting for their right to do away with it.

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One Woman’s Pride, Another Woman’s Oppression

Shak Saidjanov, Editor

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On January 21, 2018 (a day after the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration), women across the country took part in what is commonly referred to as the Women’s March, a demonstration that claims to advocate for pro-women and pro-human rights legislation including (but not limited to) women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, equal pay, and freedom of religion.

However, though nothing on the Women’s March website directly indicates that President Trump was the leading rationale behind the march, it was clearly evident through the demonstrator’s signage and the media’s portrayal of the day (and the fact that the Women’s March held their first national demonstration the day after President Trump’s inauguration) that the paramount reason for the Women’s March isn’t sensible or bipartisan advocacy for feminist values, but rather another protest of Trump; in fact, The New York Times originally ran their story on the march as such, citing “defiant” rallies “the day after what many had assumed would be the inauguration of the first female president.”

At the time of this year’s demonstration, the protests were hailed as brave and defiant by some, while others dismissed them as the pointless cries of a disconnected left. But nearly a month later, one element of this year’s march particularly remains bothersome in the eyes of many conservatives, an element that is a worthy topic of debate not only for our nation, but for the world.

What was most striking about the Women’s March was its impeccable timing of a particular message about religious freedom. Alongside anti-Islamophobia banners and messages of unity, there were multiple posters promoting the hijab, including an image of a woman wrapped in an American flag hijab.  

The image of an American flag hijab to represent female empowerment is a misjudged, woefully misguided representation, and it is a misrepresentation that could not have come at a worse time.

Members and supporters of the Women’s March seem to be completely oblivious to the absolute turmoil currently unfolding in the Middle East over the hijab: young women activists, specifically in Iran, continuing to earnestly and unsuccessfully protest Iran’s restrictive dress code, which requires them to wear a hijab. CNN reports that as of February 3, 2018, there have been 29 public arrests of women in Iran for their involvement in hijab protests; other women have simply gone missing, including Vida Movahed, a woman whose video of a defiant speech she gave in Tehran without a hijab on went viral on Twitter. Her disappearance has recently sparked the hashtag #where_is_she, with many suspecting Iranian government involvement.

For a comprehensive page that documents all the women of this movement, look at human rights activist Shadi Sadr’s Twitter page, here.

I believe in the rights of women. I believe in religious freedom, no matter what form that may take. But taking a garment that is currently oppressing and degrading women and claiming that it is somehow a symbol of freedom or solidarity against Trump is horrendous. Implying that the American flag, a print nearly synonymous with freedom, would restrict women in such a way, is outrageous.

Of course, we must not ignore the fact that for many in the Muslim faith the hijab is a symbol of cultural identity, of religious tolerance, of tradition, of purpose, and of connection. In fact, some countries in Europe have gone as far as banning or prohibiting certain face veils or the hijab in pursuit of Western fundamentalism or idealism. That, clearly, is not just. But regarding the Women’s March, I find it ironic that something that so prominently advocates for the betterment of women (in a country where women are absolutely legislatively and culturally equal to men) would so blatantly ignore actual oppression happening in the world, in countries where women and minorities don’t share the rights that we as Americans do. And then to imply that the American flag, a flag that was not necessarily born under the same values as those that the hijab was, would somehow play a part in it is misinformed, to say the least.

Women who are actually living in Islamic countries are fighting for their right to do away with the hijab. The Women’s Marches of the United States have misused what is both a sacred element of religion and an oppressive and restrictive garment to many women in a dire attempt at virtue signalling and personal gain.

Supporters of the American Flag hijab image argue that an American flag hijab represents America’s support of religious freedom. Clearly, America must absolutely protect religious rights, specifically those of Muslims at a time of rampant Islamophobia. But I cannot help considering those who literally risk their lives in more troubled parts of the world for their right to remove it. America should be a place that they feel safe doing so, and an American flag hijab sends the wrong message. 

Yes, many women in the Muslim community see the hijab as a testament to their faith. Though that is to be respected and supported thoroughly for them and their faith, the fact that so many women are indeed oppressed by it throughout the world should mean something. Supporters of the American flag hijab image are wrong. 

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Elham Manea, an Arab academic and contributing writer for Huffington Post, had this to say to organizers of the Women’s March: “Given the complexity of the headscarf (veil) and what it represents, your choice of it as a symbol for the Islamic religion and the minority of Islamic faith was ill advised. Why choose a symbol ― considered a tool of oppression for many women in different parts of the world ― as a symbol of a rich and diverse religion like Islam? It is not only misguided, it is an insult to all of these women, who have to wear it and bear the psychological scars of that imposition.”

I couldn’t agree more. Do not showcase the hijab, an article of clothing that is so oppressive that Muslim women across the world would rather suffer public shaming, arrest, kidnap, and torture than wear it, as a way to express your own political agenda.

And definitely do not imply that Old Glory would have anything to do with it.

Creative Commons photo source:

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About the Writer
Shak Saidjanov, Editor

Shak is a senior at La Salle, where he played varsity football. In his free time Shak enjoys trout fishing and writing, as well as listening to a copious...


6 Responses to “One Woman’s Pride, Another Woman’s Oppression”

  1. Isadora on February 14th, 2018 6:37 pm

    I am not of the Islamic faith and have never had to choose between wearing or not wearing a hijab, so my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.

    While I agree that wearing an American flag as a hijab is controversial (especially considering the woman in the original photo usually does not wear one:, I don’t think that it is wrong that the hijab is promoted in America or that the picture has become a symbol for anti-Trump sentiment.

    It is true that woman in Middle Eastern countries have been oppressed for not wearing hijab, but women in America are oppressed for wearing hijab. It is dangerous to be a Muslim person in America today, so women who choose to wear hijab and clearly display their faith are incredibly brave. We should celebrate that bravery, but we should also be seeking to change the environment that has made expressing one’s faith a dangerous action. I think that combining the symbolism of the hijab with the symbolism of the American flag is a artistic way of displaying that one can be Muslim /and/ American, without having to sacrifice either part of their identity.

    Additionally, I don’t see it as strange or uncalled for that this has become a symbol of anti-Trump sentiment considering that he has proved his anti-Muslim sentiment through his words and actions. During his campaign, he repeatedly called Muslims terrorists and during his presidency, he issued a travel ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. Though he has mellowed some since his inauguration, he made his Islamophobic stance clear, so it is somewhat fitting that an Islamic symbol combined with the American flag has been used as a way to protest against him.

    In fact, I think that the most controversial part of this image is the fact that it is being used by non-Muslim women who are not burdened by the choice to wear or not to wear. This is not our image – I don’t gain any power from hijab, whether I wear one or not. This is an image for Muslim women to support themselves and their sisters in the faith, and it should be used more exclusively by them and those close to them.

    So while yes, toting this image in a Middle Eastern country where women are fighting for their right to choose whether or not to wear hijab or other religious identifiers would not be wise or fitting the situation, the situation here in America is far different and the image could very positively support the fight for religious freedom for Muslim women in America.

  2. Shak Saidjanov on February 16th, 2018 9:55 am

    Isadora, thank you for your response. It was interesting to read that your opinion, for the large part, agrees with the thesis of my opinion:

    “In fact, I think that the most controversial part of this image is the fact that it is being used by non-Muslim women who are not burdened by the choice to wear or not to wear. This is not our image – I don’t gain any power from hijab, whether I wear one or not. This is an image for Muslim women to support themselves and their sisters in the faith, and it should be used more exclusively by them and those close to them.”

    But going off the words of Elham Manea, I disagree with your point that the fact that the situation in America is different warrants an image such as this. Despite Islamophobia, the United States is still a world leader in freedom of choice, specifically freedom of religion; in fact, your notion that Muslim men and women are in a “fight for religious freedom” here in America undermines actual fights for freedoms in less enlightened countries, such as in Iran. You’re right: touting this image in Iran would be ill advised, or not “fitting the situation.” But I’m confused as to why touting it here is a symbol of solidarity while touting it in Iran, where a fight for rights is actually happening, would be wrong.

    I also disagree with your point that using it as an anti – Trump sentiment is justifiable. Personally, I do not believe that Trump is legislatively racist; the travel ban that you refer to is not aimed at Muslims specifically, considering the countries in the travel ban were actually flagged as terrorist hotbeds by the Obama administration and subsequently left many Muslim majority countries off the list. But even if we consider Trump a racially charged President, using this image with the issues surrounding it as a symbol against Trump is a misstep, again as said by Manea.

    Yes, women in America who want to wear a hijab must absolutely be protected by the United States, and in extent our flag. But accepting it, being tolerant of it, and being understanding of it is far different than promoting it, again simply because it is a tool of oppression for so many in the world. To me, this image the way it is being used says the United States encourages the wearing of a hijab; that is something I can’t stomach considering the news I read from all parts of the world. Perhaps that is where we disagree.

  3. Gavin Sunderland on February 14th, 2018 8:47 pm

    I really dislike how the hijab is celebrated here in the West even though in the Middle East women are stoned to death and beaten for not wearing the hijab. Due to this I find it utterly despicable that we promote wearing a symbol of oppression.

  4. Abigale Baines on February 14th, 2018 9:14 pm

    It is important to remember that for many American Muslims the hijab is a sign of cultural pride. It is not, in fact, celebrated by all. Many Islamophobic people in the US view hijabs as a negative sign and the expression of supporting terrorism. How about, rather than disliking that Western women are supporting the right to freedom of relgion, whether that be wearing a hijab, yarmulke or cross around one’s neck, dislike the fact that Middle Eastern counties have turned this aspect of a peaceful religion into a political tool to keep Islamic women oppressed.

  5. Abigale Baines on February 14th, 2018 8:58 pm

    You do bring up an interesting point that the possibility of protestors utilizing this famous ‘We the People’ image could be disregarding the struggles of Muslim women fighting dresscodes in their homes, however, I am going to have to agree with Isadora that in the United States the situation is different, and therefore it is appropriate for the image to be used. Additionally, considering the fact that the specific image I referenced before is promoted by American muslims, who are undoubtedly the some of the most aware and impacted by this issue, there must be something positive about the star and stripe adorned hijab.

  6. Ryan Dooris on February 14th, 2018 9:29 pm

    While I can see where Isadora is coming from, expressing that the American Flag hijab is a way for muslims in the United States to demonstrate their religious freedom, I think that the choice of clothing to convey this message was decided rather poorly. I agree with Shak. Having a symbol that represents freedom and individuality no matter where you’re from or what you believe attached to an item of clothing that has resulted in the oppression of muslim women sends the wrong message. I think this demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Islamic religion and culture rather than empathy for those who are struggling against it.

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