Just (Don’t) Do It, Hijabi Style

Nike just unveiled (pun unintended) their new line of sports hijabs. The impetus behind such a move came from the growth of female Muslim athletes seeking to participate in popular sports and having hijabs that are conducive to such activities.

From the outset, I want to state that I 100% support female Muslim athletes participating in sports and wearing whatever they want. And I think it’s wonderful that sports-oriented hijabs are available to allow them to do that. My skepticism arises from the fact that Nike is involved.

My problem is not with the athletes, but with the demonic corporate behemoth trying to ingratiate itself even further into Muslim society.

The Arab News article points out that “Muslim consumer spending on clothing is estimated at $243 billion in 2015, according to the State of Global Islamic Economy’s report. The revenues from modest fashion clothing purchased by Muslim women have been estimated at $44 billion in 2015. Muslim spending on clothing is expected to reach $368 billion by 2021.”

Go to any city (or even village) in the Middle East today and you’ll be sure to see the Nike swoosh (along with other corporate logos) splayed across any assortment of clothing. Western multitnational corporations have fully penetrated the markets of the Middle East.

Here’s an anecdote from a non-Muslim artist and blogger named Tommy Kane:

“The other day I was riding on the subway. I noticed a muslim girl wearing a Hijab or headscarf. It was black. When we exited the train together, I noticed that in dark grey were Calvin Klein logos all over here Hijab. I was a bit stunned by that. Is that allowed? Who knows.”

We’re living in a blurred space. Is the purpose of the hijab to sell clothing?

It seems fairly self-evident that we have a problem when Western corporations are co-opting these symbols and transforming them into manipulative ploys of consumerism.

Adidas, Puma, Nike, and all the others are looking for their piece of the pie of the multi-billion dollar Muslim market.

Nike is by no means some enlightened, benevolent company simply set on trying to help Muslim women participate in sports. Nike is seeking a profit, an in, a market-share, and (naturally) a recuperation of Muslim culture into the superstructure.

If Nike seems feminist or inclusive here, then we must take a step back.

Nike is one of the largest apparel companies in the world and is notorious for its use of sweatshops. Nike, of course, denies this fact on the basis that it sub-contracts out its labor to small factories dotted around the Third World. But anyone with a brain knows that workers in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Honduras, or China aren’t working in humane conditions.

Regardless of how many glowing articles Business Insider writes, Nike’s name and logo equal one thing: human rights violations.

So while the (almost exclusively white) American executives lay out their sleek business reports and cash in on their exaggerated profits, those (mostly women of color) languishing in sweatshops around the world are left suffering.

Poor Muslim women in Bangladesh making Nike hijabs for rich Muslim women in Gulf States.

There are no limits to the irony here when one female athlete talks about how “the Nike Pro Hijab empowers her.” And, of course, in a way, she’s right.

The deeply patriarchal power structures in the Gulf are suffocating on everyone. The atrocious instruments of control that exist need to be uprooted.

However, is Nike really a trustworthy ally in the struggle against patriarchy?

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The Trouble with Liberals

I’ve always considered liberals to be nothing more than Marxists without analysis.

The difference between your average liberal and your average communist is a reading of Capital or maybe even just The Communist Manifesto. But liberals have always surprised me in their tenacity to stand firm in their philosophy without feeling the need to question some important presuppositions.

I should start off that I don’t think all liberals are stupid or evil or something like that.

For the most part, liberals seem to be well-meaning, tolerant people who think they stand for the right things. But this is exactly what makes liberalism so toxic. It’s a skeleton wrapped in a shiny cloak.

Bill Clinton had a warm smile as he signed NAFTA and gutted the economy of Mexico (and the economy of the United States). Barack Obama played nice with Gaddafi before bombing Libya into oblivion.

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“I’m not going to kill you. lol jk.”

Typically, liberals in the United States are associated with the Democratic Party. It would be unfair of me to go through all the crimes of the members of the Democratic Party to show that it can’t possibly live up to its promises.

Instead, we need to talk about the presuppositions of modern liberalism.

Presupposition #1: Capitalism is cool, or at least necessary.

This has actually become a proud staple of liberal thought ever since Tony Blair and Bill Clinton pushed through their Third Way nonsense. We have to work with multinational corporations and join in the right-wing praises of the bourgeoisie.

Bourgeoisie, however, isn’t the word they’d use, because they don’t talk about social classes!

Except of course, the idealized “Middle Class“. Oh, the Middle Class, the backbone of America. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a single mother raising 4 kids making less than $30,000 a year or the perfect nuclear family making $200,000. You’re somehow part of the Middle Class. You know it all too well. Every politician talks about you.

In all this talk about the Middle Class, we manage to lose out on discussing huge groups of other people. What happens to the rural poor? What about the urban poor? Who’s talking about poverty in America? What about our prison system, which has basically created a class of slaves? There’s no room for these people.

Capitalism requires social classes, and we don’t want to talk about how it functions. We only want to talk about the rich and the richer. Liberals are the ones letting this discourse flourish.

Even your new favorite Pope is criticizing capitalism!

child-povertyPresupposition #2: Liberal Democracy as we have it is working.

The economic/political structures in the United States are oppressive. That’s a hard fact to face when you’re living in a fantasy land where America is the “Land of Opportunity” or whatever.

It’s a hard fact that public schools today are more segregated than they were 40 years ago.

It’s a hard fact that people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are basically living in Third World conditions with 80% unemployment and an average life expectancy of 50. That’s in South Dakota!

It’s a hard fact that the government of the United States destroyed the Mexican economy and now punishes Mexican immigrants for seeking better lives. Obama’s deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president before him!

This is why I’ve always felt that liberals were Marxists without analysis. When I used to waste my time trying to reason with liberals, they would often say things like, “But communism doesn’t work!

Are you serious? Does capitalism work? Does liberal democracy work? For whom is the current liberal democratic capitalist system working?

Of course, it’s working in the interests of the rich. So if you’re rich, congratulations, the system is working for you!

“I’m not rich, but I vote! Surely our liberal democracy is best, because I have the freedom to choose!”

What are your choices? You don’t get to vote on most issues, because the candidates mostly agree on the issues. In describing the two party split in Britain, George Galloway often refers to them as “two cheeks of the same backside“. A fitting analogy if there ever was one.

In reality, Noam Chomsky says it best: “They’re two factions of the same party. We have a one-party state.”

Presupposition #3: Structural Institutions are independent, not derivative.

What do I mean here?

Sexism and Racism are not separate from capitalism, they’re branches on the same tree.

Liberals today seem to think that the way to fight racism or sexism is to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Liberals today seem to be of the opinion that being “tolerant” is how to you solve racism and sexism.

The poison is drawn up from the roots, but the liberal thinks that plucking a few leaves will solve the problem.

The tree itself must be removed!

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Martin Luther King Jr. knew that capitalism and racism are intimately linked. White liberals act like having a “black friend” or voting for Barack Obama protects them from the charge of racism. Not quite, you privileged fool.

Do we really need to have a discussion about the history of the United States? It certainly wasn’t economic equality that led to slavery.

Today, one only needs to take a look at the map in order to see how districts and suburbs are segregated by color. You can even compare this with rich block and poor blocks in order to see how wealth is distributed by racial divisions.

But of course, capitalism and sexism are also intertwined. Patriarchy is not something that can be challenged within the structures of economic exploitation. Liberals want to focus on “equal work for equal pay”, which is fine, it’s important. But it’s an issue that is derivative of Patriarchy, which needs to be fought tooth and nail.

The trouble with liberals is that they don’t see America as an empire.

The trouble with liberals is that they want to put a bandaid on a bullet wound.

The trouble with liberals is that they see symptoms, but they don’t see the cause.

Doesn’t Islam Oppress Women?

This question, more than any other, is supposed to be the magic scoreboard that shows that the Enlightened West is morally superior to the Islamic world. Its point is to accuse Muslims of being backwards, medieval, and driven by a fundamentally misogynistic religion. But there are some presuppositions that ought to be addressed.

Firstly, Islam doesn’t say anything. Just like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism don’t say anything. Muslims say things. Christians say things. Buddhists say things. If you ask different Muslims about the status of women in Islam, you’d probably get as many answers as there are Muslims.

You may be asking, “Yeah, okay, but what does the Qur’an say? And what did the Prophet Muhammad say?”

The response (based on fourteen centuries) is that no one completely agrees on what the Qur’an “says” or what the Prophet Muhammad “said”. This is by no means a cop out. If you ask the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia you’ll genuinely get a different answer than if you ask the Grand Mufti of Egypt or the Ayatollahs of Iran or Iraq.

If this seems dubious, then you need to read “Qur’an and Woman” by Amina Wadud, a female Qur’anic scholar, who has a deep and practical reading of the Qur’an as well as a critical attitude towards the male-bias in much of the dominant traditions. And she is just one of countless people who reject, on Islamic grounds, patriarchy, misogyny, or the oppression of women in any circumstances.

Or check out Zohreh Sefati, a female Ayatollah, who believes that women should also be able to be sources of religious emulation in the Usuli Ithna’asheri Shi’a school in Iran. Check out the countless female academics, scholars, activists, revolutionaries, artists, and writers who are present in the Islamic tradition historically and today. In order to miss Muslim feminists, you have to be willfully ignorant of countless individuals about whom you could learn with a cursory google search.

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There’s also the important aspect of singling out Islam, as if Islam is the wellspring from where female oppression flows.

This first-world, culturally-imperialist “feminism” begins with an absurd comparison between drastically dissimilar societies. “Well look at how women are treated in Sudan and how they’re treated in England. Islam is to blame!” Instead, let’s present a more honest comparison in order to judge how misogyny and Islam actually blend together.

Are women in Muslim Somalia more oppressed than women in Christian Ethiopia? Are Muslim Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian women worse off than their Christian counterparts? How about Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs? Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians? Muslim women in India and Hindu women in India? Are Muslim Indonesian women worse off than Christian Filipino women?

The answer is no.

So why are you even asking the question: Doesn’t Islam oppress women?

Of course, it’s because you’ve heard it before. Repeated endlessly in the West and perpetuated by miseducation and a malicious (not uninformed, intentionally malicious) mass media, we’ve all been told that Muslim women are oppressed. After all, they all wear those headscarves! They look oppressed!

I imagine it must confuse a lot of people when practicing Muslim women choose not to wear hijab.

The real reason this question exists is because of Orientalism. Because the West has conceptualized and maintained a series of attitudes and stereotypes about Muslim culture and religion for centuries. The Muslim world is monolithic and there all women are either bellydancing or under a burqa.

Pakistan had a female prime minister throughout the 90s. The United States didn’t even have a mainstream female presidential candidate until 2008. Which standards do you want to use?

However, this question also implies something even more insidious than imagining that all Muslim women are oppressed. It assumes that non-Muslim women aren’t. As if Muslim women are experiencing oppression, whereas Christian, Hindu, Atheist, Jewish, and Buddhist women are all doing swell. You absolutely white-wash patriarchy and misogyny outside of the Muslim context.

Let’s not forget that the core assumption in the question is sexist. The question emboldens the patriarchal idea of male agency and female passivity. In painting Muslim women as all being oppressed, you are also painting them as powerless and ignorant. And to make it even worse, the real travesty is that they don’t even realize that they’re being oppressed. We must save them!

Does Islam oppress women?

No, but plenty of Muslims oppress women. Just as plenty of other people oppress women.

For the time being, we live in a sexist society with a sexist history and a sexist culture, and we all need to face that together. Throughout the world, patriarchy and misogyny structures almost every social interaction in disgusting ways. The only way to directly combat oppression is to embrace radical feminism, and nothing short thereof. More and more Muslim women are doing just that, regardless of whether or not they call it feminism. And if you’re not a Muslim women, you need to stand in solidarity with them, not try to tell them what to do. Women’s liberation does not mean cultural imperialism.

It’s not feminism to force a woman to take off her burqa.