The Veil Does Not a Prison Make

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Who’s Danielle Crittenden? She writes a blog for The Huffington Post and recently, she decided to “take on the veil” as a social experiment for one week of her life in Washington, D.C. She went straight for the gold and decided to wear the starkest, blackest niqab out there, ignoring the fact that the hejab is far more prevalent among Muslim women than the niqab. She blogs about her experience in four separate posts under the title, “Islamic Like Me.”

Readers, you know my issue with people who use “Muslim” and “Islamic” synonymously. For god’s sake, would somebody check the Associated Press guidelines?! “Islamic” describes architecture and history…things. A “Muslim” is an adherent of Islam; Muslims are people, not things.

So Ms. Crittenden decides to put on a niqab…for what? For giggles? She never really explains her reasons for doing so, but makes it very apparent that wearing a niqab is a bad idea because it’s “oppressive”. Does she want to see what it’s like to be a Muslim woman who wears niqab? Does she want to understand the prejudice that these women face?

No. After reading her posts, it’s obvious she just wants to play dress-up. She doesn’t attempt to adhere to any principles of Islam while wearing the niqab, nor does she take it off in her home like most niqabis would, nor does she even attempt to start a dialogue with any Muslim women—niqabis or not.

This experiment reminds me of one of Tyra Banks’ experiments: you remember when she put on a fat suit? Yeah. That one. She put on a fat suit under the guise of “seeing how the other half lives” but really just used it as a self-indulgent exercise in vanity (kind of like everything else Tyra does, bless her heart). This one seems really no different.

So, we read the first paragraph of Ms. Crittenden’s post “Islamic Like Me: Taking On The Veil”, and already, I want to throw my computer out the window.

“‘I wonder what it’s like to wear Arabic dress?’ I said one day to my husband. His eyes sparked with interest. ‘You mean as in I Dream of Jeannie?’ ‘No. I mean those black cover-ups they wear in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.’”

(Long sigh). So, we begin with the blatantly incorrect idea that all women in the Middle East wear “Arabic” clothing, even if they are not Arab or Muslim. We see later in her posts that her idea of “Arabic clothing” is a niqab and abaya—ignoring several other traditional dress styles that Arab women wear. And, of course, her husband throws in the sexualized Orientalist fantasy of I Dream of Jeannie. Fantastic!

The rest of her dialogue follows an alarmist mentality, complaining that American feminists don’t give a “peep of protest” against “people right here [presumably, big bad Muslims] who want to shroud women … to make us all submissive and invisible.” She ends her silly conversation with an ominous-sounding “It’s coming here too. It already is here.” What’s coming? Is Godzilla here? And the Big, Bad Muslims made him wear a burqa?!

Ms. Crittenden then makes a paltry connection between the rise of the Muslim population and the subjugation of women: “Accepting veiling implies acceptance of a larger ideology of female subordination.” No, Ms. Crittenden. Accepting your arguments, however, implies acceptance of a total lack of logic. Why can’t she get past the idea that wearing some extra cloth totally disenfranchises someone?

“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 to their homes, honour killings and female genital mutilation.”

Free and equal? Like the equal pay women get for the equal work they do? Like the freedom women have to walk alone at night? Wow…maybe I should move into Ms. Crittenden’s neighborhood.

Furthermore, she’s sensationalizing. Guess what? Stuff like this does happen…to all women. It’s just called different names. “Forced marriage”? How about forced sex or rape? “Confinement of women to their homes”? Ever heard of domestic violence, where victims often feel they cannot leave their abuser (who lives in their home)? “Honor killings”? What about kidnapping and torture by family friends or strangers? You say potato, I say potaaaaato. I guess Ms. Crittenden has never heard of Megan Williams.

From her final installment, she rants: “… what the Klan outfit represents to someone of African-American descent is exactly what the burka should represent to every free woman. Those who impose it upon women believe that a whole category of human beings can be treated as property; that this category may be beaten, sold into marriage, divorced at whim, denied education and work, raped with impunity, and stoned to death for offenses that would be pardoned in a man.”

Wow. I guess that’s how Ms. Crittenden sees Muslim men and women: rapist wife-beaters and chattel, respectively. She never stops to think about Muslim women who voluntarily take on the niqab (the majority of niqabis in the west do this as part of a more conservative interpretation of Islam). What about them, Ms. Crittenden? Since they are “imposing” the niqab on themselves, do you think that they view themselves as property, to be beaten and raped?

Ms. Crittenden’s bias against Muslims, the Middle East, and Islam itself are readily apparent throughout the entire series of posts. Whenever she refers to her niqab, she uses her Orientalism megaphone, choosing adjectives that paint the niqab as so alien that it’s not even from the same time period as we occupy: it arrived in what “looked like a package someone had shipped 400 years ago…” and doing laundry makes her feel like she lives in “a Victorian household,” making her realize that she won’t be able to live “a normal life” because of it.

She also sees fit to equate everything in her life to something related to the Middle East: her kitchen, which is being remodeled, looks like “a blown-up house in Baghdad” and she has become an “al-Jazeera version of the Black Ranger.” Wow. You know why all this is funny? Because al-Jazeera doesn’t have any female anchors who wear niqab! And because likening your remodeled home to a war zone is completely hilarious! Now she knows how Iraqi women must feel when they lose loved ones to sectarian violence or land mines!

Her sensitivity extends to her third post, “Islamic Like Me: Why Don’t You Just Take It Off?” She explains that the Iranian women’s volleyball team looked like “a squad of bandaged mummies leaping and spiking” when they competed in the Asian Senior Women’s Volleyball Championship last September.

And, just to hit home the idea that showing skin equals normality, she follows it up with some fake science by renowned charlatan James Watson (the same guy who said that Africans are less intelligent than whites) that states that women who cover up have massive Vitamin C and D deficiencies. This backs up her equally ridiculous statement, made earlier, that “A North American ‘healthy lifestyle’ and Islam do not go together very well.” Hmmmm…I wonder how the U.S.’s three million Muslims do it? Because of Ms. Crittenden’s own lack of experience with the niqab, she assumes every Muslim has a difficult time eating, exercising, or generally living life.

Ms. Crittenden’s adventures around town (going to the gym, the airport, and the grocery store) are meant to expose the bias against Muslims…I think. But she’s shocked when everyone isn’t as bigoted as she is (or at least, doesn’t actively harass her). She goes to an airport, and is surprised that the employees have undergone racial and religious sensitivity training. She’s almost offended when people on the subway don’t attack her with questions and demand to see what’s in her bag, which is what I think she was expecting. Hey, Ms. Crittenden! Maybe Americans aren’t all ignorant Islamophobes like yourself!

I’m not familiar with The Huffington Post’s readers, so I just assumed the worst when I looked at the comments. Of course, there were the out-and-out Islamophobic ones, as well as the “I’m going to make an Islamophobic/racist comment here, but I’m liberal, so I can’t be Islamophobic/racist!” I was pleasantly surprised to see that a fair share of readers actually knew their stuff when it came to Islam, and a good share of them advocated for dialogue rather than condemnation of the niqab and the way of life it implies. However, no one really said what I was thinking, so here we are.

I was really surprised to see this in The Huffington Post, which is usually a source for some nice liberal politics, and features posts from fellow Brass-Crescent-nominee Ali Eteraz. But this? Seriously?