Sunday , 16 December 2018

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Women should not have to dress modestly

It is the women of Iran’s 2018 protests and refusal to wear their headscarves and not the women-dressing-in-black movement in the west of #MeToo solidarity that is the political voice of female refusal to be objectified right now.

Why speak of the two in the same breath? Because in the west the protest is assuming the most conservative attire imaginable, replete as it is with notions of modesty. It is an attire that reactionary regimes, and individuals who feel women should be demure, pacified and ashamed of their sexuality and gender, could only approve of. Meanwhile in Iran women are challenging the notion that they should be demure when faced with being attacked. They are not dressing to mourn; they are undressing to rebel.

In her interview with Bridget Christie, Zoe Williams exhibits a classic piece of Orwellian doublethink. She says (Journal, 24 February) that “in 2011, you could arguably have made a straightforward critique of the hijab, as Christie did then, that it oppressed women by making their bodies a source of shame … But that has been weaponised by the right”, implying that we can no longer critique the hijab.

This is illogical. The fact that the right have hijacked the argument for their own reasons does not, of itself, make the wearing of the hijab any more acceptable. This is an argument of the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” kind and gets us nowhere. The fact that so many liberals have betrayed their principles has left the field open to the far right, who exploit this space for their own ends. Moderate, secular and former Muslims despair at the lack of support for them and the way the “liberals” are so often apologists for conservative Islam, rather than supporters of those brave souls who are trying to reform it.

Perhaps Muslim women need a #MeToo campaign in solidarity with their brave sisters in Iran who are, at great risk to themselves, refusing to wear the hijab, and against the forces both from within and, more inexplicably from outside, their communities who are trying to reinforce the most conservative form of Islam.

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