Delusions of Liberation

I’ve never fully understood how and why a simple piece of fabric, strategically placed on a woman’s head, can be so frequently and easily misinterpreted as some sort of universal symbol of oppression. I have often heard American women express disgust at the notion of a woman who wears a “veil” to cover her hair. Many of these proud and self-proclaimed “feminists” seem to have the common collective belief that Muslim women who cover (that is, Muslim women who wear hijab) are all being forced to do so by some archetypal misogynistic husband or father. “No woman would choose that,” seems to be the common interpretation. And it is the interpretation that I overhear one afternoon in some Starbucks attached to a bookstore I happen to have found my way into. Four young white women sit at a table, all picking at the same brownie, all sipping on a grande something-or-other, and all reading fashion magazines with what I assume they think are free and liberated half-naked starving women on the covers. One of them looks over at a black woman in a purple headscarf holding a baby in her arms. Ordering a tall mocha frappaccino, she looks far from oppressed to me, but one of the fashionistas clearly disagrees. “I would never let a man do that to me.” I look around to see if maybe there is a man harassing a woman in the vicinity, but no. She is referring to this innocuous-looking woman with her child. Another girl chimes in, “I know, seriously. I feel so bad for those women. I would rather die than live like that.”

I know all too well that these women are dead serious. I wonder how they all so readily share the same assumption, that in the middle of Atlanta in 2007, this woman is being forced to cover her hair by some evil unseen masculine oppressor. Of course, there is a possibility that the woman about whom the quartet is speaking is not freely choosing to cover her hair, but something about her makes me doubt this. At any rate, the question I find myself asking in the middle of all of this, as the debate in my head over carrot cake or chocolate brownie grows harder to resolve, is why none of these liberated modern women seems to recognize the evil masculine oppressor that is staring all of them right in the face. They look at airbrushed photos of models and actresses and heiresses, and they seem to believe that this two-dimensional farce is somehow the embodiment of the ideal contemporary woman, when she is in fact the carefully-constructed composite of several pathetically trite heterosexual male fantasies. They all seem to have bought into the idea that bikinis equal freedom, that lip-gloss equals empowerment, that low-rise jeans are a completely reasonable and comfortable substitute for real pants. These women are walking, talking testaments to the power of American advertising.

Meanwhile, the oppressed woman in lilac has been joined by a man who appears to be her husband. All signs seem to indicate that he is not, in fact, the devil incarnate. He comes pushing an empty pink and white stroller with one hand and carrying a plate of carrot cake in the other. He places the cake on the table in front of his wife, and she hands him the baby. As she comes to get a fork, she looks at me, apparently having noticed my inordinately long visit with the painfully well-lit dessert case.

“Why not just try one of each?” she asks me, laughing.

“I know,” I tell her. “You’d think it were some big important decision or something, right?”

“Are you saying that cake isn’t important? Shame on you!” she says as she walks away, again laughing. I laugh along with her and decide that I’ll try the carrot cake too. Meanwhile, the quartet is getting up to leave. “I can’t believe I ate nearly half of that entire brownie,” I hear one of them say. “Relax,” another responds, “I’m going to the gym later. You can come with if you want. Don’t forget your purse.”

Melody Moezzi is an Atlanta-based attorney, author and activist. Her first book, War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims, was recently published by the University of Arkansas Press, and she is also a columnist for Muslim Girl Magazine. She can be reached at: melody@melodymoezzi.com. Read other articles by Melody, or visit Melody's website.

26 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Michael Kenny said on December 28th, 2007 at 9:00am #

    A semi-aside: I am old enough to be struck by the resemblance between what is called “Islamic” dress and the habits Catholic nuns wore before Vatican II and that some ultra-conservative orders still wear. And,of course, the nuns dressed like that because, in the Europe of several centuries ago, that form of dress was the only thing a respectable woman would wear in public. Among Catholics, it is still the custom for women to cover their heads in church and in my childhood in 1950s Ireland, my mother (born 1912) wouldn’t have even dreamt of going out with her head uncovered. My father would never have gone out in his shirt sleeves or without a tie. And when was the last time you saw an orthodox rabbi in a hawaiian shirt?

    The idea of particular forms of dress being a “statement of respectability” is nothing new and has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. Even what modern Muslim women wear has its roots in the traditional dress of Europe and the Middle East. Thos who make a big deal out of it are just mischief making!

  2. jaime said on December 28th, 2007 at 9:42am #

    Dad charged after daughter killed in clash over hijab

    Friends say father disapproved of Western dress

    Chris Wattie, National Post Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    TORONTO — A Mississauga, Ont., cab driver has been charged with the murder of his 16-year-old daughter, who was attacked in the family home after clashing with her strict Muslim family over whether or not to wear the hijab, the traditional Islamic head scarf for women.

    Muhammad Parvez, 57, was charged after his daughter Aqsa Parvez died in hospital late Monday.

    The victim’s older brother Waqas Parvez, was charged with obstructing police in connection with the girl’s death.

    Police were called to a home in Mississauga early Monday morning by a man who told 911 operators that he had killed his daughter.

    They found Aqsa Parvez lying motionless on the floor of her bedroom, to all appearances dead, but paramedics found a faint pulse and rushed her to hospital. The teenager succumbed to her injuries several hours later, police said Tuesday.

    Const. J.P. Valade would not give any details about the teenager’s killing, but police sources said she was strangled.

    Friends of the girl said she had left the family home, where her brothers also lived with their families, about a week before the attack because of arguments with her father and brothers over her refusal to wear traditional Muslim garb, including the hijab.

    “She was scared of her father: He was always controlling her,” said Dominiquia Holmes-Thompson, a friend and classmate at Applewood Heights Secondary School, where both were Grade 11 students. “She wasn’t allowed to go out or do anything: That’s why she left.”

    Valade would not comment on the possible motive for the killing, but said detectives are continuing to interview neighbours and friends of the girl as well as members of her extended family.

    Canadian Muslim groups on Tuesday condemned the attack.

    “There should be zero tolerance for violence of any kind against women or girls,” said Shahina Siddiqui, the president of the Islamic Social Services Association.

    Faisal Kutty, the legal counsel for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: We call for the strongest possible prosecution of Ms. Parvez’s alleged attacker.”

    Sylvia Link, a spokeswoman for the Peel District School Board, said grief counsellors have been sent to the school to help Aqsa’s classmates deal with the incident.

    The flag outside the school was flown at half-mast and a memorial table was set up at the school where friends of the slain teen could write their memories, display pictures, leave flowers and mementos.

    Link said school officials are also looking into the case to see if there was anything they could have done to help Aqsa or students in similar situations.

    “We want to see what we can learn from this tragedy,” she said.

    Valade said police and prosecutors have not yet decided whether to charge the dead girl’s father with first- or second-degree murder, but they have until the beginning of his preliminary hearing to make that decision.

    Parvez is scheduled to appear in a Brampton court today on a bail hearing.

    National Post

  3. Deadbeat said on December 28th, 2007 at 11:15am #

    I think that article coupled with Jaime’s post reveals how Zionist’s propaganda has fomented anti-Arab racist attitudes among Americans. This article and Jaime’s post illustrates how Zionist propaganda in this case uses “feminism” to attack Arab culture. The attitude of the four young women reveals the effects that Zionism has on U.S. culture. This is an issue that the “left” completely ignores. Notice that Jaime won’t post similar stories of misogyny in Israel. In fact there is virtually no such discussion on the “left”.

    I recall at the onset of the War on Afghanistan a “left-wing” feminist telling me that she agreed with the invasion in because of the “treatment” of women there. A classic example of the political immaturity of identity politics and the ease at which it can be easily manipulated.

  4. sk said on December 28th, 2007 at 1:04pm #

    Another Middle Eastern religiocracy where “women are forced to buy a divorce from their husbands for huge sums”.

  5. jaime said on December 28th, 2007 at 1:09pm #

    “…I recall at the onset of the War on Afghanistan a “left-wing” feminist telling me that she agreed with the invasion in because of the “treatment” of women there….

    The Taliban treat their women as property.
    Slavery is part of their culture.

  6. Deadbeat said on December 28th, 2007 at 7:52pm #

    The Taliban treat their women as property. Slavery is part of their culture.

    That still doesn’t give the U.S. the right to invade their country.

  7. sk said on December 28th, 2007 at 8:27pm #

    Deadbeat, next you’ll claim the world would not have been a better place had, say, the French invaded Irish Republic in the name of Rousseau’s idea that benighted people such as nuns must “be forced to be free”.

  8. HR said on December 28th, 2007 at 11:05pm #

    Excellent article. Many of the responses help make the author’s point, sadly. Not at all uncommon here in the land of the brainwashed.

  9. Deadbeat said on December 28th, 2007 at 11:13pm #

    sk,

    I’m not sure what point you are attempting to make or time period you live in but since the end of WWII there are international treaties that make such invasions illegal.

  10. sk said on December 28th, 2007 at 11:42pm #

    Treaties? Surely you don’t take those “scraps of paper” seriously? After all, “right as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

  11. Mike McNiven said on December 29th, 2007 at 12:52am #

    Choosing the “hijab” is very different from imposing the “hijab”.
    Those who impse the “hijab” are those who imposed a bullet in the throat of Benazir Bhutto!

  12. Donald Hawkins said on December 29th, 2007 at 8:05am #

    Friday morning at a forum for undecided voters in Independence, Iowa, Edwards repeated his implicit criticism of Obama, saying any candidate who thinks he or she can invite corporate America to the table and achieve real results for Americans “is living in never-never land.”
    Not at all uncommon here in the land of the brainwashed.
    It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
    Come on is that really true, Oh yes it sure is.

  13. hp said on December 29th, 2007 at 8:23pm #

    IDF Jewish Nazi shoots little school girl in the head as she sits at her desk being Arab..

  14. markov said on December 30th, 2007 at 9:31pm #

    this is excellent commentary plus an entertaining read at the same time! i’ll shoot some friends this link – they’ll get the point too.

  15. Shabnam said on December 31st, 2007 at 6:55am #

    “Those who impose the “hijab” are those who imposed a bullet in the throat of Benazir Bhutto!”

    Only prejudice people convict Muslims for Bhutto’s death with no evidence at hand and let the imperialists and their Puppets, Pakistan’s army off the hook who will gain the most from her death.
    The writer of this article makes her analysis based on one afternoon observation in one of the Starbucks attached to a bookstore and tries to make her conclusion on hijab saying that people with hijab are not forced to cover their head by “some evil unseen masculine oppressor” which I think is not necessarily true in all cases. One thing is obvious from the scene described by her is that those women who made such a comment “I would never let a man do that to me” while looking at the products of the latest fashion of market economy where they have been made by cheap labor in far away places under inhuman conditions to make it “affordable” for some in the “North” to consume in exchange for their silence against massacre of other people in far away places to preserve their “life style” which is deathly to majority of the population on earth, they have already “let a man do that to them.” Many women choose head scarf not because they are religious rather to expressed their anti imperialist and Zionist stands.
    At the time of the Iranian revolution many women chose to wear scarf to be united with the anti imperialist movement. Those who are prejudice against other religion and bring Taliban as an example must know that Taliban was the Imperialist creation with the Saudi’s money during Benazir Bhutto’s time as prime minister who viewed Taliban as a group that could stabilize Afghanistan and enable trade access to the Central Asian republics. Benazir Bhutto also wore hijab and was not oppressed and she was admired by majority of the imperialist and Zionist forces, including Bush and Shimon Peres, since she was willing to play the enemy’s game in order to be in power. Benazir Bhutto before being oppressed she was one of the puppets of the Zionist and imperialist camp and has gone to Israel to advance her position for future prime minister of Pakistan. Shimon Peres, Israel president, said:
    “I had the chance to meet her (Benazir Bhutto) on several occasions, in which she expressed interest in Israel and said that she hoped to visit upon returning to power.”
    http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/12/28/18469064.php
    So if you are corrupt and willing to play the oppressor’s game with hijab or no hijab does not make a difference at all.
    From the writer’s observation one can conclude that these women who see hijab as sign of women’s oppression, even those who choose to wear it, are kept oppressed and ignorant by western propaganda machine who are not able to see their own oppression and complicity in crimes of the imperialist and Zionist forces and let other men make the conclusion for them to without their own efforts in establishing the conclusion.
    It is wrong, I think, that one establishes any firm conclusion based on one observation.

  16. Joseph Anderson said on December 31st, 2007 at 8:42am #

    IT’S ALWAYS RACISTLY IRONIC TO HEAR ZIONISTS GO ON ABOUT HOW ARAB WOMEN ARE OPPRESSED BY THE HAJIB

    – AS THOSE VERY SAME COLONIALIST, IMPERIALIST ZIONISTS PEPETRATE OR SUPPORT THE BRUTAL ETHNICAL CLEANSING (FOR OVER A HALF-CENTURY NOW) AND/OR USE F-16′S, HELICOPTER GUNSHIPS AND THE LATEST TANKS TO *MISSILE*, *BOMB*, *SHELL*, *MAIM* AND *KILL* ARAB WOMEN, THEIR DAUGHTERS, AND THE REST OF THEIR FAMILIES IN PALESTINE AND LEBANON.

    I THINK THAT WOMEN IN THE ARAB WORLD HAVE MUCH LESS TO FEAR FROM THE HAJIB THAN FROM AMERICAN F-16′S, PHOSPHOROUS OR CLUSTER BOMBS, AND RAMPAGING AMERICAN (sometimes as even family-killing rapists) OR ISRAELI SOLDIERS.

    IN FACT, WOMEN, THE WORLD OVER, HAVE LESS TO WORRY ABOUT FROM THE HAJIB THAN FROM U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND/OR AMERICAN MALE SOLDIERS IN THIER COUNTRIES, WHETHER DURING ACTUAL IMPERIALIST U.S. WARS OR JUST NEAR OR ON AMERICAN MILITARY BASES (WHERE EVEN AMERICAN FEMALE SOLDIERS OFTEN FEAR AMERICAN MALE SOLDIERS, EVEN SQUAD LEADERS OR UNIT COMMANDERS, AS UNPUNISHED RAPISTS).

    And if you’ve ever seen even an American 14 year-old girl, or a group of 13-16 year-old girls, in an American supermarket, looking at page after page of glossy photos of the latest, quite expensive, often fairly exposing, street and school(!!) attire worn by, indeed, photographically airbrushed, anorexic teen girls (now even some *Black* girls are starting to become anorexic) in the racks of fashion magazines there, then you know that those *American* girls (and later as young women) are not quite socioculturally free. Or as one older Polish female friend once told me in general, “We always knew that your American claims of, so-called, ‘freedom & democracy’ were rather exaggerated.”

  17. Chris Crass said on December 31st, 2007 at 10:17am #

    Chemical or Cloth Burkha?
    Dollars or Gods?
    They’re all fucked.

  18. Elizabeth said on December 31st, 2007 at 12:37pm #

    Thanks for this. I suspect I’d rather be the woman in the headscarf than the ones commenting on her any day.

    The saddest part is when these assumptions come from self-identified feminists as well.

  19. Joseph Anderson, Berkeley, CA said on December 31st, 2007 at 5:50pm #

    THE DELUSIONS OF LIBERATION — WHAT IF IT WERE MEN?

    I’ve often wondered how the average men (from short, to medium height and weight, to somewhat flabby, chunky, chubby or fat) would feel if they were *’forced’* at the supermarket checkout lanes — day after day after day after day, to walk between column racks of so-called “men’s” magazines, with only tall, slim, essentially naked (even in freezing winter!), buff, “6-pack”, airhead, blonde white men, in tight-fitting spandex swimtrunks, with always big bulges under the fabric in front, or very low-cut, teeny-tiny, ‘bikini’-style swimbriefs, with the fabric often provocatively pulled down at an angle by a thumb on one side.

    This, constantly telling men that *this* is the kind of man you must be — this is the *right* kind of man — and that you’re really desirable for little else. And this, while women in the checkout lanes got to constantly scan at least the many magazine covers as their shopping errand eye-treat. And this, as little and teenage boys, even aside from young men, spent so much of their ‘reading’ time paging through those magazines to see the countless images that this is essentially how they should fit in, in society and even in grade and high school, to be considered popular and desirable.

    That this, for Western women, is not considered impolite, disrespectful, and at least somewhat tasteless in polite society, to force even grocery-shopping women to endure this *daily, endless*, magazine covers guantlet — let alone the openly *topless or nude* women on magazine and news tabloid covers, and the salacious “page three” girl photos, in European grocery or newsstand stores — and those *constantly-imposed* images of what they should be (women who are rarely on the covers of *news* magazines), day after day after day, has eluded me. This, where even, to one degree or another, clothed women, though often in low-cut tops or what even white women sometimes call their “ho clothes”, in fashion ads (even on billboards) are often positioned standing, crouching, squating or sitting with their legs spread wide or in various quasi-’fuck-me’ semi-sexual positions.

    And these constantly forced, and thus somewhat image-insulting, images of girls and young women are just where it *starts* in Western pop media and society. It’s even worse in the entertainment and sports (as Dallas/Denver/Laker/Raider/etc. “T&A”-cheerleader girls) industry. Girs/women must even put up with *Hooters* ads (that tell smaller-breasted women that they must implant health-endangering silicone *bags* in their breasts to really be desirable) on the ballfield walls — and these are supposed to be *family* entertainment venues. Yes, the delusions of women’s “liberation” in the West.

    To me, as an African American, it would be like if I were daily and constantly barraged and assaulted with magazine cover photos of wide-smiling, bug-eyed, tap-dancing Black men — even in the grocery store checkout lanes — in the latest fashions, almost whenever you saw them on magazine or tabloid covers at all — and that these prevalences, assaults, and expectations of images, attire and behavior were considered “social liberation” for Blacks.

  20. Laila said on January 1st, 2008 at 7:06am #

    Deadbeat,

    Personally, I am horrified by the multitude of accounts of Muslim men killing/beating women in their own family for the sake of “family honor.” I am horrified not because I am a Jew, nor because I am a Zionist, but because I am a woman. I have many wonderful Muslim friends who do not prize family honor over the lives of their family members, and so I am well aware that this behavior is not omnipresent nor representative of Islam. However, it does exist, there’s no way of denying that.

    You suggest searching for similar examples in Israel. Examples of Muslim men killing or mutilating women for “family honor” or disobedience are common in Israel, but I assume your comment refers not to Israel as a whole, but only to the Jewish population. I admit that I have not seen accounts of Jewish men killing family members for “family honor.” If such instances abound as you imply, please point me in the right direction as I am very interested in being educated on this topic.

  21. hp said on January 2nd, 2008 at 3:12pm #

    “A misogynist is a man who hates women about as much as women hate one another.”
    Mencken

  22. Mike McNiven said on January 3rd, 2008 at 1:39am #

    Ms. Moezzi,

    The following women are looking for a very good lawyer:

    http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40510

    http://www.hrw.org/photos/2007/iran03/index.html

  23. Melody Moezzi said on January 3rd, 2008 at 9:15am #

    As the author this piece, I have something to say–especially, to all the haters who love to revel in irrelevance–particularly, the man who just wrote what I imagine he thinks is a newsflash–namely, that there are good people who need good lawyers in Iran and Iraq. If you think that’s the only place where good people need good lawyers, you’re sadly and painfully misinformed. So, here’s what I have to say to you and your comrades:

    There are a lot of people, of different races, genders, nationalities and religions who are fighting crazy misinterpretations of their identities. Just because a screaming crazy moron claims to be part of the KKK, doesn’t mean that he or she is a good Christian. Just because another crazy screaming moron claims to be part of Wahabbi movement, doesn’t mean he or she is a good Muslim. I interpreted this comment as a joke, because at this point, I have no other option. I’ve had enough racist xenophobia for one lifetime. There are certainly many cultures and religions and races and nationalities out there. I don’t think anyone can claim to deeply know and understand all of them. But we can all have open minds and realize that there are crazies in each and every group of people–they may be screaming the loudest and acting the nastiest, but generally, they are NOT the majority, and for us to make induction from these specific individuals to the general population is the definition of ignorance. I imagine if you read Dissident Voice that at least you have somewhat of an open mind and can understand. I will fight for justice wherever I can, and I can tell you Iran and Iraq aren’t the only country where people need good legal representation. I hope you understand that and just forgot to say it because, like I said, I have had enough hatred, racism, ignorance and xenophobia for one lifetime. May God bless all of you and your families, so that maybe you can gain enough insight to learn the basic laws of logic and mathematics.

  24. Mike McNiven said on January 14th, 2008 at 3:49am #

    Prejudice, discrimination, sexism, racism, zionism, anti-Semitism,
    xenophobia, national chauvinism, religious fanaticism, genocide, cowardice must be condemned globally while we tackle them locally!

    While it is very understandable to be concerned about the reprisals of the governments everywhere, not to condemn massive violations of human rights, in order to have a comfortable life away from the place of origin, is unprincipled!

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/report/info/MDE13/002/2008

  25. Mike McNiven said on January 14th, 2008 at 4:09am #

    anti-Baloch racism :

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=tCeV9Fnj_I4

  26. Shabnam said on January 17th, 2008 at 9:59am #

    The agents of the western democracy, Zionism and imperialism, are forcing the “democratic rights” down the people’s throat in the occupied land, Iraq, yet those who bring out attention to the poverty in Balochestan cleverly do not reveal who control the puppet state of Pakistan and who is responsible for economic and scientific boycott of those countries who refuse to be a slave of Zionist-imperialist camp in a world which is ruled by law of Jungle which has been sold to ignorant as “western democracy.”
    http://www.ebratha.blogfa.com/post-2.aspx