Sisterhood, the rallying cry of feminists, echoes back to the 60s. Women fought for equality on a united front, allowing dissenting voices to speak without fear of repercussions.
VIDEO: [CBC News] Iranian women protest mandatory headscarves [Feb 1, 2018].
Over time, the feminist movement morphed into something that can be described as selective sisterhood. ‘Agree with me and we’ll get along fine. Disagree and I’ll rage against you, shun you, discredit you, or simply ignore your plight.’
Evidence of selective sisterhood surfaces every Feb. 1 when World Hijab Day rolls around. It began in 2013 in the U.S. to “fight hate” and “encourage women of all faiths to experience the hijab.” WHD boasts of support in 145 countries including Canada where booths set up in venues to encourage non-Muslim women to wear the head covering.
These celebratory festivities aside, Muslims and non-Muslims routinely applaud the hijab (also niqab and burka) as a religious expression, oblivious to the plight of women forced to wear it, brutalized, or killed for taking it off. Those who call these pieces of cloth symbols of oppression are threatened, dismissed as Islamophobic, or labelled heretics if they are of the Muslim faith.
Last week, a chorus of horrified voices berated Isabelle Charest, Quebec’s minister for the status of women, for criticizing the hijab. “The hijab is not something women should wear. It symbolizes a form of oppression toward women… When a religion dictates clothing, or something, for me, that is not freedom of choice…. My values are that a woman should be free to wear what she wants to wear or not wear.” Charest stood her ground.
Nathalie Lemieux did not. The Gatineau city councillor caved to a backlash for her comments about extremist Muslims, apologized, then resigned as deputy mayor. “These people do a lot of bad things, with their trucks and things. It’s normal to be scared of them.” Lemieux applauded Quebec’s rejection of an anti-Islamophobia day. She accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s liberals of creating the problem of Islamophobia.
Enter M103, a Liberal motion passed in the House of Commons March, 2017, which deems criticism of Islam as Islamophobia and a crime. Opponents condemned it as an attack on free speech. So, how has M103 worked out for Muslim women who don’t want to wear the compulsory headscarf?
Toronto-based international human rights activist Raheel Raza, says M103 has hurt women by silencing critics of oppression against Muslim women. “M103 by itself is abhorrent. I have no doubt that M103 has totally stifled conversation, not just criticism, but conversation, all freedom. People are terrified to have a conversation,” says the modern Muslim of Pakistani decent.
Raza insists the niqab and burka have nothing to do with the Islam religion, but are “political flags of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, The Taliban, al-Qaida and Saudi Arabia.” Raza called for a ban on the hijab and burka in all public places in Canada. She laments that the government and naive Canadians fell for the “tribal” ideology of extremists “who have nothing but contempt for Canada’s values of gender equality.”
“The politicization of the head covering has become such that the only credible vision of a Muslim woman is a Muslim woman who covers her hair. A piece of cloth has become an aggressive tool,” says the author of Their Jihad … Not My Jihad and president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow. “Women can be formidable critics and opponents. Some, not all, will oppose me – those who are influenced by Islamist thought and ideology. There is no organized support for us. All we get is pushback and criticism bordering on calling us heretics. It is a very lonely journey ”
Muslim women who don’t want to wear the head coverings find “individual thought is not encouraged” so succumb to pressure. “I have never seen so many Pakistani women in Canada just wearing it to be accepted. They are so brainwashed that they can’t go to the religious leaders, can’t go to mosques, don’t have community support so they just cave in. ”
Does Canada officially recognize World Hijab Day? No one would say. It is a moot question. A 2018 Status of Women poster, which was designed to celebrate International Women’s Day, featured a woman wearing a hijab that read: #My feminism is about equality for everyone.” To serve equality, will a future poster celebrate a woman wearing a Christian cross?
This poster is selective sisterhood at its finest. It ignores Toronto Muslim Aqsa Parvez, 16, strangled to death by her father in 2007 because she didn’t wear the hijab. Did Status of Women forget that Afghan-born Mohammad Shafia was found guilty in 2012 of killing his three daughters aged 13 to 19 – aided by his wife and son – because they rejected the hijab? The 100,000-woman-strong uprising in Iran in 1979 against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab law is a distant memory. Recent incidents of women getting arrested in Iran for protesting the hijab are not. Countless women worldwide are attacked with acid, beaten or killed, suffering in silence.
What message does government hijab endorsement send to Muslim women without the luxury of choice? Can they look to Canada’s most high-profile feminist for support? Sadly, no. Trudeau, a self-declared feminist, embraced selective sisterhood when he praised the hijab as a symbol of “religious liberty.”