Holes in My Hijab: Conquering the Subaltern Woman

There was one particular image that emerged over the weekend, which struck me: the Hijabi woman draped in an American-Flag illustrated in the trademark style of of Obama’s “hope” poster. My mind instantly flooded with images from October 2014 when British tabloid newspaper The Sun, donned a Muslim woman in a Union Jack hijab on its front page, and the so called ‘Islamic Society of Britain’ introduced the poppy hijab urging Muslim women to wear it as a symbol of remembrance.

In an era where the fashion industry has coined terms such as ‘fashion statement’ and ‘statement necklaces’, on a deep level we speak through our clothes. However, while the world is at liberty to express themselves and their individuality through their clothing, as a Muslim woman I’m silenced. The piece of cloth I wear around my head is stripped off of me and shoved in my mouth. I’m force-fed nationalist propaganda – the poppy, the Union Jack, and now the American stars representing the 50 states where indigenous peoples were once forcibly removed and systematically cleansed, and that currently adorn the desk of misogynist, racist, and islamophobic President Trump. The vicious cycle of conquering the subaltern continues to perpetuate.

“…while the world is at liberty to express themselves and their individuality through their clothing, as a Muslim woman I’m silenced.”

“Don’t use us to score goals in the match between the so called ‘Western Civilised Masculinity’ and ‘Eastern Monstrous Savage and Barbaric Masculinity’.”

Why is it that images of Muslim women can only be consumed when they’re either white-washed and draped in flags and symbols of nationalism in the West, or when they’re wearing black niqabs supposedly representing the oppressive and monstrous nature of Muslim men in the barbaric and savage East? We are not a political football that can be kicked from one side of the global field to the other. Don’t use us to score goals in the match between the so called ‘Western Civilised Masculinity’ and ‘Eastern Monstrous Savage and Barbaric Masculinity’. And for the record, there are 50 shades of masculinity that fall in between these two polar opposites – not all men in the west are civilised and not all men in the east are barbaric and monstrous. We are familiar with the phrase ‘the battle of the sexes’, but ever thought about the battle occurring intra-gender/sex?

“Each poppy, each star, each shape in the Union Jack cuts a hole in my hijab and fills it with blood of men I never knew, that fought wars I never knew, in lands I will never be allowed to know…”

Several historical and anthropological accounts of wars around the world have provided insights to soldiers using rape as a weapon to humiliate subaltern men. One masculinity wins over another and sticks its flag of victory into the flesh and bones of the dead beneath, towering over the newly conquered land. But what of the land of the body? The land of personhood? These are snatched in secret under the cloak of the physical land. Similarly, today as Muslim women, we experience our personhood being snatched away from us behind the cloak of nationalism, national security, terrorism and extremism, and now Trump. Slowly and surely, we are being conquered in an era of patriarchy of the state. And as the saying “kill two birds with one stone” goes, Muslim men are also belittled in the process –  “your women are now ours”.

“Slowly and surely, we are being conquered in an era of patriarchy of the state.”

Each poppy, each star, each shape in the Union Jack cuts a hole in my hijab and fills it with the blood of men I never knew, that fought wars I never knew, in lands I will never be allowed to know as a ‘foreign’ Muslim woman. This latest violation of my hijab was created by none other than a man I don’t know (Shepard Fairey, artist & founder of the clothing brand OBEY), for a man I do not wish to know (Trump), in a land I thought I knew to be progressive and tolerant but which is instead becoming increasingly hostile to minorities, including Muslims.

I’m tearing off your badges that are the poppy and the stars from my hijab. My hijab is for me. For me alone. Not to march against Trump or against Isis, or to remember the soldiers of World Wars, for I can, and do do that in other ways that do not involve the violation of my hijab.

Now I’m left with holes in my hijab that I need to patch up, sew, and mend. Can you allow me to tend to those?

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