by Alistair David Blair Cook
The 11th September 2001 brought scorn, suspicion and near segregation to Muslims the world over, where nation-states rallied around the flag against this “extremist” and “virulent” religion. However, little was really understood about it and there was not any interest in finding out. The period of blame was upon us with governments introducing oppressive laws on a whim, without debate and certainly without the consensus of the people they affected to counter these threats. We have seen the detention of ‘enemy combatants’ in Guantanamo bay and the much-discredited anti-terrorist laws in the UK, encapsulating the current oppressive mood of governments.
These reactions were to counter the ‘threat’ of an extremist religion: Islam. The most defining feature of Islamic female dress is the Hijab or headscarf. People rarely think of the Hijab as a garment of choice because we read about it mainly in the context of compulsion. Some Muslim ladies do wear the Hijab out of choice but are thought of as extreme; however, I have yet to hear people draw the comparison between the Hijab and Western headscarves. Both symbolise a dedication to religion, culture or fashion and yet parallels are not made. On the one hand, we have people referring to the Hijab as oppressive and extremist but rarely do we hear the same about the Nun’s habit or a Western lady wearing a headscarf being either. People associate the Nun’s habit with charity, faith and trust. If only people realised the similarities between the two then we would have a more tolerant approach to Islam.
The evolution of the headscarf, whether Christian or Muslim, both originate in the Middle East where they were a cultural necessity of the region. More recently, as the religions spread, the headscarves became symbolic: Christian ladies wear a veil when they get married (although less so now) symbolising their faith; Christian ladies wear a black veil (although less so now) to mourn. Even up until the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see Christian ladies wearing a headscarf outside of Church in one form or another, albeit then more a fashion statement than a direct link to their faith. Muslim ladies are not different in this respect. They too have varying degrees of head cover from the Burqa to a simple headscarf. They too wear headscarves to demonstrate piety or fashion.
These similarities show the connections we have to the headscarf in the West and rather than it being a symbol of extremism or oppression, it is one the West accepts as a norm if westerners do it. We have become less aware of our own\ncultural and religious heritage in a time of fear against Islam coupled with the terrorism threat. We push our memories to the back of our minds and out of sight. If we are the ones erasing and distancing ourselves from such memories, it is us who are extremist and oppressed not these Muslim ladies.