Month: June 2015

The Hijabs are Coming


If aliens ever come to planet earth will we try to understand their culture or start calling them names for the way they appear?

In this blog I discuss the arguments around the Muslim head gear and the social issues surrounding it.

How can a modern enlightened state to allow its people to follow their evil cultural practices?

Had we not forcefully stopped the Hindu religious practice of Sati women would still be killing themselves after the death of their husband. Why should Muslims have any objection if the state forcefully stops women from donning the hijab/niqab/burqa. The argument that women voluntarily wear some form of the Islamic headgear is not enough to make it legitimate. After all some Hindu women voluntarily killed themselves in the name of Sati.

If the above passage made sense to you then let me explain why it should not.

  • Two cultural practices cannot be equal just because they are cultural practices. It would be same as saying a Burqa is same as the bikini because both are pieces of clothing.
  • While a modern state cannot allow every cultural practice a modern state cannot prohibit a legitimate cultural practice just because it is a cultural practice. Every cultural practice needs to be evaluated independently.
  • The cultural practice of donning a headgear is in no way comparable to the cultural practice of a woman being killed or choosing to die after the death of her husband.

Let us now test the argument that that Sati and Burqa are both oppressive and hence they can be equated. Sati did not stop because there were laws against it. There is absolutely nothing that a state can do if the woman decides to commit suicide after the death of her husband. The Hindu woman has decided that she will no longer follow this barbaric practice and hence the end of Sati.

On the contrary there is empirical evidence that most Muslim women wear the headgear voluntarily as a part of their cultural identify and do not see it as either barbaric or oppressive. Had this been the case there would be no Muslim women in the western world wearing the hijab. Turkey aggressively tried to enforce a secularist culture. Hijab clad women were banned from universities and after several decades of secularism most Turkish women still prefer some form of Islamic head covering.

Well how can you say that they voluntarily choose to wear the headgear when they are conditioned to wear the headgear since they are children?

Good question. There is no society in the world in which parents do not influence their children. You are most likely to identify yourself as a Hindu if you grow up in a Hindu family in India. You are most likely to identify yourself as an atheist if you grow up in an atheist family. You are most likely to identify yourself as Muslim if you grow up in a Muslim family. And when you identify yourself as a Muslim the Hijab may come as part of that cultural identity.

Thousands of women convert to Islam every year around the world and they are more likely to wear the Islamic headgear as compared to someone who was born in a Muslim family. This is a clear indicator that is not always about cultural conditioning but about a legitimate cultural choice.

The Islamic headgear is as cultural as it is Islamic. You will hardly find anyone wearing a burqa in Turkey. Unlike the subcontinent burqa was never a part of the Turkish Islamo-cultural identity. People often become more protective about their cultural identity when they see that it is under threat. A Hindu is more likely to search for his cultural roots after migrating to the west. The idea is to preserve and protect the culture in face of the pressures to conform to the dominant culture that surrounds you.

Why the fear of Hijab?

Once can understand people’s discomfort with the face covering niqab because face is an important of identity and it can be quite confronting to talk to someone “face to face” when there is only one face available in the conversation. Then there are security concerns. A person wearing a balaclava or a helmet cannot be allowed into bank so why a niqab clad woman should be allowed inside a bank in the name of culture? These are legitimate concerns and should not be seen as an attack on culture.

The attack on the Hijab is however a completely different matter. The idea is the force the woman to conform to the ideals of the dominant culture. For e.g. you will rarely see Oprah Winfrey in her naturOprah-Winfreyal Afro hair. She has to look whiter than white. How many white women that you see around you choose the afro hairstyle? Hardly any. How many African American women do you see with blonde wigs and straitened hair? Many. The minority should conform to the dominant culture of the majority or else get ready to be ridiculed, mocked and shunned from the civil society.

In the western societies the debate about the Islamic headgear is as much about the Western Identity as it is about the Islamic identity. There is no reason for these two identities to clash. There are hundreds of examples where hijab clad women have made it big in their professional careers. Muslims must also do their bit by discouraging the practice of niqab. Feminist extremism challenging the cultural identity of Muslim women is having exactly the opposite of the desired effect.

Islam is not going away, Muslims are not going away. There will more and more Hijabs around us in the future. The choice is ours. Either we can remain in a perpetual state of confrontation or we can just accept it as a part of multicultural society and move on. The Hijabs are coming.


Hijacking Feminism

@GenderlogIndia is a Twitter handle that talks about feminist issues. The handle is based on the curator model where the handle is passed on to different people to share their views. Recently the handle was passed on to a “Pakistani” Canadian sex blogger who identifies herself by the pseudonym Eiynah. By her own admission she “is not much immersed” in Pakistani culture. So here we have a westerner with little understanding of the sub-continental culture running GenderLog–INDIA.

Screenshot - 26_06_2015 , 9_58_44 PM

People immediately noticed that the tweets were different than usual. Some people found it annoying, some people found it amusing (including me) and some people thought it was different so it should be welcome.

Eiynah expressed the view popular with some western feminists that the niqab donned by some Muslim women is a tool of oppression. This is not an unreasonable view. In the past I have tweeted against the face covering niqab.

Everything was fine until Eiynah was confronted with the fact that some Muslim women actually wear the niqab as a matter of choice. This view was expressed by another female. This was just too much to handle. Suddenly the niqab clad women who were oppressed magically transformed into evil witches who can be casually equated with the violent racist Ku Screenshot - 26_06_2015 , 10_19_27 PMKlux Klan. It doesn’t end there. They also needed to be banished from public space.

Do you see the problem? These women who are supposed to be oppressed should be oppressed further by taking away their right to be in public space. I hope it makes sense to you. I concede I am not smart enough to make any sense of this. Either they can be poor oppressed souls or evil conniving evil people like the KKK. They can’t be both.

At this point I got a hint of Islamophobia and bigotry. Equating the women who choose to wear the niqab with Ku Klux Klan? Really? Anyway let us go a bit further because it gets a whole lot interestScreenshot - 26_06_2015 , 10_29_42 PMing.

Nowadays due to the civil war in Iraq and Syria and its extensive coverage in the media, Muslims face bigoted taunts where bigots use the name of despicable terrorist organization like ISIS to vilify normal Muslims. Recently on a train in Sydney such a attack on a hijab clad woman was recorded by a good Samaritan who confronted the bigot. The media hailed the good Samaritan and condemned the bigot for taunting the hijabi lady using the name of ISIS.

Eiynah used the same modus operandi. Now the choice to wear the Hijab was akin to the choice of joining ISIS. Yes you read it right. The choice to wear a piece of cloth to cover your head is similar to the choice of joining a despicable violent terrorist organization that kills thousands of innocents. KKK to ISIS? Well that escalated quickly.

At this point I had no doubt in my mind Eiynah is a Islamophobic bigot who is misusing the platform Screenshot - 26_06_2015 , 11_25_55 PMprovided by GenderLogIndia to vilify Muslim women who choose to wear clothes that conform to their individual religious values.

Now I was told by well meaning people that I misunderstood her tweet. She was merely saying that just because it is a personal choice does not mean it is beyond condemnation. After all if we can condemn the personal choice of some idiot joining ISIS why can we condemn the personal choice of someone wearing a Hijab? There are two problems with this explanation.

This analogy could have been made with almost any ‘choice’ in the world. For e.g. she could have said that we can criticize the choice of people smoking, or people eating unhealthy fast food or any of the million such examples. But no. The reference to a despicable terrorist organization had to be made. Why? Well I will let you decide why.

The second problem with criticizing “the choice” in this context defeats the feminist cause. It has taken years for feminists to stop people from criticizing their right to choose. For e.g. if there is a Muslim cleric who issues a fatwa that criticizes “the personal choice” of Muslim women to wear shorts what will be the reaction of the feminists? They will be up in arms against the cleric and rightly so. Who gave the cleric the right to criticize the personal choice made by a Muslim woman? Similarly no one gave the right to Eiynah to criticize the personal choice made by Muslim women. It just goes against everything that feminists have fought for ages.

Lastly I want to ask the creators of the GenderLog India handle. Do they have any sympathy for the hijab clad women who are increasingly becoming the victims of hate crime? Do they understand that in spite of all the pressures many women choose to wear the headgear because they believe it is a part of their cultural identity? Instead of increasing the understanding around the issue would it be the right to promote fear and paranoia around this? I will let GenderLog ponder over this and I believe they will do the right thing by women.

The Relevance of Identity


It is the context that gives identity its meaning. Depending on the context a man can be identified as a friend, father, husband, doctor, runner, blogger, Hindu, vegetarian etc. A person being a vegetarian is hardly relevant to his skills as a doctor but may be relevant if he is looking to be employed as a chef at a diner that serves non vegetarian food.

In this blog post I will discuss the case of Mihir Sharma, a Delhi based journalist and author who writes extensively on the subject of Indian economy. Mihir has been a subject of a online campaign in which the right wing element on the social media want him to admit to his “Christian identity”.

The case of Mihir Sharma

In a recent interview to News Laundry Mihir was asked about the online campaign against him. He said he was brought up as Christian and this sparked a new round of bigoted commentary against Mihir on the social media. An Australia based doctor tweeted.

In the interview Mihir does not identify himself as Christian or religious. Mihir had refused to comment his religious identity so the accusation that he went to lengths to deny “that is a Christian” is simply a lie. Mihir identifies himself as an atheist and a rationalist who is “not in the least religious”.

For Dr Bhavin Jadav, the fact that Mihir was brought up in a Christian family was enough to establish his identity as a Christian. The idea that a person necessarily has some religious identity and that identity is determined at birth has its roots in the caste system of India. From the interview it is clear that Mihir had no qualms about discussing his family’s religious background. Earlier Mihir had declined to comment on his religious identity and he was right in doing so. Let me explain this by using the example of Dr Bhavin Jadav.

After looking at his name an upper caste patient asks Dr Bhavin Jadav if he belongs to the “lower caste”. Should Dr Jadav explain his caste affiliations to his patient or should he simply decline to dignify this irrelevant and possibly bigoted question with an answer? Let me respect the good sense of Dr Jadav and assume that he will decline to answer and even ask his patient to find another doctor if he is not comfortable with his name. Mihir did the same. He refused to bow to the bigotry and bullying by the right wing.

For a moment, only for the sake of argument, let us assume that Mihir is a practicing Christian. As long as his religious beliefs do not impact his work as a journalist and an author who writes about economy then it is irrelevant to discuss about his personal beliefs.

The campaign to force Mihir to admit that “he is Christian” has a purpose. First purpose is the disassociate him from the perceived Hindu identity that Mihir gets from his name and the second purpose is to launch Ad Hominem attacks against his columns. Instead of writing another column explaining why they disagree with Mihir they want to say that Mihir is wrong or prejudiced because “he is a Christian”.

Other Common Methods Employed By Bigots

There is nothing new about bigots using the social media to spew venom against cultures and communities against which they carry deep seated hatred. Bigots use a limited number of tricks and are quite often very easy to spot. The commonly employed trick is to use tragic situations like civil wars and crimes in distant lands to dismiss the idea of co-existence with the group they despise at home. If you speak about co existence and Multiculturalism they will try to link the idea of peaceful co-existence to terrorism.

“Multiculturalism” is the co-existence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or cultural groups and is manifested in customary behaviours, cultural assumptions and values, patterns of thinking, and communicative styles.

Then there are those bigots who propagate the idea that a person cannot be a decent human being while remaining a Muslim or a Christian. Although in the case of Mihir Sharma we have already seen that his disassociation with religion hardly made any difference to how he is perceived by the bigots.

Quite often bigots do not make any sense. If we look at the tweet below it says “So what Islam needs are a lot of Muslims who actually don’t believe in it”. It is like saying “So what free market economy needs are a lot of people who actually don’t believe in it”. Perhaps Mr. Pradhan wanted to say that the world needs less Muslims but he couldn’t bring himself to say that openly so he just wrote this.

Countering Bigotry

The best way to counter bigotry is to counter and destroy their argument using reason. A bigot’s argument is based on half truths and lies and is usually very easy to destroy using logical arguments. If your engage with a bigot in an argument then ask for specifics because bigots thrive on generalizations. If they talk about reforming a particular community ask them about specific ideas that they have in mind, they rarely come up with solutions because their focus remains on demonizing the people they despise. Always ask them for evidence on which their view is based. Challenge their evidence. Bigots are counting on you remaining quiet. Surprise them.