Thursday, June 14, 2007

Free Press Discovers a Patriarchy It Approves Of

Niraj Warikoo’s Detroit Free Press feature article on Tuesday about the increase in Muslim women wearing headscarves in metro Detroit (“A return to tradition: More Muslim women in metro Detroit defy stares and prejudice by wearing head scarves”) is more of interest to me for what I expect it will not do, than what I expect it ever will do.

What it will not do, is call down a storm of protest from feminists, defenders of women’s rights nor the usual critics of the injustices endemic in patriarchal society. I will be shocked if there is anything less than a category five hurricane of silence.

According to Mr. Warikoo’s article, the decision by Muslim women to go about in public wearing the hijab “comes with a price”: reactions of “stares and prejudice” from non-Muslims, and the usual tongue-wagging ignoramuses (ignorami) who reportedly cruise Dearborn’s streets endlessly searching for Middle Easterners to jeer at.

Mr. Warikoo quotes one young lady on the price she pays:

“Some "look at us, smirk, stick out their tongues or shout out the window, 'Why do you have that on?' " said Arrwa Mogalli, 29, of Dearborn, who has worn hijab since she was 11. "You have nuns totally covered ... and no one questions it. But when a Muslim does it, we're from outer space."

As a ten-year Dearborn resident and a longtime Catholic, I have a point of difference with Ms. Mogalli on whether she often sees “nuns totally covered” in or around Dearborn, since any such spectacle was swept from every American diocese years before Ms. Mogalli began wearing hijab, or was even born. American nuns now march around waving their “NO WAR” signs in modest J.C. Penney pantsuits, and generally despise veils as reactionary, pre-Vatican II mummery.

But speaking on my own account, the religious sisters who tried to educate me all those years ago still wore habits and uncomfortable veils, and it’s true we did not question it, and I have never questioned the logic of Islamic women wearing veils up until now. The sisters wore their veils for the same reason that Islamic women wear them now (that is, when they're wearing them without compulsion and with a free will, and not under orders from the religious police)--for reasons of female modesty.

But Mr. Warikoo is kidding us if he thinks that the big challenge of Muslim young girls and women wearing hijab is that they have to do it in defiance of curious outsiders.

As he quotes from one Roleen Nawwas, in the theme sentence he sandbags till the end of his story, “the underlying concept [of hijab] is…‘A woman is like a pearl that needs to be hidden.’”

Which of course is a completely revolutionary idea. Or, to go back to my comment about the nuns, it is not revolutionary, but reactionary. The Islamic hijab, and the entire concept of female modesty, no less than the concept that a woman is a priceless thing that must be protected and hidden away, are so nakedly alien and contradictory to western values and ideas about equality and the relationship between the sexes as to be practically a return to the 12th century. Or, what is probably even more upsetting, practically a return to the 1950s.

I wouldn’t know how to begin documenting how enthusiastically the Detroit Free Press, for the forty years or so I’ve been reading it, has championed (under the generic heading of “women’s rights”) things like unrestricted abortion, no-fault divorce, the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX entitlement for female athletes, compulsory sex education, liberal access to contraceptives for minors, government-subsidized child care, and that whole thing generally known as the “sexual revolution,” and the whole thing that has been called “equality for women.”

At the same time, the Free Press has staunchly opposed any social or legislative scheme that sought, or could even be accused of seeking, to impose “traditional”, regressive ideas about the sexes, the family, marriage, sex, or society on the rest of the masses yearning to breathe free. I've seen the Free Press shown such a consistent antipathy to traditional Catholicism that I have come to believe they have a shadow job title of Anti-Catholic Issues Editor.

Of course the Detroit Free Press was just one of thousands of liberal publications, read by, and responding to millions of like-minded readers through the years. They don't invent this stuff. They just repeat it in their pages. Endlessly. By now we can all recite the prevailing philosophy backwards and forwards.

For instance, we know now that a woman’s social equality with a man is best manifested when she competes with men in the workplace, and is least apparent when she submits herself to “traditional,” “patriarchal,” ideas of home and family that condemn her to remaining only a housewife and mother, in other words, being a loser.

We also have learned that a woman’s sexual equality with a man is best manifested when she is just as free as a man to choose engaging in guilt-free, uncommitted sexual relationships with men (or, for extra credit, other women); a healthy female begins this career no later than her mid-teens, and abstinence and chastity are nothing more than holdovers of stupid repressive religions invented by men to keep women down.

Only on June 8 the Free Press ran an editorial taking the, for them, unremarkable position of opposing abstinence-only sex education. (“Teach sex education for the real world”). And why not? Liberal, sophisticated, unshackled by arbitrary rules and guilt trips, the Free Press understands that young people cannot be expected to abstain from sex, and, when they don’t abstain, there isn't anything wrong with that, except perhaps for the health angle. Only tight-assed fun-killing repressive religious nuts think otherwise. The creeps.

Yet now here we are with a front-page story that takes this whole philosophy and upends it into the nearest trashcan. To wit: “The purpose of hijab: preserving modesty”, “the underlying concept [of hijab] is…‘A woman is like a pearl that needs to be hidden.’” Not only does the point of view uncritically praise the virtues of sexual modesty, but, even worse, it unapologetically endorses female subservience in a traditional stay-at-home role.

It is describing, as the headline boldly claims, and again without a word of apology, a "return to tradition." And we know the term "tradition" itself is dirtier to most liberals than any four-letter word, and that the notion of returning to the past is absolutely verboten to any self-respecting, right-thinking, progressive. One doesn't progress by going backwards, does one?

And just imagine how much more hated he would have been, (if it is possible to imagine he could have been hated more), if Jerry Falwell, in life, had made a public statement that “A woman is like a pearl that needs to be hidden.”

Or imagine if Lawrence Summers, in addition to pointing out to his Harvard professors that innate differences may have explain the fact of fewer female professors in math and science, claimed "it was all good, anyway" because “a woman is like a pearl that needs to be hidden.” (“Summers' remarks on women draw fire”).

Rather than being fired and allowed to drive out of town at the wheel of his own Volvo, Summers would surely have been carried out of town on a rail, after being tarred and feathered, and the Free Press editorial board would have looked on, approving.

The issue of Islam and its treatment of women is a huge one, and I'm not even trying to tackle it here. Suffice it so say that neither traditional sexual roles, nor modesty and chastity, are exclusive to the religion of Islam.

But we do know that, regardless of what I may think about traditional sex roles and modesty symbolized in the hijab or the nakoor, those virtues in much milder form are utterly obnoxious to an entire society full of ordinarily outspoken and indignant feminists, liberals, freethinkers, and progressives of all kinds.

But they won’t speak out. They never do. Not if the women are Muslim, and not if the reactionary force is Islam.

I don't know exactly why this is, whether it is hypocrisy, fear, or a hatred for Islam's enemies that is greater than hatred for the West's heritage. But it is as certain as sunrise that the Left will not decry in Dearborn's headscarves what it despises in a much more light-handed form in America's Christian colleges, churches, and schools.

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