Hypocrisy in Solidarity

Western society’s understanding of the Hijab is clear – it is a threat, it is oppressive, it is anti-secular and it does not belong.  This rhetoric was the foundation for a move to ban the burqa in France, and hijabs in educational institutions – a place where tolerance should be the cornerstone of a quality educational experience.

Recently, Benjamin Amsellan, a Jewish man, was on the receiving end of an anti-Semitic attack by a student claiming to be acting in the name of Daesh. Two french women subsequently started a campaign showing solidarity and calling all French people of all backgrounds to don a skullcap/kippah. The two women stated “The idea is that everybody-Jewish or not-should wear a Kippah, because if everybody wears one, nobody is a target anymore.” This is a great sentiment to have.  However, I can’t stop myself from asking where all the solidarity was when Muslim women were being attacked and criticized for wearing a hijab, niqab or burqa.

The relationship between the French and the Muslim diaspora is tense, especially in the last year taking into consideration the tragic events that have taken place. The media feeds into cycle of otherising Muslims in the western world, asking them to account for the actions of Daesh. However, it is important to remind ourselves that religions are not violent, people are violent.  

As a Tamil Sri Lankan man, I have seen the many violent acts of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka. We have all read about the atrocities committed by Buddhist Monks in Myanmar, even though non-violence is central to Buddhist philosophy. Why is that practicing Buddhists are never associated with the violent attacks committed by the monks in Sri Lanka or Myanmar, or asked to account and apologise for a fringe Buddhist minority? Why are shooters who go on massive killing sprees in the United States on a weekly basis never linked to their evangelical families?

Young Muslim women are far removed from the work of Daesh and are often more in line their French identity than anything resembling Daesh.  But just recently, a man in his 20s attacked a young Muslim woman, made reference to the fact that she was wearing a hijab, punched her in the neck and sliced her chest. I don’t recall any French women banding together to all wear hijabs to show solidarity with the Muslim women who are consistently abused in the streets of France.  Isn’t the ideal that everybody-Muslim or not should wear a veil, because if everybody wears one, nobody would be a target anymore?

I can only conclude that the French find Jewish identity to be much closer to what the French consider acceptable, than the Muslim identity.  Accordingly, there is a hypocrisy in how the French empathise with people who look like them as opposed to a person of colour, specifically a Muslim person of colour.  Some may argue that there are black Jews, or Indian Jews and that this show of solidarity is for all Jews and not just white Jews. This is true, but let’s face reality – when most people think of a Jewish man, they think of a white man. Therefore it is much easier for a white man to come out in support for in essence, another white man. A part of me understands showing solidarity to people that we think could have easily been us. This is human nature and this is how humans respond in times of tragedy. I felt personally affected when I saw my Tamil brothers and sisters affected by the civil war in Sri Lanka. However, empathising with a group you feel you belong to and ostracising another are very different things. Furthermore, enacting policy to ostracise that group further is a step too far.

It appears that the French feel like the Jewish community is a vulnerable group, and that there is a need to protect the Jewish community as a result of the holocaust and the violent racism that many Jews experienced in the early part of the 20th century. However, it is ironic that whilst there is a strong consensus to protect the Jewish community, steps are being taken in the western world to ostracize the Muslim community, only to repeat Jewish history with Muslims as the victims.

So do we applaud Dolce & Gabbana’s recent Abaya and Sheyla collections of hijabs and gowns? It may be too early too tell. Many would argue they are just tapping into a $266 billion market of Muslim shoppers, in a higher pursuit of capitalis. However, it is also worthy to note that muslim women are often underserved and underrepresented in fashion. Representation in fashion, and in particular, high fashion, has a huge impact on how we see others as well as ourselves. Having a high fashion house create designer hijabs shows the world that Muslims, and in particular Muslim women, are women who are accomplished, powerful and in control of their image and that hijabs are not symbols of oppression and anti-western values. D&G’s campaign is a counter narrative to the one that is often found in French media.

The west’s obsession with removing all instances of foreign culture that do not align with western ideas of society and morality is another form of cultural imperialism. Removing the burqa, niqab or hijab is not about liberating people and giving them choice, it is about unclothing the muslim woman rather than creating a situation where a woman can choose what she wishes to do. It is about coercion. It is an act of humiliation.