Niqab

Religious 'ghosts' haunt coverage of hijab controversy at Georgia State

Religious 'ghosts' haunt coverage of hijab controversy at Georgia State

Muslim college student fights for her right to wear a hijab: good, controversial piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

At least until you see that much of the article was drawn from the campus newspaper, the Georgia State Signal. And both stories are haunted by religious "ghosts" -- the omission of the faith-based objections underlying the student's protest.

You’ve no doubt read about hijab cases before, often about students or office workers. Nabila Khan's story is a more extreme case, an acid test for individual freedom: the niqab, which not only covers a woman's hair and neck, but envelops her face except for her eyes. 

So her story carries a greater punch, which the Constitution adroitly summarizes:

During her first week of school, a Muslim student was asked to remove her veil by a Georgia State University teacher. She refused.
Nabila Khan, a first-year student, is now at the center of a controversy about religious freedom.
She told The Signal, the school’s newspaper, that the teacher held her back after class and asked her not to conceal her face while in class, as was written in the syllabus. Khan refused, and said she believed being required to remove her niqab violated her rights to freedom of speech and religion.
Khan said in the article that she chooses to wear the niqab, which is a veil that covers all but the eyes, to work and school.
“Many people have this misconception that, as Muslim women, we’re oppressed or forced to wear it. For me, it’s a choice. My parents never forced me to wear it,” she said.

It's a compelling, counterintuitive treatment of a news story: the head covering not as a symbol of an oppressed gender, but as an individual religious choice. But how original? Have a look at the Signal's version:

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Islamophobia: Wrestling with the subjective from Southwest Airlines to Latvia

Islamophobia: Wrestling with the subjective from Southwest Airlines to Latvia

My GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross Jr. published a post last week about the removal of a California man from a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger overheard him speak Arabic and became concerned. If you missed the Southwest saga, click here for an Associated Press report on the incident.

Bobby's focus was that the line between irrational Islamophobia and rational precaution is often fuzzy, and that journalists sometimes rush to assume the former because "we journalists love victims."

Good point. The white-hat-versus-black-hat trope is a journalism classic.

Now let's state this issue of subjective judgement another way: Given how complicated the question of when-is-it and when-isn't-it Islamophobia can become, should journalists even try to discern between the two in what we quaintly refer to as straight, or hard, news stories, beyond the he-said, she-said level? I don't think so.

In the case of an airline about to take off, I find it difficult to argue against putting group passenger safety over all other concerns. That includes taking the risk of showing ignorance or acting insensitively toward one or more Muslim or Arab-speaking passengers in a highly sensitive, ethnically, racially and politically charged setting.

I'm not an Arabic speaker, Muslim or person or color so perhaps I'm just not as sensitive to this issue as I might be if I were any of these things. Let me also stipulate that I fly to Israel often and I can recall on more than one occasion mentally frowning when I thought some non-Israeli airline was being lax in its pre-boarding security checks.

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