The Intercept: The mix of hijabs and high fashion do Muslims no favor

The Intercept: The mix of hijabs and high fashion do Muslims no favor

In this age of bare-bones journalism, a number of private investigative websites have sprung up to report on news that’s important to their owners. One is The Intercept, an online news site dedicated to “adversarial journalism” and funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Such sites tackle education, politics, the environment and more — but surprisingly not religion, even though huge percentages of Americans are involved in some kind of faith. Recently, The Intercept made its religion debut with a piece on Islamic fashion and its relation to capitalism.

Its main point was that although the hijab and the flowing robes of the Saudi abaya may be glamorized on the world’s catwalks, actual women who wear them are vilified.

NIKE RELEASED ITS first sports hijab last December, heralded with sleek, black-and-white photographs of accomplished Muslim athletes wearing the Pro Hijab emblazoned with the iconic swoosh. The same month, TSA pulled 14 women who wear hijab out of a security check line at Newark Airport; they were then patted down, searched, and detained for two hours.

From February to March, Gucci, Versace, and other luxury brands at autumn/winter fashion week dressed mostly white models in hijab-like headscarves. Around that time, two women filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City related to an incident in which the NYPD forced them to remove their hijabs for mugshots.

Gap, a clothing brand known for its all-American ethos, featured a young girl in a hijab smiling broadly in its back-to-school ads this past summer. Meanwhile, children were forced to leave a public pool in Delaware; they were told that their hijabs could clog the filtration system.

Muslim women and Muslim fashion currently have unprecedented visibility in American consumer culture. Yet women who cover are among the most visible targets for curtailed civil liberties, violence, and discrimination in the anti-Muslim climate intensified by Donald Trump’s presidency.

Then comes an utterly clueless paragraph.

By selling modest clothing or spotlighting a hijabi in an ad campaign, the U.S. clothing industry is beckoning Muslim women to be its latest consumer niche. In order to tap into the multibillion-dollar potential of the U.S. Muslim consumer market, large retailers have positioned themselves as socially conscious havens for Muslims, operating on a profit motive rather than a moral imperative.

Now when has Gucci, Prada, Nike, Gap or all the other brands out there ever had a moral imperative?

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Swimming while Muslim: A Delaware newspaper dives in and tries to explain it all

Swimming while Muslim: A Delaware newspaper dives in and tries to explain it all

Explaining the intricacies of Islamic law and custom when intermixed with American mores and practice is not an easy thing, especially when the two clash in a place like a public swimming pool.

Yet, I must say the Delaware News Journal does a pretty good job in two articles (which have gotten lots of national play) on what happens when Muslim school kids hop into a local pool wearing street clothes -- that are Muslim garb.

This is not a totally new issue, as we can see from this newscast of a similar incident that happened back in 2014 in a Denver pool. But this Delaware incident has gotten more play.

In this drama, you have nervous pool personnel who jump the gun on whether or not to order the kids out; a principal who sweeps about in a full black abaya and niqab covering all but her eyes; and critical Muslims from elsewhere in the state who note how badly Muslims are often treated when they simply want to swim. Here is a sample from the first piece

It's the fourth year Tahsiyn A. Ismaa’eel has taken children, participants in her summer Arabic enrichment program, to the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington. 

But this year marked the first time some of her elementary schoolers were asked to leave the pool, Ismaa’eel said -- supposedly because they were wearing cotton shirts; shorts; and hijabs, or headscarves. 

The pool manager said it's against city policy to wear cotton in public pools, according to Ismaa’eel. If it's a rule, Ismaa’eel said, "it's never been enforced."

To pick on her group is discrimination, she said. 

"There’s nothing posted that says you can’t swim in cotton," said Ismaa’eel, owner and principal of the Darul-Amaanah Academy and director of its summer program. "At the same time, there are other kids with cotton on. … I asked, 'Why are my kids being treated differently?'"

The problem is that kids are jumping into the pool with their street clothes on, which causes a nightmare in terms of keeping the pool clean. 

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God, man and FIFA: The ongoing struggle to keep soccer as 'secular' as possible

God, man and FIFA: The ongoing struggle to keep soccer as 'secular' as possible

Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast -- which is about faith and football (soccer here in America) -- please click here and take a look at the map that ran atop a Washington Post feature story in 2015. (To tune in the new podcast, just click here.)

Basically, if you are looking for lots and lots of unbelievers, your best bet is to head to China, Europe and other highly industrialized and educated nations.

Where things get really complex is in Europe -- a continent in which belief and unbelief bump into one another on a regular basis. North America is quickly moving in that direction as well (you may have seen a few headlines about that). 

Now, look at the same map and think about the teams that made it into this year's FIFA World Cup (click here for a list).

Quite a mix of faith-intensive and rather faith-free nations, right? And what about the championship game, with powerful France taking on the cinderella squad from Croatia?

The Catholic News Agency offered this interesting feature about Croatia and its coach, under this striking headline: "Croatia's World Cup soccer coach clings to the rosary as he finds success."

How would this kind of symbolism play in modern France? Here is a key chunk of this story:

Here’s one reason Catholics in the US might be rooting for the small Central European country: Croatia is a deeply Catholic country, and the coach of its national team, Zlatko Dalic, is a man of sincere faith.

Dalic said recently that his current success is due to his faith in God, and that he always carries a rosary to hold onto in difficult times. Dalic spoke about his faith on Croatian Catholic radio when the World Cup began.

“Everything I have done in my life and in my professional career I owe to my faith, and I am grateful to my Lord,” Dalic said. ... "When a man loses any hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith," he said.

In that sense, Dalic explained that "I always carry a rosary with me" and "when I feel that I am going through a difficult time I put my hand in my pocket, I cling to it and then everything is easier.”

Now, why is the rosary hidden in his pocket? Why not just wear it around his wrist?

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Hijab hypocrisy: Why the BBC gets it

Hijab hypocrisy: Why the BBC gets it

Every now and then a piece comes out that is so insightful, one must call attention to it. I don’t usually run into stories like that on BBC’s web site but the following one made me take notice.

The headline “Why catwalk hijabs are upsetting some Muslim women” made me take notice.

A lot of us have noticed that fashion brands have been capitalizing on the hijab-like scarves that look glamorous enough but probably wouldn’t pass muster on the Islamic street. Head coverings are supposed to take one’s attention away from the woman -- whereas these scarves certainly drew attention.

So I was not surprised that some women are objecting. Better still was how the pros at BBC saw beneath it all. This passage is long, but it sets of the crucial insights.

Dolce and Gabbana, H&M, Pepsi, Nike: just a few of the big brands putting women wearing a hijab -- a traditional Islamic headscarf -- front and centre in advertising campaigns.
The hijab has long been a contentious topic of conversation; feminists, religious conservatives, secularists are some of the online communities that have engaged in passionate debate about what it represents. But this time, online and using social media, it's some Muslim women who are questioning the use of such images.
Tasbeeh Harwees, a journalist, recently wrote in the online magazine Good about a recent viral Pepsi advert starring Kendall Jenner. The advertisement was controversial because of its alleged trivialisation of street protests -- but some Muslim women took issue for a different reason, the casting of a hijab-wearing woman who photographs the rally.
"A multi-billion dollar company was using the image of a Muslim woman to project an image of progressiveness that it may not necessarily live up to," Harwees tells BBC Trending radio.

Then came some really interesting paragraphs.

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Daily life may collide with law: Why do so many religions care what believers wear?

Daily life may collide with law: Why do so many religions care what believers wear?


Why do the religious authorities feel strongly about what we wear when we go about our daily lives, when we worship -- or indeed when we swim?


One evening The Religion Guy was at the house of a physician who got an emergency summons to visit a hospital patient. Before departing, he took time to change from a polo shirt, ragged jeans, and sneakers into a dark suit, freshly starched white shirt, tie, and shiny shoes. I asked why bother. He explained that no matter what he wears he’s fully focused on a medical problem, but a vulnerable patient cannot know this and needs visual reassurance.

Point is, clothing and related visuals are ingrained in human interactions, even in the highly individualistic United States. Judges always preside in robes, morticians wear somber suits, uniforms identify security personnel, prisoners or gang memers announce solidarity with tattoos, and teens’ fashions obey social expectations.

So it’s no surprise if many religions ask believers to signify their identity, heritage, devotion, or desired virtues in the same way. That’s the basic answer to the “why” question, but let’s scan some examples.

Religious traditions can provoke public disputes. At this writing Nebraska is discussing whether to cancel a law forbidding religious garb in public schools, which barred hiring of a Catholic nun. This obscure law from 1919 was part of the Ku Klux Klan’s anti-Catholic campaign. The AP reports 36 U.S. states had such laws at one time but now Pennsylvania is the only other state with one. In France, school disputes evolved into a nationwide ban on conspicuous religious garb, aimed especially at Muslim women’s headscarves, followed by a ban on their full face coverings as a security measure.

Faith groups typically define attire and regalia for official functions, whether prescribed robes for Eastern gurus or mitres for popes. Protestant preachers may wear suits or the female equivalent when leading worship (while megachurch preachers favor Technicolor shirts to signal user-friendly informality). We can leave aside clergy complexities since “we” in the question refers to ordinary lay folk.

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As it turns out, hijabs were the most obvious religion issue in Women's March

As it turns out, hijabs were the most obvious religion issue in Women's March

By now we’ve all heard about the Women’s March on Saturday that caused millions of pink-clad people to take to the streets around the world, even in Antarctica. (Even more impressive were the 2,000 people marching in -50º weather in Fairbanks. Now that’s dedication).

But where did faith fit in? Before the event, Religion News Service had a columnist assemble “a Christian packing list” for the march. Jewish Telegraphic Agency did a walk-up describing where two Jewish groups will organize and meet. 

On the day of the March, RNS had two people survey the religious women to be found on the mall, all of them with the religious left. Buzzfeed followed pro-life women and documented the less-than-enthusiastic reception they got. (I wrote about the controversy surrounding them last week.)

The lone mention about religion from the actual speakers at the Washington March was documented by New York Magazine, which broadcast a quote from Janelle Monae (in the above video) who plays mathematician Mary Jackson in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Janelle Monáe started her speech at the Women’s March on Washington today with a history lesson. “I wanna remind you that it was woman that gave you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” she said. “It was woman that gave you Malcolm X. And according to the Bible, it was a woman that gave you Jesus.”

But the big religion topic that most media missed had to do with how one of the major symbols for the event was a woman swathed in an American flag wrapped to look like a hijab.

This intriguing column in the New York Times dealt with the March disintegrating into “a grab-bag of competing victimhood narratives and individualist identities jostling for most-oppressed status.” The writer wondered why Muslim women were one of the oppressed classes named in the “Guiding Vision and Definition Principles of the March” when Jewish and Latino women weren’t mentioned at all. Her explanation:

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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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Generic Christian woman told to remove her 'headscarf' for driver license photo

Generic Christian woman told to remove her 'headscarf' for driver license photo

A Christian woman in a headscarf! And the state forced her to take it off!

The American Civil Liberties Union sure knew the media-sexy spin for its lawsuit against Alabama, which wouldn't let Yvonne Allen wear her headgear for a driver license photo. Especially when a court clerk said only Muslims would be allowed to do so.

And mainstream media joined in the spin -- so avidly that none of them even talked to Allen. It's a "religious ghost" that screams for attention: What type of Christian is she? And what church does she attend that tells her to cover her head?

That's just one of several ways nearly everyone has mishandled this story.

Allen, of Tuskegee, Ala., went for a driver license renewal, but a clerk ordered her to bare her head before being photographed. She protested on grounds that her Christian beliefs forbid a woman from showing her hair. 

The clerks forced her to do so anyway, saying that only Muslim women are allowed headscarves for photos. This despite the fact that Alabama law allows headscarves in photos -- without naming any particular religion -- as long as they don’t hide the face. 

Allen says it was "humiliating and demeaning," and she's suing to have her license photo reshot. The suit also demands unspecified damages.

It's a crazy story, rife with ironies and prejudice, not to mention several constitutional issues. But most reports thus far have done little more than copy and paste the allegations in the ACLU filing.

And, as I say, they’ve also gone along with the spin. Yvonne Allen's headware is more like a turban, as you can see in a picture on the ACLU website. But by using the loaded term "headscarf," the lawsuit echoes the many incidents -- like the two Muslim women recently thrown out of a French restaurant -- of hijab harassment.

Let's start with the much-cited Associated Press:

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Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Crude and bigoted, yes. Ignorant, yes. And it violated the very secular principles he embraced when a French restaurateur threw out two diners just for wearing hijabs.

But c'mon -- a "vicious attack"? That's a bit much, even for the Daily Mail

Other mainstream media were less inflammatory, but they committed another sin: skipping over the obvious religious aspect of attire associated with a particular faith. Yep, a classic religion ghost.

The dustup began Saturday when the two women sat down at Le Cenacle restaurant. They were given the usual glasses of water, but then a man -- either the chef or the owner or both, the articles don’t agree -- ordered them to leave.

Here's how the Mail puts it:

Two women wearing headscarves were thrown out of a Paris restaurant after being threatened by its self-confessed racist owner who said ‘Terrorists are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists.’
The disturbing scenes at Le Cenacle follow a series of incidents in which grandmothers and mothers have been thrown off public beaches in France for wearing Islamic looking clothing.
Now a criminal enquiry has been launched into Saturday’s vicious attack at the restaurant in Tremblay-en-France, a north-east suburb of the French capital.

As you can see by the video above, one of the women recorded the confrontation. She captured hateful remarks like "Madam, terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists," "I don’t want people like you in my place," and "It seems like you don’t understand. Now get out!"

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