Wednesday, August 31, 2011

News Flash: American Muslims are Really American

The Pew Research Center came out with a new poll that provides more evidence that American Muslims are, well, American.

While some American political leaders prefer good old-fashioned loyalty oaths and McCarthyesque congressional hearings to determine who is a real American, the Pew Research Center found that 82 percent of the American Muslims polled are “overwhelmingly satisfied” with their lives in the United States. Seventy-nine percent rated their communities as “excellent” or “good.” And to hammer home that idea of extra American goodness, 56 percent of the American Muslims surveyed said they like the “way things are going” in the United States while the only 23 percent of non-Muslims only think so.

Not surprisingly, 49 percent of the Muslims in the United States say they think of themselves as Muslims first. However, before the lunatic fringe blows a gasket, they should take note that Pew also found that 46 percent of American Christians consider themselves Christians first.

No U.S. poll is complete without asking Muslims about Al-Qaeda. Pew found that 81 percent of American Muslims believe suicide bombings and other violent acts against civilians “are never justified.”

The research center also found that nearly half of American Muslims believed that their religious leaders have not done enough to denounce Islamic extremists. Twenty-eight percent of Muslims complained they were “looked at with suspicion” and 22 percent said they were “called offensive names.”

The same day that Pew released the results of its poll, a kerfuffle occurred at a Playland amusement park in Rye, N.Y. when some hijabis belonging to the Muslim American Society of New York were denied access to rides because “headgear” was not permitted. An argument between Muslim women and park operators ensued, bad language was presumably used, and feelings were hurt.

Apparently, the Muslim American Society had 3,000 people at the park to celebrate Eid.

Park officials said headscarves were not allowed on some rides due to safety concerns. Park management provided group members with a list of rides that banned headgear. Park officials then offered banned riders a refund, but somewhere between the ride and the gate entrance a scuffle broke out within the group. Cops rolled in and arrested 15 men and women for making a nuisance of themselves.

I suppose the incident illustrates the sensitivity in the Muslim community about how the general public views American Muslims. As the Pew Research Center pointed out, 28 percent of American Muslims say they are viewed with suspicion. So being ultra-sensitive when denied an amusement park ride because one is wearing the hijab is understandable.

But, really, apparently the Muslim American Society had been at the park at last year’s Eid and had no problems with the park’s headgear policy. This year the group had been told on several occasions about the longstanding policy.

Based on the news reports I’ve read, the blame seems to go to the Muslim American Society for not informing group members of the rules. If the organization planned to bring 3,000 people to the park, perhaps it should have issued the park’s guidelines before boarding the bus to avoid people embarrassing themselves when it was time to get on a ride.

There is often no rhyme or reason for banning hijabis from participating in events or having access to venues. Certainly a continuing concern over discrimination against the hijab remains the inflexibility of sports organizations. And, according to Pew, an estimated 21 percent of American Muslims say they are singled out by airport security. So problems do exist. However, the amusement park incident doesn’t meet the discrimination test.

I have yet to see a statement from the Muslim American Society. But based on the facts at hand, I’d say some folks in the organization simply behaved badly.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Hijab as a Feminist Statement

The West's zeal to save “oppressed” Muslim women by urging them to discard the veil, whether it is the hijab or the niqab, demonstrates a profound ignorance of Islam and the rights of Muslim women.

We have seen a number of European nations and, to a lesser extent, Australia enact laws that purport to free women from their religion. While some Muslims may view these actions as good intentions gone awry, I see it as a systemic attempt to impose draconian laws that further oppression. As I have stated previously, democratic nations that impose laws restricting Muslim women from wearing the hijab, the burqa or the abaya share much in common with the Taliban by imposing their own interpretation of what is appropriate for Muslim women.

Academic Leila Ahmed goes so far as to call this a new colonialism, and there is much merit in her arguments. British occupiers, she points out, sought to free Egyptian women from the alleged tyranny of Islam at the beginning of the 20th century by encouraging them to unveil. Indeed, for more than 70 years Egyptian women rejected the hijab.

By the 1980s, the hijab emerged as a symbol of Islamic feminism. Specifically, women embraced the hijab as a means to minimize gender bias and force men to see them as equals in the workplace, and not view them as sex objects or simply for their beauty. Muslim women do not want their appearance to influence the conduct of the people around them.

Ahmed recognizes that the hijab is not a symbol of empowerment in some Muslim countries where women have no choices in whether they cover their hair. Yet Ahmed is spot on in stating what Muslim women have been telling the West for more than decades: the hijab is an Islamic feminist statement.

Ahmed has a new book out called A Quiet Revolution. I plan to pick up a copy and I suggest that those readers who prefer to discover an enlightened view of the hijab buy a copy as well.

The Hijab as a Feminist Statement

In the West's zeal to save Muslim women from oppression by urging them to discard the hijab