Written by Yasmine Badaoui.
What is it to be liberal? The love for liberty, the openness to break from tradition, passion for unabashed equality? Sometimes we find words that sort of explain ourselves without having to explain ourselves fully. I never considered myself a liberal until the label pinned itself to me, but recently—or more like, since the rise of the orange eyesore with tiny hands that holds the scepter of bigotry we call our president-elect—I’ve felt a real disconnect with the term. Namely because I am a woman of color, Arab, and a Muslim and the spearheads of the cause are, to put it mildly, Islamophobes. Islamophobia is not new to me, as it shouldn’t be news to you.
As early as seventh grade, Islamophobia has been on my mind. As a fresh face in the public-school game, after being indoctrinated at a private school all years prior, I remember timidly contributing to a civics class discussion. I called out the hatred and discrimination we as Muslims felt as a core issue in our current government. My liberal teacher’s aide who sat near me, a blue-eyed, white-haired woman looked at me and said, “Oh honey, discrimination ain’t nothing new, the Irish experienced it when they came to this country, everyone does.” Her words silenced me and left me feeling foolish for reasons I didn’t understand. But now I understand all too well what she meant.
This conversation still haunts me in comment threads, sub-reddits and online forums, on talk shows and news outlets. This conversation is what liberals tend to dish out when you hit too close to home, when you unearth how your differences even under the right conditions cannot completely melt into the pot of “whiteness.”
“You just don’t get how culture works, you can’t come here and expect the country to change for you; if I went to the Middle East, I would have to follow their customs.” This is an argument I’ve seen enumerated more than a thousand and one nights over hijab, burka, niqab—over the appearance of Muslim women in the west by so-called liberals. Germany’s pro-immigration chancellor, Angela Merkel reopened this can of worms online by proposing a future burka ban to her right-wing constituents, in order to bolster support for her fourth term. It seems you can’t get ahead in the political sphere of the “civilized” world without throwing a few marginalized people under the bus, but that’s moot point.
I get it, covering one’s face has been used by hate groups, armed robbers use masks in their schemes, it makes people uncomfortable on a subconscious level. But what I don’t understand is why a small sub-group of women—because despite popularized sensationalism burka is nowhere near the norm of Muslim women—are being singled out for personal aesthetic preference under the guise of public safety and fictitious unity? And why they are being compared to groups like the KKK and the common criminal by white “well-read and educated,” least racist people with many ethnic friends?
No immigrant or person of color has time to contemplate expectations of the greater culture accommodating them and perpetuating their personal culture above all, when they’re too busy defending their most basic human rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The religious freedom granted by secularism is a gem, it is the mainstream culture. Being able to practice your religion freely and openly without government intervention is one of the reasons why the West is so great. When the few women who don the burqa wear it, it’s for religious reasons, not those of cultural infiltration. When women who wear burka, pay taxes, turn on the tap, pick up a book at a local library, drop off their kids at school, and remove their face-garment for Identification purposes, they ARE following customs.
Why are women in burka, hijab—why are Muslim women, Brown women, so unnerving—but concealed weapons permitted by the state are not?
I look for answers in the liberal bubble and am met with more questions than answers.