FEMINISM, ORIENTALISM, ASRA NOMANI, AND THE HIJAB: AN OPEN LETTER


Ready for another fun and exciting open letter? Let's go. 

It's important for me, as an Iranian Muslim woman, to take up space. My narrative and identity are being constantly misrepresented, silenced and ignored--whether that is virtually, by way of audience at a panel event, or simply being constantly dismissed as angry and emotional.

A few weeks ago, I spoke on a panel at the Chicago Humanities Festival on the presumed topic of "Hijab and Fashion" with Asra Nomani as my co-panelist. Initially, I was asked to speak on the topic of my book, Tehran Streetstyle, as well as the current state of fashion and modeling--both legal and illegal--in Iran. However, finding a co-panelist to speak alongside me on this topic was not the easiest task in the world (okay fair), and so the conversation was opened more broadly to focus on the topic of hijab and fashion.

Photo taken by Nurbanu


Asra Nomani, a self-proclaimed "Muslim feminist," does not wear the hijab. This is not unusual, of course, as the hijab is a choice that Muslim women make. What is “unusual,”though, is that Asra feels as if she is omniscient to this individual decision to don the hijab: because they (we) have been brainwashed by the patriarchy. Because they (we) are oppressed. Because they (we) couldn't possibly think for ourselves and *gasp* choose (!!) to wear a scarf on our heads, just like our non-Muslim friends choose (!!) to wear scarves around their necks.

Asra argues that Saudi Arabia and Iran are funding a sort of “radical” Islam in which the hijab is mandatory and normalized. The hijab, Asra argues, is both inherently oppressive and acts as a symbol of the funding and preaching of “political Islam” across Mosques and Islamic institutions in the West and around the world.

To be fair, yes a few governments around the world have a set of oppressive dress codes that should be rightly condemned (as I do in my book, as I did on the panel numerous times, and as I do anytime the subject is provoked in conversation). France and Saudi Arabia, for example, both either require the wearing or restriction of wearing a particular form of dress, and therefore both are examples of patriarchal rulings ordering women to dress a certain way—either in the name of secularism or "Islam" (but of course, as an Islamophobic “feminist,” only the latter is distinguished as problematic).

But let’s be real: Asra is clearly ignoring a few sorta key parts of this complex political situation:

Asra’s focus on the actual economic and political problems in the Middle East and their implications for women’s lives is scarce. More importantly, she fails to note the major American and European powers’ complicity in creating and perpetuating such post-colonial patriarchal systems of oppression. Rather, Asra becomes fixated on the hijab as the cause and effect of women’s oppression around the world. She points to Saudi Arabia as an example of the implementation of compulsory hijab, but ignores the fact that the Saudi monarchy is supported by the United States and has been a strong ally for decades. She constantly brings attention to the violence that is perpetrated in the name of religion but somehow never mentions the messy political, economic, and social situations that Western powers have caused with their imperial and colonial projects, ones that work to create spaces and situations in which oppressive power structures and their inherent violence thrive.

She wants to discuss ISIS, but doesn’t want us to talk about the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that worked to destroy and destabilize the region, directly leading to the creation of ISIS.  

She calls on those in power to “wake up” and increase surveillance of Mosques, yet fails to note that the majority of terrorist activity in the U.S.is conducted by white men. And this doesn’t even count the countless police shootings across the country.

Asra’s position garners such heavy support in the West because she conveniently lets her predominantly Western audience forget their direct implication in the oppression, violence, and power imbalances that plague the world (including within the USA and Europe as well).

In addition to her ideology that consistently renders those who wear the hijab as backwards and oppressed—at time of heightened Islamophobia globally, no less—Asra uses her public platform to vilify hijabi women. For example, when one of Asra’s male followers on Twitter criticized my choice to wear the hijab, instead of defending my choice to do so (as she so claims to support free choice), Asra had the audacity to compare my views to ISIS and Boko Haram despite the fact that these groups have killed more Muslims like myself than any other group of people. Asra has promoted harassment towards anyone who dresses like myself, in turn encouraging and justifying violence against us. These comments, while simply incorrect according to countless academic studies and institutional data, only contribute to amplifying surveillance and racial profiling in Muslim communities and perpetuate hate and violence towards hijab-wearing Muslim women in the USA.

Not to mention that Asra’s views are rooted in Orientalism: a particular Eurocentric lens through which I, and people like me (Muslim, from the Middle East/West Asia, etc) are, reconstructed and redefined in order to be strategically silenced, ignored, and murdered. If you follow me on any social media (specifically Twitter and Snapchat (hodakay) ayyy), you've probably seen me sharing photos of #bae Edward Said, a Palestinian thinker and scholar who wrote the book on Orientalism (and in a surprising turn of events titled his book Orientalism, too). He writes:

"In short, Orientalism [is] a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority of the Orient."

Western literature and thought, he maintains, creates and perpetuates the archetype of a docile and submissive Muslim woman due to her religious leanings, and renders Islam as a homogeneous, controlling, and backwards institution. Western media strongly associates Islamic clothing—more precisely the women’s hijab—as an oppressive instrument designed to render women as submissive beings. (This is also wrought with patriarchal tendencies of obsession with women's bodies and how they chose to dress) Therefore, according to this logic, the more a woman covers her skin and dresses in accordance with such widely-held interpretations of Islamic faith, the more “backwards” and “submissive” she is consequently depicted. And the more "backwards" someone is described, the more reason to go and "save" them, right?

Oh p.s., just to be clear, by “save” here we mean the Western definition of "saving" people, which history has shown us translates to bombing, destroying, raping, exploiting, and humiliating and entire population.

Saba Mahmood calls this a sort of colonial feminism: using the veil as the symbol of ultimate oppression and therefore requiring a Western colonial and imperial project of liberation.
AKA, using the lens of Orientalism for a particular political end.

Speaking of political ends, a month before speaking on the panel with me, Asra testified to the House Committee on Homeland Security (which provides "Congressional oversight over the Department of Homeland Security") (which, she avoided addressing when I brought it up at our panel discussion) that the hijab is on "the conveyor belt to radicalization," and that "poor women come to believe that to be pious...you must look at the world through this netting," while holding up a burka.

Despite the fact that these comments are drenched in Orientalism, her position suggests that millions of women are brainwashed by men and none of their own choices are the result of their own decisions, desires, and understandings. Super feminist, right? Moreover, extending this forced hijab to encapsulate every single one of the 1.6 billion practicing Muslims in the world is a glaring logical fallacy. Standing against mandatory hijab in Saudi Arabia does not mean fighting for increased surveillance and vilification of hijab-wearing women in the USA who chose to do so.

And before that, in December of 2015 after Trump announced his plan to ban all Muslims, Asra was brought to Bloomberg to respond as the token Muslim opinion. After being asked how Muslims feel about Trump after these comments, her response was, and I quote,

"Sadly, a lot of the Muslim lobby and special interest groups take these moments like this to cease on an opportunity to claim that this is a country that is anti-Muslim and you know, I don't feel that way."

Plainly and clearly, with one swoop of her verbal eraser, Asra attempted to erase the very real experiences of hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have been victim to Islamophobia across the country, and continues to encourage the viewers to “stop worrying about offending anybody” in order to deal with this situation. Currently, this clip has been widely shared among Trump supporters, with one commenter calling Islam a “cancer,” and another claiming that “napalm is the answer!”

Asra is not only provoking violence and hatred, but she is denying our experiences and pains in this country as Muslim women who choose everyday to wear the hijab. Doing so is deeply problematic, offensive, and simply false. A survey conducted in the last year (before the shootings at San Bernardino) found that 55% of California Muslim students reported being subject to faith-based bullying. Doctors around the country have seen a rise in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, image issues, and paranoia among Muslim youth.
But, if Asra doesn't "feel that way," then what are facts and statistics, right?

The foundation of feminism, all inter-sectional feminism at least, is the right for women to freely interpret and chose what they feel is personally liberating to them: whether that is shaving your legs or not, wearing a scarf around your head or neck or not at all. Feminism is about celebrating and uplifting women, not creating and defining flat, monolithic meanings and symbols for millions of women—or, say, constantly writing articles vilifying women's choice to wear the headscarf and encouraging the constant online harassment of young Muslim, hijab-wearing women (such as myself). Much like any other faith or belief system, Islam is a pluralistic religion with a myriad of interpretations, understandings, and practices. Not all Muslim women wear the hijab, and not all who wear the hijab do so for similar reasons. The only thing that is relevant here is that someone has decided that the hijab has a particular personal significance to her, and we should respect her choice. It’s actually pretty simple.


And, one last point –
According to the countless blog posts and articles and emails and tweets and Facebook posts that have been used to harass me, I am characterized as very "angry" and therefore dismissed. I never feel compelled to reply seriously to hate/harassment/mischaracterization, but this is a common tactic used by Islamophobes, racists, and Orientalists alike to characterize particular minority groups--especially Muslims, Middle Easterners/Western Asians, Latinx people and Black people.

So, I want to say that yes, I am absolutely angry. Anger is righteous. Anger is powerful. Anger is valid. And my anger is justified. These topics are deeply personal to many people, including myself. On a daily basis, I have people on the street yelling Islamophobic comments on my commute. For me this is the new normal. Islamophobia has always happened to me and many other Muslim women wearing the hijab, but in the last several months, it has transformed from an occasional occurrence to a normalized part of my life.

So in a time like this, when we see Asra not only writing op-eds in top daily newspapers (and making money from doing so) harassing me and others by name and testifying in front of the government and telling them to watch me and my family and be suspicious of all those women like me because we are oppressed and backwards and on the road to terrorism...well, you can probably understand why I'm not skipping in fields of flowers and sunshine.(except for that one time on snapchat)


TL;DR:
Orientalism is not feminism
Denying the experiences of women who wear hijab is not feminism
My religious beliefs are not yours to homogenize
Anger is righteous
We’re going to keep doing our thing
Follow me on Snapchat (hodakay)

Peace.

Originally published on MuslimGirl

P.S. The JooJoo Azad Intern application is due June 10th! Apply today!
(must be Chicago-based) 

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THE PRINTED ETHICAL BOMBER JACKET

I had to make sure to clarify "jacket" in the title here because I'm Muslim and I have a lot of new fans just holding on to their seats waiting to say something racist #adayinthelife
ayyy

Unfortunate realities aside, this ethically-made jacket has been basically glued to my body since I snagged it from New Classics Studios! And since it's basically in every one of my snaps (p.s hmu @ hodakay on snapchat! I love having 1-on-1 video conversations with you all!), I didn't realize I hadn't uploaded a proper shoot on the blog!

To say the last month has been a whirlwind would be an underestimate. A lot of major life changes are happening and are currently in the works, including apparently graduating?? #okay
I'll just practice breathing and wearing minimalist clothing to get my heart rate down in the meantime. Walking headfirst into a lot of projects and yet I'm at that point where I'm just burnt out and want to lay in bed and netflix (without the chill) all day. Definitely backlogged in projects and blog posts, just need to hurry and tie up all the loose ends with classes and university etc so I can get out of this feeling of perpetual lingo and start some serious work and project launching!
Stay tuuuunnnnneddddd~

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ethical fashion, ethical fashion blogger, hijab fashion, hijabi fashion, hijabi fashion blogger, muslimah blogger, fashion blogger

Photography: Caleb Hamernick for Off-Kilter Mag | Jacket: c/o New Classics Studios


Also, these snaps are from the cover story of Off-Kilter Mag, a rad mini publication based here in Chicago (which you can pre-order here!). / (collage made by myself, in the midst of procrastinating class work...boy has senioritis hit hard!)

Off to go enjoy the sun in Chicago before it starts raining...or snowing..again. Also we're going to be launching our book tour in the coming months--get in touch if you'd like me to come present my book and research on underground Iranian fashion at your school or university! Ready for some serious travel in the works!

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A GUIDE TO CULTURAL APPROPRIATION VS APPRECIATION

Preface I: Why are we having this conversation? Despite this being a very difficult and sensitive conversation to be having, I think it is *so* necessary to be having it in *this* space. This blog is, by its nature, a part of the fashion industry--aka one of the largest players in producing inappropriate cultural appropriation--therefore, it must be identified and called out. Silence is complacence. Moreover, this topic has been requested by many of you for the longest time (my bad) so it's obviously also a conversation that is lacking and needed in spaces like these. 

Preface II: defining and drawing lines is not something that I can do--both because I am not a spokesperson for any cultural/ethnic/religious group (especially ones that I am not a part of, obviously) and also because I simply don't have all the answers. Or even some of them. I think cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation are *very* difficult concepts to be grappling with, and this should be an ongoing conversation--please feel free to contribute and join in in the comments section, via email, etc--whatever is comfortable--*especially* if you disagree with me. This space is dedicated to conversation and thinking through tough issues. 

Alright. We good? Let's do this~

cultural appropriation, hijabi fashion blog, hijab fashion, cultural appreciation
Photo: Rihanna's Instagram


What is Cultural Appropriation? 
Cultural appropriation is, in its simplest and most basic form, the act of an individual from a particular (usually privileged or dominant) culture adopting cultural/religious elements of a marginalized culture, insensibly. 

This is most clearly articulated when a dominant or oppressive group takes from a culture that it is oppressing (ex: white people in the USA wearing a white-washed play on traditional Native American headdresses as sexy costumes, etc), and more complicated/difficult to identify when one marginalized group takes from another marginalized group (ex: Beyonce appropriating Indian culture in Coldplay's music video).

Both are definitely forms of cultural appropriation, but for different reasons, and in different ways: Many Native/Indigenous tribes of North America wore headdresses if they were men who achieved a particular honor/achievement (according to Apihtawikosisan) so non-native people wearing a headscarf first and foremost is an act of cultural appropriation because it totally ignores the significance of the headdress. Another layer of cultural appropriation is added to this when white Americans wear Native/Indigenous cultural objects--The United States was built on the genocide of Native/Indigenous Americans, forcing them to dress like a European subject (or slave)--so, the act of white Americans--whose ancestors are responsible for the annihilation of Native/Indigenous American people and culture and now enjoy the benefits of the society they created--wearing Native/Indigenous American cultural objects is very much wrong and culturally appropriative.

A major key here (non-intentional reference to DJ Khaled--who, btw, will not be getting anotha' one chance in my snapchat feed because I'm not a fan) is that cultural appropriation plays on historic themes of oppression and domination and does not respect the significance/value of the cultural/religious object.

Cultural appropriation, black culture, what if america loved black, racism
Photo via The Maroon Tiger

Ready for another example? Remember that time Rihanna went to Dubai and posed in front of a Mosque? (first photo picture) Super rad and cool right!!??!!!!
Mmm, how about not.
We're going to file this one in the Cultural Appropriation folder right next to the file on Dolce and Gabbana's lastest "collection for Muslims" that I've ranted about in a few interviews (and will also be discussing further at the Chicago Humanities Festival April 30th! *cough* Chicago fam should #turnup *cough*). Why? Both of these do not constitute appreciation--they clearly don't even know enough about Islam to be able to appreciate it: Rihanna's hyper-sexualization of a garment made for modest + disregard for the religiosity of a particular space and Dolce & Gabaana's throwing around expensive, glamorous fabrics to act as headcovering made to reject excess superficiality sounds a bit appropriative, culturally and religiously, if you ask me. Aka a hijab-wearing Muslim woman (but again, who doesn't speak for all Muslims because we're not a monolithic, homogeneous entity!! fwd: Western media, USA Republican candidates + Hilary Clinton, et. all *insert several passive-aggressive smiling emoticons*).

Not to mention that another way to identify cultural appropriation is when a cultural/religious object suddenly becomes "cool" when someone from another culture adopts it.
Many of the same people who were commenting "omg!!!! so cute!!!!" under Rihanna's photos covering her hair and skin are calling Muslims terrorists and asking Muslim women if they are oppressed. (P.S. we're not).
Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry wearing cornrows is another example: "cute" or "edgy" when white people do it, but looked down upon when Black people introduced it and continue to pull it off beautifully. But don't take my word for it--let's ask Katy Perry.

Hey, Katy, do you culturally appropriate??

this is how we do katy perry, katy perry, cultural appropriation, activism, black culture

Well, there you have it folks.

This is not to say that you shouldn't be wearing *anything* that belongs to a culture that is not yours--people around the world are beautiful and are wearing/practicing wonderful things that everyone can partake in, but it is *so* important to be doing so with acute understanding of the relationship between your culture and the one you are trying not to appropriate, the significance of the cultural/religious object/practice, and constantly challenging yourself and questioning your intentions, purposes, and goals.


And for those skimmers aka millennials aka seriously why is your attention span so low this article is only a little more than 1000 words seriously people where is our world going, here is your TL;DR:

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION:
  • The act of a dominant/privileged group adopting cultural elements of another (most likely marginalized/oppressed) culture in an insensible manner
  • Plays on historic themes of oppression, domination, and privilege 
  • Ignores the value, significance, or meaning of the object/practice
  • Does not give credit to the original culture/religion/ethnicity/etc
  • Looked down upon/mocked when practiced/worn by the original marginalized culture but becomes "cool," "trendy," or "edgy" when done by the oppressors/appropriators.

CULTURAL APPRECIATION:
  • Understanding the significance of a particular practice/object/tradition and not undermining or destroying its significance or value. 
  • Understanding histories of oppression and marginalization surrounding the particular object/practice/tradition and gauging the appropriateness of your actions in relation to this history
  • Being invited by an individual of that particular culture to participate in/wear their culture's traditions/clothing for a specific event or occasion (weddings, religious rituals, etc)
    • But word of caution here: getting a "go" pass from one of your friends doesn't mean that other people from their culture won't be offended. Just like you can't use your token Black friend as an excuse to be racist, you can't use the invitation of one Muslim to wear a headscarf for a day as an excuse to expect that the rest of us are all going to be jumping up and down and applaud you for your bravery. (Because I'm not/didn't).
  • Ask yourself: Why am I doing this/what are my goals in doing this/can I achieve my goal without doing this?/why is this necessary/is this even necessary/no it is not necessary/alright awesome then we good.

~

There are also a few particular questions via comments and email that I've received about appropriation and appreciation, which I will save for pt. 2 of this post (because like you I also have a short attention span but mostly I am craving a cupcake and need to go acquire one asap)!!!

If this successfully managed to confuse you even more, please feel free to shoot me an email or drop a comment (or tweet or snap (@hodakay) or Facebook or dm me on the instas or honestly at the rate this is going you might as well just come over or something and we can chat over Persian tea).

Talk to you in the comments!

<(') 


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HAPPY SPRING + PERSIAN NEW YEAR 1395!

Remember back in January when I was like "hooray here's to a beautiful 2016!!!11" and then those of you who have been following for awhile know me well enough to roll your eyes and say yeah nothing's going to happen until HER (Persian) new years.
You're good.
And accurate.

P.S. What is Persian New Years?! You ask? We've covered that here and here!

persian new year, eid nowruz, hijabi blogger, hijab fashion blog, iranian blog, persian fashion blogger
Pictured: Me picking flowers/branches in the hopes of looking spring-ready, but instead managing to accidentally pick the flowers aka buds of my dad's fruit trees. Whoops. (Don't try this at home, kids)

While the blog has been sort of in an on-hold state due to thesis writing, the launch of my first book, and a bit of over-committed community organizing work (oh and like classes or whatever), I will still continue to only blame the fact that January-mid-March is the equivalent of a non-Persian's October-December, aka the time in which you're basically just sort of ready to call it a year and just ask your roommate to wake you up from hibernation when the season changes.
So that happened.

But despite the fact that your roommate is the worst at waking you up for things, we're excited to celebrate spring and the new years with you!

And of course, no new years is complete without a little layout update + mini re-branding!

First of all, I never thanked you all properly for your overwhelmingly helpful (and kind!) responses to my annual reader survey! I always learn so much about what direction to take (and no longer take!) JooJoo Azad, and I loved learning so much about you, where you're from, and your likes and dislikes--it only took me a few months to finally take it all in and decide a new strategy for the site (and in doing so accidentally missed that whole "stop posting so infrequently!!!!!!" section of the comments you left me in the survey...oops..I'm getting better, I promise!)
Here are a few new updates and changes:

1. More focused categories + topics: This is an anti-capitalist activist fashion blog written from the perspective of an Iranian-Muslim feminist. Aka we have a lot of content to cover. Aka we're going to have to post more than "once every now and then." Aka SORRY for not posting often. But we back. (for real this time). Starting next week we're coming at you with posts twice a week! So you're going to want to keep this page close by!

2. We're creating a Blogging Resource Guide
Being more focused in the types of content that we post also means we're ending the wildly popular "Blogging Tips" series to make room for more content related to politics, feminism, creative collaborations, etc. While blogging tips posts were racking in the page views,  it seems now it is only working to muddle a site that already tries to do too much. But, I'm still receiving a lot of emails and messages about help with blogs, so we have a compromise: I've added a little button on the right where you can continue to submit questions/things you're struggling with, and at the end of each quarter (2.5 months), I'll create a mini e-book/webinar series to help out as best I can!
So, feel free to head on over to the Blog Resource Guide and take a peek around!

3. We're getting an Intern!
As JooJoo Azad continues to grow, and I seem to continue to only be one person, we (the blog & I) have decided we need a few more hands on deck to help juggle all of our upcoming blog projects!
This definitely does NOT mean that someone else will be answering your emails or comments or writing posts--rather, it will just be giving me more time to respond to engage with you and reply to emails and create content! Hooray!

We're really excited about these major updates + changes and looking forward to continue to build this platform with you into a really beautiful, inspirational, and helpful space to learn and grow together! Thank you for being part of this with me!

And now for real this time, here's to a beautiful year 1395~

<(')

P.S. Phew, all of the orders from the pre-sale of Tehran Streetstyle should *finally* have been shipped! Sorry again for the delay there--issues with underestimating volume of orders caused a bit of a holdup waiting for more copies to be printed!

P.P.S Hit up our snapchat at hodakay + instagram at @hodakatebi + bloglovin' here!

CHICAGO: TEHRAN STREETSTYLE LAUNCH PARTY INVITATION!

CHICAGO--TURN UP!
*So* excited to finally have everything in place for the official launch party of my book, Tehran Streetstyle, the first-ever in-print collection of modern (mostly underground) fashion photography from the streets of Tehran, Iran! 
Below are all of the details: 

Tehran fashion, Iranian fashion, tehran streetstyle, iran streetstyle, iranian streetstyle, hijab fashion, hijab streetstyle, hijab fashion blog+ Date| Saturday, March 12th 
+ Time | 3-6pm
+ Location | The Silver Room (1506 E. 53rd Street)


If you are on Facebook, you can find the link (and invite your friends!) here
For more information on Tehran Streetstyle, you can read about its goals and motivations or see what the press has to say! 

I'd so love to meet a few of you there! xx

ALSO, I'm speaking on a panel at the Chicago Humanities Festival April 30th about hijab and fashion, for those of you in the area who would love to come and learn more about that!
All of the information about the panel (as well as how to purchase tickets) are on the Chicago Humanities Festival website.

For the non-Chicago friends--we have so many exciting upcoming projects and collaborations in the works, so be sure to stay tuned! Next up, Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation.

Iranian New Years is Sunday, March 20th and I can't wait to celebrate it with you!

Snapchat: hodakay

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