In stating his support for the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen rightly states that it is every women’s right to wear “whatever she likes.” And that’s the point.
Van der Bellen laments that due to rampant Islaophobia, “There will come a day when we will have to ask all women to wear a headscarf – ALL – out of solidarity towards those who do it for religious reasons.”
We obviously hope the situation in Europe doesn’t come to that – where feelings towards Muslims by the Austrian populace are so hostile that a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf would not be able to exist in society without being notably harassed.
However, the point Van der Bellen fails to mention – and the women with whom he fails to stand in solidarity – is those Muslim women across the globe who are forced to wear a headscarves: from women in Iran, who risk arrest for not wearing a headscarf not to mention the required long cloak covering most of their bodies to women in Saudi Arabia, who are not only forced to wear a headscarf, but the full-body equivalent of an all-black suffocating headscarf and face veil with only a slit for their eyes.
Just this week, the trauma of Iraqi women forced by ISIS into wearing hijabs, veils and abayas with even no slit for the eyes was exposed by a reporter at a refugee camp. The Iraqi women were subjected to a particularly cruel punishment of being bitten by ISIS’ all-female Al-Khansa brigade for minor infractions of this dress code.
Being women, it was easy for these “biters” to pretend to be refugees and escape with the masses. They have now been recognized by those who were their victims of this horrific punishment, Iraqi women who are now unable to sleep at night due to the nightmares the hijab invokes.
Even in the West, these misogynistic customs can prevail to the point of a Muslim woman or girl being honor killed by her family for non-compliance, as in the case of Canadian 16-year old Aqsa Parvez, who was strangled to death by her father and brother for wanting to live a Western life, including not wearing a headscarf.
A Muslim woman with a real choice of whether or not to wear a hijab should not be subjected to harassment for choosing to cover herself. We should stand up for her right to do so.
However, women who are forced against their will to wear the garment are those that have no voice. Our voices in solidarity with them need to be heard loud and clear.