Irony of the Iranian Women’s Burqa Ban

The ban on Iranian women’s athletic attire by FIFA, the body that governs international soccer, gave rise to a heartbreaking scene—women streamed onto the field weeping and mourning the loss of their careers as this was an Olympic-qualifying match. No longer internationally competitive, the team will not be funded by the state and will die an unfortunate death—in a field characterized by racial and cultural diversity. Or is international soccer merely a field for Western cultural assimilation, a sphere that rejects cultural diversity?

Muslim women’s head-covers again prove to be the ultimate political and cultural test of pluralism. These women, who set out only to compete in sports, are now the symbols of political tension and cultural warfare. Crush the hijabi and you have dealt another resounding slap to Osama—oh, wait, he’s too dead to feel the slap.

As Every-Muslim-Woman, I’m bored. I am bored to tears of the head-cover or veil being the cynosure of the global gaze. I am embarrassed for the community of nations that, like a broken record or a doddering old fellow, cannot stop droning on and on about “In our day, we never saw such an unseemly piece of fabric on women’s heads/faces/necks/arms/legs; whatever happened to nice girls wearing skirts to work/school/sports?”

But part of me wants to turn around and tell the global-Western, headscarf-obsessed gaze to simply deal with it, as I told the Muslim community to deal with tennis star Sania Mirza’s short skirts.

Then I do a double-take, and ask the global-Western, anti-hijabists to recall their political-cultural identities. Weren’t we Westerners supposed to be privatized individuals? Weren’t we supposed to live and let live? Don’t we laugh up our sleeves at authoritarian states and cultures that arrange marriages, control women’s clothes and sex lives, and generally run other people’s lives? Aren’t we the cool heads who bloody well leave each other alone and mind our own business? If you don’t want them taking away your guns or your porn, you’d better not call them out to take away our hijabs.

There are voices calling for wisdom: leave the hijabis and the burqa-wearers alone; perhaps, in time, they will raise bare-headed daughters. Perhaps they will get tired of being rabble-rousers (because surely, a woman in a burqini is only trying to thumb her nose at us). But, the anti-hijabists respond, what if they don’t? What if they turn into a strong, populous community of veiled women? And what if they walk through the streets, making us look bad?

One might ask, who’s looking? And the response might be: we are; and we don’t like burqas in the street. They gross us out. So let’s bring out the street cleaners/passport-check and throw them out. But who gets to decide what a hypothetical eyesore is? And what do we do once we’ve decided a particular item of clothing is an eyesore? Surely some process of discussion in the democratic community ought to ensue, and if most people agree, well, then it may be possible to create—oh, I don’t know, a little ghetto, with the conservative religious Muslims in it, you know what I mean?—so that they don’t remain an eyesore.

But what if other women start taking up hijabs and burqas? Women’s subjugation could be contagious. Well, then, maybe we could ship them all off to the nearest Muslim country—like Turkey, perhaps. Or then Turkey would vote to keep us out of the EU. A political-cultural observer or historian of Western societies might be permitted to be fearful of the future of liberty and individual freedoms. I just wish they would pick on someone new, merely to spice things up a little, so reading the news wouldn’t be so damned boring. I’m open to suggestions.

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