In an interview for the April issue of Vogue Arabia, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar said, “To me, the hijab means power, liberation, beauty and resistance.”
As two women who once lived with the mandatory hijab in Iran, we hope to bring another perspective to this complex matter by describing our experiences.
There are two vastly different kinds of hijabs: the democratic hijab, the head covering that a woman chooses to wear, and the tyrannical hijab, the one that a woman is forced to wear.
In the first kind, a woman has agency. She sets the terms of her hijab, appearing as ascetic or as appealing as she wishes. She can also wear makeup and fashionable clothing if she likes.
In the second kind of hijab, the woman has no agency. Where we lived, the terms were set by Iranian government authorities under a mandatory dress code that banned women from wearing makeup in public and forced them to wear a baggy, knee-length garment to fully disguise the shape of their bodies, over a pair of pants and closed-toed shoes.
For a while, the authorities even decreed the colours that women could wear: gray, black, brown or navy.
I like how they distinguish between the democratic hijab and the tyrannical hijab. And that is why having the PM wear a hijab after the terrorist attack was so powerful – she was showing empathy to Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab. It was not about the tyrannical hijab, but the democratic one.
We are pleased to see Omar proudly exercise her right to don the hijab. In an era when nativism is rising in the United States and in many other countries, it is important for those who support the values of a pluralistic society to stand up for the rights of their threatened minorities.In that spirit, we wholeheartedly stand with our Muslim sisters in the West and support their choices.
In return, we ask the global sisterhood to stand with Iranian women as they fight against the mandatory hijab.
We ask that American women support Iran’s most prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes after defending the women who have defied the hijab laws with their peaceful acts of protest.
Just as Americans must distinguish between violent radicals and ordinary Muslims to successfully fight the former and honour the rights of the latter, so must they recognise that not all hijabs are created equal.
Omar and other Muslim women who benefit from the freedom that America has bestowed on them are especially well positioned to speak up for women forced into hijab.
By itself, the hijab is a mere piece of cloth. Tyranny turns it into a symbol of oppression. It is democracy, with its embrace of diversity, that turns hijab into an emblem of power or beauty for those who choose to wear it.
I like the part I bolded.