It’s an old-standing political contention that the political spectrum is not a straight line but a circle or at least a horseshoe, since the far-right and far-left have a lot more in common than they like to admit to themselves and to others, from mentality and methods to common enemies (liberalism, capitalism, individualism, democracy).
The communism-Nazism convergence is now old and busted, since, contrary to what some sections of the left think, Nazism had died in 1945, and communism is only barely alive in a few isolated outposts of fortified groupthink, like North Korea and Western universities. I’m not alone, however, in thinking that the new and up-and-coming horseshoe (which once again brings no good luck to anyone) is one with the far left and Islamism at each end. What reminded me of this proposition today was reading a delightful article in USA Today, titled “Hijab becomes symbol of resistance, feminism in the age of Trump” (“Alcoholism and ignorance become symbol of resistance, Polishness in the age of Nativism”?), which discusses the growing popularity of traditional Muslim female attire as a symbolic middle finger to the forces of Islamophobia, racism and bigotry. This part, in particular, has caught my attention:
Anam Khatib, a neurology major at the University of Maryland, believes wearing a hijab is the most feminist statement that a woman can make in a society where consumerism and capitalism constantly tell women “what to wear and how to look like and what body we should have.”
In Islam, hijab is not “compulsion,” she said. “If it’s compulsion it’s not Islam. It’s completely my choice and no one has ever forced me.”
Fatima Khan, a 20-year-old studying social sciences, has worn a hijab for the last nine years and feels the practice has helped her focus beyond her appearance. She finds it empowering.
“By covering my body, I am able to limit how much someone can objectify me and instead have the power to only be judged for my intellect, abilities and personality rather than simply my appearance.”
We ain’t seen nothing yet. I bravely predict that hijab and other variants of “modest” Islamic attire will become more popular in the near future, and not just with Muslim women living in the West but also with Western feminists. This is for four reasons – or four intersectionalities:
- for woke Western women as a sign of solidarity with their Muslim sisters who are subjected to prejudice, discrimination and bigotry on the grounds of their gender, ethnicity and religion;
- as a “f—you” to the forces of right-wing patriarchy, which don’t like Muslim dress and/or want to ban it – a kind of “I’ll cover my nose to spite your bigoted face”;
- as a response to capitalism’s commodification and objectification of women’s bodies; and
- as a protection – Islam and third-wave feminism essentially share the view of human sexuality: men are born rapists and sexual predators who are easily whipped into uncontrollable sexual frenzy by the mere glimpse of female flesh. Women have to be covered (and separated or hidden away) to protect them from men-beasts. A niqab or a burqa, in fact, is your personal and portable safe space, since no man will find you sexually attractive and therefore liable to harassment or worse.
I also bravely predict that in the future we will see more and more leftist conversions to Islam. It might seem bizarre that the secular, enlightened, trendy left might be attracted to religion at all, particularly one with a rather puritanical reputation, but I think these sorts of decisions will be as much political as spiritual. With the Marxist god that failed, maybe it is time for the left to bet on a real god.
Islam and particularly political Islam (Islamism) remains one of perhaps only two significant, weighty and influential worldviews to compete with the Western-style free market liberal democracy – the other one being the nationalistic authoritorianism as practiced in Russia and China. For all the attempts to modernise Islam and make it compatible with contemporary world (kudos to those trying; Wahhabism et al have been Islam’s Reformation; now we desperately need the Enlightenment), Islam remains a philosophy that is essentially communitarian, statist, anti-market, anti-liberal, anti-individualist – and Islamist as a political ideology even more so. Herein lies the attraction to the left; just as international socialism and national socialism used to share the same set of enemies, so do the radical left and radical Islam today. Combine it with the traditional leftist enchantment with the exotic “other” (partly borne out of post-colonial guilt) and the obverse of this political coin, the loathing of your own society, and Islam/ism provides a great ready-made philosophical package for the Western admirers of third world anti-Westernism.
In a living memory we have gone from burning bras to donning the hijab. Progress?