Dress Code Diplomacy or Provocation?
On January 17, President Obama and his wife Michelle paid a visit to King Salman, the new King of Saudi Arabia. On official pictures, Michelle stands next to the king with her head uncovered. As a result, Twitter went tweeting and chirping: Michelle was praised for having made a bold statement on behalf of women. Although interpreted as a mild provocation and a disapproval of Muslin women dress code, the unveiled first lady made no statement. She simply followed a decade-long, protocol-prescribed dress code. Female heads of state, first ladies, top politicians, and royals do not cover up in the company of the king. In the Kingdom, some women are more equal than others! On the head-covering country ranking, Saudi Arabia is more relaxed than Iran which requires any female visitor to cover up. Since the Western powers embargo on Iran, few Westerners (except tourists) have been going to the country. Lady Ashton, the former top EU diplomat who became well known for her wardrobe diplomacy when negotiating with her Iranian counterpart, never stepped foot in Iran.
Michelle and King Salman A “photoshopped” Lady Ashton (right)
For this blogger, the American media is skillful at double standards, it praises Michelle’s trifling provocation but lambasts European countries, France in particular which ban the niqab (a veil which covers the face excepting the eyes) in public places. One opinion article published in the New York Times on January 22 When Women Become Terrorists was particularly ludicrous. Its author claims that Hayat Boumeddiene, the common law wife of the infamous Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who murdered four people in a kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9, radicalized herself after losing her supermarket cashier job for wearing the niqab at work. Her human rights had been violated by French law!
Hayat and Amedy before. Hayat (?) after
Now, Boumeddiene is a suspect on the run, assumed to have joined the jihadist ranks in Syria. The op-ed further reported that many European female jihadists in Syria had left Europe because they could not wear the burqua in public (veiled head to toes). Not only this blogger finds the op-ed naïve, misleading and misinformed but wonders why European governments should address these women’s dress code grievance, particularly when legislation banning such exotic outfits is the result of a democratic process? Too many American journalists have disparaged European governments for banning the head-scarfs in government buildings (not in public places as many wrongly wrote), and jumped to the conclusion that Muslim women feel cast away in their adoptive country.
How many niqab-wearing-supermarket cashiers have you come across in America or in Muslim countries? Certainly very few (possibly widows). In conservative societies, women are prevented from working outside the home. To convince Muslim women to veil themselves, many Islamic preachers have equated western clothing with sexual servitude, sexual object versus content of character. The Islamic rational is that men lust for sexual objects, so to keep them on the virtuous trail, woman must dress modestly and hide their skin as much as possible. According to the same rhetoric, women who dress modestly, i.e. covering themselves, command respect.
Ladies wearing a Niqab
Unfortunately in many Muslin countries, the reality for women is very different. Sexually frustrated men easily forget Islamic precepts as the famous Egyptian film Cairo 678 (2010) made obvious. It depicts the fate of three women facing sexual harassment, one of whom is routinely groped in the overcrowded bus 678 in the poor suburbs of the capital. Without respect nor appreciation, women take their fate in their own hands literally and one resorts to stabbing with needles the harasser’s groin.
Islamic Fashion Statement
About ten percent of the French population of 64 million is of Muslim stock, and a growing number of women dress according to Islamic teachings. Head-scarf-wearing supermarket cashiers are becoming increasingly common in France. In a fashion-conscious country, even Islamic clothing displays a certain elegance. The head-scarf style follows subtle trends lost on the untrained eyes. But what visitors to France do not fail to notice is that many head-scarf wearing ladies are cultural hybrids. As long as they cover their head, they feel that they can dress the way they like, miniskirt excepted! In the streets of France, the current uniform is a tight tunic over a pair of skinny jeans or leggings which enhance body attributes. Modesty seems to stop at the neck!
The young Muslim women wear their head-scarfs like a badge of honor to stress their difference. The non-Muslim 90% considered it exotic, then provocative and now plainly antagonistic. The Islamic head-scarf is the lightning rod of the religious freedom versus secular rules argument, and it has contributed to the alienation of the minority from the majority.
Fortunately, Boumeddiene has few followers in France. Intelligence indicates that the majority of the females who join the ranks of the self-styled Islamic State in Syria and Iraq come from Britain. Paradoxically, in the United Kingdom these women can wear whatever Islamic garb they want and find jobs easily unlike their French sisters. Many are looking for a jihadist husband and end up doing their dirty work, such as cleaning, cooking, running and policing the camps of women prisoners and sex slaves, the Islamist version of the sadistic Hitler’s Furies. Some experts believe that a larger number of female jihadists now have more sinister ambitions. According to reports these British women are moving into more intellectual activities such as jihadist recruiters, social media propagandists, and even inciting the murder of hostages.
Governments and Media: Incestuous Screw-up
Western politicians and journalists like to believe that indoctrination is the main cause of radicalization. This hypothesis has the advantage of shifting the blame on others for the failed government policies, and allows the journalists to cozy up with the politicians. Obviously there is not a single storyline. These young people are angry with personal grievances and sometimes they are politically frustrated, bored and misfits in their community. They often feel persecuted as a group or undervalued in a society which at the same time offers few jobs through which one can measure one’s worth and too much social protection which frustrates self-achievement. They wish to move with their buddies (herd mentality) out of the family cocoon with its patriarchal oppression to find themselves trapped into the social safety net.
Jihad is an exciting video game and IS makes upbeat videos to hook young people. Embarrassed by the presumably high number of their citizens fighting with IS, Western European governments are desperate to stop the flow to Syria. With a near-zero credibility with their youth, these governments should change tactics and let other entities do the anti-jihad propaganda. Blocking travel will backfire as would-be jihadists are rebels by nature. Women can be advised that they are swapping the hum drum, and boredom of their Western life for the boring, degrading and grubby jihadi routine. It is useless to mother these youngsters, the diehards will sneak through anyway, and so let them go, making clear that jihad is a one way ticket. They are foolish cannon fodder in the intractable Sunni Shia conflict, a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States against Iran.
Subsequent to the murder of the eight cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo on January 7, during a television interview the Mayor of Rotterdam, a Muslim born in Morocco advised his co-religionists to “sod off” if they don’t like the way of life of their adoptive country. He was right on the dot, other Muslim clerics could emulate him. Some American journalists should be advised to visit Europe in order to file more accurate reports. Many newspapers (pretender-defender New York Times included) did not reproduce the cartoon on the cover page of the survival issue of Charlie Hebdo. Too much ramble on, better stop.
 One of the Kouachi brothers, the Charlie Hebdo murderers was fired from his government job for refusing to interact with female co-workers.