February 1st has been designated as #NoHijabDay and is supported by author and activist Yasmine Mohammed as well as other ex-Muslims fighting for women’s rights around the world.
Why would a white, French Canadian male with deep roots in Quebec (my ancestor traveled from Bordeaux to New France in the mid-17th century, landing in Quebec City) care about such a movement? That’s what I’ve been trying to answer for the past little while, and I think I’ve come to some sort of answer. Bear with me.
To begin with, I must say that I have always been fascinated by man’s inhumanity to man, the most grotesque example being the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust. What drives people to reach a conclusion that it is all right to end the lives (too often in very brutal fashion) of people they consider as “others”? Unfortunately, there are too many examples in the course of human history of such behaviour.
Islam vs. the West has been a recurring theme in the past little while: 9/11, the Charlie Hebdo murders, the beheading of Samuel Paty, etc., etc. Islamist ideology has been at the root of many tensions in the world in the past decades, and consequently Muslims have been on the receiving end of horrible acts as well – the mosque murders in Quebec City and in New Zealand.
At this point it’s important to talk about words, since words have meanings and are too often distorted. First of all, there is a difference between an Islamist and a Muslim; Ms. Mohammed says it best, “All Islamists are Muslims, but not all Muslims are Islamists.” Islamists radicalize and politicize Islam, advocating an Islamic fundamentalism and militancy that many Muslims do not, in fact, adhere to. This includes Sharia law.
The other word of interest is “Islamophobia”, rooted in the Greek word “phobia”, typically meaning an irrational fear. Left-wing, progressive social justice warriors are very quick to call out – and cancel – people they consider Islamophobic, which can mean any kind of criticism of Islam or Muslims. However, Islamophobia should be considered more in the context of “fear of Islam as an ideology”, or fear of Islamism. Taken this way, any rational person who adheres to Western thought and reason should, in fact, be Islamophobic.
Let’s be very, very clear, here: Islamophobia does not mean “hatred of Muslims”, and should never be interpreted in this manner, in my opinion. Throughout my career, I have met and worked with many wonderful Muslim people who do not subscribe to Islamist ideology. I always find it deplorable when people attack, verbally or physically, Muslims because they automatically assume that they are Islamists. That is ignorant and despicable behaviour.
Although the hijab has been glorified in the West as a symbol of “inclusivity”, the reality for millions of women around the world is that it represents the shackles of oppression and subjugation. In 2018 I came across Yasmine Mohammed; I can’t quite remember how or where, but I imagine it might have been on Twitter, or in some article I read. She was on the verge of releasing her book “Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam”, and as soon as it was available I read it. Devoured it, actually; it’s difficult not to be touched by her courageous journey and how she broke away from Islamist oppression to become the women’s rights activist she is today.
Five years ago, she started promoting the hashtag #NoHijabDay to support women who were trying to break free from having to wear this article of clothing (or had, already), which is mandatory by law in several Islamic countries. It has encouraged many women to fight for their rights under these oppressive regimes, and for many of them, the personal cost has been extremely high.
There is another woman who has been making waves, lately: Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist now living in the US. She recently started the social media hashtag #LetUsTalk, encouraging Muslim women that are or have been oppressed under Islamic ideology to tell their stories. Oddly enough (or perhaps not, considering the insanity of social justice warriors), Ms. Alinejad has been criticized by the left of promoting islamophobia, despite the fact that she herself had suffered oppression in Iran for her activism, and was even jailed for it!!
Her campaign has become viral and hundreds of Muslim women are sharing their pictures of life before and after the hijab.
I personally find these women, and all those who are vocal against such oppression, to be true heroes.
Quebec’s Bill 21
In my train of thought throughout my reflections on why these issues interested me, it is hard to escape the debate around a recent law passed in my native province of Quebec: Bill 21.
The aim of this law is to ensure a secular public sector. For anyone not familiar with the history of Quebec, it should be mentioned that French Canadians were under the heavy hand of the Catholic Church for centuries, finally breaking free from its oppressive influence during what we refer to as the “Quiet Revolution”, which took place in the 1960’s. During this period, Quebec replaced the Catholic priests and nuns, who had largely been responsible for education since the days of New France, with a secular educational system, something that was long overdue considering that Quebec had one of the highest dropout rates in Canada.
Quebecers were done with religion ruling their lives, and to this day, most of us know enough about our history that we are wary of any encroachment of any religious ideology back into our lives. We are, essentially, a very secular society and the large majority of us support this law to protect the separation of church and state (which, incidentally, provides for a more inclusive society and environment!).
The “state”, this abstract representation of our society, of its operations, its economy, should in fact be shielded against any religious influence. The bill therefore prevents any person working in a position of authority within the public sector from wearing any kind of religious symbol. This includes symbols from any religion: no crosses, no kippahs, no hijabs, etc. Note that – contrary to what some media narratives would have us believe – the law does not prevent any public sector worker from adhering to the religion of their choice, they simply cannot be wearing/displaying religious symbols while performing their public duty.
This has raised the ire of many people outside of Quebec as we are denounced for being “racists”. Yes, racist – even though this has nothing to do with race, but it appears the left loves branding anyone who disagrees with them with this nasty – but trendy – word. As Ms. Mohammed rightly points out, the most vocal groups to come out against this bill have been Muslims, some with doubtful Islamist backgrounds.
Against this backdrop of heated debate, women like Ms. Mohammed and Ms. Alinejad fight to make the voices of oppressed Muslim women heard.
Taking all this into consideration, I kept asking myself, “Why do you care so much about all this? Why the interest in this ideological battle? What’s the link, here?”
Answer: violence against women and the general characterization of men as toxic.
Some people may recall the now-infamous Gillette ad from a few years ago, in the aftermath of the #metoo movement and the rise of the concept of “toxic masculinity”; in the ad, “boys being boys” was no longer ok – we had to be “better”. Well, if boys can’t be boys, what are they supposed to be? Men, in general, did not take kindly to the message, and P&G, the owners of Gillette, later took an $8B loss on the company; although they didn’t admit it, many believed the ad was a major factor in the loss. Marketing lesson, here: portraying your primary market as toxic is not going to endear them to you!
In 2021, seventeen women were murdered by their spouse or ex-spouse in Quebec. Typically, the murder of a human is referred to as a homicide; however, in French “homicide” sounds too much like “homme”, the French word for “man”, so the media has now been using the term “femicide” to more closely denote that the victim is a woman, for which the French word is “femme”.
Seventeen men – out of a population of 8+ million – perpetrated a heinous crime against their spouse (or ex-spouse), but now the media keeps talking about a “social issue” – why are men killing women? As I sit to watch local television, now, I am subjected to government commercials telling men that “you have to change”.
Sorry, no – I don’t! I treat my spouse with love, dignity, and respect. I would never think of physically or verbally abusing her. This goes for pretty much all the men I’ve come across during my journey so far: they’re loving husbands and fathers, protectors and providers. “Men” aren’t killing women”; “a few men” are!
The world needs good men, men of character, of integrity, of strength; men who protect the women in their lives, not abuse and kill them; men who respect women as partners and equals, not to be subjugated to a patriarchal mentality; men who will treat women as the Goddesses they are, not like second-class citizens.
And in that respect, Islamist men fail greatly. “Honour killings”, or beating their wives because they want to remove their headscarf, or limiting their movements, where they can go and who they can talk to, should never – ever! – be tolerated in our Western societies!
Concerning “choice”, sure – if a Muslim woman chooses to wear the hijab as a sign of her faith and to instill mindfulness in her daily life, I have no qualms with that; but the litmus test is this: if this woman were to come home one day and tell her husband and family that she no longer wants to wear the hijab, would she be supported, or verbally and possibly physically abused? If it’s the latter, then there is no “choice”?
As a man, I have too much respect for women to tolerate this kind of behaviour, and that’s why I support women like Yasmine Mohammed and Masih Alinejad.
All good men should, too.
My two cents.