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Hijabs, white supremacy and Swedish-Iranian economic deals Open in fullscreen

Diana Alghoul

Hijabs, white supremacy and Swedish-Iranian economic deals

The hijab has been targeted by Western critics [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 February, 2017

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For women in politics, especially on the international platform, there is simply no escape from vindictive comments and unfair judgement, writes Diana Alghoul.
Anger sparked across the world when Swedish Trade Minister Ann Linde led a business team to Tehran on a mission to boost trade between Sweden and Iran, and did so wearing a hijab. Her critics lashed out at her decision, claiming that she has gone against her government’s claims of being “the world’s first feminist government”. 

She was attacked, mainly by the right wing media for perpetuating “gender apartheid” and was accused of endorsing the regime’s strict dress code on women by wearing a hijab.

She was called a hypocrite and was essentially attacked for going to Iran to fulfil her duty of securing trade deals, rather than making a political statement on the hijab.

In Sweden, she was condemned by the leader of the Swedish opposition for endorsing wearing what “constitutes not only customary, but legislated oppression of women”.

Amid the criticism, the Swedish government then felt compelled to defend Ann Linde’s decision to wear the hijab, stating that had she done otherwise, she would have broken the law in Iran.

While there are legitimate concerns about the politics of coercion within this debate, the way it is being orchestrated is worrying and hypocritical. The matter of objection is the hijab itself, rather than the wider, systematic subjugation of women, regardless of our choice of clothing.

For women in politics, especially on the international platform, there is simply no escape from vindictive comments and unfair judgements

The reality is, what women decide to wear routinely takes precedence over their actions. If Linde did not wear the hijab in Iran, she would have still been the subject of a heated debate. Those who are opposed to the hijab would have hailed her for her bravery, while others may have condemned her for trying to make a political statement by not wearing the hijab instead of forming trade deals and strengthening her country’s economy.

For women in politics, especially on the international platform, there is simply no escape from vindictive comments and unfair judgements.

To even claim that wearing the hijab contradicts feminism is in itself a misogynistic statement. Policing the way women dress, regardless of what we choose to wear remains a mechanism of controlling and blackmailing women, irrespective of whether we are forced to cover, or reveal. To us, if we are coerced, we are coerced; regardless of the means being used against us.

To us, if we are coerced, we are coerced; regardless of the means being used against us

Giving men entitlement to police us on what we should wear, ironically feeds into the very systematic coercion that these so called anti-hijab feminists are allegedly trying to combat.

It becomes even more dangerous when put into practice, because as women, we are valued and socially categorised by our clothing.

We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t; as long as our societies wish to control what we wear, it does not matter we are “liberated” by being forced to wear less, or “liberated” into wearing more by having our bodies being compared to covered pearls, diamonds, or even lollipops.

In both cases, our patriarchal societies punish us and blame us for the way others react to their choices. Therefore, on principle punishing a woman, or harassing her sexually because she decided to wear less is no different to throwing pork sausages at a woman for deciding to adhere to the hijab. In either scenario, control over women is undeniably exercised.

Shaming Linde for wearing a hijab is a form of exercising control. Voices of white supremacists using her case to regurgitate their anti-hijab sentiments shows that their politics takes heed over advocating rights for all women.

The debate surrounding her dress is are painfully driven by racial and ideological politics, which essentially harm women and hijack the feminist cause.

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