Written by Amal Abdullah, Staff Writer
About a year ago, a couple of friends and I put on a bake sale at one of the vendor tables in the Academic Quadrangle (AQ) to raise money for a religious non-profit organization. We mostly staffed the booth in pairs, but for a 10-minute span, one of our volunteers was left alone. During this time, a middle-aged Caucasian man approached the table and asked my friend, a Muslim girl who wore a hijab, why she chose to dress the way she did.
When she began to explain, he interrupted her and told her that it was not her choice, but that she had been indoctrinated into making the decision to wear it. He did not allow her to correct his misjudgements or to explain her rationale. He continued to argue, comparing his assumed reasoning to sexist laws in Saudi Arabia, a country infamous for gender inequality. Again, he did not care to listen when she tried explaining that neither she nor her values or goals had any affiliation with Saudi laws or customs.
We weren’t doing anything controversial — we were selling brownies, for Lord’s sake, the equivalent of a little kid setting up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk to earn a few extra bucks. We were just a few kids raising money for a good cause in arguably the most innocent and non-controversial way possible. Yet this random passerby felt that it was his duty to approach my friend and berate her for her personal life choices. I’m not crying Islamophobia — there are currently much worst cases going on, globally and locally, from the Muslim internment camps in Xinjiang, China, to the local incident where Vancouver resident, Noor Fadel, was verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted on a Skytrain a few months ago. To say this incident of a man who rudely engaged one of us in an ignorant and unempathetic conversation was as emotionally and physically scarring as the above examples would be a little bit self-centered, to say the least.
My beef is with the fact that this man felt that he was some messenger whose purpose was to inform my friend, and by extension all of us who choose to don cultural or religious symbols, that we do not have the capacity to think for ourselves. If we try to prove that it is, in fact, a personal choice that we make for ourselves, then we’re told that we only think it’s our own choice, but it isn’t, because this particular choice is one that contradicts their opinion.
For the sake of argument, let’s say my friend were to stop wearing a hijab because of this negative experience — the next time the man would see her, he’d tell her that she is now free and liberated, that she’s made her own free choice out of her own free will. He would only consider her unindoctrinated once her “indoctrination” lined up with his own personal views.
This cyclical discourse is a fairly common phenomenon; if one had been lucky enough not to experience it in real life, it doesn’t take much to find this kind of catch-22 mentality in news media or on the Internet. If we try to tell these kind of people that we’re not oppressed, that no one is forcing us to dress a certain way, that we aren’t enslaved to religion, we are told that we are indoctrinated, that we think we’re free and making our own choices, but we’re actually enslaved to our communities and cultures. In all cases, no matter what we do, we are forced to fit this mold, this preconceived image of an oppressed, backward, primitive person who cannot think for herself.
If we say we do it out of personal choice, then we’re not thinking for ourselves, we only think that we’re thinking for ourselves, but we’re actually indoctrinated. If we claim we do it for for whatever reason they claim it to be, for example, that we were forced into it, (which the good majority of us will never do, simply because it wouldn’t be true), then we have proved their point.
In all cases, our identities, politicized because of today’s highly political climate, are up for someone to debate about — for someone to comment on with their own personal agendas and opinions. We cannot be simply people of our own, free to make our choices and free to claim that our choices are our own, because our identities are inherently politicized. Let’s work against that; let’s accept people for who they are, give them the right to their beliefs and values and judgements, and aim not only for tolerance or inclusivity, but for the liberty and freedom that we are all entitled to as humans.