The Issue With ‘Borrowing’ From Other People’s Religious Traditions

Orientalism is a way of thinking that is founded on an ontological and epistemological division between “the Orient” and (most of the time) “the Occident,” according to Edward Said’s definition from 1978.

He described how orientalism characterized Islam as being Eastern and deemed it inferior to the West, which was defined philosophically and geographically by secularism and Christianity and geographically as North America and Europe.

To put it another way, orientalism becomes the conceptual foundation for hierarchy that underlies the persistent narrative of “us” against “them,” with Muslims being presented as being inherently alien. Adopting the headscarf as a sign of unity is orientalist in a romantic and gendered way.

The veil was entangled with gendered orientalism throughout the colonial era, which led to Muslim women being referred to as the keepers of Islamic heritage.

The same framing is used now when gendered aesthetics are used to represent Islam in political movements. The problematic thing about the solidarity hijab’s orientalism is that it is not overtly negative.

In reality, protestors stated that they were interested in a positive representation of the hijab even as they used it as a symbol of Muslim distinctiveness and identity.

Romantic orientalism is a phrase coined by Minh-Ha Pham, a researcher who has written on the Western appropriation of Asian design, and it is applicable in this context.

This phrase is used by Pham to describe ostensibly favorable portrayals of Eastern aesthetics but are still orientalist insofar as they are based on presumptions of Western entitlement, superiority, and liberal political agendas.

Using language similar to Pham’s concept of romantic orientalism, the anonymous author of Ms. Muslamic described solidarity hijab: “Whether you’re upholding the veil as symbolic of oppression or purporting to ‘challenge assumptions’ about it, this is still a reductive, one-dimensional and over-simplistic view of how Muslim women experience their faith, their identity, and their bodies.”

The instances of solidarity hijab covered in this article were feminist actions that made an effort to take intersectionality seriously. Feminism, however, is a different type of structural injustice that aids in the abuse of this political gesture.

Because it thought sisterhood was attainable without taking difference—particularly in terms of religio-racialized experience—more seriously, the solidarity hijab was unsuccessful.

This failure shows how difficult it is to incorporate intersectionality in symbolic politics, which by their very nature rely on aesthetics that are frequently exclusive and reductive.

However, it also highlights a specific difficulty that mainstream feminism has faced: comprehending the role that religious identities play in both women’s marginalization and vulnerability as well as their empowerment and thriving.

The issue is not feminism in and of itself, but rather the prevalence of a particular brand of feminism that women of color have come to identify and openly criticize: white feminism. White feminism encompasses more than just white women.

Anyone can hold this concept as their own. A white feminist is described as “someone who refuses to consider the role that whiteness and the racial privilege attached to it have played and continue to play in universalizing white feminist concerns, agendas, and beliefs as being those of all feminism and all feminists” by Rafia Zakaria, the author of Against White Feminism.

Zakaria said, “This could not have been our aim.” “A white feminist may be a woman who really affirms the principles of ‘intersectionality’… but also refuses to give voice to the feminists of color who have been overlooked, marginalized, or excluded from the feminist movement.”

Author Koa Beck defines white feminism in terms of its strategies in her book White Feminism. She calls it a particular brand of feminism that “takes up the politics of power without questioning them—by replicating patterns of white supremacy, commercial greed, corporate ascent, inhumane labor practices, and exploitation, and deeming it empowering for women to practice these tenets as men have always done.”

In other words, rather than redistributing power, white feminism focuses on enhancing the power of specific women via increased independence, prosperity, and self-actualization.

Instead of challenging white supremacy and patriarchy, it adheres to their rules. In white feminism, women fight to be treated the same as white males.

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