The Veil Does Not a Prison Make

Who’s Danielle Crittenden? She writes a blog for The Huffington Post and recently, she decided to “take on the veil” as a social experiment for one week of her life in Washington, D.C. She went straight for the gold and decided to wear the starkest, blackest niqab out there, ignoring the fact that the hejab is far more prevalent among Muslim women than the niqab. She blogs about her experience in four separate posts under the title, “Islamic Like Me.”

Readers, you know my issue with people who use “Muslim” and “Islamic” synonymously. For god’s sake, would somebody check the Associated Press guidelines?! “Islamic” describes architecture and history…things. A “Muslim” is an adherent of Islam; Muslims are people, not things.

So Ms. Crittenden decides to put on a niqab…for what? For giggles? She never really explains her reasons for doing so, but makes it very apparent that wearing a niqab is a bad idea because it’s “oppressive”. Does she want to see what it’s like to be a Muslim woman who wears niqab? Does she want to understand the prejudice that these women face?

No. After reading her posts, it’s obvious she just wants to play dress-up. She doesn’t attempt to adhere to any principles of Islam while wearing the niqab, nor does she take it off in her home like most niqabis would, nor does she even attempt to start a dialogue with any Muslim women—niqabis or not.

This experiment reminds me of one of Tyra Banks’ experiments: you remember when she put on a fat suit? Yeah. That one. She put on a fat suit under the guise of “seeing how the other half lives” but really just used it as a self-indulgent exercise in vanity (kind of like everything else Tyra does, bless her heart). This one seems really no different.

So, we read the first paragraph of Ms. Crittenden’s post “Islamic Like Me: Taking On The Veil”, and already, I want to throw my computer out the window.

“‘I wonder what it’s like to wear Arabic dress?’ I said one day to my husband. His eyes sparked with interest. ‘You mean as in I Dream of Jeannie?’ ‘No. I mean those black cover-ups they wear in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.’”

(Long sigh). So, we begin with the blatantly incorrect idea that all women in the Middle East wear “Arabic” clothing, even if they are not Arab or Muslim. We see later in her posts that her idea of “Arabic clothing” is a niqab and abaya—ignoring several other traditional dress styles that Arab women wear. And, of course, her husband throws in the sexualized Orientalist fantasy of I Dream of Jeannie. Fantastic!

The rest of her dialogue follows an alarmist mentality, complaining that American feminists don’t give a “peep of protest” against “people right here [presumably, big bad Muslims] who want to shroud women … to make us all submissive and invisible.” She ends her silly conversation with an ominous-sounding “It’s coming here too. It already is here.” What’s coming? Is Godzilla here? And the Big, Bad Muslims made him wear a burqa?!

Ms. Crittenden then makes a paltry connection between the rise of the Muslim population and the subjugation of women: “Accepting veiling implies acceptance of a larger ideology of female subordination.” No, Ms. Crittenden. Accepting your arguments, however, implies acceptance of a total lack of logic. Why can’t she get past the idea that wearing some extra cloth totally disenfranchises someone?

“In the free and equal societies of North America and Europe, we are hearing of more and more cases of forced marriage, confinement of women to their homes, honour killings and female genital mutilation.”

Free and equal? Like the equal pay women get for the equal work they do? Like the freedom women have to walk alone at night? Wow…maybe I should move into Ms. Crittenden’s neighborhood.

Furthermore, she’s sensationalizing. Guess what? Stuff like this does happen…to all women. It’s just called different names. “Forced marriage”? How about forced sex or rape? “Confinement of women to their homes”? Ever heard of domestic violence, where victims often feel they cannot leave their abuser (who lives in their home)? “Honor killings”? What about kidnapping and torture by family friends or strangers? You say potato, I say potaaaaato. I guess Ms. Crittenden has never heard of Megan Williams.

From her final installment, she rants: “… what the Klan outfit represents to someone of African-American descent is exactly what the burka should represent to every free woman. Those who impose it upon women believe that a whole category of human beings can be treated as property; that this category may be beaten, sold into marriage, divorced at whim, denied education and work, raped with impunity, and stoned to death for offenses that would be pardoned in a man.”

Wow. I guess that’s how Ms. Crittenden sees Muslim men and women: rapist wife-beaters and chattel, respectively. She never stops to think about Muslim women who voluntarily take on the niqab (the majority of niqabis in the west do this as part of a more conservative interpretation of Islam). What about them, Ms. Crittenden? Since they are “imposing” the niqab on themselves, do you think that they view themselves as property, to be beaten and raped?

Ms. Crittenden’s bias against Muslims, the Middle East, and Islam itself are readily apparent throughout the entire series of posts. Whenever she refers to her niqab, she uses her Orientalism megaphone, choosing adjectives that paint the niqab as so alien that it’s not even from the same time period as we occupy: it arrived in what “looked like a package someone had shipped 400 years ago…” and doing laundry makes her feel like she lives in “a Victorian household,” making her realize that she won’t be able to live “a normal life” because of it.

She also sees fit to equate everything i
n her life to something related to the Middle East: her kitchen, which is being remodeled, looks like “a blown-up house in Baghdad” and she has become an “al-Jazeera version of the Black Ranger.” Wow. You know why all this is funny? Because al-Jazeera doesn’t have any female anchors who wear niqab! And because likening your remodeled home to a war zone is completely hilarious! Now she knows how Iraqi women must feel when they lose loved ones to sectarian violence or land mines!

Her sensitivity extends to her third post, “Islamic Like Me: Why Don’t You Just Take It Off?” She explains that the Iranian women’s volleyball team looked like “a squad of bandaged mummies leaping and spiking” when they competed in the Asian Senior Women’s Volleyball Championship last September.

And, just to hit home the idea that showing skin equals normality, she follows it up with some fake science by renowned charlatan James Watson (the same guy who said that Africans are less intelligent than whites) that states that women who cover up have massive Vitamin C and D deficiencies. This backs up her equally ridiculous statement, made earlier, that “A North American ‘healthy lifestyle’ and Islam do not go together very well.” Hmmmm…I wonder how the U.S.’s three million Muslims do it? Because of Ms. Crittenden’s own lack of experience with the niqab, she assumes every Muslim has a difficult time eating, exercising, or generally living life.

Ms. Crittenden’s adventures around town (going to the gym, the airport, and the grocery store) are meant to expose the bias against Muslims…I think. But she’s shocked when everyone isn’t as bigoted as she is (or at least, doesn’t actively harass her). She goes to an airport, and is surprised that the employees have undergone racial and religious sensitivity training. She’s almost offended when people on the subway don’t attack her with questions and demand to see what’s in her bag, which is what I think she was expecting. Hey, Ms. Crittenden! Maybe Americans aren’t all ignorant Islamophobes like yourself!

I’m not familiar with The Huffington Post’s readers, so I just assumed the worst when I looked at the comments. Of course, there were the out-and-out Islamophobic ones, as well as the “I’m going to make an Islamophobic/racist comment here, but I’m liberal, so I can’t be Islamophobic/racist!” I was pleasantly surprised to see that a fair share of readers actually knew their stuff when it came to Islam, and a good share of them advocated for dialogue rather than condemnation of the niqab and the way of life it implies. However, no one really said what I was thinking, so here we are.

I was really surprised to see this in The Huffington Post, which is usually a source for some nice liberal politics, and features posts from fellow Brass-Crescent-nominee Ali Eteraz. But this? Seriously?

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  • Duniya

    I too think that her wearing th hijab would have been a much better “experiment.” The hijab is much more common whereas the niqab, in Western culture definitely, is still rare. However, I too have many criticisms of the niqab. To me it is not just a little more cloth but rather a form of keeping the dangerous and chaotic sexuality of women under control. The purpose behind the niqab and the reason it is implemented by so many Muslims needs to be questioned and criticized.

  • Latoya Peterson

    What’s coming? Is Godzilla here? And the Big, Bad Muslims made him wear a burqa?! I almost fell out of my chair from that one.Excellent write up! Are you going to cross-post this?

  • Modern Muslimah

    OMG! I read that post and too many four letter words flew into my head. Honestly, I don’t even know why I was shocked that this woman had such racist, Orientalist, ignorant ideas about niqabis, Muslimahs, and Islam. Does she even know any Muslimahs? She can’t because if she did, I don’t think she would do this stupid “experiment” in the first place. This has been going on for so long. How many Western feminists have used feminism to jusify racism and Orientalist ideas? Crittenden is just one in a long line of feminists who have pulled this stunt. I honestly have no respect for Western feminists who are so quick to criticize non-Western cultures while realizing the patriarchy, sexism, and sometimes outright misoyny that exist in Western cultures. If you look at a Vogue magazine, you’ll see plenty of misogynist ads that use metaphors of rape and violence against women to sell clothes. But you know, that’s not really sexist because the West is so enlightened when it comes to women. Ugh.I don’t think niqab is necessary and I do think that some women wear it because of issues that some men have with women’s sexuality and independence. However, I think applying this idea to all niqabis is to oversimply niqabis. As a hijabi, I hate when people assume I’m wearing because of my husband or because I’m oppressed and need to be controlled. So if I hate it, then how can I do that to my niqabi sisters?Can I use this article? I’ll be sure to give you a shout out.

  • Zeynab

    Salaam, everybody!Modern Muslimah: feel free to use the post! I’m glad you like it!Duniya: We all have different feelings about different levels of covering (you and I have had several discussions about this). But the problem behind Crittenden’s article is that she uses the niqab as a cover for her racism without letting Muslims have their own discourse about the niqab. Latoya: I posted it; just waiting for Carmen’s seal of approval.

  • lilith attack

    Zeynab, again – brilliant critique of Crittenden’s ridiculous “experiment.” I hadn’t read her blogged experience on Huff Post but wish to thank you for summing it up. This is a very relevant article for us today in Canada with the news of Aqsa Parvez’s murder by her father in the region of Peel, Ontario. News reports are focusing on peers’ claims of stories that Aqsa has been arguing with her family recently over her refusal to wear her hijab. What is frightening is that this is being toted as a story about violent muslims, namingly her father. A 16 year old girl is dead. Her father killed her and what the hell does that have to do with hijab debates!? Our media is painting a very thick and harmful layer of religious judgement on a tragedy of domestic violence. If the family wasn’t muslim, there would be no dialogue about their private religion. I’m feeling very nervous about the rhetoric that’s going to spew forth from this story here in Canada.

  • Melinda

    Wow, excellent article. I cannot believe Crittenden and the transparency of her ignorance and Islamophobia. Each quote is just so very flawed in its logic that it’s troubling to think people may actually read her little blog series at face value. And that conversation with her husband about “Arabic dress” and “I Dream of Jeannie”? Cringe, cringe, cringe.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,I pretty much agree totally with what Modern Muslimah said.There are definitely more sisters in the U.K wearing niqab now. If they are wearing it to please Allah swt, then Masha Allah, but I worry that some men are wanting their wives and daughters to wear niqab without thinking of the implications. I read a really good post (i’m sorry I have forgotten who wrote it) by a sister who lived in a country wear the vast majority of women wore niqab and then moved to the west. She made the point that in her country or origin, the whole society is structured very differently in terms of what women are expected to do and this makes life a lot easier and more accomodating for the niqabi women as compared to life in the west.The Muslim community is as susceptible to trends as any other, so we need to be careful.I meant no offence to anyone by this, niqab, hijab, bihijab, I firmly believe it must always be the woman’s choice.

  • Melinda

    Background on Crittenden:”She has been critical of the feminist movement and is considered to be a social conservative. She is married to former George W. Bush special assistant and speechwriter David Frum and resides in Washington DC.”WHY is she writing for the Huffington Post?

  • Robert Salaam

    OH MY GOOD GOD!!!!! I’m so angry right now. I’m writing the Huffington Post, right after this. Good to go sister, we need to get the knowledge out there to the Ummah so we can be prompt in action to dispel myths.

  • Snowy Heights

    an interesting and excellent article :)you can quite clearly tell the intentions of the ever so delightful Crittendon when she donned the niqab for her little “experiment”. perhaps to balance it out she might want to walk around in a bikini to guage and compare reactions?? after all, it might be a more “fairer” experiment…

  • Forsoothsayer

    of course this woman is a fucktard. however, it might just be too much to hope that people around the world are EVER going to regard an outfit whose entire premise is that flame fresh is dangerous to the peace and order of society with equanimity. even if the woman who wears it chooses to do so, the premise behind is is not exactly symptomatic of equality, is it?i’m not saying that there aren’t other equally abhorrent assumptions behind so much that “normal” western women do. but at least the suppression of female sexuality is no longer one of them.

  • Forsoothsayer

    that should be “female flesh”.

  • idyllicmollusk

    Zeynab- GREAT post! Thank you for taking Crittendon to task.Amusingly, conservative commentators often take Western feminists to task for not criticizing Muslim women enough. I’m sure we all remember the College Republican’s “Islamo-fascist Week” with their suggestion of sit-ins at college women’s studies departments because they don’t “speak out” enough about the treatment of women in Islam.Barf.

  • Hekateris

    Isn’t that article just the biggest bunch of bull ever? It’s just such an outrageously poor piece of ‘journalism’ that I find it hard to understand how anyone could read it and believe there’s much truth to it beyond ‘some muslim women wear this when they leave the house’.Oro

  • Baraka

    “A North American ‘healthy lifestyle’ and Islam do not go together very well.”Is she referring to Americans, AKA, the Most Obese People on Earth?An intelligent and funny smackdown!Cheers,

  • Emily

    An excellent post. I was so frustrated and put off by the first few lines of Crittenden’s racist, orientalist, misogynistic, and just plain stupid diatribe that I had to stop reading and focus on the smart critiques that have thankfully been written by several fantastic bloggers. More than anything, I feel sorry for Crittenden, who is obviously beyond ignorant about Islam, American Muslims, especially Muslimahs, Arabic language (e.g. ‘burka’ instead of the correct English rendering of the Arabic characters, and even the difference between the many different styles of hijab, niqab, jilbab… she doesn’t seem to realize that she is the one in her own figurative prison, locked behind orientalist, islamophobic bars. And thankfully, though she falsely identifies her ideas (if we can call them that) as feminist, they don’t have any bearing to speak of on the progressive, comparative, non-eurocentric, non-orientalist, postcolonial theory and work that is being done by feminists in many different global social spheres… she is recognized for the conservative, racist, orientalist misogynist that she is in every alt. media outlet that matters.

  • Umm Zaid

    Salaam ‘AlaikumThe link to the ABC news story didn’t work for me. ://I worry that some men are wanting their wives and daughters to wear niqab without thinking of the implications. //This can be true of anything, though. I don’t know about the UK, but in the US (and in Jordan and ME, for that matter) there are fathers (and mothers) who want their daughters not to wear hijab without thinking about the implications. Either way (niqab, no hijab, hijab, pants, only black clothes), if one’s intention isn’t pleasing Allah, or at least asking oneself, “Is this pleasing to my Lord?” then it’s probably being done without thought for true implications or the larger picture.ramble bramble

  • Umm Layth

    as Salamu ‘alaykumUmm Zaid stole the words right out of my m..fingers? :) The problem with us is that we do things without remembering Allah. If death is so near, and if we acknowledge that this life is a test for the mu’min, we should be working on our deeds being solely for Allah. We don’t.The issue isn’t really if niqab is necessary or not. It’s about who is ready to take steps to come closer to Allah. Some sisters need to take the step of wearing their khimar for Allah. Others need to abandon the makeup when they go out, for Allah. Others need to decide if wearing khimar has a point if they are going to wear tight clothes. We are all at different stages in our journey. But it doesn’t matter who does what if it isn’t done for Him. That doesn’t mean we aren’t human, but it means that we at least try.Nice response. I wanted to just call her an extremist the minute I saw her wear it in her home. If you are going to experiment, experiment right.

  • Anonymous

    I came away from this series feeling that Crittenden must have been completely unaware of how much her editor HATES her to publish these pieces that are so packed-full of inaccuracies, insensitivities and insults. On second thought, it horrified to me to think that whomever proofread these pieces also did not see anything WRONG in them! It would take me weeks to pull out every bit of mis-information in there and respond to them all. I am only refraining from slurring insults here as a show of respect to YOU my sis.Love and Peace,~Brooke

  • RandallJones

    Why doesn’t Danielle Crittenden say anything about the fact that the United States takes trillions of dollars of investment money from the Saudis? It also sells millions of dollars worth of sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia; the Saudis don’t even have the qualified personnel to operate the weaponry, which is why they are dependent on the United States to defend it. Why doesn’t Danielle Crittenden put her money where her mouth is and demand that the United States stop accepting money from the Saudis and stop selling weapons to the Saudis?Why does Daniel have nothing to say about the fact that while Western countries preach human rights and democracy, they engage in regime change and support brutal dictators and kings that do their biding? They do this not only in the Middle East, but also in South America, Asia, and Africa.

  • Ethar El-Katatney

    I think my blood pressure just hit the ceiling. And I haven’t even read her posts. But can I just say that is is a wonderful rebuttal. Hats off to you.

  • Dana

    I’m coming real late to the conversation on this one, but Modern Muslimah, you can’t paint Western feminists all with the same broad brush any more than you can Muslimahs. I really wish more people who criticize feminism would read more about it. There are lots of us who’ve noticed Western culture is very woman-hating. Right down to the media ads, yes. We’ve noticed. Oh boy have we noticed.That’s not to say there isn’t a segment or three of Western feminism peopled by individuals who act as you describe. I ran across one’s blog the other day. Apparently I am stupid because I’m an at-home mother, and you ladies are all passive and oppressed because you veil. And this came from a Neopagan feminist priestess who claims to have had good clergy training. More of that sort of “training” and attitude, they certainly don’t need. They have enough problems.