I want to recommend this recent post on A Sober Second Look:
Posters and commenters in particular in some of these [fundamentalist survivor] blogs (and others like them) sometimes use a sort of short-hand that expresses that certain ideas, practices and institutions are oppressive:
- a fundamentalist, controlling Christian community is a “fundystan”
- any oppressive, hyper-controlling church or group is a “taliban”
- conservative Christian teachings (especially on women’s roles) are a “mental burka”
- to question and reject said teachings is to “throw off the mental burka”
- Hepzihah House is “Hezbollah House”
- and so on
Basically, any media word/part of a word that is associated in one way or another with Muslims is equated with oppression, violence, cruelty, or danger, regardless of what the word means in the language(s) or community(ies) that it originally comes from.
A lot of ex-fundamentalists struggle with finding the language to express what happened to them. I certainly had no idea that there was such a thing as a community of ex-fundamentalists – maybe there wasn’t – until I found No Longer Quivering in 2009. Up until that point, I figured I had basically invented leaving, because I’d never met another person who talked about going from a faith like mine to life outside the bubble.
Christian fundamentalism is a strange thing. It’s simultaneously visible and loud – like the Duggars, or conservatives calling for religious exemptions for birth control coverage – and hidden and dismissed. Many Americans can’t begin to imagine Christians being violent, dangerous, oppressive or cruel. Christianity has a privileged place in the US (and probably in many European countries, Canada and other predominantly Christian areas) in that its violence is seen as the exception, whereas the violence in Islam is seen as the default. (For example, the shooting of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has not been framed by the media as “Christian terrorism” but as a “lone wolf” tragedy, despite the Christian anti-abortion ideological engine that regularly churns out rhetoric calling abortion providers mass murderers and inciting violence against them.) The fact that Muslims are obliged to describe their faith as “peaceful” illustrates that disparity.
But it’s an error to refer to all things oppressive in Christianity in relation to Islam, when we do not also refer to the positive aspects of Christianity in relation to Islam. The two faiths do bear similarities, but they are not cheap facsimiles of one another. To understand veiling, you have to listen to veiled women. You have to accept that you don’t know why they veil until they tell you, and even then you might be listening with prejudices that distort what you’re hearing.
I’ve written against veiling before as part of my writing against the modesty doctrine. I don’t claim that it’s necessary to avoid making judgments at all about the rightness of a gendered clothing practice. But I have tried to start by listening, to see if there is a rationale to Muslim veiling that is different from the rationale of the Christian fundamentalist group that demanded I never cut my hair (as a form of veil), never wear pants or makeup, etc. So far, the main problem I have with veiling/covering across both religions is that it’s typically linked with sexuality and “modesty,” and isn’t required of men. But as a Christian fundamentalist woman, I never had to worry about someone judging me racially (the way Islam has acquired a quasi-race status in discrimination) and I never had anyone consider me dangerous. Nobody ever questioned my right to assert myself as a Christian. I was assumed to be a Pentecostal fundamentalist, and I won’t for a moment pretend that’s anything like being assumed to be a Muslim fundamentalist. So I can understand that wearing hijab has meanings that Christian covering does not. And I can understand the desire to reclaim veiling as a statement of religious freedom, even if I disagree with it on a gender basis.
I would also like to acknowledge that Vyckie at No Longer Quivering and Cindy, who was referenced in the post, have spoken up about the need for the spiritual abuse survivor network as a whole to re-examine the messages they’ve received about Islam. I’m sure my own thinking on matters of Islam isn’t perfect yet, either. I want to help promote the message A Sober Second Look brought up, and I also want to help create a culture of mutual and perpetual learning and improvement. Cindy is not a “bad person” for the statements she made – indeed, I respect her and her work a great deal. We all have work to do in order to think and speak more fairly and accurately, and it takes time and effort to find our blind spots and deal with them. I’d like to give kudos to A Sober Second Look both for speaking up and for being gracious with her audience as they learn from her post, and to everyone whose world got a little bigger by reading.