ACCORDING to some research estimates, up to seven million Muslims live in the United States. Muslim women are the most likely of any faith to wear the visible symbol of faith identity, namely the hijab, which presents them as visibly Muslim in all public settings. Studying the daily life experience of hijab-wearing Muslim women in America can serve as a case study of America’s socio-political perception and treatment of Muslims and Islam.

The political context of Muslims, Islam and hijab post 9/11

Muslims in America started to establish a presence in mainstream American society and politics in the 2000s, organising our communities and advocating for our rights in response to the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia following 9/11. The hijab was one of the first symbols to be targeted and deconstructed as a symbol of Islam on the national and international stage.

American politicians, pundits and entertainers ridiculed the hijab within the context of the so-called ‘War on Terror‘, associating Muslim women covering their hair and bodies in subservience to God with women’s oppression – which many Americans perceived as a core theme of Islam and its ‘barbarism’. As scholar, literary theorist and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak called it, American forces deployed to Muslim-majority countries were the “white men saving brown women from brown men”.

While America’s messaging around the War on Terror cited human rights concerns and a political objective to liberating Muslim women, the material damage done to Muslim-majority countries showed not only reckless disregard for all Muslim lives, but sheer malice toward the Muslim population. In Iraq alone, during the course of military campaigns like ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ and others, just under three million Iraqis were killed by American military forces. The total death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan since the early nineties until now is estimated to be between three to five million.



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