Feminism, Islamism, the Hijab and ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Nadiya Takolia

Nadiya Takolia: researcher at Engage & ‘Comment is Free’ contributor

As a near absolutist in my belief in freedom of expression, I am very wary about judging people based on religiously inspired customs or attire. As such, women who freely choose to wear the hijab should not be subjected to social opprobrium or political restrictions in free societies. 

However, Nadiya Takolia‘s essay on ‘Comment is Free’, May 28th, “The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations of women” makes several arguments in defense of her decision, whilst in her 20s, to wear the hijab which seem – based on her broader political views – quite specious.

In fairness, however, the first explanation is the most defensible from a progressive standpoint.

Takolia argues that in a society where a woman’s value seems focused on her sexual charms, the hijab can be seen as a political statement.

Takolia writes:

“From perfume and clothes ads to children’s dolls and X Factor finals, you don’t need to go far to see that the woman/sex combination is everywhere.  It makes many of us feel like a pawn in society’s beauty game – ensuring that gloss in my hair, the glow in my face and trying to attain that (non-existent) perfect figure.”

Takolia emphasizes that her decision to wear the hijab was not religious, but purely political.

However, beyond the narrow (and I think admirable) desire of Takolia not to be objectified, her embrace of the hijab encompasses a more expansive politically progressive mantle: one – as it will become clear – inherently at odds with the broader ideology to which she pledges her allegiance.

Takolia writes of coming across the hijab “as a twentysomething undergraduate, [while] reading feminist literature”.  She later asserts that the hijab is ” political, feminist and empowering.”

Also, Takolia opines:

“[The hijab] is me telling the world that my femininity is not available for public consumption. I am taking control of it, and I don’t want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women.” [emphasis mine]

So, is Nadiya Takolia a progressive woman? Does she rightfully reject misogyny in all its manifestations and oppose political movements which demean and subjugate women?

Sadly, no.

According to her ‘Comment is Free’ bio, Takolia works for an organization called Engage – also known as iEngage (which should NOT be confused with the anti-racist site Engage which campaigns against antisemitism).

What is iEngage?

Well, they claim to help empower and encourage British Muslims within local communities to be more actively involved in British media and politics.

However, Engage’s idea of politically empowering Muslims has a very narrow and decidedly illiberal focus. Indeed, the group puts a significant amount of energy into opposing moderate and liberal Muslims, while defending radical Islamist and decidedly reactionary Muslim organisations.

Per Harry’s Place:

“The nature of iEngage is demonstrated by its support for the East London Mosque, London Muslim Centre and Islamic Forum Europe: three bodies with a worrying history of extreme politics, which have repeatedly hosted hate preachers and supporters of terrorism…[and] attacked, as Islamophobes, any journalist or Muslim who criticises the East London Mosque, the London Muslim Centre or the Islamic Forum Europe.”

“The East London Mosque twice hosted the Al Qaeda-aligned preacher Anwar al-Awlaki at the East London Mosque/London Muslim Centre. Awlaki has been identified by the 9/11 Commission as the spiritual adviser of two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Added Lucy Lips at HP:

“This was the problem with iEngage all along. It is an organisation which is very closely tied to specific Islamist political parties, which both defends those political parties and associated hate preachers, while attacking Muslim liberals in the most personal terms. Indeed, iEngage operates from an office within the Islam Channel: a tv station which has been censured by OFCOM for advocating marital rape [and] violence against women. 

Takolia’s Tweets similarly demonstrate, at the least, an evident sympathy towards Islamists with clear anti-feminist political leanings.

Here’s one of her Tweets about Raed Salah.

In addition to Salah’s documented antisemitic incitement (his reciting of a poem advancing the ancient blood libel, which the UK Immigration Tribunal confirmed he indeed said), the following represents a perfect illustration of Salah’s reactionary views towards women. (Here’s a passage from a 2003 interview with Salah by a Ha’aretz reporter.)

Ha’aretz journalist:  “What is your opinion of the legislation now being discussed in the Knesset, which would grant Muslim women rights similar to those of Jewish women in matters of personal status?”

Raed Salah:  ”That bill is tantamount to a war on Islam. It is an attempt to dictate different, foreign values that are neither Muslim nor Palestinian values.”

On Nadiya Takolia’s Facebook page, the ‘Likes’ include the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC): (For those not on FB, see screenshot of her support for PRC below post)

The Palestinian Return Centre is not only a Hamas-supporting organization [they are believed to transfer funds directly to Hamas], but it also promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and rejects the right of Israel to exist within any borders.  Israeli defense officials characterize the group as nothing less than a direct part of the Hamas movement. Indeed, the PRC advocates the Hamas strategy of violent Jihad.

iEngage’s Nadiya Takolia demonstrates again how proponents of, or at least apologists for, the most reactionary movements within Islam continue, under the veneer of human rights, to attempt to avoid being held responsible for an adherence to reactionary, racist, and violent political agendas.

Hijab or no hijab, Islamism is inherently and necessarily incompatible with feminism – even broadly understood.  

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