Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal
In the post-9/11 era, Muslim women donning a headscarf in America find themselves caught at the intersection of bias against Islam, the racialized Muslim, and women. In contrast to their male counterparts, Muslim women face unique forms of discrimination not adequately addressed by Muslim civil rights advocacy organizations, women's rights organizations, or civil liberties advocates.
This paper examines how the September 11th attacks adversely impacted the lives of headscarved Muslim women in ways different than Muslim men. Ten years after 9/11, there is a plethora of literature about what has become known as "post-9/11 discrimination." Most of the discussion focuses on the experiences of Muslim men or analyzes law and policy through a male gendered paradigm. Amidst pervasive suspicion of Islam, continuing sexism, and bias against her particular race group, the Muslim women are both visible targets and silent victims.
Accordingly, this paper examines the implications of the shift in symbolism of the Muslim headscarf in America from gender subjugation to terror(ism). Specifically, this paper argues that the Muslim woman is a casualty of the post-9/11 "war on terror" in ways different from Muslim men. Not only are her religious freedoms under attack in ways different from men because the headscarf is unique to women, but she is objectified in ideological and corporal domestic conflicts that profoundly affect her life. Perhaps worse than the gender rights debates of the 1990s when Muslim women were talked about rather than talked to, their experiences post-9/11 are neglected by mainstream American feminist organizations or used by male leaders of Muslim organizations to implement a civil rights agenda tailored to the Muslim male experience. Consequently, Muslim women are trapped in the crosshairs of national security conflicts that profoundly affect their lives, receiving little support from advocacy groups focused on defending Muslims, women's rights, or civil liberties post-9/11.
Section I of this paper prefaces the paper's thesis by highlighting Islam's transition from obscurity to notoriety in the American public's psyche as a result of the September 11th attacks. Section II highlights how the recasting of Islam from a bona fide religion to a political ideology is a necessary precursor for accepting otherwise discriminatory acts as legitimate national security practices. The reclassification is most glaring in the nationwide campaigns opposing mosque constructions because of the public's fixation on mosques as hotbeds of extremism. Likewise, as Islam becomes defined as an expression of politics instead of religion, demands for religious accommodation by Muslims are deemed stealth Islamic imperialism not protected by law. Against this backdrop, Section III examines how the meaning of the Muslim headscarf has transformed from a symbol of female subjugation to a symbol of terror(ism). Through an analysis of employment discrimination, racial violence, political marginalization, and exclusion from the courthouse, this article demonstrates how the transition of the headscarf's meaning has resulted in palpable and widespread discrimination against Muslim women donning it. Yet, discourse on civil liberties in the national security context are woefully lacking due to the conspicuous absence of the Muslim woman's voice.
The internal debates within the Muslim communities about gender rights in Islam are beyond the scope of this article. Nor is the paper about whether the headscarf is effectively a patriarchal tool that subjugates women--the paradigm of the 1990s multiculturalism discourse pertaining to Muslim women. While these issues have not yet been fully resolved, this paper argues that the September 11th attacks eclipsed internal community grievances of sexism, to the detriment of women's rights within the community, with more existential concerns such as the Muslim woman's ability to obtain employment, right to freedom from physical attack in public spaces, and ability to shape civil rights strategies aimed at countering post9/11 discrimination. Thus, the focus here is on extra-community factors that disparately and uniquely impact Muslim women's individual expressive freedoms, religious freedoms, and gender rights vis-A-vis the American public and government.
By developing a more accurate and in-depth analysis of her circumstances post-9/11, this article aims to include "headscarved Muslim women" in the contemporary intersectionality dialogue to pave the way towards adequately redressing the multiple levels of subordination against this oft-overlooked group of intersectionals.
University of California Hastings College of Law
Sahar F. Aziz,
From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: Muslim-American Women in the Crosshairs of Intersectionality,
Hastings Race & Poverty L.J.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/100