By: Saidul Islam
Hijab is the traditional form of women-dress in the Muslim culture that denotes decency, modesty, simplicity, and moderate life-style, as opposed to extravagance and luxury. However, in the West and as penetrated in the East, this hijab/veil is constructed as a form of patriarchal control, women subjugation, and so forth. This kind of construction became intense, and hence got more market currency, after September 11, 2001, as any criticism of Islam and its traditions in whatever form became a ‘normalization of western behaviour’.
The question is, why hijab is criticized in the west. The answer is, I think, deeply rooted in the ideological underpinnings of capitalism. Hijab indeed poses a great challenge to the western capitalist values. Those who profoundly studied nature and ideology of capitalism are in fact unanimous that “capitalism must constantly revolutionize itself, otherwise, it will die”. The central players in the culture of capitalism are the capitalist, the laborer, and the consumer, each operating according to rules largely orchestrated by the capitalist and enforced by the nation-state, like USA. The culture of corporate capitalism requires perpetual growth of material consumption, and hence ever-expanding exploitation of the world’s resources and peoples. ‘Capitalism has within its inherent logic always contained a motivation to ruthlessly expand…Since its inception the logic guiding capital has been to grow or die. This mentality and material manifestation has permeated throughout its history’ (Black Star North Zine 2001, p. 1).
Traditional hijab appears as a ‘form of stagnation’ that goes against capitalist nature of constant expansion and revolution. Hijab is very inimical to the ideology of fashion and other sex industries propounded by capitalism, which offers a paradoxical appeal- shortenings of dresses but constantly changing of them. The notion of beauty has been constructed and re-constructed through the powerful capitalist tools- media and advertising company. This constant castigation by the capitalist media regarding sense of beauty embedded in the exposure of female body has been accepted without question by many in the modern age. Unless and until hijab is constructed with a notion of negativity, and as a form of control and subjugation, capitalism cannot expand its fashion and sex industries to the Muslim female consumers, that comprise more than half a billion.
Herein lies the confrontation between capitalism and Islam. Islamic way of life (they call it fundamentalism to instil a notion of stigma and negativity) offers an excellent form of lifestyle, which is totally free of extravagance, hedonism, exploitation, and consumerism. However, these are the inherent characteristics of capitalism.
Md. Saidul Islam
Graduate Programme in Sociology
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