Nike promotes hijab as European Union upholds headscarf ban

Photo by: Vivienne Balla
In this undated image provided by Nike, figure skater Zahra Lari model wears Nike's new hijab for Muslim female athletes. The pull-on hijab
is made of light, stretchy fabric that includes tiny holes for breathability and an elongated back so it will not come untucked. It will come in
three colors: black, vast grey and obsidian. Beaverton-based Nike says the hijab will be available for sale next year. (Nike via AP)

The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It’s a cultural battle we in the U.S. so far have little experience with: How does a country assimilate immigrants who refuse to embrace the progressive values and secular tolerance of their adopted country?

It’s been a constant source of frustration within Europe, where traditionalist Islamic viewpoints — that are misogynistic, anti-Semitic and undemocratic — often come into conflict with a Western and socialist culture.

The Netherlands, which are voting Wednesday for parliament’s lower house, have found its welfare state, combined with liberal immigration policies, have made for an uneasy mix, wrote Leon de Winter, a political commentator for De Telegraaf, the largest Dutch daily newspaper.

Speaking of the rise of the right-wing Freedom Party, he wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday: “Did the Dutch really turn into xenophobes and racists? No, they are as open-minded as ever. But they have started to demand what most of their politicians until recently didn’t want to mention because it was politically incorrect: that immigrants practice tolerance, work and study hard, and teach their children to be proud contributing members of this society. That is the least you can ask when the fruits of your labor are taxed at 50 percent.”

He added: “Significant numbers of [Muslim immigrants] refuse to embrace the radical, secular tolerance of their new home.”
In particular, women in Islam are treated as second-class citizens — forced to wear hijabs and burkas which are meant to isolate them from the outside world. Women are looked upon as property of the male, a status that’s enshrined in Islamic text and enforced by Sharia law.

After a series of rapes in the city of Stavanger, Norway is now offering its Muslim refugees a course in European secular norms and behavioral codes, so that Muslim men who see a woman wearing a bikini or drinking alcohol won’t interpret it as a come-on. In Denmark, politicians want sex education to be included in its mandatory language classes for immigrants.

In France last summer, many municipalities prohibited Muslim women from wearing full-suited burkinis while swimming in the sea, and it, along with Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands have passed or are considering passing laws that ban full face-covering veils in public and within government spaces.

Many, who don’t live in these countries, pay their taxes, or have grown up in their cultures, feel these laws may be a violation of religious rights. But for these countries, it’s a public safety measure — a very concerted effort to help change the misogynistic norms that are prevalent in Islamic culture.

In February, right-wing politician Marine Le Pen — who is predicted to win the first round of voting in France’s April presidential elections — refused to cover her head to meet with Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim cleric, in a sign of progressive defiance.

And on Tuesday, the European Union’s top court ruled that employers can ban the hijab and that doesn’t discriminate against religion, because firms can also ban other religious, political or philosophical symbols in the workplace if they have the proper guidelines in place.

That’s what makes Nike’s full embrace of its first-ever sport hijab is so disconcerting; it feels like the company — in trying to be politically correct — is really just normalizing the oppression of women. This as the rest of the Western world looks to fight against it.

The announcement of the Nike Pro Hijab, which will go on sale next year, was met with immediate backlash online and sparked threats of boycott.

“As Freedom Loving Athletic American Woman I stand against oppression, subjugation, #FGM the #nikehijab represents! #BoycottNike,” Tamara Leigh tweeted.

Tim Fitzgerald wrote: “Nike now supports oppressing women and making money off it with the hijab with the Nike emblem. Anything for a buck.”

I’m sure the Oregon-based company believes it’s promoting diversity, a proud American value — but with hijabs comes no freedom. For tens of millions of women around the world, the decision to wear a hijab is not a choice, it’s a requirement. It’s confirmation that they, indeed, are second-class citizens.

“Many women who wear the hijab even in Western countries are forced to wear it due to a pressure from society or their families. I personally know of cases in which women have been beaten up or rejected by their families for refusing to wear the hijab,” Faisal Saeed Al Mutar a Washington D.C.-based writer who emigrated from Iraq and the founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement, told the Huffington Post.

“My Egyptian friend Reem Abdul Razak was disowned by her father for taking the veil away. An Iraqi friend was kicked out from the house for refusing to wear the hijab any longer even though her reasons were not primarily anti-religious but rather because of the extreme summer heat in Iraq.”

Nike’s hijab does nothing to advance religious freedom or diversity. As a tolerant, progressive, open society, we should be working to remove hijabs, not making it easier to put them on.