The news came three days before Christmas:
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has announced that the Department of Defense will now allow Muslim and Sikh students participating in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) to wear headscarves and turbans while in uniform.
When I read this, the first thing I thought was: What?! And the second was: Since when does CAIR make announcements on behalf of the Department of Defense?
The background was as follows: a Muslim girl in Tennessee was told by her JROTC commanding officer that she could not wear her headscarf, or hijab, in a homecoming parade. She contacted CAIR, which in turn contacted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, asking for a change in policy. And instead of informing CAIR that the Department of Defense does not take its marching orders from fronts for terrorist organizations, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Larry Stubblefield fell right into line, writing a letter to CAIR assuring that henceforth JROTC policy would be different.
France and the Netherlands have banned the niqab, the face-covering veil, in public; the hijab is also prohibited in certain venues (such as classrooms and government offices) in a few European jurisdictions. But in most of the Western world, there are no laws against any Muslim garments. In many Western cities, there has been a visible increase in the number of women wearing these things in public. And there has also been an increase in the number of Muslims who demand their right to wear them in institutions ranging from the armed forces and police to schools and universities.
Case in point: a twenty-year-old woman named Aisha Shezadi Kausar. Kausar wears niqab. Last year her name appeared on an essay, “You, Me, and Niqab,” which was included in Utilslørt (Uncovered), a collection of essays by and about Muslim women. On December 20, she was featured in a news report on Norwegian public television (NRK) about a nationwide project aimed at Norwegian children and teenagers. Kausar, NRK reported, is making personal appearances at various schools around Norway, where she presents her use of the niqab as a feminist choice. In the report, she was seen in front of an auditorium full of students, first praying, then talking about Allah, and then making her case. She's engaged in a “struggle for freedom” and “fighting against xenophobia.” The only reasons for opposition to niqab are “prejudice” and “fear of foreigners.” At the end of her talk the students gave her a big round of applause, and the kids interviewed by NRK said all the “right” things about diversity and tolerance. Plainly they had not learned anything about Islam, the place of women in Islam, or what niqab actually represents. Their teachers had taken them away from their studies to be propagandized.
Who's sponsoring this promotional campaign for symbols of female submission and subordination? The Muslim Students' Association? The Norwegian Islamic Council? No: the Norwegian Non-Fiction Writers and Translators Organisation (NFF) and a group called Foreningen !les (the exclamation point and the small “l” are part of the name) whose official goal is to promote reading and literature. The premise of this sponsorship is that Kausar (the author, as far as I can determine, of exactly one essay) is an author and that they are sending her around to talk about her work.
In other words, Norwegian schools are setting aside time to allow their students to be fed pretty lies about Islam and niqab – and the country's major organization for writers and translators is helping to foot the bill.
(If I were still an NFF member, I'd quit in protest. Alas, I already quit in protest years ago over something else.)
Who is Aisha Shezadi Kausar? Pretty much the only things I could find about her online were articles about hijab and niqab. The author of a May 2009 article on Nettavis, entitled “A hijab – is it really worth making so much of a fuss about?”, interviewed Kausar, then nineteen years old. At the time, according to the article, Kausar was not a wearer of hijab. Nettavis, which is a news website for young people, quoted Kausar:
“It speaks for itself that it's wrong that my belief should put a stop to my career choice. After all, we have religious freedom in this country,” she says with a certain bitterness in her voice.
A little over a year later, in August 2010, the newspaper VG ran an interview with Kausar. Though in the May 2009 article she had been represented as a Muslim girl who chose not to wear hijab, in the August 2010 VG interview she was described as a wearer of hijab and was quoted as saying she had begun wearing it three years earlier. She said that her motivation for doing so was, in large part, “[t]o show the Islamophobes that Muslim girls can choose.” She insisted, moreover, that nobody had pressured her to wear hijab. On the contrary, she called herself a “feminist in a religious head covering” and said that she “identifies with the tough Muslim ladies who have fought for women in hijab to be accepted.”
And now, just over a year later, here she is wearing and promoting the niqab. And she's still presenting herself as a feminist, a believer in freedom and diversity, and as somebody who, aside from her faith and her fashion choices, is not really all that different from the young people whom she addresses in Norwegian schools.
In addition to the Nettavis and VG articles, I did find Kausar's Facebook and Twitter pages. Judge for yourself. On her Facebook page, under “People who inspire Aisha,” there's precisely one name – the Prophet Muhammed. Her favorite books? The Koran, Hadith, and Sunnah. Under “Favorite Movies” there's a single entry, “Bollywood is Haram,” which is not the title of a movie but a statement, meaning of course that Bollywood films are against Islamic law. If you click on “Bollywood is Haram” on Kausar's Facebook page, it'll take you to another Facebook page entitled “Bollywood is Haram,” at which you can read this explanation of the page by whoever set it up: “Bollywood is haram, people. We have to work against this beast that is spreading itself through our homes. The filthy half-naked hags who dance on the TVs in our living rooms must be removed forever!”
Kausar, then, who argues for the right of women to wear Muslim veils and head coverings on the grounds of individual freedom and diversity, would appear to be involved with people who would very much like to prevent women who don't wear Muslim veils and head coverings from dressing as they like. (And, apparently, preventing them from dancing, too.)
Meanwhile, on Kausar's Twitter page, her name is followed by the words “I am exactly what I wish to be... a Muslim. Tell me what you are!” and by the URL of IslamNet. What is IslamNet? Hege Storhaug described it as follows early last year:
Over the course of only two years, the group has managed to acquire over 1,200 paying members and is now the largest Muslim student organization in the country. The only positive thing that can be said about Islam Net is that it doesn’t hide its objective: a society living under the Koran and sharia. One of these students’ ideological heroes is Zakir Naik, who preaches hate and terror and is considered so extreme that he is not permitted to enter either Britain or Canada.
This, then, is Aisha Shezadi Kausar, the “author” whose message the leading Norwegian organization for writers and translators is helping to spread in the schools.
To trace Kausar's career online is to find oneself wondering about a thing or two. How did it happen, for example, that the teenage Kausar, supposedly even before she was a wearer of hijab, turned up in Nettavis as a defender of hijab? Where did the Nettavis reporter get her name? How did Kausar end up being a poster girl for Muslim female garb? Why did she tell VG in 2010 that she'd been wearing hijab for three years when a year before she had presented herself to Nettavis as a non-wearer of hijab?
If this were just about Kausar, I wouldn't bother asking such questions. But Kausar is only one of a number of Muslim women in the West who in recent years have gone out into the media and claimed that they're feminists with minds of their own, that they've freely chosen to dress as they do, and that as free citizens of a free country they should have the right to wear what they want in public.
But it's the same with Kausar as it is with some of the other women who make these arguments: the more you look into their stories, the more strongly you suspect that there's more there than meets the eye. That, in other words, these women are not operating independently but are, rather, part of a large-scale, long-term campaign being run by others – by people for whom they, along with the media, the schools, and groups like the the NFF and Foreningen !Les, are just puppets on a string.
Not that that's the most important thing here. What matters more than anything else is this: people like Kausar and her associates, whoever they may be, know exactly what they're doing when they target schools. And the people who run the schools either don't realize they're being taken for a ride, or are too intimidated to do anything other than nod and applaud. That needs to change – and now. Otherwise we'd better be prepared for a generation of Western politicians, journalists, military officers, and educators who are – if possible – even more benighted and pusillanimous on this issue than the current crop.
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