Alicia Keys didn't do Muslim Women any Favors by Glamorizing Repressive Clothing
Alicia Keys took to Twitter this week to promote diversity and show support for Muslims in a time when they are increasingly embattled and made to feel unwelcome in the US. If she had included a different image, perhaps we would be praising her for using her platform to combat xenophobia. Instead, we have to shake our heads at her shocking naivety and dangerous cultural relativism.
So what's wrong with posting a picture of a woman striking a sexy pose with her leg exposed, one that somehow feels kind of glamorous despite the fact that she's wearing a niqab?
Let's first point out that not all Muslim households/societies force women to dress this way, nor is it mandated by the Quran, which merely says that women (and men) should dress modestly.
However, this and other garments that force Muslim women to cover themselves are all too common, and they are some of the ultimate signs of chauvinism and oppression of women still remaining in the modern world. They are emblematic of a society where women are completely subservient and often locked away and abused. Imposing such a dress code is an outward manifestation of a mindset that justifies laws such as not allowing women to drive, go to school, or be free human beings in the 21st century.
Yet in her post, Alicia Keys glorifies this culture and inexplicably uses wording like "Our Power" in her caption when the image features the wardrobe of one of the most powerless demographics on earth.
By the way, let's not forget that if a woman were to bare her leg like that in a society that imposes the niqab, she would definitely be beaten or stoned or something medieval.
Some people rightfully point out that there are some Muslim women who are happy with these practices and willingly choose to cover themselves. However, the clear problem is that they usually don't have any choice. A common response also seems to center around the overly-revealing fashion of The West, which is a valid, and indeed, already on-going topic of discussion. However, this is a social issue of an entirely different category as women are not threatened by institutional violence as a result.
Power and Diversity?
For her part, after significant backlash, Alicia Keys seems to have realized her error and deleted the post, so maybe we should give her a pass and agree that it was a significant lapse of judgment. Her intentions, after all, were clearly positive.
We should not, however, let this episode go by without remarking that this sentiment of celebrating all cultural practices, regardless of their nature, is quite common in some segments of the left.
This is rooted in the bad old days when we in The West thought that all other cultures were savage and inferior, and used that as an excuse to subjugate them. Cultural Relativism, the idea that what is 'good' can vary from culture to culture, developed in response.
Clearly, this was an important movement that has not only allowed those in western societies to appreciate and learn from other worldviews, but also forced us to take a critical look at some of the destructive aspects of our own society (excessive materialism, lack of respect for elders, etc.).
It's also important to emphasize that none of this is to say that we should not be welcoming to Muslims in The US, many of whom do not take part in such regressive practices. Nor should we stop checking our watches every 15 minutes to see how much longer until 2020, when the anti-racist, anti-xenophobic elements of the US will hopefully stomp out this unfortunate episode in our history.
However, there is no escaping the fact that dominating women and treating them like property is endemic in certain parts of the Muslim world. Cultural Relativism is not an exception to the rule that everything should be taken in moderation. Some things are wrong regardless of their cultural context. Cruelty towards women has no place in any society.