Friday, April 06, 2007

On Nancy Pelosi's Headscarf

So the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives paid a visit to Syria. This made some people very angry indeed, although the people who got mad at her did not seem to be upset that she was preceded by a contingent of Republicans, and followed by still another Republican from Congress. I am asked to believe that it is only bad when a key leader from the Democratic party goes to Syria.

That much, I release as politics. Politics trump truth, and it is our country's darling albatross.
But the headscarf. Yes, you may have heard. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi consented to wear a headscarf on her visit to a mosque.

And some of the wagging tongues dared to suggest that this gesture was an appeasement of radical, violent Islamicist forces. She was accused of "donning the garb of America's enemies." Such statements were not made when First Lady Laura Bush donned the scarf. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not have her patriotism questioned when she did the same. Once again, okay for Republicans, not for Democrats. Politics as usual.

Except not. I want to call attention to the subtle backhand of bigotry in this specimen of mudslinging. Please notice that by equating a Syrian mosque with Al-Qaeda, with the terrorism of the brigades who deal death in the name of a religion, it equates the Islamic faith itself with terrorism. The headscarf itself - the act of a woman covering her hair upon entering a mosque - is subtly being made into something it is not: an icon of terrorism, in order to demonize the religion and its adherents.

Intelligent and civilized people should point this out when it occurs. Let us behave a little bit better than our leaders and the people who fill up our newspapers. Let us think for ourselves and see above the mudslinging.

As a gesture of community respect and humility, I have happily donned the yarmulke when visiting synagogues. For a while, I used to sing at one synagogue on a regular basis, and was even asked to don a traditional prayer shawl when singing there on Yom Kippur.

Was I assimilating? Was I endorsing the Israeli government by doing so? Was I standing with militant Zionism? How absurd. It means nothing more than what it means when I visit a Thai temple and sit with my feet pointed away from the teacher; or bowing my head when I am introduced to a Japanese man; or greeting a Korean monk by saying, "Angyo-ha-shim-nikaa" and putting my hands in hapjang. When I visit a Catholic mass, I do a little bow before entering the pew, kneel when other folks kneel, and somehow in doing this I haven't lost my center or surrendered the integrity of who I am.

The politics of Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria is a topic for a long blog, and I have mixed feelings about all of that. It is certainly no surprise that her trip was controversial, and surely not a surprise to her. All of that aside, I wanted to address the bigotry that is revealed in some of the reaction.

Unless we are willing to understand the Islamic religion and accept its presence in the world and in our own nation, we are unable to do what really needs to be done, which is isolating the bigotry and violence that is carried out in the name of Islam. We live in a nation where murder has been committed in the name of Christianity and violence has been supported in the name of religion and good causes such as animal rights: this is something we should understand.

You and I, who are the President and the Speaker of our own lives, set the tone wherever we are. Let that tone be one of democracy, critical thinking, and respect. Let us call islamophobia out for what it is, and call on one another to respond differently to these difficult and frightening times.

In America, we are called on by our ancestors to respond to fear with something better than xenophobia. Hatred and ignorance do not protect us from a damned thing.


Jane R said...

Right on, bro. Sorry I haven't read you in a while. I just posted a link to this fine bit of comment on my blog. Blessings and bows. Hugs too.

Theriomorph said...

Thanks for writing about this - Nancy Pelosi's observance of basic etiquette has been so hypocritically politicized and criticized by the right that it's good to see several bloggers offering reality checks in bigoted times.

Sheiladeedee said...

I grew up Catholic and up until the 1970s or so women were expected to cover their heads in church. This was a hatless fashion period, so we had adorable little wisps of fabric which stood in for hats, kind of a lace yarmulke, or mantillas, those lovely lacy headscarves, and the scarf Pelosi was pictured wearing on Drudge looks very much like one I wore with my green winter coat about 1962... but of course to the fundinistas Catholics aren't good Christians anyway...