Hijab in the white house


Last month, Sameera Fazili, deputy director of the US National Economic Council (NEC), spoke at a White House press briefing on an executive order from President Biden to alleviate supply chain shortages. The subject of Ms. Fazili’s speech may seem obscure, but it caught the attention of many because she was wearing a hijab.

The symbol of a senior White House official in a hijab is significant for several reasons. Obviously, it is a visual reminder to many Muslims that the post of president is no longer held by a man who muslim scapegoats as a political strategy. But on reflection, it also reminds us of the extraordinarily difficult position of Muslims who seek to live out their religious commitments in the public arena.

Ms Fazili, a married mother of three and the daughter of Kashmiri immigrants, is clearly eminently qualified for her post. She graduated from Yale Law School and Harvard College. In the Obama administration, she served as Senior Policy Advisor at the NEC and Senior Advisor at the US Treasury Department. Prior to her current appointment, Ms. Fazili worked as Director of Engagement for the Community and Economic Development Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

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But Ms. Fazili’s work exploring and defending religion in public life adds depth to this impressive resume. From 2000 to 2001, she was the first executive director of Karamah, a nonprofit organization “committed to promoting human rights around the world, particularly gender equality, religious freedom and civil rights in the United States.” In this capacity, Ms. Fazili established the full-time programs of the organization, including its conflict resolution program. She organized a round table on Capitol Hill “to examine the growing visibility and role of Muslims in the American political process”. And she testified before the House’s International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights at a hearing on religious discrimination in Western Europe.

In her testimony to Congress, Ms. Fazili focused on the harsh laws in much of Europe that punish Muslim women for wearing the hijab. She observed that under French law, Muslim students who wish to wear the hijab are forced to “suffer for their religious choices”. In Germany, she lamented, government officials have banned teachers from wearing the hijab and in so doing have confused religious conservatism with extremism: impressionable children, lest they decide to become modest themselves. When a German court ruled that the hijab violated a standard that teachers remain ‘neutral’, Ms Fazili argued that ‘religious freedom becomes void when it is conditioned on a litmus test of’ neutrality ‘by a majority fundamentally homogeneous. And under the Kemalist version of secularism in Turkey, she said, Muslim women who wished to wear the hijab were “forced to choose between their economic needs and their faith and dignity.”

In addition to fighting for the religious freedom of Muslims abroad, Ms. Fazili has actively participated in the American Islamic community. While living in Georgia, she served on the advisory board for the Atlanta chapter of the Downtown Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a Chicago-based community organization that “promotes health, wellness and healing in the downtown core by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts and operating a holistic health center.” IMAN is one of the oldest and most successful Islamic faith-based social service organizations in America, and a paradigmatic example of the contributions of Islam, and religion in general, to the common good.

Ms. Fazili’s distinguished career demonstrates that she has taken Islam thoughtfully and seriously, but not ostentatiously, as a foundation and substantive guide in her public life. In this regard, she is in tension between various competing tendencies in American culture relating to religion.

First, we must recognize that, in an important sense, Trump, through Executive orders and judicial and executive branch appointments, made more than any president since Clinton to safeguard religious freedom. Muslims concerned on the aggressive push to codify liberal sex norms into law has enjoyed the protections sought by socially conservative Christians and Jews. And administration officials like Eric Treene, Special Advisor on Religious Discrimination in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and Sam Brownback, Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, have also fought vigorously for religious freedom. Muslims than for those of other faiths. .

These appointments and policies had the effect of protecting the religious rights of Muslims with traditional Orthodox beliefs about family and sexuality, and thus at least partially offset the damage done by Trump. But Trump also adopted and amplified ideologues who to oppose bitterly religious freedom for Muslims, and who indeed seek expel Muslim worshipers from public life entirely. Trump also opposed religious freedom when it conflicted with its other priorities, such as suppressing illegal immigration, Where protect government officials of prosecutions. The result: Trump’s unscrupulous approach has tarnished the concept of religious freedom for a large part of the population.

The approach of Trump and his Muslim-bait allies had the inevitable effect of helping to push many American Muslims to embrace the progressive left anhistoric, secular interpretation of the American order. In this view, religion is not the divinely rooted worldview that founded the American foundation and guides the believer’s public and private moral choices, but simply a identity marker similar to ethnicity or even sexual orientation and gender identity. Significantly, this secular view parallels those on the right for whom Christianity is only a component of their racial or national identity.

For its part, the progressive left has long been a silent partner of that part of the right which would drive practicing Muslims from the public arena. He did this by agreeing to admit American Muslims into their pantheon of aggrieved identity groups, but on the condition that Islam be reimagined as a mere “identity” rather than what it is: a way of life. rooted in the bondage of god, with ethical imperatives that transcend partisan politics and trendy right-wing or left-wing ideologies. By creating astroturf organizations and promoting like-minded Muslim activists and academics, the progressive left seeks to shape a new Islam for America that reflects its ideology and priorities. Significantly, this strategy reflects a neoconservative plan to reorganize Islam into a kind of liberal Protestantism. And while some progressives have defended the rights of Muslims (including this author), others have on Trump’s side oppose the religious freedom of Muslims when it conflicts with their wider ideological agenda.

Under the arrangement the left has made with American Muslims, they are free to engage in political activity, but only to the extent that it fits or supports the ideology and causes of the left. And the left is quick to punish its Muslim allies if they don’t follow the line. For example, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a pro-LGBT pressure group, has publicly praised the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) for supporting its pet legislation, but make an example of the group with a series of press releases and social media posts for daring to protest when he attempted to distribute literature at his convention. In its anti-ISNA campaign, HRC and its allies have worked with far-right agitators like Andy ngo, who jubilantly denounced ISNA’s “homophobia”. Likewise, the leftmost Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has had a costly legal and public relationship countryside against its ally, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), when the group’s management allegedly resisted its attempts to unionize staff, a fierce battle joined by CAIR opponents on the right. (I worked at CAIR from 1994 to 2001.) No wonder the days are long gone when major organizations defending American Muslims could take socially conservative and faith-inspired positions on issues. as the family, Abortion, and gambling.

In her 2001 testimony to Congress, Ms. Fazili said that the hijab is not “the most pressing problem for Muslims in Europe facing discrimination”, but a symbol of how they are perceived and treated. by society in general. She also explained that she herself wears the hijab out of sincere personal conviction, giving no indication that she considers it a secular marker of belonging to an identity group. Twenty years after his testimony, the official crackdown on his veiled counterparts in Western Europe has only intensified. And she serves the public in an administration struggling to undermine the keys to the Clinton era religious freedom legislation, and who is strongly influenced by an ideological movement that demands that American Muslims bleed Islam of its religious content as the price of a seat at their table. And she joins this administration on the heels of a president who has taken many measures to protect religious freedom, but who also undermined it by stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, and who would never have considered appointing her to a managerial position in the White House.

The Trump and Biden administrations represent, at least in part, and in different but parallel ways, increasingly influential ideological currents that would see Islam driven from the public arena. By rising above the secularizing identity politics of the far left and courageously confronting the secularizing identity politics of the far right, Ms. Fazili serves as an example for Muslims who seek to maintain their faith and contribute to good. common while navigating an increasingly polarized America.


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