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 about an govt order from President Biden geared toward assuaging provide chain shortages. The topic of Ms. Fazili’s deal with could seem obscure, however it caught the attention of many as a result of she wore a hijab. 

The image of a senior White House official in hijab is significant for a number of causes. Most clearly, it’s a visible reminder to many Muslims that the workplace of the president is not held by a person who scapegoated Muslims as a political technique. But on reflection, it additionally reminds us of the terribly troublesome place of Muslims who search to stay out their spiritual commitments within the public sq..

Ms. Fazili, a married mom of three and the daughter of Kashmiri immigrants, is clearly eminently certified for her place. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and Harvard College. In the Obama administration, she served as a senior coverage advisor on the NEC and as a senior advisor on the US Treasury Department. Before her present appointment, Ms. Fazili labored as director of engagement for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Community and Economic Development division.

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But including depth to this spectacular resume is Ms. Fazili’s work exploring and advocating for faith in public life. From 2000 to 2001, she served as the primary govt director of Karamah, a nonprofit group “committed to promoting human rights globally, especially gender equity, religious freedom and civil rights in the United States.” In that capability, Ms. Fazili established the group’s full-time applications, together with its battle decision program. She organized a panel dialogue on Capitol Hill “to examine the increasing visibility and role of Muslims in the American political process.” And she testified earlier than the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights at a listening to on spiritual discrimination in Western Europe.

In her Congressional testimony, Ms. Fazili centered on the cruel legal guidelines in a lot of Europe that punish Muslim ladies for sporting the hijab. She noticed that beneath French regulation, Muslim college students who want to put on hijab are made to “suffer for their religious choices.” In Germany, she lamented, authorities officers banned lecturers from sporting hijab and in doing so had conflated spiritual conservatism with extremism: “the modest religious woman,” she mentioned, “is now revealed as a dangerous political activist that must be removed from interaction with impressionable children, lest they decide to become modest as well.” Where a German courtroom had held that the hijab violates an ordinary that lecturers stay “neutral,” Ms. Fazili argued that “religious freedom becomes empty when conditioned on a litmus test of ‘neutrality’ by a basically homogeneous majority.” And beneath Kemalist Turkey’s model of secularism, she testified, Muslim ladies who wished to put on hijab had been “forced to choose between their economic needs and their faith and dignity.”

Along with striving for spiritual freedom for Muslims abroad, Ms. Fazili has been an lively participant in America’s Islamic group. While dwelling in Georgia, she served on the advisory board of the Atlanta chapter of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a Chicago-based group group that “fosters health, wellness and healing in the inner-city by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts, and operating a holistic health center.” IMAN is among the oldest and most profitable Islamic faith-based social service organizations in America, and a paradigmatic instance of the contributions of Islam, and faith usually, to the widespread good.

Ms. Fazili’s distinguished profession demonstrates that she has thoughtfully and significantly, however with out ostentation, taken Islam as a substantive basis and information in her public life. In that respect, she sits in stress between varied competing tendencies in American tradition bearing on faith. 

First, we should acknowledge that, in a single vital sense, Trump, via govt orders and judicial and govt department appointments, did greater than any president since Clinton to safeguard spiritual freedom. Muslims who’re involved concerning the aggressive push to codify liberal sexual norms into regulation benefitted from protections sought by socially conservative Christians and Jews. And administration officers like Eric Treene, Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination on the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, fought as vigorously for the spiritual freedom of Muslims as they did for these of different faiths. 

These appointments and insurance policies had the impact of defending the spiritual rights of Muslims with conventional orthodox beliefs concerning the household and sexuality, and thus not less than partially offset the hurt of Trump’s Muslim-baiting. But Trump additionally embraced and amplified idealogues who bitterly oppose spiritual freedom for Muslims, and who certainly search to drive devoted Muslims from public life completely. Trump additionally opposed spiritual freedom when it conflicted along with his different priorities, like cracking down on unlawful immigration, or shielding authorities officers from lawsuits. The upshot: Trump’s unprincipled method has tarnished the idea of spiritual freedom for a big phase of the inhabitants.

The method of Trump and his Muslim-baiting allies had the inevitable impact of serving to to drive many American Muslims to embrace the progressive left’s ahistorical, secular interpretation of American order. In this imaginative and prescient, faith isn’t the divinely rooted worldview that grounded the American founding and which guides the believer’s private and non-private ethical selections, however merely an identification marker just like ethnicity and even sexual orientation and gender identification. Significantly, this secular imaginative and prescient is parallel to these on the correct for whom Christianity is merely a element of their racial or nationwide identification. 

For its half, the progressive left has lengthy been a silent associate of that phase of the correct who would drive observant Muslims from the general public sq.. It has completed so by agreeing to confess American Muslims to their pantheon of aggrieved identification teams, however on the situation that Islam be reimagined as a mere “identity” relatively than what it’s: a lifestyle rooted in servitude to God, with moral imperatives that transcend partisan politics and trendy ideologies proper or left. By creating astroturf organizations and selling like-minded Muslim activists and teachers, the progressive left seeks to trend a brand new Islam for America that mirrors its ideology and priorities. Significantly, this technique mirrors a neoconservative plan to re-engineer Islam right into a kind of liberal Protestantism. And whereas some progressives have defended the rights of Muslims (together with this writer), others have sided with Trump to oppose Muslims’ spiritual freedom when it conflicts with their broader ideological agenda.

Under the association the left has struck with American Muslims, they’re free to interact in political exercise, however solely insofar because it corresponds to or helps the left’s ideology and causes. And the left is fast to punish its Muslim allies if they don’t toe the road. For instance, the Human Right Campaign (HRC), a pro-LGBT foyer group, has publicly praised the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) for supporting its pet laws, however made an instance out of the group with a collection of blistering information releases and social media posts for daring to object when it tried to distribute literature at its conference. In its anti-ISNA marketing campaign, HRC and its allies labored with far-right agitators like Andy Ngo, who gleefully decried ISNA’s “homophobia.” Similarly, the far left Service Employees International Union (SEIU) waged an costly authorized and public relations marketing campaign towards its ally, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), when the group’s administration allegedly resisted its makes an attempt to unionize employees, a battle eagerly joined by CAIR’s adversaries on the correct. (I labored at CAIR on and off from 1994 to 2001.) Little marvel that the times are lengthy gone when the main American Muslim advocacy organizations might stake out socially conservative, faith-inspired positions on points just like the household, abortion, and playing.

In her 2001 testimony earlier than Congress, Ms. Fazili acknowledged that the hijab isn’t “the most pressing issue for Muslims in Europe who face discrimination,” however a logo of the best way they’re seen and handled by the broader society. She additionally defined that she herself wears hijab as a matter of honest private perception, giving no indication that she views it as a secular marker of membership in an identification group. Twenty years after her testimony, the official repression of her veiled counterparts in Western Europe has solely intensified. And she serves the general public in an administration combating to undermine key Clinton-era spiritual freedom laws, and which is closely influenced by an ideological motion which calls for that American Muslims bleed Islam of its spiritual content material as the value of a seat at their desk. And she joins this administration on the heels of a president who took many actions to guard spiritual freedom, however who additionally undermined it by stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, and who by no means would have thought-about appointing her to a senior White House place. 

Both the Trump and Biden administrations characterize, not less than partially, and in several however parallel methods, more and more influential ideological currents that might see Islam pushed from the general public sq.. In rising above the secularizing identification politics of the far left, and going through with braveness the secularizing identification politics of the far proper, Ms. Fazili serves for example for Muslims who search to carry onto their religion and contribute to the widespread good whereas navigating an more and more polarized America.


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