A Christian professor faces pressure from her co-religionists for wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women. A Muslim woman who doesn’t wear hijab asks that hijab not be the rallying symbol. Yet another woman expresses solidarity with Blacks by claiming blackness despite being born white. Everyone wants allies but we still want to be in control of how solidarity looks like. Should it mean making oneself resemble the Other, as a symbol of compassion? Or is that “cultural appropriation” or reductionism? Who should get to tell us what solidarity looks like?
The firing of a Wheaton College professor for wearing hijab acts as salt in the wound for Muslims in the age of Islamophobia. At the same time, a careful read suggests that the decision was based on what the college called “an unqualified assertion of religious solidarity with Jews and Christians.” Interestingly, this suggests that they are not against a show of support per se, but an unqualified one. Does this mean she could advocate for Muslims but must, as a faculty member of a religious seminary, include a nod to salvational exclusivity of their brand of Christianity? It is of course in their right to “protect their brand,” so to speak, but we cannot know for sure what kind of qualified assertion would have been acceptable. Certainly there is always the risk that interfaith solidarity will blur the lines until there is no meaningful distinction between the faiths. Is this what Wheaton feared? That Christian exceptionalism was at risk?
I appreciate the gesture of the Wheaton college professor but discussing a theology of the Other is a discussion for the Christians of that institution to have and not one that I, a Muslim, and comfortable agitating for. At least now this professor knows where they stand and she can make decisions accordingly. She’ll either have to bring herself in line with their dogma on the subject, or she’ll learn that this denomination is not for her.
Additional salt in the wound came internally, when in the Washington Post, Asra Nomani rained on the Muslim parade by exposing the fault lines between hijab wearers and non-wearers. Her caveat that non-Muslims wearing hijab in solidarity reduces Muslim women to a hijab is an important one to consider, but she errs in turning around and doing the same thing: portraying refusal to wear as the result of reason and reflection and hijab wearers as unsuspecting ploys in Iran’s Islamic Revolution. I sense that it really boils down to her not being seen as the definitive Muslim, despite very much needing to be seen as one, since she lays claim to the mantle of “Muslim reformer.”
Black Lives Matter is another phenomena calling for solidarity and perhaps getting lost in the details. There was, for example, the”die-in” in which white allies are instructed that they can observe but cannot “die” because, well, they’re not black (but, you’re also not really dying at a “die-in” but who’s counting…).
I’m not a believer in the much-abused concept of “cultural appropriation”; at the same time when we make it so hard to be an ally, does this result in the extreme end of things where we leave people feeling that there is no choice but to “become” them in order to show affinity with them? Could this have been Rachel Dolezal? There are obviously a lot of factors that went into the making of Dolezal and her choice to identify as Black despite being born white. I suspect there is a lot more at play than simple charlatanism. Maybe when we accuse others of ignorance when they disengage and appropriation when they do engage, we leave people in a zero-sum situation where they feel the only way they can express solidarity is through the impossible task of becoming the Other.
Some would say that to love the Other is to necessarily blur the boundaries between I and Thou to the point that they disappear. That’s a strong idea and not one I’m prepared to deal with here. But it sure does seem that being a person of conscience is becoming more difficult, not least because of the ID checkers at the door.