Yesterday, in response to an event which happened Thursday evening, a group of us donned hijabs (headscarves) and went up an escalator. You may have read about it, but perhaps you missed the point, because the point seems to have been missed by all.
Allow me to explain:
On Thursday evening, Kodiak54 and I, stumbled into a disturbing scene. (you don't get a full sense of what occurred from the video, as that's the tail of end of us simply trying to keep him away from the women.) A rather aggressive man was yelling hateful things at a group of young women wearing hijab. I will write more about what we encountered and the many layers of bigotry involved. I simply mention it here to put the flash mob story into context.
One of the things the man kept repeating as we told him to back off was "Calling Andrew Breitbart! Calling Andrew Breitbart!"
Some of us were told later that he might have been registered at Right Online. I've yet to personally verify that. Whether he was or not, he clearly felt that the message he was getting from the rhetoric on the right supported his stance that these women were "destroying our country" and that they did not deserve to be respected nor were they due our basic civil rights.
The events of that evening had been on my mind quite a bit when my sister (who is here with me at Netroots Nation!), told me that one of the women was looking for me. A small group wanted to gather at the Hilton and don headscarves and greet the folks at Right Online.
One of the prominent thoughts I had been pondering since Thursday was. "why does the headscarf evoke so much reaction?" Another was, "it would be a good experience for all American women to walk around in a hijab once in a while to learn what it feels like for our Muslim sisters." So, I hadn't a single hesitation that I would join this peaceful action. My sister agreed to join us, too.
We gathered in the lobby of the Hilton at 4pm. About ten of us (including nyceve!), wearing hijabs, simply went up an escalator to the 2nd floor. Then we went up an escalator to the third floor. At the top of that escalator we encountered the cordon for the Right Online conference. We asked if we might go to the elevator and were told we could not. So, we simply stood at the top of the escalator for moment until we were ready to head back down. There really should have been nothing more to it than that.
Except that we were swarmed by cameras and microphones and aggressive questioning. "Why are you here?!"
This is my first action like this and I can't say I felt well-prepared for being a public spokesperson. (A role I was asked to play, as the Muslim women felt too uncomfortable.) In retrospect, we all might have been better served had I responded by asking back, "Why are you asking? Why have the cameras come swarming over? Why are you all surrounding us and hemming us in so uncomfortably?" It was not simply emotionally uncomfortable. One man kept ramming into my back with his camera. As some of you know, I have a neurological disorder. I feel things more sharply than others, so this was painful. And I have lost sensation in my feet, making my balance precarious, so I was worried I would be pushed over. In short, it was intimidating.
A few minutes into this, my elbow was grabbed quite firmly by a security guard, as I was told that I had to leave now.
What bothers me about this is that we were seen as provocateurs. That we were the ones escorted out. We were simply standing in the common space at the top of an elevator. Why weren't the people whose hyperbolic reactions were what turned it into a chaotic scene the ones who were escorted out? Herein lies the crux of the matter.
Before going on, I would like to point out that of the group of women who were assaulted the other night, only 1 was a guest in our country. All the others are American citizens. Folks, we have a beautiful population of Muslims in the United States. I encourage to meet them. Go to a mosque and humbly ask to be educated, so that you might learn both what they believe and how they are treated by their fellow citizens. I am a non-theist spiritualist and I find so much of the Muslim religion to be exquisite. They have beautiful prayers and some of the richest poetry on earth has come from Muslim poets. Rumi is the most well-known by us.
So, a slice of the American citizenry is Muslim. Many of the those Muslim women wear hijab. If you'd like to understand why, ask them. Don't presume to know. Don't presume that you have superior ideas or that you are "really supporting them" by trying to convince them that they shouldn't.
Most of all, don't see the hijab as an exotic tourist attraction. It's a piece of fabric worn on the head. A clothing accessory. Some people wear hats. Some wear bandanas. Some wear hijab.
To the media and all those who turned our simple stroll into a sensation, "why the fuss?" That should be the focus here. Not whether we were crashing an event. We did not try to do that. It was not about whether the man from Thursday (was was eventually arrested) was a registrant at Right Online. It was about the extremist reaction to women walking down the street with a clothing accessory on. It was about the epileptic reaction to a group of women arriving at the top of an escalator looking for an elevator.
The story never should have been about us. It should have been about everyone else.
I will have at least two other diaries related to this event. One telling the story of facing down an aggressive hater on the street. The second is about Dan Choi and I, along with a few others, being told by the Hilton security that we didn't have the right to peacefully, graciously even, stand in a common area of the hotel. Dan had come in solidarity with our hijab action. It was an honor to stand with him as we demanded our civil rights to simply stand in a place we had paid to be residents of.
UPDATE: I have to go soon. I have family in Minneapolis and will spend the day with them. It has been interesting to see the comments. The majority of which DON'T address the question of why we were the ones escorted out.
How did this become about the hijab itself? Much less the burkaniqab? This is about an action where a group women went up an escalator, asked for access to an elevator and were assaulted by cameras as they regrouped to go back down the escalator. Once we were besieged, we were the problem, rather than the bullies who besieged us. That the focus of the conversation is not about how we address bullies responding to perfectly innocuous behavior is core to what's going on in the United States on so many fronts.
I will write other diaries about questions such as "was this a protest?", "was it a flash mob", "were we invading their space?", "were we being civically disobedient"? I will also write about the struggle to stand in the common space at the bottom of the escalator simply to talk and greet people (quite warmly and kindly, I might add.) I'm fascinated by these distinction and really enjoy exploring this.
And there is yet another diary in this idea that it is somehow okay to impose our ideas of feminism and empowerment by banning a piece of clothing. We really need to explore how you empower others. You don't do it by further infantalizing them and making decisions for them. You can stand in solidarity to protect them from harm and to amplify their voices, but beyond that you are imposing your own form of oppression.
Lots of good subject matter here and I thank you all for engaging the conversations.