'I've told you, as soon as you get to the station in Paris, take off your hijab.'
When you're a hijabi, any terrorist attack makes a worrier out of the people who care about you. My mum - who wanted me to take my scarf off 10 years ago when I first donned the apparel because she worried I'd not find a husband (she might be right) - now tells me to take it off because she thinks I'll come home one day bruised and bloody. My rather fearless sister, who's generally of the notion that there's nothing a punch in the face can't fix, for the first time in my life said I should reconsider my plans. My friend who's braved Afghanistan in the middle of a war says she's getting anxiety about my trip. Quite.
Since the horrific attacks last Friday I've seriously been thinking about what my hijab means. I first wore it because I believed it was the spiritual thing to do. After many years, a little more knowledge and a diverse group of friends I wonder how spiritual the practice actually is. A lot of people throw around the word 'modesty.' Anyone who knows me will know that I'm a poor example of modest behaviour. So, if I took it off what would I really be stripped of? I don't think my spirituality would take much of a hit. If I did throw caution to the Parisian wind and just let my hair down it's suggested the world would be a safer and less contentious place for me: conformity generally is non-contentious.
But to what would I be conforming? I have this vague notion of freedom slipping through my fingers, of being goaded into a windowless corner of a dim-lit room. Taking the hijab off might not be an affront to God (though I'm a bit sketchy on that so don't take my word for it) but it would be an affront to the idea that we should be able to live the way we choose.
Also, as a woman, I'm probably more vulnerable to an attack than a Muslim bearded man for sheer lack of a strong right hook - mine is awfully feeble and nothing like my sister's - and so I'm insulted that as well as constantly worrying about being sexually harassed when I'm coming home late at night, I now also have to worry about an Islamophobe popping out of a dark alley, walking past me on the tube, sitting near me in a restaurant and potentially calling me names, or maybe even throwing a glass bottle at me. I guess it depends on when the last terrorist attack was to determine the intensity of a personal attack. Terror breeds terror indeed.
Perhaps my hijab has become a political thing. A polite, but firm, f*** you to people who think cowering is the conclusion to intimidation. Also, it'd be very defeatist to take it off now. I'm too young to be defeated and too old to relent.
In any case, my atheist (I mention his non-faith leanings because it seems to be so important nowadays) colleague and friend once promised me that he'd always have my back when I prayed. (For anyone who's ready to comment that I wouldn't afford him the freedom to not pray were our social roles reversed, I suggest you get some therapy because you clearly weren't given enough love as a child.
Alternatively, maybe take up an Islamic course that actually teaches you about the religion you loathe so much - you might be pleasantly surprised.) I'm banking on the idea that there are more people like him in the world. So, one could call continuing to wear the scarf an act of hope - hope in the best of humanity. We could do with more of that. It's the thing that gives us all what we need most right now: gumption.
That's why I've decided to keep a weekly account of my month in Paris. I want to know, first-hand, how hope and gumption fare in the grieving city that sparkles.Suggest a correction