If you thought Muslims were incapable of exercising freedom of speech, then just check out the range of sanctimony and judgment on offer on the comments section and feeds after the sharing of "Somewhere In America" on Facebook and Twitter. Like freedom of speech, the comments have not always been constructive nor measured, but granted, have added to the debate. It's been a real mixed bag of views. And that's what makes this current buzz of the past week an exciting time for Muslims trying to understand their identify in a Western and, more specifically, American context.
In contrast to that other Muslim female identity debate, that generally makes one want to cover one's face and ears with a niqab to block out the politicking by political opportunists on issues of multiculturalism, this debate feels more like an internal one, owned and produced by American Muslims for the Western Muslim community. Whoever that constitutes.
In trying to figure out whether the women depicted in the video are cool or whether cool is degrading/objectifying the Muslim female identity, we're clearly in a spin this week.
At a time when the term 'Selfie' has been officially awarded the 'Word of the Year' thanks to the Oxford Dictionary, timing for this debate couldn't be more relevant. The phenomenon of owning ones identity along side the validation it accompanies in the form of virtual likes is perhaps more in tune with the cool Hijab video made by the #Mipsterz (Muslim Hipsterz). After all, both are causing a split on what is viewed as empowering or self objectifying.
So what do I think about the video in question? I, like my Facebook pals, have shared and taken part in the debate on Facebook and Twitter. I quite enjoyed the eccelectic look on display in the video but didn't like the music, but can bypass that unfortunate choice as I focus on the debate surrounding the image.
Sana Saeed from Islamica Magazine wrote an interesting perspective but I don't fully agree with her. We all perceive things differently. For me, the video doesn't quite normalise the Hijab as much as it celebrates the beauty of an identity and it's variety. Now, if in the process things get normalised, then that's just the journey it's taking.
There is a notion that the imagery in the video clumps the Muslim female identity into one group of Hijab wearers. True, we don't all don the look, me included, but I and many others can accept that it is an identity - not an exclusive one - but a subset identity of a larger one. This subset often gets depicted and represented as a disempowering image. Just Google the Muslim woman image and go figure.
Some of the comments on social media sites have about the video have been incredibly judgemental about what equals modesty. This in itself projects a strong inference that the women taking part in the video are immodest. I'm really not a fan of most things fashion related - but that's me. However, I cannot ignore that an increasing number of Muslim girls and women are donning the headscarf here in the UK and wearing it with different styles and looks. Whatever the motivation behind wearing it, it's becoming a cultural and fashionable phenomenon. Yes, we can talk about the negatives of materialistic focus and overemphasis on body image in the video, but sometimes, you know what, let's also see it for what is can also be - creativity, colour and beauty. With an emboldened identity comes confidence.
Who defines cool? Who defines a look? Who defines Muslim women? I don't think we'll all be happy with the nature of depictions. But surely, the diversification of the definition is healthier than the monologue shared in the mainstream?