“Hijab gates” bring out the bigots

Various newspapers have reported that two sculptures to be erected at both ends of Brick Lane in east London, a narrow street which has become a trendy hang-out place and which is supposedly full of Bengalis, have been dubbed the “hijab gates” and have become the focus of a lot of local opposition. Quoted in the Guardian, broadcaster John Nicolson objected to a supposedly specifically Muslim image being used to represent a diverse area, while one “local Muslim woman” is quoted as calling the design “divisive” and saying that it creates “a stereotypical image of Islam” and endorses “the practice of the veil that not all of us are happy with”, while another, herself in hijab, was quoted as saying:

It is a huge waste of money. There has been enough conflict and tension since Brick Lane started developing after the yuppies moved in. This looks to me like a tool of aggravation and is taking a step backwards.

A council spokesman acknowledged that the illuminated arch was meant to symbolise a headscarf, which had been part of many of the cultures which had sought refuge in east London over the centuries, giving a run-down of the many reasons for which someone can wear one. To my eyes, if it’s meant to look like a headscarf, it is not very realistic; from behind, it just looks like a metal arch with a kind of canopy behind it. I am sure many people will see it and not think it’s a headscarf, let alone a hijab, but just another pointless bit of modernist sculpture. The £2m price tag is pretty steep, and I agree with those who say the money would be better spent on rubbish collection and vermin control.

Still, it is depressing that much of the objections seem to be rooted in the fact that they supposedly look like Muslim women’s headscarves, which does not say much about what they think of Muslim women. I happen to think Muslim women in hijab look rather pretty and feminine and, whatever some of the commenters think, you cannot tell if any individual wearer is oppressed unless you ask her. I also don’t agree that we should “keep quiet” and not let any symbols of Islam be displayed lest they offend others, particularly in an area like Tower Hamlets which has such a high proportion of Muslims and which is an area where Muslims feel safe being themselves. But these are plain ugly. How can an arch of cold metal remind anyone of a woman, Muslim or otherwise? They should be opposed purely on aesthetic and financial grounds.

(More: Muslimah Media Watch.)

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