Searching for our own Edward R. Murrow

Today, New York Representative Peter King held a second round of Congressional hearings concerning “Muslim radicalization in the U.S.” In an era when anti-Muslim rhetoric continues to spew unchecked from the mouths of presidential hopefuls and talking heads on cable, many others and I fear that these hearings are evidence that a new McCarthyism, one targeting Muslim-Americans, is taking root in America.

Generally, when my generation learned in school about McCarthyism in the 40s and 50s, we understood it to be a shameful period in our country’s history.  Looking back now on the McCarthy hearings, (which unfairly targeted thousands of Americans, labeling them falsely as Communists,) and the general tone suspicion that permeated our political and civil environment, we recognize that American leadership was acting in response to fears that were purposefully manufactured and inflated in order to be exploited for political gain.

But at Monday night’s GOP debate, the McCarthy hearings were referenced in quite a positive light as Newt Gingrich implied that the U.S. government should subject Muslim-Americans to the same kind of scrutiny that so-called Communist sympathizers experienced decades ago:

“We did this when dealing with the Nazis, and we did this when dealing with the Communists, and it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, ‘You know, there are some generally bad people who would like to infiltrate our country, and we have gotta have the guts to say, No.’”

In this context, as fear mongering and McCarthy-style hearings seem to be coming back in vogue, the words of Edward R. Murrow are all the more important to share and remember (see below).  Advocating for a return to reason and the abandonment of unnecessary fear, Murrow, a journalist, spoke out against the fear and suspicion encouraged by Sen. McCarthy and other public figures.  If we substitute Rep. King’s name for Sen. McCarthy’s in the following clip, Murrow could just as easily be speaking to us, the Americans of 2011, instead of the Americans of 1954.  Take a listen–let’s hope our own Murrow shows up soon.

Niqabi-American: Why one Muslim woman covers her face

This seven-minute documentary, which profiles Fazila, a Muslim-American woman who wears the face veil (niqab), is a must watch.

Many Muslims don’t agree with Fazila’s decision to wear the niqab, and I’m not even sure I do.  My hesitation is not about whether she is oppressed or is unable to express herself while covered–clearly, as you’ll see from the video, Fazila is empowered and makes her own decisions.  Rather, I am worried that wearing the niqab allows Westerners to maintain their often-misguided stereotypes about Muslim women.

Despite my concerns, I support Fazila in her choice.  It is clear that she made her decision to wear the niqab thoughtfully, fully aware of the struggles but hopeful about the benefits.  Like many Muslim women who cover–from those who show their hair while wearing long sleeves, to those who cover their hair and face–, Fazila wants to be known not for her physical beauty, but for her intellect, compassion, and good heart.  Unlike many Western women who walk around in low shirts and short shorts, she refuses to allow men to objectify her.  The Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad call upon all women to stand up to objectification.

It is fascinating to me that while the real purpose of Islamic covering is liberation (from objectification, from petty concerns about appearances), it has been interpreted in the West as quite the opposite: oppression.  Unfortunately, thanks to images of Afghani women in blue burqas or girls with missing noses, Westerners have come to associate covering with an oppressive existence for women. By learning about the real reasons why Muslim women cover, we (as non-Muslim Westerners) can begin to break the perceived connection between covering and oppression.

Many Muslim girls want to place more importance on mind and heart than on appearance; to emulate their strong and loving mothers and sisters; and to be living symbols of their faith. For Muslim girls, covering allows them to achieve these goals. Whether we as non-Muslims ultimately agree with covering or not, we must approach this issue from a new perspective and acknowledge these beautiful and admirable reasons.

In our current age, when Muslim women in America and Europe endure harsh stares and unkind words because of what they wear, I can only applaud Fazila and Muslim women for their integrity and courage.

Thanks to the blog Altmuslimah for posting the documentary “The Essence of Beauty”, created by an Altmuslimah contributor, Mahin Ibrahim.

A Muslim girl in France using her nation's flag to show her support of fellow believers who choose to wear the niqab.