Stills from 'Only in America'.
Can a veiled Muslim woman also be an American Hipster? So asks list-astic website Buzzfeed in response to a video put out by a Muslim American organisation calling itself “Mipsterz ” or Muslim Hipsters.
In the video, set to the tune of Jay Z’s somewhereinamerica (one word), and titled Somewhere In America (three words), the video features a veritable bevy of Muslim beauties who prove how non-threatening they are by wearing half-hearted hijabs, dancing, and riding skateboards in killer heels.
I understand the intention behind the video is to suggest the compatibility of Islam with western culture. Even the name of production house behind it –Sheikh and Bake- is a hybrid of west and (middle) east.
As we should all be aware, the deep distrust of Muslims in the west, with their visibly different cultural practices, predates 911. For all our celebration of individuality, our society rewards conformity, and nothing is more likely to gain you scorn and hatred than being different.
Enter the Mipsterz and their unhipster-like earnest attempt to prove that Muslim Women Are Just Like You, which of course translates to “obsessed with fashion.” But haven’t we been through this before, when we drew a collective gasp of embarrassed disbelief as the niqab-clad Emirati women in Sex and the City 2 discarded their cumbersome black cloaks to reveal the latest in ostentatious haute couture and matching bling?
Clearly, Somewhere In America aimed at starting a conversation, and that it did. Unfortunately that conversation skated over the heads of the mainstream internet audience and landed awkwardly in the midst of the Muslim community itself.
Critics of the video balked at the representation of Muslimahs as “Islamofahionistas.” This lead other Muslims to accuse them of “shaming” the girls featured in the video , which in turn caused the original critics to accuse their critics of shaming them (side note: Can we declare a moratorium on the word “shaming”, please?).
Meanwhile comments on the Buzzfeed article brought out the bigots whose contribution to the debate was outrage that anyone would dare “rebrand a regressive desert superstition” . As if Christianity and Judaism were not also desert religions but sprang from the bowels of the American Bible Belt itself.
Which brings me to Buzzfeed’s apparently serious question. Do hipsters have their own religion? No. Does the Allied Federation of Hipsters* specifically forbid Muslims from adopting their hip, trendy and intentionally ironic clothes? No.
Well then, guess what? Muslims can be hipsters!
The fact that Buzzfeed has even asked this ridiculous question just goes to show how far Muslims in the west haven’t come.
The real problem with Somewhere In America isn’t whether or not Muslims can be hipsters, it’s that it smacks too heavily on appeasement.
If we act like normal American girls, the video virtually begs, Will you like us then?
Don’t worry! This video screams. These girls may be Muslim but they are still HOT!
This element is unsurprising given that it was produced by men. In attempting to shatter stereotypes of Muslims, those men simply draw on stereotypes of American women. Seeking validation from the dominant culture, the video’s producers seem to posit that being attractive and chic is what validates women in general.
This onus on women is yawn inducing. Within Islam, pressure is exerted on women to be the “visible representatives” of their faith. And now, it seems Sheikh and Bake Productions are placing pressure on Muslim women to be the visible representatives of Islam’s ability to assimilate.
Here’s the thing we must make clear though. It is not up to Muslims to prove themselves to those who discriminate against them. It is up to America to move past its antipathy to its Muslim population and apply its own constitution, with its inconvenient mandate for “freedom of religion”, to its treatment of American Muslims.
*Not a real organisation.