Georgian-American grandmaster Nazi Paikidze's decision to boycott the Women's World Chess Championship in Iran—due to the requirement for players to wear hijabs—has had a strange, unintended consequence on employee attendance at left-leaning media houses across the United States and Europe. Journalists and commentators who were smoking their keyboards mid-August in solidarity with every hijabi participant at the Rio Olympics, seem to be conspicuously missing at their desks, blighted by a virulent and debilitating strain of moral relativism.
If it were indeed about defending women's freedom, left-leaning media outlets would have eulogized Paikidze's choice with the same eloquence as they did a hijabi fencer's choice to cover-up.
When American Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad chose to cover up while representing the greatest democracy (arguably) in the world—where no woman is lashed at the town square for wearing less—everyone applauded her "bravado". Few on the left (if any) questioned why she chose a symbol of repression that has been forced upon millions of women in the Islamic world. And rightly so. Irrespective of one's stand on veiling, the precepts of liberalism dictate that Ibtihaj's "right to choose" supersedes such inquiry. However, Nazi Paikidze exercising her agency and choosing not to cover up in a theocratic hell-hole mysteriously robs all Iranian women of their chance to play chess, as this piece by Azadeh Moaveni seems to suggest.
In her NY Times Op-Ed, leaning precariously over the edge of a slope more slippery than the Lhotse Face of Mt. Everest, Moaveni says:
"But this kind of protest—outsiders who think they know best—is exactly the opposite of what most Iranian women want, and is at the heart of what's worst about policing how Muslim women dress."
So Paikidze's personal decision to not comply with the diktats of misogynists teleported from the 7th century, who have been policing Iranian women's attire for decades, is also an act of policing? If "most Iranian women" want forced modesty so much, then why does the regime require a full-time morality-police force patrolling the streets, using violence to ensure women are properly covered?
This latest controversy confirms what I have suspected all along—publishing articles glorifying modesty-culture as empowering, have little to do with defending a Muslim woman's right to choose. If it were indeed about defending women's freedom, left-leaning media outlets would have eulogized Nazi Paikidze's choice with the same eloquence as they did a hijabi fencer's choice to cover-up. They didn't. Which makes the Western leftist's (well meaning) romanticism of the veil nothing more than a patronizing exercise in virtue signalling.
Defending women in headscarves in the West from anti-Muslim bigotry ("Islamophobia" is a non-word) does not require pandering to Islamofascists in the East; or dismissing the agency of a White woman exercising her own freedom to choose. By failing to show solidarity with Paikidze, Western liberals have also failed the vast swaths of non-observant Muslim women like Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa, who reject the idea that a scrap of cloth defines their cultural identity.
The left's double standards on this issue sends a perilous message—that all women have an equal "right to choose", but some choices are more equal than others.
Activists like Maryam Namazie who are fighting for the rights of women in totalitarian societies, often find that liberals in the West who ought to have been their natural allies, are the first to turn their backs on their brown contemporaries. Perhaps because Namazie's horrifying stories of oppression don't conform to the victim-hood narrative the Regressive Left loves to peddle.
I have previously written about how the left's apologism and double standards on Islamism are harming the very minorities they claim to protect. Fearing that right-wing bigots will co-opt any criticism of Islamic dogma, the left has unwittingly ended up pandering to the most regressive elements within these minorities. Their pseudo-liberalism is undoing the hard-won victories of Western feminists who have struggled for decades to bring about emancipation.
The left's double standards on this issue sends a perilous (and typically Orwellian) message—that all women have an equal "right to choose", but some choices are more equal than others.