While many of us were still reeling in shock over the brutal murder of veiled Essex PhD student Nahid Almanea, the reaction of one man sitting in judgment thousands of miles away was to send out a tweet suggesting it was time for a “rethink” over the issue of hijab. The timing was not only offensive but it was also highly inappropriate on several levels. After a flurry of hostile reaction Ed Hussain, for it was he, deleted his tweet. Had he said nothing more or merely apologised the matter would have ended there, but instead he then confirmed: “Yes, deleted. Debate in UK too immature to handle pluralism.”
I can’t recall anything as offensive since the late Judge James Pickles famously told a rapist that his victim had been “asking for it” by wearing a short skirt. The recalcitrant judge, who died in 2010, still tried to justify his vile statement during a heated conversation he and I had some years later.
Born in 1925, Judge Pickles was, I suppose, a victim of his cocooned Northern upbringing in a male-dominated environment during a period when women’s rights and equality barely registered in his social circles. So what’s Ed Husain’s excuse? Could it be that he continues to be influenced by the patriarchal underbelly which still pervades parts of East London’s Bengali community, where some still nurture a misogynist culture? Or could it be that he has embraced full-on the laddish culture which seems to be de rigueur for the right-wing neocon set in America?
Whatever his excuse, attempting to blame someone’s murder on the type of clothes she wore is unacceptable not only to feminists like myself, but also to men and women of faith and no faith.
Sadly, Saudi-born Nahid Almanea’s pursuit of education and subsequent emancipation and empowerment will be perceived as a threat to the patriarchal mode of social control and subordination which exists in some quarters of Saudi Arabian society. As such, comments from the boorish Mohamed Mahbub Husain, to give “Ed” his full name, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and co-founder of Britain’s infamous Quilliam Foundation, are extremely unhelpful.
Husain has probably done more to set back the cause of Muslim women’s rights around the world than any misogynistic Saudi cleric. That he failed to apologise or maintain a dignified silence after withdrawing the initial tweet displays an arrogance often associated with misogyny.
The important thing now is that the parents of Saudi girls and other overseas students don’t withdraw their daughters from universities and colleges in the West.
Hundreds of mourners turned up to pay their respects after Nahid’s body was repatriated to Al-Jouf airport in Saudi Airport; funeral prayers were said at the Khadem Al Haramain Mosque before she was laid to rest at Al-Laquait cemetery over the weekend. Outpourings of grief and messages of support have gone out online in Arabic. One read: “Goodbye… she was killed due to the hijab – and through purity she faced the sword of this reason – Goodbye… by God we are healed – and from our silence, without any shame.”
Meanwhile Colchester murder squad detectives continue the hunt for the attacker who stabbed 31-year-old Nahid 16 times as she walked to campus at 11am on the morning of June 17. Her body was still covered in an abaya and hijab when she was found, leading some to believe that she was targeted for her Islamic dress.
Essex Police say that they are keeping an open mind about a motive for Nahid’s murder but are also looking into the possibility that she was targeted due to her Muslim dress. If this was the reason for her murder, and sadly hate crimes are nothing new in today’s Islamophobic Britain, this is still no reason to pressurise women to remove their distinctively Islamic clothing.
Maybe Ed Husain can debate it on his next lad’s night out but whatever his view he should know that his opinions and views matter not a jot to most Muslims living in Britain.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.