I first thought of this issue a few years ago, but I don’t think I’ve discussed it on this blog before. So I thought I’d bring it up and see what y’all think about it.
And a disclaimer: I’m doing my best to write things in a non-offensive way and to make sure my facts are correct, but I don’t know much about the Muslim world at all, so if I mess up, I’m sorry. If I’m wrong about something, feel free to call me out on it.
(Recently, on a chat app my phone, I spoke to a guy who grew up in Saudi Arabia and now lives in the UK. I had never spoken to a Saudi person in my life. I said, “I’ve heard X, Y and Z about Saudi Arabia, are those things true?” He confirmed they were and said I was, for an American, “surprisingly well-informed” about Saudi Arabia. Which is really depressing when you think about it because I don’t know much about the country at all. I can name three cities there: Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah. The first two I know about only because they’re famous in the history of Islam, the third I know about only because I read a novel set there. So it’s not that I am well-informed about Saudi Arabia or Muslim issues at all, it’s just that everyone else knows even less than I do. In a blind world, the one-eyed man is king. But moving right along…)
I have an idea about APs for a very specific subset of people: Muslim girls who were taken by a non-custodial parent and are believed to be now living in a Muslim-majority country where the girls and women generally wear some form of the hijab.
I don’t know much about the hijab, but I know there are different types of covering and in a few countries (like Saudi Arabia) women are legally required to wear them, and in other countries it’s just sort of the done thing, a cultural expectation to dress in this way. But I’m not trying to talk about whether a Muslim girl or woman should or should not wear the hijab. What I’m actually thinking is this:
In the countries I’m talking about, the girls and women will usually wear, at minimum, a scarf on their head, and in most cases the scarf covers most or all of their hair. They’ll wear this pretty much all the time they’re out in public. So why, when the NCMEC makes APs for these girls, do they not show that scarf?
Sarah Molouk Amiri, for example, is believed to be in Iran, where the hijab is required by law and just about every female wears some form of head covering even if it doesn’t completely conceal their hair. My Google image search for “Iranian women” turned up a lot of photos of women in various scarves; many of these women wore scarves that covered most or all of their hair, and also their neck up to the chin. Yet Sarah’s latest AP (done four years ago) shows her wearing no headscarf, and her entire neck and parts of her collarbone were also uncovered in the picture. I find it hard to believe that a woman living in Iran, even a super-modern cosmopolitan city girl, would ever dress that way in public. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to show an AP of Sarah dressed in the clothing worn by the females of the country where she’s supposed to be?
And that’s just one example. There are many family abduction cases where the girls are thought to be living in countries where some form of hijab is commonly worn in public. And the NCMEC, when it makes APs for them, NEVER shows them in Islamic clothing. One time, years ago, do an AP of a missing girl who was supposedly in Pakistan, and it did show her wearing a headscarf, which is what made me suddenly realize that this was an issue. They never made another one like it, and when they updated this particular girl’s AP a few years later, the scarf disappeared.
The obvious counter-argument to the “have them wear a scarf in the picture” is that it’s necessary for the APs to show the girls’ hair and neck etc., so we can better see what they look like. And also that if they added a scarf to the picture, people would be distracted by it and be focusing on the scarf rather than the girl/woman’s face.
But the thing is, if they’re living in a country where the hijab is required by law or where nearly all women wear some form of it, literally no one in public is going to see these girls’ hair and neck and collarbones and what have you. So it doesn’t help show what the girl looks like. As for distracting from the focus on the girl’s face, you could argue that, if, say, an Iranian person was looking at Sarah Amiri’s AP, that person might get distracted by the exposed hair and neck and collarbone.
Anyway… So what do you think of my idea? I’m especially interested in hearing from any Muslims in the audience.