Olympians competing in full-Muslim garb are far from 'liberated'

The Rio Olympic Games are the site of the latest display of cultural relativism by so-called liberals, who are allying up with conservative Islamists and trying to convince us that, somehow, female athletes competing in full-Muslim garb is a victory for diversity and freedom.

The obligatory “viral” picture doing the rounds last week is of the Egyptian and German female volleyball teams facing off, with the Egyptian competitors dressed in hijab, leggings and long sleeves, covering their bodies head to toe according to Islam's dress code.

Instead of being outraged, the Egyptians -- who were thumped by their European competitors -- felt the need to cover up even their forearms to play a beach sport, liberals thought the spectacle marvelous.

The Egyptians “won a greater victory,” proclaimed the Eurosport coverage.

It “attest[s] to the way sports bring people together and promote acceptance,” wheezed The Huffington Post.

NY Times op-ed writer Roger Cohen asked “Who is to say which of the women is more conservative, more of a feminist or more liberated? We do not know.” (Yes we do, Roger.) Twitter was full of gasping adulation as users cited it as an example of diversity and choice.

That’s right – those who recoil in horror when Christian parents object to their 12-year-olds being put on the Pill without their knowledge are now pretending it’s normal to compete in an athletic sport in near-100 degree heat covered head to foot.

Even closer to home, politicians and media voices have been breathlessly praising fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad for being the first American competitor in a hijab. Hillary Clinton was ecstatic.

This is fencing -- a sport in which you already wear a full-body suit for protection and a helmet, under which it gets mighty hot. No qualms from so-called feminists that many, if not most, Muslims think that suit and helmet aren’t modest enough for a woman?

It is astounding to watch cultural relativists on the left force themselves into pretzel-like contortions to argue women covering themselves up, often under enormous pressure from regressive and repressive Islamic cultures, is a victory for choice and empowerment. Using the language of 21st century human rights to defend 14th century-style oppression is ludicrous. It is sad to see this kind of nonsense infecting American discourse.

Someone genuinely dedicated to the cause of freedom would point out that often this has little to do with choice -- an athlete from a conservative Muslim country wearing the standard beach volleyball attire would be signing their own death warrant. Conservative Islamic cultures in which slitting your own daughter’s throat is more “honorable” than allowing her to marry the wrong man has little tolerance for “choice” or women’s rights.

That is not to say many of these women aren’t brave, or working well with the hand they are dealt. Saudi Arabia’s Kariman Abuljadayel last week became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the 100-meter sprint, along with Afghanistan's Kamia Yousufi, who was also dressed in a claustrophobic bodysuit.

Aug. 12, 2016: Saudi Arabia's Kariman Abuljadayel competes in a women's 100-meter heat during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Aug. 12, 2016: Saudi Arabia's Kariman Abuljadayel competes in a women's 100-meter heat during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP)

Both failed to qualify. Saudi society, in particular, is one of the most repressive societies on Earth, and it was only in 2012 when its female athletes were allowed to compete. These women have no doubt fought tough battles to get to where they are.

But the ridiculous garb they are forced to wear in order to be able to compete is not a representation of freedom, but the symbol of the chains with which such countries and backward beliefs still shackle women. Western feminists are right to encourage such women, but should be helping them cast those chains aside -- not holding them up as a perverse symbol of freedom.