Burqa or not burqa, THAT is the question.

Posted: October 3, 2014 in Popular Culture et al, Religion
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In the very recent past, Dear Reader, we have been vocal about the right of Muslim women to wear whatever they want. And to be free from abuse or violence for doing so.

This is in recognition of the facts of basic civil liberties, and of religious respect.

We don’t abuse Jews for wearing the kippah, do we? Many religions that originated in the middle east proffer wearing a head covering as a mark of respect to God, the idea being that something then separates man or woman from God – a physical barrier signifying a spiritual relationship. Within living memory, women typically wore a hat when attending Church. Many Christian groups … the Amish, for example, or various eastern European orthodox groups … wear hats habitually, and/or headscarves for women that look pretty much exactly the same as the hijab of Muslim women.

We are not entirely sure why historically men didn’t used to wear hats in Christian Churches, although we can guess. Patriarchy is a powerful and persistent force in society. It co-opts any excuse to place women in a slightly different position to men, and usually inferior.

 

Note this graphic is called "Muslim headgear" and then goes on to say that the religion doesn't mandate some of it. A classic example of the confusion surrounding this issue. In any event, this is a helpful graphic for those wanting to understand the names of the various pieces of clothing.

Note this graphic is called “Muslim headgear” and then goes on to say (with the Chador, for example) that the religion actually doesn’t mandate it. A classic example of the confusion surrounding this issue. In any event, this is a helpful graphic for those wanting to understand the names of the various pieces of clothing being discussed in the media.

 

The key point being that it is not only religion that dictates the clothing issue, it is culture. Religion is frequently co-opted to justify cultural norms. In fact, the religious norm that is frequently promoted is that somehow a woman’s eyes, face or body are inherently sinful, and likely to excite men to behave inappropriately. Or in other words, blaming half the species for the other half of the species’s inability to control itself.

The same logic used to lead the Victorians to cover the legs of grand pianos with cloths because they were too reminiscent of – horror! – womens’ shapely legs.

What we cannot understand is why so many on the left of politics will not tackle the issue of the burqa – the all body and head covering where the woman must look out from behind a grill or flap of cloth that emanates from Afghanistan – which has NOTHING to do with religion.

But it has everything to do we male patriarchy and bullying. If you doubt that assertion, try being an uncovered woman walking the streets of “liberated” Afghanistan if you agree. You might get away with it in parts of Kabul, in the rest of the country you will be abused, beaten or worse. The same is true of some areas (mainly in the country) in other states.

 

We think demanding women wear particular clothing in public is morally wrong, wherever the demand comes from. In Islamabad, for example, any woman attending the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca must now wear the burqua. Are we racists for saying we don't think women should be forced to wear a particular item of clothing to be allowed to be seen in public? We don't think so.

We think insisting that women wear particular clothing in public is morally wrong, wherever the demand comes from. It is the INSISTENCE we think is wrong, not the wearing of the item, whatever we may think of it. In Islamabad, for example, any woman attending the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca must now wear the burqua. Are we racists or culturally insensitive for saying we don’t think women should be forced to wear a particular item of clothing to be allowed to be seen in public? We don’t think so.

 

Here’s the question: in order to be “accepting” of people’s freedoms, why do we in the West (or in secular Muslim countries in the Middle East or Asia, for that matter) have to accept all cultural constructs as equally valid?

As an extreme example to make a point, we wouldn’t accept the right of some isolated rainforest tribe to continue with cannibalism after they came in contact with modern society … would we?

The burqa is medieval, and inappropriate in any society, let alone a pluralist Western one. We should be making that case strongly and sincerely to men (in particular) in our communities that originate in that area, and we should be encouraging women to speak up for themselves if they do not wish to wear it, if they can do so safely. The very fact that we have to add “if they can do so safely” makes the point, does it not?

Meanwhile, bleeding heart liberals and ignorant commentators continue to conflate religion and culture as if they were the same thing. They are not. We should be doing everything in our power to convince everyone in the world that our modern, feminist view of the role and presentation of women is the right model for women and for society as a whole.

Remember the same patriarchal cultural constructs that lead to the burqa in Afghanistan also result in the disgrace of honour killings (which are, by the way, most emphatically not limited to Muslims), to stonings of women accused of adultery (frequently as a way to get rid of an unwanted wife), to a persistent likelihood of being raped (or worse) merely for walking outside unaccompanied by a male, and also the savagery of female circumcision. Or as it should be called, female genital mutilation.

And yes: what should also be said is that virtually no women in Australia wear the burqa, and relatively few in Europe or America, too, although it is seen in pockets of cities with large numbers of immigrants from the areas where it is de rigeur. And yes, therefore, talking about it endlessly nowadays is part of a generalised distrust of “the other”, and at the moment, the “other” that concerns us most is Muslims, sadly.

But as we’re talking about it, we may as well talk about it. Or perhaps we approve of societies where women are banned from driving? That’s not in the Holy Koran, either.

 

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