Monday, December 31, 2007

Please pass the Burka

As I contemplate the weighty consequences of holiday food-binging, I think how much I’d really like to hide it all under a Burka for at least a month. By the end of a Weight Watchers followed month, I could imerge again like a svelt butterfly from her cocoon. Danielle Crittenden of The Huffington Post wrote a four part series Islamic Like Me where
she wore a burka for a week during her daily life in Washington, D.C.
Actually, as many pointed out in the comments, she wasn’t actually wearing a burka but an abaya and a niqab, but the function was the same. She wandered around D.C. doing her shopping, riding on the subway, even bought a one-way ticket to New York that she had no intention of using, just so she could go through airport security. Everywhere she went, she was surprised by the lack of hostility she experienced. People went out of their way to either act indiferent to her or interested in speaking with her about “her culture”. However her final conclusion, really it was her viewpoint all along, was that such clothing was a symbol, much like the uniform of the Klan, and should be banned for what it symbolises.

I have a problem with banning symbols. I have a problem with office dress codes too, mainly because it involves forcing me to wear pantyhose which is way more torture in Arizona than a Burka. Workplace rules aside, forcing people to dress a certain way, or preventing them from dressing a certain way, all boils down to someone taking control over another. If I were in control, I’d like ban flip-flops. I don’t want to see your ugly feet and hear that fthp-fthp every where you go. I’m sure you don’t want to see me sweeze my fat-ass into a leather skirt and watch my belly jiggle over the waistband. While I have the fashion-sense not to, I still have the right. And you have the right to wear your flip-flops to the grocery store.

Is that a Twisted Sister Pin on your uniform?

Which is more important? Freedom of expression or freedom from oppression. Can we preserve both? Is it possible to protect the rights of those who want to wear the niquab while at the same time protecting the rights of those who don’t? Do we ban such attire in schools? How do we on one hand tell a child that this is the land of religious freedom while on the other tell her she can’t wear the headscarf? A girl in Canada was strangled to death by her father because she didn’t want to wear the hijab. Would she have been safe if there were a dress policy at her school that would have banned such covering? Or would that have given her father just another reason to pull her out of school? Maybe the answer is letting children wear the headscarf to school, while stressing to them that while they’re at school they can take it off or leave it on, it’s completely their decision.

Women in favor of the hijab have argued:
In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually, its neither. It is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of her physical person is to play no role whatsoever in social interaction.

In Islam, a woman is free to be who she is inside, and immune from being portrayed as sex symbol and lusted after.
The second concept unfortunately leads a lot of Muslim men to believe that those who don’t cover do want to be treated as sex symbols giving them the license to harrass or rape (after all men can’t control their sexual desires, oh no). And since they don’t want a whore for a wife or daughter, they force them to cover.

Banning the symbol doesn’t erase the underlying philosophy. Women who wear the hijab, whether by choice or not, are visable. We can speak with them, ask them, “do you wear that because you want to?” Girls in school can be given a little extra instruction about rights and equality. It’s far better to have these strangely dressed females out in the world where they can be exposed to ideas than hidden away. Even if that idea is that she is wearing the hijab because she wants to and is proud of it.

Now excuse me while I go find a mu’umu’u.


Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the deacon said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. What is practiced can be contrary to what is claimed. Even a casual observer of Islam will be struck that the average woman is not as free as their religious apologists claim. Not only is their dress tightly controlled but so are their social and professional lives. Their comings and goings from the home and the nature of their education are controled. In many Islamic countries their professional training and participation is restricted. While there are exceptions for those living in the west, in general women are not allowed to follow their unfettered personal and professional dreams.

Anonymous said...

You asked, "Is it possible to protect the rights of those who want to wear the niquab while at the same time protecting the rights of those who don’t?" The rights to freedom of expression and freedom from oppression are two sides of the same coin, one can't exist without the other. I may find some people's expressions in poor taste, but that is a small price to pay in return for not oppressing them or being oppressed myself.

heather said...

I agree with you completely, except on the flip flops......

Anonymous said...

Niquabs are only good for hiding food and Weight watchers meeting until they ask you to get onto that weighing scale. Too Sad, those Niquabs don't hide the weight as well as they hide islamic womens. No wonder I never find them on streets.