where the writers are
Whose burden is the burqa?
  • Those who object to the “moving prison” say nothing about men displaying the physical assets of trophy wives in a consumerist paradise.

  If anyone is benefiting from the Islamist idea, specifically the veil, then it is the western elite or the westernised liberals among Muslims. I might have been a part of the latter given my mode of dress, speech and general deportment. I choose, instead, to play devil’s advocate. The reason is that the debate over whether a woman has the right to cover her face and body has become a western discourse. Its validity is reduced partly due to its being co-opted by an alien yardstick and partly because, ironically, it uses the religious paradigm to justify the ban on the veil.

The Quran does not prescribe it, the Prophet did not enjoin it and so on go the arguments. That is not the point anymore, and incidentally men too follow certain dress codes. It is beyond religion and one must understand that the Muslim world, and even the Arab world, is not of one kind. Therefore, discussing anything in such uniform terms reveals paucity of insight. I’d like one single commentator to discuss this issue without bringing in Islam and then let us watch the fun.


Contemporary society has many areas of darkness and every religion is rediscovering its roots. The rediscovery probably has nothing to do with the essence of the faith. The Pat Robertsons often go well with TV dinners for those rushed for time and prayer. Patriarchal paranoia too would be justified if it also took into account how non-Muslim societies choose to treat their women where they are subtly left out of mainstream political and social opinions. Why is the West obsessed only with Islam?

This is an extension of the old xenophobia. Some are upfront and brand others as terrorists or suspects; the others go the other way and play patronising angels who understand the ‘pain’ of the Muslim woman. In France, where the veil was banned on April 11, a very small percentage of its Muslim population wears the veil. Why is the rest of the female population not considered in the arguments put forth? Does the fact that some women defied the ban not reveal that they cannot be herded into an ignorant, backward stereotype?

When the Bill was first being considered Andre Gerin, a Communist Party legislator, had said, “Today, we are confronted by certain Muslim women wearing the burqa, which covers and fully envelops the body and the head like a moving prison”. His 57 colleagues had signed a document that stated it amounted “to a breach of individual freedoms on our national territory”.

Whose individual freedom is it? I may personally not wear the veil but I do not think any woman doing so is infringing on my freedom. If the religion of France is secularism, then it does not as a matter of course mean that no religious choices can be made. Secularism is not atheism. If the issue is regarding security risks, then the government must make it clear that certain checks will be mandatory, but to sneak in ethical arguments is vile.


It is also extremely offensive to question veiled women who believe they feel empowered. Like grand vigilantes, the anti-veil group thinks it is important to probe the basis of such a choice. As a stand-alone poser it is legitimate, but then how many women have access to equal opportunities in the workplace or rights even at home? Those who object to the “moving prison” and contend that male insecurity puts a wife or sister behind the burqa say nothing about men who feel secure having trophy wives and displaying them for their physical assets in a consumerist paradise.

There is a belief that the veil defines a woman completely. It does not, just as a skirt or a lipstick does not. Whether they choose to wear loose ‘tents’ or scarves with tight clothes is only one of the choices they make in life, as much as others do things to please their partners, peer groups or societal trends. The people who can ensure that no one is forced to wear what she does not want to are those who understand the construct and not imposers who come with their own moral values garbed as liberalism. A true liberal is not offended by others and most certainly not afraid that she cannot bond with a face behind a niqab. With botox and cosmetics, not to speak of public facades, what about the masks we wear?

(c) Farzana Versey


The images are posited to emphasise the exaggerated positions and draw home the point that there are several layers between the two aspects.

Published in Countercurrents, April 25, 2011

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posted to Twitter :

posted to Twitter : https://twitter.com/#!/michael_pokocky/status/62892518991343616

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Many thanks, Michael. ~F

Many thanks, Michael.

~F

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cultural choices

Farzana,

I think the uproar over the burqa is partially a p.c. cause of the moment. I don't think most people, including myself, can possibly understand the intricacies of this cultural garment. It is not just Americans (look at the French!) who view the Burqa as a strait jacket and threat to womanhood; the modern world sees it as a threat as opposed to tradition, culture and perhaps a woman's secured  position.  

If I lived in France, I'd be pissed if I was told I couldn't wear a veil, even if I'd never worn a veil. The line, "Today we are confronted by Muslim women who wear the Burqa..." angered me. Confronted by Muslim women? What? This implies they are a threat.

Nobody should tell anybody what they should or shouldn't wear, especially a government.

But isn't this the sticking point?

Jules

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...and personal

Jules:

The idea incorporated in this sort of ban assumes a uni-dimensional format for society, which is rather shackling. You are so right about the 'confrontation' aspect that is thrown up. How can any secure person/society have to always see itself in opposition to something that a person chooses? I have maintained that for security measures there must be no allowances made, but honestly we have seen how in recent times even such security measures are selective.

I find some arguments that are thrown at me about how people cannot wear bikinis in Islamic countries. It is ridiculous on two counts:

1. People do not 'dress up' in bikinis and there are beach resorts in the Middle East where women do so.
2. Islamic countries have a clear Islamic law, whether we like it or not.

Incidentally, Barcelona too has put strictures on bikinis outside beaches. And in India the rightwing parties even raid parks where couples are getting cosy. It is all about how the powerful decide.

~F

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The Powerful

Farzana,

No kidding...

"It is all about how the powerful decide."

Decide how to control women through their clothing choices.

Decide what women should or shouldn't wear based on their determination of what it represents. Decide what's morally right or wrong at the current moment.

What they are purposely overlooking is that it is the men who need to be "controlled." The sight of a woman's body is apparently too much for some men to do what's determined to be morally right by the powerful.

Frustrating.

Jules