Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Banning the burqa

An article by British journo Nesrine Malik was reproduced in today's Dominion Post, and is one of the most convincing I've read on the troubling issue of burqa banning. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/7896536/Burka-ban-Why-must-I-cast-off-the-veil.html

Reduced to its simplest, her argument is that banning the burqa is as oppressive as the Islamic law that forces women to wear it in the first place. What makes her case especially compelling is her account of how she felt when, at the age of 18, she moved with her family from London to Saudi Arabia, and was forced to cover herself head to toe in shapeless black before the plane landed.

She found the experience "humiliating, violating, dehumanising". What's more, once she was veiled, her body language immediately became apologetic, withdrawn, subdued. She felt infantilised. The garment was hot and uncomfortable in 45 degree heat, and made public eating and drinking difficult.  

And yet ... she grew to appreciate it. She argues for its "charming egalitarianism" - the way it does away (on the street, anyway) with social status and beauty. I don't buy this one - the veil only works this way by differentiating women from men and dumping them together in the same under-class. Hardly a grand equaliser.

What I do buy is that banning laws probably spring from a rancid mixture of "Islamaphobia, busy-bodying feminism and resurgent nationalist sentiment", and that there's little to be gained from forcing women out of the burqa. Whatever the "disease" that causes women to don it, that particular "cure" is worse. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. Full-face veils are actually not very uncommon around here - I just see them as a rather pretentious, attention-seeking hairstyle. The whole concept of banning them strikes me as absurd. If you can lawfully attend a Test Match dressed as the Pink Panther, or run the London Marathon disguised as a chicken, why can't you swan around Selfridges dressed up as a Bedouin? Especially if you are one, or your Grandma was.