Jun 26, 2009

Banning the burqa is not the solution, but it's a start

French President Sarkozy recently reignited the debate over the burqa or the veil that some Muslim women wear. He said that the
...burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.
I disagree with the French president...but only with the second part of this quote. But first, let me preface my argument with my own thoughts on the the burqa, also spelled as burka and may be referred to as the hijab or the chador as well. (In this post, I am referring only to the complete head to toe burqa, with perhaps a slit or netting for the eyes. In this outfit, the face is not visible. The headscarf is something very different, and is what some women in my family back home in Pakistan wear.)

I believe that the burqa really is a construct of a misogynistic and feudal society. And there is no doubting the fact that Islamic societies have suppressed the rights of women for as long as one can remember. The cause of this evil (and it really is evil...) is not Islam, however, because Islam was meant to be the cure. In its purest form, Islamic teachings do make valiant efforts to raise the status of women, but these teachings have fallen to deaf ears. The real reason in my opinion, is illiteracy, and the fact that Islam spread like wildfire through lands that were already pagan, uneducated, and heavily misogynistic. Islam was meant to heal these ancient feudal lands of this backbreaking curse on women, but has instead become associated with women's rights violations. But that is the past, yet today things have not changed much. Therefore, in this day and age, Islamic leaders and followers deserve the blame for the imbalance of power between the sexes.

Moreover, I don't see how the burqa helps a woman as I believe it disconnects her from society at large, especially Western society. And it is unfortunate that it is mostly Western leadership that is denouncing the veil. Jack Straw, the former British foreign Minister once wrote that, "wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult". This careful statement is completely true, and besides the obvious community aspects, the head to toe covering must be unbearably uncomfortable. I can not fathom how a woman enjoys wearing something completely covering her up and is barely able to walk. It's also a safety issue. I've seen women driving with their faces covered, and its obvious to see that their peripheral vision is limited. That's just as dangerous as driving with your eyes closed.

However, even after all this, I believe it is the right of any woman to decide whether she wants to wear a burqa or not. We must recognize the fact that not all women wear the veil on their own free will. Let's not be naive here. There is immense pressure on women to wear the veil, especially if her community at large wears it. In fact most women don't even have the choice to NOT wear the veil. In these situations, both the Islamic leadership and the country in question, must provide avenues for discussion, and safety for the woman who decides against the burqa. If women choose not to wear the veil, then they should be allowed to do so, with adequate protection from their community and country. I believe the President Sarkozy should communicate with Muslim leadership in his country and convey such a point. Banning the veil outright, and imposing his belief system on another person is just plain wrong, to quote my brother.

Muslims (mostly men) around the world have been incensed with the French president's stance. They all believe that Muslim women must have the right to choose to wear the burqa. That's no problem. But these same Muslims must realize that they must provide their women with the right to NOT choose to wear the burqa as well. And that's really where the problem stems. President Sarkozy recognizes that Muslims societies are not willing to give up this stranglehold on women and what they wear. Wearing the burqa has become such an integral part of Muslim societies that people don't realize that its not an Islamic practice in the first place. And even if some sects believe that it is a integral practice, then they must allow their women the choose to wear it or not. And it is these women that must be protected. The issue isn't Jack Straw or President Sarkozy being racists against Islam, but the problem is that Islamic societies are unwilling to change and unwilling to remove the sexist policies of their uneducated, pagan past.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, but there is no such thing as being racists against Islam or anti-Islamic racism because Islam is not a race. Neither is it an ethnicity. It's a religion. By criticizing Islam you are not offending a race.