The campaign isn't confined to France. In Australia, an armed robber who used a burqa as a disguise has kicked up a political storm. In Belgium, the lower house of parliament recently voted 136-0 to outlaw veiled garments. In Italy, where face-covering has been illegal but unenforced since the '70s, a woman was just fined for the very first time. Alex Wilhelm wades through the debate:
For the Italian woman mentioned above, the fine for her attire (a steep 500 Euro) is the least of her concerns. Her husband has decided that if she cannot wear the burqa outside, then she cannot go outside. The woman is now effectively under house arrest for committing no crime. She will not be able to go outside to take a morning walk or an evening stroll. Her sentence is life in prison. [...B]anning the burqa as an ancient hulking relic of sexism can backfire and take away what modicum of freedom that these women had enjoyed previously.
Below is more commentary and firsthand experiences from readers. One writes:
I am a modern, liberal, Muslim woman who has never worn a scarf on my head, let alone burqa. There is nothing Islamic or religious about it.
There may be some idiotic women who choose to wear it because they don't want others to look at them but please, they need to grow up and be a part of western society if they want to live here. Men in Pakistan (where I am from) are crazy and often sex-deprived and I can understand why some women would want themselves covered and not get stared down by scary men in public places. My understanding is that Islam says don't attract undue attention toward yourself and dress modestly. But in western society, they are attracting undue attention to themselves by wearing this burqa. I just don't get why these people are incapable of thinking and take the Quran so literally.
One of your readers said that the burqa communicates and reinforces the idea that "women are dangerous and that they belong to men. It says 'you are allowed out of the house only if no one can see you. Only if you are invisible.'" But this is only part of what it communicates. It is not only a religious symbol, but a traditional one as well. Its traditional importance is to communicate and reinforce the idea that men are uncontrollable sexual beasts who must be kept from seeing the female form in too much detail lest he, understandably, lose control over himself and act out his desires. It's something of a preventative measure for the sake of the young woman's honor and, often times more importantly, the honor of the family.
I'm an American living in a Muslim country for over two years now and have had this explained to me by both men and women again and again, and it never makes any more sense. Otherwise respectable men will go on about how they just doesn't know what they would do if they saw an overly exposed woman, and how this is just part of our nature. My response of "You're a man, be one, control yourself," is shrugged off as naive.
As it has been explained to me in the past, feminism is not only for the improvement of the status and understanding of women, it is also for the improvement of the status and understanding of men. Men are hardly the victims in this situation, but views on masculinity are definitely linked to this issue and need to be brought up.
I live in Minneapolis and spent a lot of time during the last few years volunteering in adult basic education classrooms, where our students are primarily learning English, and many of the attending are Somali women, all wearing a burqa or hijab. The women I've worked with are smart, passionate, engaged with learning about their new country and home. Usually I'm a very cynical - came of age during the Bush years and all - but these women absolutely inspire me with their firm belief that America is about freedom of expression and opportunity. It's incredible. They don't fit the stereotype of a Muslim woman who has no identity and is indoctrinated to believe in her own subjugation. I never saw one of the shirk from a man during an argument in class. They wear their traditional dress and want to enroll in business classes. They hope their daughters go to med school. But they still hold to their religion, it's deeply important to them, and are keenly aware of the choice they're making.
This blew my mind as a young feminist in college. I was so surprised to find such strong women when I started teaching English. If a ban on burqas was ever proposed in my city, I'd be the first protester in line.
(Photo by Flickr user deepchi1)
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