Saturday, 17 July 2010

On the Burqa ban, again

I’ve spoken about this before, but it seems to be an issue that, sadly, keep raising up so I’m going to set my words out again. I’m going to try to avoid repeating myself but it’s hard because my opinion hasn’t really changed and I covered most of it then.

I think burqa bans are, frankly, racist, xenophobic and islamaphobic (assuming that’s a word) and the arguments used for them, even the well meaning ones, seem awfully hollow to me.

The classic argument is that the ban liberates women. That these women are oppressed and forced to wear these garments. They should be liberated! They should resist patriarchal forces pushing them into these uncomfortable and constraining clothing types! Now pass the stiletto heels, miniskirts and breast squeezing wonder-bras (sorry, excess snark got in the way).

I can’t help but hearing “Predominantly brown women, you are being controlled and oppressed by your menfolk telling what you can and cannot wear! So we, predominantly white male-lead governments will tell you what you can and cannot wear instead! Embrace the freedom!”

Which strikes me a little like fucking for virginity.

Do I think that burqas are oppressive? Do I think the idea that a woman must hide vast swathes of her body for fear of tempting the naughty naughty men is very wrong? Do I think that and idea of modesty that demands such coverage to be excessive and limiting and shaming? Yes, yes on all counts. But then, I also think that if a woman decides she doesn’t want to show her body/hair/face/whatever then she shouldn’t be required to and it is extremely oppressive to force that exposure. We can argue that NOT wanting to show one’s face is a sign of internalised oppression… but that’s a difficult path to walk.

Can you go to someone who is margianlised and tell them that their actions and choices are contributing to and caused by their marginalisation? Yes, I think you can – but it’s a difficult and wary path and nearly impossible to do well, especially since you are telling someone you know their motives and reasons better than they do. More, do I think white and male people can go to brown women and tell THEM that their choices and decisions are due to marginalisation? Can that be done without it sounding imperialistic and patronising as hell? No. I really don’t think it can. And that goes to beyond impossible to the outright ridiculous when those same men decide to ban the burqa for these women’s own good.

Are there many women wearing the burqa who would probably rather not? Yes. Is there a culture of devaluing and shaming women that the burqa may be a part of? I think a good case can be made. So make it. Campaign, educate, debate, spread the word, have forums, speak to the women, speak to muslims, speak to moderate scholars, speak to female ex-muslims.

But looking upon a group you deem to be oppressed and “fixing” that by ordering them NOT to be oppressed (while being oppressors yourselves) just doesn’t feel like any kind of solution.