Friday, May 7, 2010

Banning the Burqa - Here we Go Again

Today Channel 9 gave me the opportunity to respond to Senator Cory Bernadi's comments on Burqa wearing crime. Of course, of my seven great 6 second grabs, they took just two - and neither contained much information. Newstainment. Here is the fuller version of what I wanted to say.
The common Australian attitude is – why would anyone want to wear a burkha?
Muslim women are only wearing it because they must have been forced, as no one in their right mind would voluntarily wear such a thing. Combined with a general fear of the unknown, and the exotic, fearful, terrifying aspect of Islam, Australian politicians see it as their duty to remove such an affront to personal dignity by following the European example and banning the burkha.

The burqa is confronting. Facing a female who deliberately hides almost all aspects of their personality, their features and their identity can be quite threatening. As social beings, we have so many subtle ways of communicating with each other – the clenched jaw, the relaxed smile, the awkward pose. So much of our character is displayed and our message is communicated unwittingly through tell-tale traces on our face and in the positioning of our body. The burqa conceals all of this, which makes it very difficult to respond – it’s a one way conversation. Defenders of the burka liken it to talking to someone on the telephone. In reality though, you are talking TO the telephone – an inanimate object, without the benefit of focussing all one’s attention on the nuances of a voice. Instead, talking to a burqa dressed woman is like talking to a large telephone with a distant slightly muffled sound.

I remember once at a festival where a friend of mine was greeting a burqa clad woman, who turned to me and said my name. I had no idea who she was – and peered a little confused at her eyes trying to find anything that would help me recall this person. After introducing herself, I realised that she was an old friend, a former student that I had known from the time she was a little girl. It made me wonder how children coming out of school could know who their mothers were in places where the burqa was common. Did they tune in to the voice, or did they size up the overall shape and run hopefully in that direction?

It is generally assumed that most women who wear the burqa are either extremist, or under the oppressive command of extremist interpretations of Islam. Enlightened study of the Quran and Hadith does not provide any evidence that the burqa was ever a religious requirement, unlike the hijab or head cover which is generally worn in a similar fashion to early Christian teaching. It is interesting to note that the SBS interviews tonight, of women wearing the burqa, clearly indicated that it was mostly worn by Muslim converts. Although they wear it by choice, many of them are extremely vulnerable – forming a type of 'ethnic' minority within a minority religion and culture. They are often distant from their Australian families and former friends, and are frequently given limited information about Islam by their husbands who exercise considerable control over them. Banning the burqa would almost certainly result in their husbands further limiting their access to moving outside of the house, and deny them any opportunity to discover the limited support services that are available.

Australian politicians are talented at falling straight into extremist traps. When short of publicity and out of the limelight – making a comment on either the hijab, migrants or – better still – asylum seekers – is sure to gain an immediate audience! As soon as they open their mouths about the burkha, they colour themselves in Islamophobia, thereby legitimising extremist claims that Australia is an Islamophobic society. Fortunately there is no impending election and politicians from all sectors clearly disagreed with Senator Bernadi’s poor attempt at publicity today.

I must agree with him thoguh, that the issue of covering the face when entering a post office or bank is an issue. Helmets and balaclavas are forbidden, but the burqa is still allowed. This is obviously not consistent. Although it is not the only area where the law seems to be duplicitous, it would be beneficial to discuss this disparity in a more constructive and less aggressive environment than simply forcing different clothing on adult citizens.

In my opinion, Australian Muslim women fall into a number of different categories. Those who arrived here earliest still carry their comfortable cultural habits from home. Like the old Italian ladies of yesteryear, they wander the streets of Lakemba and Auburn with floral scarves tied under their chins, clutching their shopping bags. There is no rhyme or reason in changing their fashion sense – it will die out with this passing generation, just as the old ladies with blue and purple rinsed hair no longer walk the streets as they did in my youth. The second and more particularly the third generation of Australian Muslim women have looser ties to their homeland, are far more educated and definitely more opinionated than their elders. They tend to dominate their menfolk more than vice versa which is why so many men try and find their wives from overseas. No one tells these Aussie Muslim girls what to wear. They usually wear the hijab as both a statement of their personal beliefs as well as a strong fashion statement. If they choose to wear the burqa, it is out of sincere religious conviction and no one should stand in their way and tell them not to - any more than Goths and Emos should be prohibited (even if they do frighten children).

My final comment on this topic is this – if Aussie men do not want Muslim women to be oppressed and have their husbands tell them what to wear – why are they doing exactly the same thing?? Leave us alone and let Muslim women wear their fabrics as they creatively desire.


AndrewBartlett said...

Good piece Silma. It's a pity Muslim women aren't given the main running on this debate, rather than just having to react to politicians chasing the bigot vote.

This piece by Shakira Hussein is worth a read too:

Anonymous said...

Hello. I read the speech made by Fautmeh Ardai today, and was distressed because it told me that be cause I am Australian and embrace Western values, I am flawed and inferior to those who choose to follow Islam.

Was this intended to be inflammatory?

Please think how this makes your fellow Australians feel, and try to convince those who choose the Muslim religion to show the same tolerance as Hindus and Christians.

TerjeP (say tay-a) said...

I think you're pretty spot on in terms of the arguments you have put here. The comments (including mine) on the related blog article by Cory Bernardi are worth a read.

naïvetéebylydia said...

Hello my name is Lydia, I am a year 12 student doing a Personal Interest Project for a subject called Society and Culture and this is very much in line with what I am doing. In fact, I am researching women who have converted to Islam. In our research we have to interview appropriate people and you would be absolutely perfect if you are willing. Please let me know
Thank you

Anonymous said...

I'm really very proud of this. I ask you to go to the Azhzr in Egypt we need to show them the true life of our messenger Mohamed not the false things they hear in media, the Azhar will be very useful, I'm from Egypt if you need any help from me.