Journal Entry

Monday, May 10, 2010

Editorial Cartoon

Having been caught unawares by the minaret ban, I did not want to make the same mistake now that the same losers are talking about banning burqas.

Once again, the official political center is against it, and it would be easy to be lulled into regarding it as a far-right publicity stunt. But it is a far-right publicity stunt that could easily win. The most galling thing is the SVP and the neo-nazis piously claiming that it's feminism that motivates them, and not hatred of Islam, brown people in general, and people who look funny to them in even more general.

Because, after all, nothing says "feminism" like demanding that women remove their clothing until you are happy about the way they look, right?

Posted by benrosen at May 10, 2010 12:05 PM | Up to blog
Comments

Oh, ouch.
Good thing she's wearing track shoes.

I have to admit, I'm torn on this issue. It's painfully clear that righting a sexist wrong is not the SVP's real motive. On the other hand, I wonder if anyone would really choose to wear a burka if they hadn't been pressured since puberty to do so. I don't like the way it removes their individuality. That bothers me. On the other hand, if someone suddenly passed a law that said I wasn't allowed to wear a top at the Badi in the summer because men don't, I'd be very uncomfortable.

In any case, I think another ban is the last thing we need.

Sorry you can't make it to the SCBWI do. Lucky for me, it's in Bern! :)

(You put this guy in short pants just so you could draw all those creepy little hairs on his legs, didn't you! Igit!)

Posted by: Susan at May 12, 2010 03:51 PM

I think you're right to try getting in front of this, because it seems to me that the number of misapprehensions necessary to reach an anti-burqa position is at least _countable_.

(In contrast to feeling threatened by... architecture.)

Posted by: jamesG at May 12, 2010 04:50 PM

I am suddenly imagining an "I am Sparticus" rally with everyone wearing burkas coming to a Swiss public square... assuming that hasn't already been organized.

Posted by: jamesG at May 12, 2010 04:56 PM

I read an editorial a few years back in praise of the veil by a Japanese woman married to a Saudi man. There was a giant hole in her argument, namely, that for her the veil was a choice, and for women in a lot of countries it isn't, but nonetheless she was clearly sincere, and I don't feel comfortable arrogating the right to make her choices for her.

A lot of us on the left seem to have the idea that if we ban the veil, we'll start seeing these women's faces in the street. I think it's at least as likely that we'll stop seeing these women leave the house at all -- an outcome I suspect the right would be perfectly happy with.

Posted by: David Moles at May 13, 2010 08:44 AM

Obviously I would be even more against a law requiring burqas than a law banning them... and I have mixed feelings about, say, Turkey's laws against the veil, since that was a Muslim country making a decision to reengineer its own relationship to its traditional clothing, and perhaps a necessary historical step to break an institutionalized requirement of purdah. I have no mixed feelings about the issue in Switzerland -- a country in which there has never been external legal pressure to wear the veil -- about Swiss Christians telling Muslims what to wear, which boils down to men telling women to take their clothes off -- and, as David says, in which the right would be perfectly happy if the women who are supposedly being forced to wear burqas would just be forced to stay home instead.

Susan, you are correct about the leg hairs. :-)

It is hard to know whether anyone would or wouldn't wear a burqa if they hadn't been pressured since puberty to do so, just as it is hard to know what Western dress habits, makeup, plastic surgery, and dieting would look like without our own toxic pressures of adolescence. That list sounds like it's a sharper critique of women's dress habits than men's, but Western men's timidity and numbness with regards to adornment is equally distorted as Western women's being forced into early and constant sexual display.

I suspect however that if we were really all totally free of such psychological damage, wearing a burqa and going naked would be equally attractive and unremarkable options depending on mood, weather, and how introverted we were feeling that day.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 14, 2010 09:55 AM

Sorry, I meant I had mixed feelings about the burka issue, not the vote issue. The vote is ludicrous, especially because the real reasons the SVP are pushing for it are all the wrong ones. And we also came to the same conclusion as David; it's not that those women would take the burkas off, they would just be no longer willing or allowed to leave the house.

I take your point about the over-sexualization of western society (did you see the Tesco scandle a couple of years ago? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1895575/Tesco-accused-over-padded-bra-for-7-year-olds.html

but the de-personing of the Burkas makes me just as uncomfortable.
So, I'm a total ignoramus; what are the consequences of not wearing a burka? How do they compare to refusal to wear the make-up/necktie/whatever that most western society demands?

Posted by: susan at May 15, 2010 08:28 AM

Good Lord, that Tesco thing is sick.

I am hardly an expert on burqa-wearin', but I would hazard that the consequences vary widely. There are certainly totalitarian regimes, like the Taliban, in which not wearing a burka (or, for men, not wearing a beard) is enough to get you killed. There are certainly less extreme places where nonetheless wearing "only" a headscarf is grounds for social ostracism and harassment (but then, exposing more flesh than the local standard also produces social ostracism and harassment in American, and probably Swiss, high schools).

Among the 100 women or so in Switzerland who wear burqas, it's conceivable that some have abusive husbands who would beat them or kill them, or not let them leave the house, if they refused to wear the burqa. There are undoubtedly vastly more white Swiss women with abusive husbands who are going to beat them for refusing to get boob jobs, or (contrariwise) for dressing too "slutty".

There may also be, I can well imagine, among those 100 burqa-wearers, some whose husbands are embarrassed and anxious about all the harassment from Swiss people that they are attracting, and who would love their stubborn wives to tone it down a little, and whose wives say "the hell with that, you loser, I am proud of who I am and I'm damned if I'm going to start parading around like those Western bimbos just because you're scared."

Recently I read a book about Bosnian Moslem teenagers growing up in Switzerland, and one girl was talking about wearing a headscarf. In her family, she said, no one would make you wear a headscarf if you didn't want to; indeed, you decided yourself when you were ready. But that decision meant choosing to be a grown up woman, and a grown up woman of a particular sort: it meant choosing to be like your mom, choosing a set of values which she, at least, associated with integrity, clarity, and safety. She chose to wear a headscarf for the same reason she chose not to get drunk and laid at the parties she tagged along with her Western friends to; and the headscarf helped reinforce those decisions, and probably to warn off the date rapists. And you could tell how tired she was of the question "do your parents make you wear it?"

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 15, 2010 04:51 PM

It seems to me that anyone truly wishing to help women who feel trapped in suppressive relationships is outreach and inclusiveness.

If women feel a part of society at large, if they know they have options (e.g. battered women shelters), then they can take what actions they themselves feel necessary. Such outreach is not necessarily the easiest thing to accomplish, but I fail to see a better option.

Targeting burqa wearing is merely chaining together many assumptions about what their life is and what they want it to be. And it may only reinforce that they are not welcome in that society, which won't help anything.

Posted by: jamesG at May 15, 2010 05:39 PM

Susan, I don't know you, and I don't even know where you're writing from. I assume it's Switzerland?

Here in Minneapolis in the U.S.A., most of the Muslim women I know wear Hijab-style or Chador rather than Niqaab-style or full burka (although I've certainly seen women in Niquaab), so perhaps my perception is different, but I don't see how them dressing in their traditional cultural way takes way their individuality or de-persons them.

Here is a video that shows what I see every day:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNnKpLAHPJI

As you can see as the video continues, the young woman in the video does not feel pressured to cover her hair all the time, but even if she did, I am still confused by your objection.

I will admit I am quite ignorant about Islam, and although I get along just fine with my neighbors and speak often with Muslim women who are parents of my kids' classmates, I don't have any close friend who covers herself like this. So perhaps I am being naive.

And I am not going to pretend that some deeply sexist societies don't use the burka as a way to control women -- Saudi Arabia, areas controlled by the Taliban, etc.

But in a Western society, a woman who chooses to wear burka, hijab, or chador -- and _especially_ niquaab -- seems to me a brave woman who wants to honor her culture and be true to herself, not the other way around.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Haddayr at May 17, 2010 05:00 AM
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