Monday, 2 August 2010
The Burka - Why I changed my mind.
After initially making clear my dislike for all things burka and hijab related, which, as it happens, I stand by, I have decided in hindsight that I was somewhat guilty of jumping upon the "ban the burka" bandwagon in my assumption that all women who do wear such garments are by default forced into doing so. That is not to say that there isn't a great deal of merit in that position: there are, undoubtedly, a number of women who are forced into the burka (with the threat of Koranically sanctioned violence should they refuse); and it is also at least as important to frame the debate in terms of a lifting of an already existing ban on women leaving the home uncovered - a ban imposed by male family members and gruesome elderly clerics - as it is to simply view the debate as about the freedom to wear what one wishes. However, it has became apparent to me that those often shouting the loudest for a burka ban were never really those for whom women's rights had figured as an overly important issue in the past. I became aware in my periphery of those who only saw fit to adopt the mantra of women's rights when the perpetrators of abuse became Muslim men. The company one finds one's self keeping is not a reason in itself to dismiss an argument, but it does give one grounds to question the logic behind the the wish to ban what, however repulsive, is in the end merely an item of clothing.
The Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, has recently been calling for a ban on the burka after coming to the realisation that, in his words, "We are not a Muslim country...to many people [the burka is] both intimidating and offensive." The problem with Mr Hollobone's argument is thus: he may indeed have a point; the burka is somewhat "offensive". The notion that I, as a man, might be "tempted" to attack a women because she is not adequately covered, is one of the ideological tenets behind the burka: the vile notion espoused by clerics with a penchant for comparing women with uncovered meat. I don't think I am stretching the boundaries of self-pity too far to say that yes, I am offended by that. However, lots of things are offensive. One might claim that the point of free expression is the right, as Orwell put it, "to tell people what they do not want to hear", or, as he might have added for good measure (if it had sounded half as good), to wear what people do not wish to see worn.
Are we to start legislating for those "offended" by transvestites? And judging by Mr Hollobone's House of Commons voting record, (he voted very strongly against equal gay rights,) maybe he's closer in some of his ideas to the religious ideologues who promote the burka than he may think.
No Mr Hollobone, we are not "a Muslim country", and fortunately, barely any longer a Christian one; fortunate that is for those who you wish to deny the right not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.
That is not to say that those defending the burka come away from the debate looking any better. It takes only a little time browsing the blog comment boxes before one comes across a view held by many on the opposing side of the argument that women are "liberated" when wearing a burka because they no longer feel "pressured" into donning make-up and mini skirts; "forced" into doing so as they are by "social conditioning" and "peer pressure". Aside from the astoundingly patronising tone of such arguments, from the (mostly) men that come out with such garbage, one senses a profound insecurity around the idea of women as sexual beings. It is hard not to be reminded of those who carry with them like an over-sized chip on their shoulders an inflated Madonna/whore complex, ready to manifest itself at any time in a hatred of attractive women who they will impassionately crow look "generic", "fake" or are "bitches", all the while attempting to repress the secret desire they harbour to sleep with those same women, resulting in creepy outbursts and casual misogyny.
Aside from the quite obvious fallacy that women are somehow "forced" into making themselves attractive, add to that the missing of the point on an impressive scale by the total ignorance shown towards those women who really do know what force is - those who's husbands and boyfriends regularly use physical force in order to prevent them leaving the house in "revealing" clothing. I am unaware that the tactic of the insecure and jealous man has ever been to force a woman into going out with her friends in smaller outfits.
It would seem that just as it is not possible to patronisingly view all women as "forced" into make-up and mini skirts, it is perhaps necessary to admit that some women do indeed wish to cape themselves in black bags and live as chattel, however unpleasant and alien that may seem. Criminalising those who do so will unlikely affect the men that force women into the burka (they will probably resort to preventing "their" women leaving the home entirely), nor will it do anything to protect British culture, a tenet of which is and should be, the freedom of expression through what one wears - however offensive the result may be.
Ban the burka in public buildings by all means, but no more.