Sunday, June 19, 2011

the burqa ban, cont'd

(Click here for previous posts on this topic: part I, part II, a short youtube clip)

One of the things that is fun about the book my sister-in-law lent me last week is the detail of description with which the author, Miranda Kennedy, fills each paragraph.  Most of "Sideways on a Scooter" is about what it is like to live in Delhi as a young, single professional woman and I can practically smell the masala frying in the pan.  Since she is a reporter she not only gets to describe India, but also the day-to-day of women's lives in neighboring Asian countries when she travels.  Among other discoveries, she finds out just how hard it is to find a suitable place to go when you need to go while in AfghanistanFunny thing about a place where women are generally confined to their homes: there are few female-designated public restrooms and it is often too little dangerous to stop on even a remote hillside! 

So there is poor Miranda, traveling in the heat, in her tightly-tied headscarf (with no hair showing) and covered from her neck past her ankles, trying to hold it for a Very. Long. Time.  Hours into one ten-hour trip, she urges her driver to stop a roadside cafe and, with his help, pleads her way into the men's room.  Afterwards, her guide serves as translator at a table of locals who soon start to exhibit discomfort at talking to a strange and foreign woman---especially because she is, as they say, "naked."  After all, her face was showing! 
And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful" Qur'an Sura Nur Chapter: The Light. Verse 31
As promised, here are a few links to short articles by women who wear, or have worn the burqa and their various reasons.  I am afraid I was not able to get very far into scholarly writings about this and have barely skimmed the surface of news articles and online chat rooms.  At the moment I don't have access to a computer all the time, and also, a lot of the debates in France are in French so that makes things more tricky.  (For you! ha ha.)  Anyway, there's still plenty of reading if you want to start clicking on what I can offer you below.

A CNN article: the Koran tells me to wear it
How some women feel about the ban

There are all sorts of conversations on Youtube about this, and here are a couple good starting points: here is one in Australia and then this piece by the Economist that frames the French debate:

I like this second clip especially because it captures what is unique about the French case: the very strong legal and cultural emphasis on "secularism" in that country.  It is not Muslims in particular who are being targeted, but any religious group that seeks to influence public life.  Still, there are arguments from all sides.  For instance, some opponents of the ban have argued that France has never legislated what women can do with their own bodies, so just as the nation ignored those who wanted to ban abortion, for example, we must ignore this new group of religious fundamentalists, not legislate against them.

On a practical level, here is what some women have written about the experience of wearing full-body coverings.

One London woman writes about what it is like to wear the burqa and I especially liked the parts about the practical difficulties while wearing one: how can a girl sip a latte?  It seems like this was just a one-time experiment, and so here is the perspective of a woman who had to wear it for a longer period.  She initially hated it, but after a few years, ended up actually enjoying it. 

Other women have written about their choices of Muslim dress and although this article is specifically about the hijab and not the burqa or chador, even though I am speaking exclusively about full body coverings, I found it and the comments to be fascinating.  In doing my "research" for this little post, I ran across a Canadian chat site dedicated to Muslim women in Canada who wear the hijab.  The moderator said repeatedly that a primary reason to wear it is because "50 percent of a woman's beauty is in her hair."  So I found it a little humourous to run across the same statistic by a person in a Youtube video on the subject of the burqa: 50% of a woman's beauty is in her face! 

And that brings me back to the issue of "naked" faces. 

A freelance writer and ex-patriate resident of Istanbul explains why she changed her mind about the burqa (and the veil): at first it seemed like a clear-cut issue of women's choice, but then she realized just how much it could change--and already has changed--the tone of casual interactions between the sexes.  She builds a case for a legal ban and asks this question: is there a place in the world where wearing [the veil or] burqa is the norm AND women and men enjoy equal rights

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