Following in the footsteps of Belgium and France, Italy is attempting to ban the burka. I learnt that the draft bill had been passed on Twitter and much of the Twitter opinion in my stream unanimously deemed the burka as an issue to be tackled, but with uncertainty as to whether a ban is the way forward. The problem with the burka? People dislike what it represents: So, what is that exactly?
Personally, as a matter of religion, I don’t believe it is necessary to wear the burka. I can however see how my sisters in deen interpret the Koranic verse to mean fully cover themselves, but whether I could understand or not, I would respect their right to do so.
Within this one verse are so many variables..the definition of faithful, what constitutes private parts, what is beauty? Give a group of people a pen and there wont be two identical answers to any of those variables – not even, especially even, amongst Muslims themselves. And that’s the beauty of religion, it’s a guide given to us, and what we do with that guide is up to us. We live our lives according to our interpretation of that guide, and that choice, those decisions, are between God and us alone.
But that’s not true, right? The state, our neighbours, our families have the right to question our interpretations of our faith; have the right to dictate within what realms we can interpret; ensure we stay within the lines. Or do they? Who decides?
There are two arguments perpetually put forward against the burka. It’s presented as a symbol of the oppression of Muslim women; or else a visible sign of extremism/fundamentalism depending on the terminology.
Within muslim families worldwide there is oppression and domination. Within Islamic communities there is extremism and fundamentalism (separate definitions, please). This doesn’t mean all muslim families run on male dominance (or, indeed that the violence is all aimed at women, but that’s a whole other blog post); nor does it mean that all muslims are extremists, though I admit many may be fundamental. Within all communities, no matter what the religious majority, violence exists and in none of them is it acceptable. I do not condone violence or oppression or subjugation in any form, under any guise. But that’s not what Islam’s about and it’s not at the heart of the burka.
Within each of these muslim communities there are women to choose to cover, as I do, with a scarf and loose-fitting clothes. Within those communities are women who choose to cover with a burka, and women who let their hair flow free. There are women who do so for their love of Allah, those who do so to please their family and those that do so for love of a man. There are also women who give in to pressure from their families or violence from their man. Whatever the reason for the veil over the face, we can’t forget the fact that there is still a face, just one we cannot see. That face if free to walk amongst that community, free to leave the house. If you ban the burka, those faces don’t just become unseen, but hidden away. A woman who believes she must cover to protect her modesty will not leave unveiled; a woman whose husband pr father or brother insists on the burka will be forbidden from leaving her home. Is the greater oppression of those women found in the wearing of some excess cloth from behind which they can see the world, or the freedom to go sleeveless within their own four walls?
Yes, I can see how the burka may be seen as extreme. When I was in uni, I went through many a different phase. I was in the UK – a country where fashion runs free. I was often deemed as extreme. African hoops, lip rings, hair? In a shopping centre in the UK I see an Ann Summers shop, the windows of which display lingerie that is pushing towards the extreme. Extreme is as extreme does. What’s normal to you, is abnormal to me.
The thing about the burka ban is it’s not about the dress itself. The banning of the outfit is not a counter-terrorism ploy nor an attempt to liberalise women. It’s an attempt to halt the unknown, to protect the status quo. We’re threatened by that which we don’t understand, and Islam is widely misunderstood. And that’s partly our faults – Muslims that is. It’s our fault for not standing and shouting loudly enough against the extremists to ensure the moderate voice is heard. But that doesn’t make it ok. Ignorance is not an excuse. France, and Italy and Belgium – those countries are afraid of what they don’t understand, of something new in the order of their world. And I get that, and that’s ok. But ask questions and seek the true answers.
If at the end of the day, after balanced debate based on fact not perception, if then, the country and the people decide they don’t want burkas on their street, if the sight of a woman covered from head to toe is too much for sensitivities to handle, then go ahead – rule a ban. But don’t, please don’t tell me it’s for the liberation of women, or the protection of liberty or any other variation on the words freedom, liberty and women. ‘Cos it’s not about us.