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Current Affairs > An insult to women...or a religious symbol?

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message 1: by Geoff (new)

Geoff | 18 comments France’s president Sarkozy was in the news recently, announcing a debate on the legitimacy of wearing a burka, the full length, all covering, tent like cloak mandated for women in some fundamentalist Islamic communities. This dialogue could result in laws forbidding the wearing of burkas in some settings in France. Sarkozy was clear in expressing his own feelings, saying the garment represented a “sign of subservience”.

My first thought was: good on y’r mate, you didn’t cave to political correctness. Are the issues that clear though? Is the burka a sign of women’s entrenched inferiority in the Muslim world- or a religious symbol, foreign to many in the western world perhaps, but still a valid part of a belief system? Does a community, or a nation, have the right to insist that newcomers adopt the prevailing value system? In part or totally? And no matter what you may think of the religious aspects, does a community have the right to tell people how to dress? And if it does, who gets to make the decisions- politicians, clergy, popular vote..? What do others out there think?

message 2: by Carlie (new)

Carlie | 86 comments I must say I'm all for prohibiting the burka but only because it is mandated elsewhere. Balance is needed.
But secretly, I know telling someone what they can't wear is the same as telling them what they have to wear. I'm even against laws prohibiting nudity.

But if he's right in that the burka is to be worn to show subservience, then prohibit it all you want. But I have a feeling that some women actually want to wear one, even if it's because they've been brainwashed into thinking that they must.

message 3: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 21 comments I know many women who wear hajib/najib, burquas. Only one does so becuae she feels it is a sign of her devotion to faith and husband. the others- given a choice would not wear one or only wear it on certain occasions.

I know that the president of france was saying it is for liberation but does he realize that now the woman that are married to more conservative muslim men or even woman who choose to wear hajib/ burqua will now be prisoners in there own home- that isn't much of a liberation to me.

message 4: by Geoff (new)

Geoff | 18 comments *Prisoners in their own home.* That seems a very strong statement to me. What is going on in a belief system that says women must cover themselves completely, or not leave their homes? These are pretty severe restrictions to put onto people, and they suggest that there are strong motivations behind them. Is it about sexuality, in the sense that men feel somehow threatened or uneasy about women’s appearance? Or is it about power, in the sense of objectification and perceived ownership of women? Or perhaps just blind practice, carried forward from the Middle Ages, and bought into as a part of a bigger package? If seen in a positive light, what are the benefits of this practice? If I had to guess, I would say that what I sense here is insecurity on the part of males who have yet to fully develop their own sense of sexuality and their relationships with women. What do other posters think?

message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Since we use picture ID's to identify people, I can see making them legally remove them for that purpose. Walking tents aren't particularly identifiable.

message 6: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 3 comments The real problem here is that we are all looking at this from a western point of view. I have had almost all of the same feelings. Why do men in this culture think it is the women that needs to cover her beauty when it is the man who is distracted by said beauty? Religion is not supposed to make sense. Most of the time it is about tradition, and the explanations are retroactive. Sarkozy is using his own perspective to make a huge mistake in the name of freedom. They should be allowed to do what they want, which includes wearing what we consider in western culture as a sign of subservience. If women were allowed to choose, then all would be well, but I have a feeling that their culture and religion are dictating their decisions of what to wear.

message 7: by Geoff (new)

Geoff | 18 comments I agree that it would be ideal to let everyone do whatever they chose, as long as it didn’t cause grief to anyone else (this last being a little fuzzy to define). It is often the case though, that in society many other factors come into play besides individual choice. Religious, traditional, and contemporary social standards and beliefs all have their effect. And if there is an element of compulsion applied to minorities in society, then often intervention by the state is about all that will counterbalance these ideas. I guess the sticky part is, at what point are things extreme enough that the state is justified in passing a law? If a golf club, for example, decided that it didn’t want members who made less than 70k a year, would that be enough? If they didn’t want members under the age of 30? Or applicants with physical or psychological disabilities? It wasn’t all that long ago that golf clubs in the US routinely excluded applicants from certain ethnic groups, such a Jews. Values shift with time. I guess I lean towards the idea that if people want to live together in community, then that community does have the right, within reason, to enforce some agreed upon standards, particularly when it is minorities and the relatively powerless that are affected.

message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Isn't it true that now a woman doesn't have to unveil to get a 'picture' ID - or is that an urban legend?

message 9: by Kipahni (last edited Sep 12, 2009 10:59PM) (new)

Kipahni | 21 comments Geoff wrote: "*Prisoners in their own home.* That seems a very strong statement to me. What is going on in a belief system that says women must cover themselves completely, or not leave their homes? These are pr..."

Prisoner in their own home is exactly what they would be. I have traveled the middle east, I have muslim friends I lived in egypt. so I am only speaking from what I have known- I am not representing all muslim woman or thought but with that being said...

Nicole mentions a very interesting point that we are looking at this from a Western view, not an Eastern thought (which is muslim tradition)
Eastern thought is Honor/Shame society.
As a conservitive muslim woman you bring Honor to your family when you cover your body. Skin is considered sensual and it was explained to me that when you show the world something over and over, one becomes desensitized to it, it loses it's value, it becomes common place or normal. So depending on how conservative you interpet the koran determines how one may choose to adorn herself. (loose fitting clothing to hide the figure, down cast eyes so as not to encourage flirtatious or in appropriate behavior)
Some woman choose to because it is seen as liberating not to be viewed as a sex object but to be listened to first and noticed for her words- not her body.
Also being an American woman in these countries (and being dressed modestly) I get repeated sexual derogatory comments because a woman 'uncovered' is seen as fair game and more "loose" so most muslim woman who grow up around that will where burquas to blend in (everyone looks the same) and to not draw attention to herself in a degrading way.

Now back to being a prisoner. Here is something about must eastern societies. A tradional household will have tradtional gender roles. The woman will always agree to what the head of the house hold says. so if the head of the house says don't go out side without a chador or burqua. she won't. Which side note- just to show how "agreeable" a wife is the world health just put out a statistic showing the statistics of how many woman believe they "deserve" to be beaten by their spouse. 50% in Egypt said yes, 90% in Jordan... and I can't remember the rest but I am just illustrating that this culture trains it's woman to not question the mans decision.
Most men put those restrictions on there wives- they say- for the womans safety. Middle Eastern culture doesn't allow for people to trust eachother. (you only trust in your family and even then...) I knew a girl that only had to wear the veil when she was in the presence of her husbands best friend, because her husband didn't trust him.

So anyway there are a lot of cultural reasons why a woman would be a prisoner in her own home. Is it right- no, but this is a culture that spans thousands of years and will take that many to change.

message 10: by Geoff (new)

Geoff | 18 comments The Toronto Globe and Mail is running an interesting series on this topic. The latest is at:

message 11: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (shannoncb) I agree with Kipahni and Geoff.

I read something about the history of the head scarf in the Globe and Mail a couple of years ago, that said historically it wasn't religious at all but worn by upper class women in Persia. As in, it was a class thing, a way to segregate. Obviously, a lot has happened since then.

But someone mentioned that these things have more to do with tradition than anything else and I think that's right - but also, traditions change. Or rather, they should. But I'm insensitive on this issue. My Muslim friend, from Egypt, wears the hijab - her choice, made before she married (he wouldn't mind either way), and I see no reason why the hijab should ever be banned or cause problems - but the burka is quite different, and symbolises something much more dark.

The problem is, these women aren't just required to cover themselves completely or stay shut up in their homes. They are also robbed of a voice, of a position in society at large - it's all very patriarchal, even mysoginistic.

Doesn't matter how sensitive to what is essentially a foreign culture, for me, I try to be - I will always look at women swamped in the burka (or even the one where the face or part of it shows) and feel anger - and a bit of fear. As a woman, it symbolises everything we western women have been trying to break free from. Forcing this shroud onto a woman is the same as silencing her, for good.

It's not just Islam though is it. Certainly Christianity used to have similar prohibitions, that were more cultural or social traditions than religious - but there are still cases popping up about Jewish men who insist women sit at the back of the bus so they won't be able to see them, and in Montreal they made - or wanted to make - a women's gym cover its windows because a Jewish boys group was across the alley and they said all the boys were distracted by the sight of scantily or snugly clad women.

This pushing the blame for men's weakness onto women as a sign of their weakness - it's all very old and tired. There are still men in western countries that firmly believe rape is the woman's fault.

It's all part of the same over-arching issue.

message 12: by Carlie (new)

Carlie | 86 comments " I will always look at women swamped in the burka (or even the one where the face or part of it shows) and feel anger - and a bit of fear"

I concur. It truly repulses me. I don't for the life of me understand why women should cover themselves or change their behavior in any way because men are weak. I believe men should gouge their eyes out if the sight of a woman's hair turns them on. Since even if "their" women cover up, they will still face uncovered women (on tv at the least). It's all so illogical.

message 13: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (shannoncb) Carlie wrote: "" I will always look at women swamped in the burka (or even the one where the face or part of it shows) and feel anger - and a bit of fear"

I concur. It truly repulses me. I don't for the life..."

Religions - or things done in the name of religion - rarely make sense.

message 14: by Bob (new)

Bob Prophet (prophetbob) | 5 comments Lots of good thoughts expressed in this thread. :) So I'm going to revive it to mention a book I recently finished reading: "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Highly recommended page-turner memoir about Ayaan, a woman raised Muslim in Africa and Saudi Arabia, later to become a refugee in Holland to write this tell-all about her experiences and transitions. Very enlightening to this American with little to no real knowledge on Islam.

In the book she explains the different ways women cloak their bodies and provides her observations on how Islam undermines women and diminishes nearly all control over one's person, as called for in the Quran.

This book made me also reflect on Western modern Christianity and its own re-"fundamentalization" process (2.0) underway. Different as they are, that and fundamentalist Islam scare the crap out of me. Just look at their growth rates! And they like to breed, so...this matter winds up affecting all of society over time. Ayaan makes an excellent and shocking case about what this means in Holland, a country that accepted high numbers of Muslim immigrants and refugees and provided for their welfare.

Anyway, such a good read that has me revved up to learn more about Islam, beyond what the Liberal hippie community fed me on the religion, beyond what the ultra-biased media tries feeding us at every turn to help 'justify' U.S. war efforts. Extremes on both sides.

But before I wrap this up, I have to say a weird thought that springs to mind. The whole burka question makes me think sometimes that even I might like to sport a burka for a change, sans the religion. Might be nice to just walk around town hiding in a tent from time to time. Like on days I hate people. LOL And I can imagine plenty of women would actually like the option of concealing their gender at will, as desired. Just not being forced to do so as if women's bodies aren't their own. Slavery is uncool no matter who it involves. But free will to escape into anonymity in public does still kinda sound like a dream some days. Invisibility would be better. Ha Easier to use a cloak.

So why don't men give it a whirl from time to time? Just to try it out for a change, maybe over the weekend, like when walking the dog or attending a game? Maybe add your sayings and quotes to the garment, become your own meme for the day. It sounds so crazy, and might give us a change in perspective that proves enlightening. Not of what Muslim women endure, mind you -- if enough people did it, men and women in the West, a test in being rendered genderless and/or socially invisible. I'll stop there and take this topic back to my own blog. :)

Oh, and unfortunately Geoff, the news link you provided gives a 404 error now.

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