May 18, 2010

Culture wars: why the burqa is so offensive.

Recent calls by Australian Liberal Senators (and washed up, radio shock jocks) have attempted to ban the right of Muslim women to wear the burqa, sparking a new political discourse about Islam. Fueled by attitudes of new racism or cultural racism, the discourse challenges notions of identity, and in particular, cherished notions of what it means to be 'Australian'. 

Secular Australia's negative attitude toward Islam was founded (in part) as a united response to specific acts of terrorism, perpetrated by Islamic extremists upon western nations, including 9/11 and the Bali Bombing. 

Exacerbated by the media's trial of Islam (post 9/11) and spurred on by Howard's horrendous '1800 dob in a suspicious muslim terrorist hotline', negative stereotypes of Muslims (as deviants/suicide bombing/terrorists) etc have (not surprisingly) become ingrained in the Australian psyche. 

What I find so irksome about the proposed Burqa ban (apart from the obvious racist overtones) is the way in which it is so craftily being framed and marketed as an issue of human rights/ feminism - the timely call to end the enslavement of Muslim women/ the innocent victims of patriarchal Islamic law. Rubbish. 

As this weeks blog by Jeff Sparrow points out, you don't preserve women's right to wear what they want by banning their right to wear what they want. 
And if we are at all serious about freeing women from the bondage and oppression of patriarchy, Islamic or otherwise, then why stop (or for that matter start) at Muslim women? 

Maybe the new feminist elite of Cory Bernadi, John Michael Howson and Rev. Fred Nile (insert hysterical laughter here) could address the oppression of women in the Catholic Church, or champion the rights of all women/girls enslaved to the oppressive beauty industry or the $300 billion dollar Tween industry that markets sex to children and inadvertently, children to sexual predators.... Hmmmm.

Look, don't get me wrong - I am not saying that I love or even like the burqa. But it is certainly not my place to make a judgement on its inherent value in Islamic society - how could I?  I am an atheist but I don't get to ban the celebrations of Christian traditions such as Easter, Good Friday etc. And where do these value judgements end? Perhaps we should also ban Christmas, poncho's, large hats, sunglasses and makeup?  
Or what about facial hair, budgie smugglers or the curls and side beards worn by Hasidic Jews?  No. The value judgement regarding the burqa (as a symbol of oppression) can only be made by Muslim women and not by a bunch of white middle class men, so closely aligned with the Catholic Church that their hypocritical concerns about the oppression of women make me want to vomit in my hand. 

This week on radio, John Michael Howson said that "for Australia's sake we need to ban the burqa". Well JMH, for Australia's sake, I think we need to ban you from speaking on the radio. Surely you should be advocating for bad fashion somewhere in 1986 with the likes of Jeannie Little. 

To say that the burqa should be banned because it is un Australian is absurd. 
Everything that exists in this country is fucking un Australian except for native animals and Aboriginal people!  In fact I am sick to death of this racist rhetoric being shoved down peoples throats in the name of white 'Aussie' pride. 
Do you know what I think is un Australian JMH? Its called Racism
Especially the type that that hides behind an alternative agenda such as women's rights. 
I'm not racist but those towel heads sure treat their women badly.......

When this issue went to air on John Michael Howson's talkback radio show, JMH allowed  male callers to discuss their racist thoughts regarding the burqa and then blatantly refused the phonecall of a Muslim women. Despite the fact that the woman had been invited onto the show (not by Howson but by the network) to give her perspective, JMH  did not want  his listeners to hear an opposing argument. Oppression much?

Cultural racism is the assumption that another culture's values are inferior according to one's own cultural values. The burqa ban is a clear form of cultural racism because these men are assuming cultural superiority. 

Let's be serious, the Burqa ban has nothing to do with women's rights. In fact these turkeys could care less about the rights of women than most people in the world. 
The burqa ban is about ensuring the sanctity of an homogenous Australia, one where scary Muslims do not get to wear scary and threatening clothes and where the values of Islam do not penetrate notions of an 'authentic' Australian identity. 

Sadly the Media's demonisation of Muslims has caused a deep seeded fear within the western psyche, one that has manifested itself in ugly events such as the Cronella riots, the recent attacks on Indian students and Australia's abhorrent attitudes to asylum seekers. 
The complete assimilation of Muslims into an authentic Australia is doubtful. Fear and racism continue to strengthen the phony ideology of 'Aussie Pride', which is really just another term for Islamophobia or 'united haters of Islam'. 
Even if the burqa is banned, the philistines calling for its demise will ensure that this culture war rages well into the future, or at least until a more homogenous version of Australia is complete. 


john said...

good rant Mish, lets hope this one gets as much real juice as it deserves..

mishaloula said...

Thanks John. Can always count on you for a supportive comment. Means a lot. x

Anonymous said...

Mate kk here, your so awesome and so right in regards to this whole issue. It is racist and based on exclusion and isolating a group pf people, just so we don't have to feel uncomfortable and confront difference - a difference that has been demonised by the media and dinner table conversation.

Anonymous said...

Great article, couldn't agree more. Where do you draw the line with banning things that mean little to some and something to others what right do we have to say.

Maria said...

I think its true what you say but still, women are probably pressured to wear it.

Alex said...

This is a hot topic right now and so all the big wigs buy in and hope they can use 'womens rights' to stop something they dislike. I think you hit the nail on the head about fear. Fear is driving this and not equality.

UncleCaine said...

So, if the burqa (and hijab) are symbols of oppression towards men, what are we meant to believe that Western clothing like the miniskirt and the high-heel symbolise? I think that contrary to the typical Western conception of "third world women", the burqa and hijab may well be a barrier between the female and exploitation. Insofar as being away from the media's ideal of perfection, the veiled woman overcomes her own body, can create her own ideals of beauty and can be respected as more than a physical entity. Is it so hard for us in the West to believe that Muslim women consider dressing scantily in public a repressive choice, and covering up a lberating experience? In a society surrounded by Western images of the sexualised female, the burqa and hijab allows for a post-modern alternative, a post-face society.