Posts Tagged 'islam'

Banning Burkas

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“Mr. Sarkozy wants a bill that goes farther than initial proposals, including a ban on wearing the full veil — the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered, and the burqa, which is almost unknown in France — from streets, markets and shops”

The proposed French (& Belgian) law banning burkas is troubling. The ‘public safety’ claim is disingenuous, and the women’s rights claim is specious – yes, some women are forced to dress in the burka and as such it is a tool of oppression, but banning it simply follows from the same first premise – to wit, someone else gets to decide what women wear.

In an article for Christopher Hitchens addresses the law approvingly: “Society is being asked to abandon an immemorial tradition of equality and openness in order to gratify one faith, one faith that has a very questionable record in respect of females.” No, people wear all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, and the government is now wondering if they shouldn’t intervene because they disagree with the principle they presume is behind it. Are they correct to disagree with the oppression of women? Of course. But unless they’ve acquired ESP, it’s impossible for them to know why every woman wears what she wears.

He says, “I would indignantly refuse to have any dealings with a nurse or doctor or teacher who hid his or her face, let alone a tax inspector or customs official.” Really? What about a surgeon? But the law isn’t specific to people in such positions, just as the rule he refers to for his building doesn’t apply to the rest of his city – the owners of private property can make whatever bizarre rules they like (jackets and ties must be worn, no outside food or drink, no women allowed…), just as hospitals and schools can have a particular professional dress code. That doesn’t mean that any rule should be extended into the public space.

He suggests that he has a right to see everyone’s face, as everyone has a right to see his. Um, no. Everyone has a right to reveal their face – but that decision is theirs, not the cost of the privilege of going out in public.

You might object to the rationale behind what I’m wearing, whether it’s a yarmulke, plastic mini-skirt, or a confederate flag tee shirt, but you don’t get to tell me that I’m not allowed to wear it. Hitchens invents some feeble reasons implying that veils and burkas are a threat to public safety – thugs wearing them as disguises (any voluminous clothing or hoodies would serve), limits on peripheral vision (um, so maybe ban driving while wearing anything that restricts vision?), and suggesting they hide evidence of abuse, which most clothing would anyway.

Hitchens claims the main point of his support is that “we have no assurance that Muslim women put on the burqa or don the veil as a matter of their own choice.” The problem is not with the clothes, but with the scary, oppressive fundamentalists threatening these women. Which, I agree, is horrifying and requires urgent and ceaseless attention – any violence against women should be investigated, punished, and prevented. But what is happening here is that women are being dictated to because of male behaviors, much like rape-prevention; there’s a lot telling women where they can’t go and what they shouldn’t wear, how much they can and can’t drink, how far they can go before giving tacit permission, etc – and virtually nothing telling men to not be rapists, or punishing them for it.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=angry+woman&iid=257926″ src=”0254/5596738f-7058-4d95-9982-f1815e195cf5.jpg?adImageId=12865682&imageId=257926″ width=”234″ height=”331″ /]Guess what, Hitch – people; in this case women, get to be the boss of their bodies and how they present their bodies.

It falls into the same category as fat-acceptance and being pro-choice. Some people are fat and healthy, some people are fat and unhealthy. Same with the skinny folks. They are not obligated to base their food and exercise choices on what you like to look at.

If I become pregnant, carrying that to term is my choice, not anyone else’s – because it is my body that has to deal with the physical nature of it, and my mind, heart, and soul that has to deal with the emotional and lifestyle repercussions. You don’t get to make that decision for me. You might not agree with my choice, you might think I am a slut or irresponsible, and maybe I am, but it’s my life. You don’t get to impose your beliefs on my body.

This is about individuality and self-determination. Any one who tries to put limits on that is extending a personal opinion – a judgment – into the realm of objective truth. You not liking my looks or behavior is unfortunate, not a restriction of your rights. If I was drunk driving or doing drugs and endangering lives, by all means, lock me up, for the good of the community. But if you think that disagreeing with me sartorially, nutritionally, or morally gives you the right to enact laws to control my behavior, you are the one who is restricting my rights. I am not here for your benefit.

What it boils down to is that you don’t get to tell me, or any other woman, what to do. Unless my behavior or beliefs are negatively affecting the lives of others, I have the last word. Not you.


Amis’ Sister: Depression and Religion

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The Guardian points to a statement Martin Amis made in an article in the National, a paper in Abu Dhabi about his sister Sally, who died ten years ago, in which he says:

“To this day I have this wish – she was always religious and she converted to Catholicism. I wish she had converted to Islam. She might still be alive because of the continence of Islam, the austerity, the demands it makes on you. I just sort of helplessly think it every now and then. She would only be 56 now and she’d still be here.

“She might have had a chance. She would have had to embrace it earlier than she embraced Catholicism. She was such an uncontrollable girl that there was even talk of her joining the army when she was 17 or 18 because we all sensed that she needed a really tight structure, an ésprit de corps of shared belief. Islam in its way gives you that, a collectivity that she could have been a part of, which incidentally forbade alcohol and premarital sex.”

Now, the article is an interview with Amis, unsurprisingly about his writing, his latest novel and other writing projects, and the negative press he seems to accumulate. The bit about his sister comes up in discussion of The Pregnant Widow, as he says that she is the only real person on which one of his characters is entirely based. The interview then goes on to discuss his oft-repeated statements about Islamism, not to be confused with your average, everyday, non-homicidal Islam, and ad hominem attacks that appear in the press, and, briefly, his home life.

The comment about his sister is made in passing, and is probably meant to express a simple wish that his sister had found something, anything, that would make her feel like her mind and body were worthy of respectful treatment.

That said, it is a problematic idea. Aside from making a false distinction between the rules of orthodox interpretations of Catholicism and Islam, it also implies that what his sister needed was someone to tell her what to do. These religions are considered oppressive because they devalue women; they do not ‘incidentally’ forbid anything, the rules comes from a very particular perspective. Pre-marital sex is proscribed because it is considered damaging to society and the soul: all sex is bad for you, but without God-approved monogamy, it is even worse. Clothing that covers the skin and shape of the female body is considered necessary for the sake of ‘modesty’, to protect men from sinful lust and women from, I suppose, a lack of humility. Alcohol is forbidden is Islam because it makes one ‘forgetful of God and prayer’, i.e. more likely to sin.

These restrictions would not alleviate depression, which Amis implies is the cause behind Sally’s alcoholism and promiscuity. What is interesting is that rather than wish that she had, say, been able to get successful treatment for alcoholism and depression, he wishes upon her a systematic behavioral and theistic practice. Essentially, he wishes for an undeniable parent figure, the belief in which would prohibit her self-harming behaviors, while incidentally underscoring a rather patriarchal, sex-unfriendly world view.

Depression is notoriously difficult to treat, though social attitudes towards it and available treatments have improved dramatically over the past couple of decades. Promiscuity is not, of course, necessarily negative behavior; it is only problematic when it is an indication of feelings of worthlessness and an attempt to keep and maintain approval.

The rules of organized religion are based on a series of assumptions, often including the devaluation of women, superiority of men, and viewing sex as dangerous. Faith, not rules, might give depressed people hope – indeed, a kind of christianity-lite is part of the successful Alcoholics Anonymous programme – it requires a surrender to and trust in a ‘greater power’.

Even if she had adhered to a belief system in which she neither had sex nor drank, the underlying problem would still be there, and she would, in all likelihood, find another way to hurt herself.

In the book, as the character based on Sally does unsuccessfully go through various psychiatric and institutional attempts to recover, we can assume that the real Sally probably did as well. In this case, then, Amis’ desire isn’t so much that she subscribed to Islam (or a stricter version of Catholicism), but that she would have found some belief stronger than her own negative feeling, or a straight-forward Deus Ex Machina that would cure her.

More Tragedy for Afghan Women

As I noted in an earlier post, women in Afghanistan don’t have it easy right now.

In April, there were protests against the horrific laws pertaining to Shiite women – laws designed to garner votes with the conservative religious (male, obviously) population.

In the Sunday Times Magazine this weekend, Christina Lamb has an in-depth piece on the continuing injustice Afghani women face. In interviews with women she met and seven years earlier, the discrimination and violence they face is made painfully clear.

That women can still be forced into abusive and sometimes fatal marriages because of religious or cultural forces, that those women who struggle to continue with education, work, and basic personal freedom, often face consternation, threats, abuse, and death, that the humanitarian workers and organizations can’t seem to do enough to protect, let alone assist in the liberation of, these women, is all profoundly sad, and intensely distressing. Because what can one do?

Reading the story, I felt an urge to rush to Afghanistan and start up a women’s army – training these brilliant, defiant, intelligent ladies like Marines, giving them physical strength to face their adversaries. But really, the trouble is more insidious, more entrenched; ideology cannot be warred against.

How do you educate a nation of men who have been trained, indoctrinated, to regard women as property? As inhuman? As infidels or dangerous upstarts should they balk at marrying or staying at home or generally acting as if they have a mind of their own? Not just that, but to believe that violence against them is not the same calibre as violence against another man, or even an animal; that violence they feel the need to enact is somehow their god-given right?

The Civil Rights Movement needs to begin in earnest in Afghanistan. But it is daunting to look into the past, to see the cost of such movements – fear, injury, death – before change can be felt.

image from

BMI Airlines Muslim Dress Code

Do I look inferior in this plane?

Do I look inferior in this plane?

I have just sent a very angry letter to bmi.

I was appalled to read in the Sunday Times that bmi sacked a stewardess for refusing to adhere to frankly misogynistic requirements for the service to Saudi Arabia. She (and all female employees on the service) was to wear an abaya (black robe) and follow behind all male employees – the fact that they felt the need to add “regardless of rank” seems additionally ridiculous.

It is one thing to show respect for culture, it is quite another to ask employees to obey the tenets of a religion not their own (or any religion), particularly when the practices in question are based on the supposition that women are inferior and their bodies capable of inciting aggressive behaviour in men.

As the story states, it is by no means expected or even suggested that Western women travelling in the country wear anything beyond ‘conservative dress’ or walk behind men. How dare they even consider such debasing requirements? How dare they fire someone for refusing?

Whoever created this policy should be heartily ashamed for creating such asinine and discriminatory rules.

What’s even more upsetting is that an ‘employment tribunal’ reviewing the case decided that “there was no evidence that women would regard BMI’s requirements on wearing the abaya, or walking behind men, as “placing them under any disadvantage”.”

What disadvantage could there be in dressing to be invisible and walking around like an inferior?

This is absolutely horrifying and terribly depressing, that a large company in a secular, liberated country that recognizes equality between the sexes would determine that the opinion of a few hardcore Muslim customers is more important than the dignity of their staff and the basic principles of their own country.

I highly recommend boycotting this airline.

image from


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