Looking at the “debate” happening in Australia around head coverings worn by Muslim woman I am filled with disgust by the rampant bigotry but I’m also confounded. First I’m confounded by people who assert this is about freedom for women. Then to prove how much freedom women deserve, they want to pass laws telling women what they can and can’t wear. Second, I’m confounded by the number of people who have very loud views on the topic and yet clearly have not spoken to Muslim women on the topic.
In cases where men are forcing women and girls to wear the niqab or burqa with physical, psychological or financial threats, legal action should definitely be taken. I’m not naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen but in these cases any legal action should NOT be against the women, it should be against the men. You don’t need any new laws to do this, enforcement of existing domestic violence laws is more than enough. But if you think there are women who don’t wear some form of head covering through personal choice you’re either wilfully ignorant or using the issue as an extremely obvious cover for your bigotry.
And another thing: if you want to take steps to stop women being forced to wear a niqab or burqa you need to go the whole way. If you’re not going to get behind the provision of financial support to help women to escape abusive situations then you need to shut the fuck up. You can’t upend someone’s life then abandon them. If you think you can go “ban the burqa” then dust off your hands and walk away then you’re either truly stupid or truly evil. Probably both.
One of the first things I learned when I started blogging was I had a lot of preconceived ideas about Muslim women that did not hold up particularly well once exposed to actual Muslim women. These were the typical bleeding heart lefty ideas that Muslimas were oppressed, not allowed access to education and scared to express themselves.
By coincidence, several of the blogs I found while starting my own were written my Muslimas. One was in Australia, one in Indonesia, one in the UK and two in the USA. They were very different people but a common thread was they were intelligent, funny and very independent. (Brief aside – I know presenting that as if it’s a revelation is condescending. That’s the point. I’m admitting to my ignorance and bias.) They were also very serious about religion; they read scripture, they believed in the magic man in the sky. There was no “I was born into a Muslim family/culture but I don’t really take it seriously.”
I didn’t consider myself prejudiced towards Muslims but regular interaction with actual Muslims opened my eyes to how many assumptions I was making. This is not a “white saviour reveals Muslims are just like us” moment, none of these women wanted or needed me to save them. They were just fine without me. But a bit of self-awareness never goes astray.
Not everyone saying “ban the burqa” is as stupid as Jacqui Lambie or as evil as Cory Bernardi but if you think banning a clothing item will improve the world, you’re truly ignorant.
One of the best things I’ve gained from blogging over the last two years is learning from the diverse perspectives of other bloggers around the world. It’s one thing to read a journalist reporting on what life is like in other parts of the world. It’s quite another to get first hand accounts.
Like it or not, one of the major issues in the world today is the clash of cultures between Islam and the Christian/secular west. How much of a clash this may actually be depends on your point of view of course. It’s somewhere between people from different cultures learning to respect the differences between each other and an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.
I like to think I’m capable of making up my own mind and I’m not overly swayed by the self serving braying of politicians, media talking heads and religious figures on all sides of the debate. But I remain eternally grateful to people I’ve met through this blog who have given me a first hand view of what it’s like to be a Muslim in today’s world.
While there are undoubtedly a scary number of people willing to distort their religion to justify the murder of innocent people I’m not the type to tar everyone with the same brush. I have too much Irish Catholic in me to go along blindly with that. You don’t have to have a very long memory to know the prejudice and vilification the Irish suffered in the UK.
But to have the pleasure of reading the work young Muslims who are devout, thoughtful, intelligent, questioning and (shock, horror) female… well, it makes it easier to take the sensationalism of the media with a grain of salt.
So when I read an article about a right wing politician in the Netherlands launching a film critical of Islam I didn’t immediately assume the worst would happen. I put my thoughts together into the following video:
The comments on YouTube were pretty much what I expected. There were more than twice as many comments as I usually get for a video which is not surprising seeing as it’s such a hot button issue. Most commenters thought I was even handed but there were the usual close minded bigots who don’t like having their binary good/evil worldview challenged.
It used to bug me when idiots attacked me for things I didn’t say while ignoring things I did say but now I take it as a gift. Having some first hand experience of people blatantly misrepresenting my words, it’s easier not to get quite so worked up by media reports. When people have their own barrows to push, the truth tends not to matter very much.