What a burqa…

What a burqa...

So far, the coalition government has pootled along nice and quietly – unlike the previous administration, the noises have been pretty good. Things have gone slightly off-key however with the ongoing discussion of the Burqa, and in particular the rather odd statement offered by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman. Using a logic that I still cannot fathom, Spelman defended the Islamic sackcloth by describing it as “empowering” to women. Hmm.

“I’ve been out to Afghanistan and I think I understand much better as a result … why a lot of Muslim women want to wear the burka.

“For them, the burka confers dignity, it’s their choice, they choose to go out dressed in a burka. I understand that it is a different culture from mine but the fact is in this country women want to be free to choose … whether or not to go out in the morning wearing a burka.”

So, Mrs Spelman took her lessons about this nonsense in Afghanistan, eh? It’s simply laughable. I cannot claim to know much about the inner workings of Afghan society, but one thing for me is clear – many of these women do not “choose” to wear a Hallowe’en costume that provides limited vision. They do not “choose” to shuffle about in temperatures upward of forty degress Celsius clad from head to toe. They do so because some archaic convention compels them to, lest they elicit a reaction that can range from leering stares to physical beatings from crowds of strangers.

Some dignity.

Second-class travel, second-class citizens...
Second-class travel, second-class citizens...

Many among the political elite truly believe that democracy has won through in Afghanistan, and that the wearing of the Burqa has suddenly become a matter of personal choice – when the horrid truth is that society in this mediæval hellhole is much the same as it was when the Taliban were running the show. Rather than make their own observations and draw their own asinine conclusions, the likes of Caroline Spelman should talk to the soldiers in the field, who – as mentioned in the article – gauge the level of threat from the Taliban in an area by assessing whether local women feel the need to cover themselves.

Note the key statement – “feel the need to” – which has little or nothing to do with personal choice.

In any case, what goes on in some bombed-out toilet in the back of beyond has little to do with how we operate in this country – to even imply that we can “learn” things from such a country is perhaps even more moronic than suggesting that the burqa is an instrument of female empowerment.

Then there is this:

“One of the things we pride ourselves on in this country is being free, and being free to choose what you wear is a part of that, so banning the burka is absolutely contrary I think to what this country is all about.”

Of course, in a free society one should be allowed to choose what they want to wear; I have no issue with the general argument. However, it only really works when we are talking about things that do not contradict these basic concepts of freedom: if a woman wishes to wear a miniskirt, a sleeveless top or even some morbid-looking leather and lace gothic ensemble, it truly is her personal choice – there are no cultural driving forces behind the decision, only her genuine desire to wear what she wants.

The burqa however symbolises something else entirely: it represents a particularly odious strand of a regressive culture that for the most part rails against the very idea of personal freedom. The woman that wears a burqa does so not because she truly wants to, but somehow feels compelled to by cultural mores that should by rights have no part in Western society. The burqa has little to do with about empowerment and everything to do with disenfranchisement; those who wear it are not expressing solidarity with simple religious beliefs, but with a fundamentalist ideology that uses the Muslim religion to achieve its own ends.

Rather than pander to this nonsense by offering mealy-mouthed politically correct soundbites, our politicians should be encouraging these women to cast off this cultural millstone.

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