Tuesday, 24 August 2010

My Counterintuitive Reaction Over Syria’s Burqa Ban

I must admit that when I read of Syria's ban of burqas at universities, a tepid, refreshing feeling trickled through me like fresh urine flowing over my shoulders on a cold day. I was somewhat surprised by my reaction because I had previously disagreed with its prohibition in both France and Britain.

Although I staunchly deem this oppressive garment as opposed to our culture, conflicting with our secular values and conveying a dire attitude towards women, I feel that forbidding it is the wrong act to take. Rather like the blasphemy laws creating an embarrassing hysteria of panic-stricken individuals accusing each other of discrimination on every occasion religion is criticised, it will create a tension in conversations whenever the matter gets mentioned. It would maintain a general anti-Muslim feel to everyday life and appear to provide support to people who insult Muslims on illegitimate grounds.

I try to oppose banning on social issues as much as possible because, by creating a scapegoat, it minimises our capacity for free, healthy criticism. We should legally allow it, but let’s try and change opinions on their own grounds. Please, let us show them why we find it abhorrent and how we’ve advanced so far partly due to the elimination of primitive and bigoted ideas. We do not kill homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13) or kill followers of other religions (Numbers 25:1-9). This is another issue where healthy debate will overcome archaic superstition – despite the thankless task of getting through to those blinded by religion. Why, because that’s what our society is built on: free enquiry and evidence-based decisions. We’ve done pretty well so far and we need to just keep going.

Banning the burqa will force the subjects into a corner of intolerance and fear, whilst holding constant – and legitimate – resentment over their condemnation. It is worrying to think how these ladies will cope: on one hand we have a the male adherents of a patriarchal religion obliging them to wear the garment, whilst on the other hand the society she lives in will not allow her on the streets. Is this really doing what is best for her? Does it express our secular values in the correct ways? Is this the state we want the citizens of our country to be forced into? We need to understand that we will not end something by merely banning it. How do people behave on February 1st after a month of no chocolate or alcohol? They go mad for it! We must create honest, unthreatening debate where the adherents realise that it’s a silly thing to do. That’s all.

So, why did I enjoy reading about the news from Syria? I suppose it reflects a slowly growing realisation from people of all differing cultures that this piece of clothing is ridiculous. The fact that it came from a highly Islamic country was especially pleasing. We cannot continue to hold half of the world’s population in such low regard and people are now standing up for those values.

I saw a clip of a British lady wearing a burqa, telling us how she wasn’t forced to wear one by men, rather doing it to “please God.” May you consider first the angrily patriarchal nature of that God and the intolerance that He (or It? Does an omnipotent, omnipresent entity have gender?) advocates. If you don’t think men are, implicitly or explicitly, enforcing this, then look at the furious Pakistani protests in response to France’s new laws, chanting “Down with the West!” Count the number of women who joined in the rally. 

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