This Islamic garment is a symbol of oppression for a variety of mostly straightforward reasons, and as such is morally reprehensible. What I just said shouldn’t be controversial at all to uphold, were it not for the raging storm of political correctness that has swept through our culture lately. So I’m not going to go through the ideological reasons of how and why the burqa sucks, because to me it’s so trivial. Plus I don’t even invoke any of that when I see a woman in a burqa: the silent war of cultures, the sickening throwback to a savage era of female subjugation to men, etc…
My immediate reaction whenever I spot a burqa-girl comes as an intimate shocking shudder down my spine. What an awkward and obtrusive image! It ironically generates the same kind of silent tension in common social settings as would the presence of a completely naked person sitting next to you in the bus, or nonchalantly walking into a bank or a restaurant. Whether one tries to mingle with people while naked or hermetically covered from head to toe, the absurd contrast to what everyone else is wearing screams out loud at the crucial subtleties we commonly take for granted in the spectrum of human relations.
Our clothes keep us warm, seal off and protect our most delicate body parts from environmental damage, conceal our genitals and breasts so as to not rub in everyone’s faces our crude sexual attractiveness or lack there of, but also allow us to invent a public identity through a personalized combination of designs, accessories, and possibly symbols and slogans. So our clothes enhance our individuality but it’s our face that forms the epicenter of our public persona: we cognitively anchor the representation of anyone’s personality to that person’s unique facial features. We are prone to recognize faces out of random mixes of objects whenever possible, so our brains are primed for this. The face takes up a disproportionately large chunk of our mental representation of human beings as children’s drawings illustrate. Eye contact and facial expressions play an important role in how we relate to others during conversations and even in how we warm up to strangers.
The burqa is a monstrous device because it effectively shaves off the most basic and accessible dimension of identity: the face. The woman hiding underneath it is dehumanized in the eyes of her beholders: she is reduced to an indeterminate object of unspecified form and features. A horse can hide under a burqa, or a clown, or a monkey, or a coffin, or a thief, or a ghost, or a mummy, or a giant noodle. Not only does the burqa erase the wearer’s most human and recognizable trait, her face, but it also razes to the ground all other external symbols of identity: the distinctive combinations of clothing items, styles, accessories, jewelry… How can I empathize with someone in a burqa if all I see is a monochromatic faceless shapeless bag? The wearer is practically interchangeable with anyone else wearing a burqa. There is zero potential for deep or subtle interpersonal relations through such a discomforting barrier. It’s alienating on a human level to be the one who is fully open and exposed while your interlocutor is hiding behind an opaque veil. This makes any kind of interaction with burqa-girls intrinsically awkward.
The burqa has also a perverse X factor that elicits laser beams out of my eyes: in its underhanded way it’s so self-righteously slutty! The entire rationale for it is that you need to fully cover every square inch of your face and body lest any random male passerby spontaneously breaks down and starts to compulsively drool (or worse) all over you. You really think you’re such hot shit that it’s a big deal whether anyone can see your hair or face? Nobody cares! Nobody is aroused by your stupid hair! Get over it!
Not only does wearing the burqa imply an overly sexualized sense of self, but it also silently spells out a moral condemnation of all women who do not abide by such anal and self-demeaning standards of “modesty”. If your standards for socially proper attire are so far removed from the norm that you are practically living in your own moral planet, and that planet is collapsing into a black hole under its own warped field of ‘judgmentality’, there will be a point where the principle of general cultural relativity breaks down in an asymmetric fashion: As viewed from the PC planet, your style is kind of weird and no fun, but perfectly equivalent to whatever they’ve got over there, and while they might not go out of their way to bond with you for one politically correct excuse or another, you must surely be a great girl underneath and the PC crowd wishes you all the best in life. As viewed from your planet, however, the PC crowd is roaming with lustful immodest sluts who seduce every male in their path by flaunting their face and hair, and are so going to burn in hell for it.
The burqa is eerie, alienating, judgmental, demeaning, dehumanizing, and is calling everyone else a whore.
16 thoughts on “Dissecting the Burqa”
You know what really pisses me off? Women who wear shirts. It’s so self righteously slutty. Get over it, no guys are turned on by your tits. By wearing a top, your just calling all other women who go around topless sluts.
“Ha ha ha…” There is something to your point though, and that’s the inherent difficulty in separating nature from convention. It can be hard to do objectively, if the convention is yours (personal and cultural).
That women can wear skirts/dresses but men can only wear pants in Western society, for example, is just a convention. That’s why you don’t hear me rant about Buddhist monks being “gay” for wearing their togas, or about the bagpipe playing Celts with their kilts.
Our conventions give us a lot of freedom in what we chose to be fashionable or appropriate, but if they stem from a civilized society, our conventions have to nonetheless closely mimic nature.
And there is such a thing as a state of nature, an objective order of things, toward which world cultures naturally gravitate. It’s no wonder Islam is the only culture in the world that fully covers its women.
It’s not natural, and it’s sick and wrong!
Think about it: our genitals are obviously overly sexual because that’s what sex revolves around. Women’s breasts, perhaps not as sexual as their vaginas, but are still objectively sexualized, and this would be clear to you if you had read some Freud: Children suck their mothers’ tits and develop an intimate bond, which is evoked through the sight of any female’s breasts.
It doesn’t matter if it was convention for girls to go out tit-naked: if you are a heterosexual male, and you spot a girl with perky tits, there is something in your biology and your psychology, that make you prone to getting a hard-on.
On the other hand, if you told me that looking at my beautiful luscious hair in my picture turns you on in a sexual way, I would tell you that you’ve got serious problems.
So that’s the difference. Islam overly sexualizes women, by making their entire body, face, and hair, objects of immediate sexual attention. It’s really a vicious cycle, because in societies that are so sexually strict as Islam, and where a woman’s body is taboo, the sight of even a woman’s hair can do things to a severely sexually deprived male who has never seen any woman’s face except for perhaps, his mother’s.
The point is that Islam objectifies women to a disgusting degree, and applies vastly uneven standards to men and women. In the western world, men and women largely dress the same. Men might take off their shirts sometimes, but it’s still frowned upon, and only universally acceptable at the beach. You don’t see any shirtless guys walking down the street. To a great degree, what’s improper for women, is also improper for men.
SO why don’t Muslim men cover their hair and faces, lest they turn on any female walking by? Their standards are so inconsistent and demeaning to women, and you have to be an idiot blinded by cultural relativism to not be able to see that.
If you need to know, actually, the reason is that in Islam, “immodest” (uncovered) women are fair targets for rape and molestation. The religion originated with the savage Bedouin tribes indeed, so that makes sense.
Those who harass believing men and believing women unjustifiably shall bear the guilt of slander and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers to draw their cloaks over them [when they go out]. That is more proper, so that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. God is ever forgiving and merciful. If the hypocrites and those who have the ailment [of jealousy] in their hearts and the scandal mongers of Madinah do not desist, We will rouse you against them, and their days in that city will be numbered. Cursed be they; wherever found, they would be seized and put to death. (Qur’an 33:58-61)
For your name to be Peter, and for you to defend the veil, is really idiotic. Your cultural relativism makes me sick. Yeah, you blindly assume that all cultures/religions/world views are equivalent, and maybe that’s a disincentive for you to actually learn about any of them in detail, since one is as good as any other. If you had read the Qur’an like I have, you would have a different perspective, because although you judge Muslims by your “progressive” multi-culti standards, they judge YOU by their supremacist absolutist dogmatic standards, and either think you will burn in hell for being an Infidel, or that it’s up to them to send you to hell.
So watch out, I’m telling you…
Although certainly not common, covering the face of women is not exclusively a Muslim phenomenon. If one travels through the countryside of Rajasthan and Gujarat (India), you will see many Hindu women who are veiled. And some Southeast Asian hilltribe women come very close to it as well.
And what about women who belong to ultra-conservative Christian sects? The Hutterites, Amish, Amanas, and Pentacostalists of North America? Or Catholic nuns in many orders — at least in Europe? All cover most of their skin at all times. They may not wear a face veil, but their attire is otherise quite in keeping with the precepts of Islam.
Finally, if you talk with Muslim women in the Arab world — and I live and work in Oman — you will discover that most choose to wear an abaya on their own and that it is not because their father or husband or brother insists on it. I’ve known numerous Omani men say that they would prefer that their women NOT cover, but that they insist on it. It is, therefore, a mistake to assume that the decision to cover has been taken completely from Muslim women’s hands. Certainly, in some cases, this may be true, but it is not always the case.
Bravo! Love your article and fully agree with your points. Your comment in response to “multi-culti” Peter was spot on: the difference between convention and an objective state of affairs in nature.
In Rajasthan and Gujarat Hindus and Muslims lived close toghther long before the British Raj. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Hindus (probably in self-defense) took up some of the Muslim customs.
I don’t know anything about hill tribes, but it may be proximity to Muslims in their cases too. (It’s easier to veil than be raped or accosted whenever you go out.)
If I lived in Oman…never mind, I wouldn’t, but the same self-defense reason still would apply.
Four years ago I moved from San Francisco to Cape Town, South Africa. It is relatively unknown in the US, but Cape Town has a sizeable Muslim population, so much so that Halaal restaurants abound and large employers, like major supermarket chains, have to take Muslim dress restrictions into account when coming up with their employee uniforms.
While the majority of Muslim women in Cape Town wear only the scarf, I have seen many in various stages of heavy shrouding, up to and including the burqa. While some women choose this form of dress themselves, too often the choice is made by male relatives and women dress as commanded by their menfolk or risk consequences.
What disturbs me most about these garments is the insensitivity of a man who demands his womenfolk dress this way. This is Africa…it gets really HOT here. I have seen a Muslim family at the beach near my home with the husband wearing shorts and an open shirt due to the heat, his wife garbed from head to toe in black. Drinking “modestly” is difficult, and I once sat in an Indian restaurant and watched one of these women attempt to eat with one of these face-obscuring veils on…it was not an easy task.
I think commanding woman to dress in this manner is insensitive, demeaning, and dehumanizing. Furthermore, considering that Western women are obligated to abide by a Muslim dress code when visiting Muslim countries, I see no reason that the same consideration should not be applied to Muslim people who come to non-Muslim countries.
I agree with your article completely- being around burqas makes me feels
worse than the worst sort of uncomfortable. But lets not point fingers
at the religion here- I’m a Moslem woman and live in a Moslem country and
dont have any such problem at all. Sure there are some weirdos who
resemble walking draperies but Islam really doesnt have much to do with
it. Read a little bit about the history of the religion- the burqa is a
sad misinterpretation of the Koran- and since the Koran isn’t available to
the general public in a language that they understand, misconceptions get
drilled into ppls heads as part of the religion.Its more complicated than
just putting the blame on the religion- like a crazy vicious circle that
cant be broken. Read up a little bit on the religion before making such
sweeping statements- You’ll be surprised to see that Islam actually
forbids burqas- they arent allowed during Hajj!
It happens that I am from what people call a Muslim country myself, and I have read most of the Qur’an translated in my native language.
I have read a lot more than you seem to smugly assume on the history of your religion, and I have found nothing to contradict my take. Islam is the only religion I know of to impose the Burqa on its women. If you think there has been a grave misinterpretation of the Qu’ran, please point out where exactly this misinterpretation lies. Most importantly, if you are so confident, don’t take it out on me for upholding this alleged misinterpretation. Rather, be a sport and take it out on the Religious Apartheid Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that imposes the Burqa by law and punishes non-adherents with unspeakable brutality.
I never said it’s an unbreakable vicious cycle, I never said that Muslim social norms cannot evolve to adapt to life in a modern society. Do not attribute to me statements I didn’t make or sentiments I never expressed. I am well aware that many Muslim women don’t wear the burqa out of their own free will but rather as a result of coercion from their male relatives. However, a sad minority wear it because they want to, like this Muslim whore here
Please clarify what sweeping statements you think I am making.
Excellent article. I also enjoyed the photography.
Here from the Feminist Carnival. This seems disturbingly Islamophobic to me, and anti-woman in your last comment on the 10th. Calling somebody a whore because of how she chooses to dress is not cool. If all the stuff about women who choose to wear burqas “calling everyone else a whore” is meant satirically, it sits very badly with your acknowledgement that most women who wear it do so under compulsion.
I don’t know much, but I know there’s a wide variety of styles of dress used by practising Muslim women in various places, and wearing the more “modest” forms is not perfectly correlated with thinking that everyone else is a slut by any means – let alone with an attitude that “you need to fully cover every square inch of your face and body lest any random male passerby spontaneously breaks down …”. I’ve seen a real burqa in an Amnesty International meeting and I can’t imagine why anyone would wear it voluntarily, but it’s not for me or you to imagine – if it is voluntary then it’s entirely her choice and she doesn’t have to explain it to us. Also, it’s not all about whether we feel comfortable. You’re talking about women you meet in Canada? If the political climate there is anything like it is here in the UK, they face enough attacks from idiots on the street without you adding to it.
I don’t usually do drive-by comments but I found this too disturbing to leave alone. I’ve seen other posts decrying the burqa, and the human rights abuses that usually go with it, but I didn’t expect attacks on the women underneath.
Nowhere in my article did I call a woman a whore for wearing a burqa, but I get a strong impression that it is the wearers who are calling me “a whore” for not covering up like them. The reference in my comment #8 is very obviously not about what she is wearing, but about the content of the sign she is holding.
I think you sound so predictably full of stale Leftist shit: If a burqa wearer doesn’t have to explain the ideas that led her to her self-loathing anti-woman (actually, anti-human) garment choice, I certainly don’t have to explain/justify to you or to anyone else my opinion of her choice. Freedom cuts both ways: if a woman is “free” to oppress herself with that garment, then I am certainly free to condemn her decision in the strongest terms.
I am not talking about women in Saudi Arabia, who obviously don’t have a choice in the matter. I am talking about Muslim women in Western societies.
Admittedly you don’t know much, but I do, especially since I am from a Muslim majority country myself. I know the various degrees of “modesty” in the various “styles” of Islamic dress for women (and the general misogynous trend toward which they converge), and I am also familiar with the kind of morally absolutist line of thinking which religious sentiments elicit from Islam’s hard-line subscribers.
Women who wear the burqa out of their own choice (and sadly there are many who do) are claiming themselves to be morally superior in so many words, and are implicitly calling everyone else a slut. You better wrap your head around it, and wrap your head around the meaning of the burqa/hijab. As for the attitude I am ascribing to the wearers …’you need to fully cover every square inch of your face and body lest any random male passerby spontaneously breaks down’ …if you were familiar with the Islamic justification for “modest” “dress” for women, then it would not sound so outlandish.
As far as I am concerned, it is about what I (or we) feel comfortable with. Civility is about mutual comfort: Why should I let someone step all over my sensibilities while you suggest she (and most importantly, the culture that produced her) should be exempt from any critical analysis? Nevertheless, I didn’t discuss Islam at all in my article, but merely focused on the humane/cognitive/personal implications of the burqa in everyday human interactions. Yet your knee-jerk reflex is to screech “Islamophobia!”. That word implies an irrational fear of Islam, whereas I am engaged in a rational down-to-earth analysis of a particular piece of cloth. Overreaction much?
In closing, I would like to extend to you my sincere middle finger over your remark of my article being “anti-woman“: a bunch of radical miserable Leftist self-declared “feminists” are going to define what it means to be pro-woman in today’s world and be the official crusaders for our entire gender? What makes you think you represent women everywhere! You certainly don’t represent me! Your movement is morally and philosophically bankrupt. Amnesty International is also a joke.
You seethe nearly every waking moment analyzing women’s “oppression” by the so called patriarchal normatively heterosexual Judeo-Christian Western civilization, but you have a moral and emotional blind-spot regarding the plight of women (and people in general) from different cultures.
That’s because you don’t give a shit: they are seen as an amorphous “other” you know nothing about and want to extend no judgment on. Your “open-minded” neutrality is nothing but self-righteous callousness. You must feel so enlightened compared to a crude idiot like me (not to mention the British “idiots in the streets”) for withholding your precious judgment, for your willful suspension of applied morality…
I can smell your self-righteous smug-farts from here… get a clue!
“I didn’t discuss Islam at all in my article” – I’d got a different impression, probably because of reading comments like this: “It’s no wonder Islam is the only culture in the world that fully covers its women.” In spite of my disclaimer, I do know that it’s only the more extreme regimes that do that. SK’s comment answers it better than I could from a factual point of view. Having seen how abusive you can get, though, I’m not so surprised she didn’t come back.
“The reference in my comment #8 is very obviously not about what she is wearing, but about the content of the sign she is holding.” I didn’t find it that obvious. If you’re interpreting her sign as a threat, whore is the wrong word to use. It’s a specifically gendered slur in response to a non-gender-specific offence. I didn’t call your article anti-woman, just that particular comment. Sorry if that was unclear.
You seem to have confused me with “self-declared radical feminists”, who if you’re thinking of the same people I am, I can’t stand to read any more for reasons that have nothing to do with the argument here.
I’m not going to answer the rest of your rant; time is short, the internet is large. I’m going back to anti-racist sites where I think I understand the terms of debate.
Sure… go to anti-racist sites, unlike this “racist” site of mine… and yes, do learn to understand the terms of the debate. You clearly have displayed a very shaky grasp of them.
May 20, 2005 – (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) The oppressive Taleban regime is long gone, but many Afghan women are still afraid to abandon their burqas. “I feel naked without my burqa,” said Kabul woman Roqia, dragging large shopping bags and gasping in the heat. “I cannot take it off. I would feel that everyone was looking at me.”
Basically what you said..
What an insight to human stupidity. In about fifty years the human race will face such a challenge to its cosmic/religious identity that all this childish crap will seem to say the least **** ** ****. The future isn’t anything like the zealots can image. Time is history – behold the LHC!