I started my ‘Midday’ week on Wednesday and with a bang. We were talking about the Belgian Government’s proposal to ban the burka. I being the emotionally driven (or unstable depending on your viewpoint) individual that I am was all in favour of the move to ban or indeed mass burn the burka because I regard it and the Jilbab, Hijab, niqab, chadri and any other garb designed to segregate a woman from her surroundings as an abomination. I listened to those who debated the cultural verses religious origins of this distressing torturous phenomenon and it made me squirm in my own skin because we all know deep down and at a visceral level that these origins whether driven by culture or religion are man made.
And then came the question of freedom, we live in a democracy and so how in good conscience can I or anyone else attempt to limit any woman’s freedom of expression regardless of how sad or angry it makes me feel and despite its implications for and limitations of that woman’s actual freedom? The calls and texts rolled in. A lot of women (and many more than I would have thought) supported the burka, some for cultural or traditional reasons some for religious and it was interesting to me that the only voice we didn’t hear from was a Muslim woman forced to wear the burka against her wishes. (And yes kids she does exist. She isn’t a phantom of this western woman’s imagination). But of course we wouldn’t hear from that woman because it makes sense that she would be as silent as she is invisible.
My lovely fellow panellists were in part agreement with me but most definitely not wholly. Sinead Ryan (Our resident brain) believed in banning it but only when appropriate for health and safety reasons like for instance driving a car. That made perfect sense but than again Sinead isn’t an emotionally driven sap like me instead she is the paragon of practicality so failing to receive support based on my sanctimonious need to unshackle our new countrywomen I decided to jump on her bandwagon for a bit not just because I was feeling a little lonely but also because she’s right. If you can’t look left and right or your eyesight is limited by gauze you are a hazard to all around you. If Anna is legally bound to wear glasses or contacts to enhance vision when driving surly Afaf should be legally bound to remove her Chadri?
Open hearted and open minded Anna Nolan felt the ladies should be entitled to wear whatever they wished to wear because to legislate would lead us down a dark and winding road after all what would come next? Ban pyjamas in the supermarket? Call me a fascist but I’d be all for that. Or ban the hoodie because groups of boys wearing hoodies scare middle class women over the age of 30? Or ban high heels because they are dangerous and cause unsightly bunions? I see where she’s coming from and again in a democratic society Anna Nolan’s argument is the sound one. Mine is the hysterical knee jerk one. My head gets it my heart is still unsure.
The lovely Mary Banotti who looks eerily like my mom and is as wise and kind as my own mom once was, trumpets all people’s rights but like me the burka and all versions of it saddens her terribly. And as Mary is the only one of us to actually have worn the burka she has an insight that I am glad not to share. Mary a former member of the European Parliament was in Afghanistan for meetings, during her time there and while not forced she was encouraged to conceal her femineity furthermore she was told in no uncertain terms not to shake the hand of the men that met her. Colette Fitzgerald told us in the dressing room that she had reported from the mountains of Pakistan and despite the intense heat and having to carry gear up hills and through tiny rural villages she choose to conceal herself, despite nearly dying of heat. My own foster sister Siobhan nursed in Saudi for a number of years and she too choose to wear the burka when out and about. I remember Siobhan telling me that in a certain area of town on a particular day of the week there was a chopping ceremony in which thieves had a hand cut off in full view of any and all who wished to spectate. If a western woman was passing this particular area or street at the time of this weekly event she would often be manhandled by those present and pushed to the front so as to witness the atrocity as it unfolded. That is one of the reasons why Siobhan ‘choose’ to wear the burka. This choice these western women made was made on basis of foreign men’s stares and open hostility. This choice was made out of fear of repercussion rather than based on a personal desire ‘to give it an ‘auld go.’ One of the arguments for and against banning the burka is based on ‘choice’ but what is choice if it is predicated upon fear, compulsion or pressure? Is it really a woman’s choice to be isolated from the world around her? Is it really her choice to be uncomfortable and encumbered, invisible and limited? There will always be a few martyrs (or as I affectionately refer to them – lunatics) to any cause but for the most part I just don’t buy it.
And on what cultural or religious basis are these women being asked to hide away? Well let me quote a Taliban spokesperson to answer that one. “The face of a woman is the source of corruption for the men not related to them.” Ah that ‘auld tulip. Let’s face it, it’s based on the same cultural and religious notions purported by all the major religions throughout history in which women are not merely inferior (Adam’s rib my arse) to men but we are also described as incarnate of the devil or partners with the devil after all Adam would never have dreamed of consuming the forbidden fruit were it not for his being led astray by the sinful Eve. (In my book that makes Adam a bit of a gormless gobshite. Just say no Adam you effing moron) From the get go women are painted as corrupters of men. Then of course there are all those charming rituals such as the Jewish Mikvah or the Catholic Churching of women. The Mikvah was a bath designed to cleanse the female body during menstruation because menstruation was deemed suspicious, unclean and in some cases dangerous to the Jewish faith. The women would be segregated for 7 days because those who came in physical contact with a menstruating woman would be also deemed forever unclean. It’s funny in a kind of horrifying way kinda like ‘Crystal Swing’. In Catholicism when a woman had a child the local priest would be summoned to ‘church’ or cleanse her of the sin of giving birth before she would be once again welcomed back into the flock. Meanwhile the man who shoved his dick in his wife to contribute his DNA made the tea because sex and reproduction is only sinful and filthy if you are a woman.
Some say the Burka is to protect the chasteness and dignity of a woman because in the presence of a woman’s skin poor witless men are unable to control themselves and It’s not the man’s fault he can’t control himself, it’s the woman’s and why is man’s weakness woman’s fault? Because she’s evil and how can a mere mortal man control himself in the presence of the devil? We’ve been burned as witches, demonised and renounced age after age and by religious movement after religious movement. In fact in some cases the only thing Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common is man’s desire to control woman.
The mother of Jesus is written as a virgin and of course she’s a virgin because sex is dirty and this mother has got to be set apart from all her filthy contemporises. God is the creator in Heaven and we females are the creators on earth and yet instead of being hailed as being close to God we have been branded as gateways to the devil. As Catherine Tate’s nan would put it ‘What a load of old shit.’ And so as a free woman living in a western society I am afforded the right to give two fingers to the Catholic religion that holds little or no respect for me and that right has been hard won. It wasn’t too long ago that the women of Ireland were subordinate to their husbands, brothers and fathers and held hostage by a religion that found more sin in the bedroom than on the battlefield. As a liberal I’m no fan of any ban but as a free woman every fibre of my being wants to emancipate my fellow women from their male imposed bondage and some may not thank me but I hope one day their daughters will.