Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fashion Victims

Warning: Political Incorrectness Alert!

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms.

(Qur'an 24:30,31)

Let me be frank about this: if a woman chooses to wear a veil - on her own volition - for motives that are not dictated by family, community or religious pressures - then who am I to say anything? She can wear an aluminum tiara with purple pompoms on her head for all I care. If a woman truly believes that Allah wants her to cover her head, then that is an 'informed' decision and I have no right to rebuke her. In the privacy of my cerebral musings, I will consider the wisdom of her choice, perhaps even question her ability to interpret her own traditions, but I'll more or less keep mum. I know that there are so-called Muslim feminists who espouse the veil and find it liberating. But I choose not to believe them, or rather, doubt that they fully believe this malarkey themselves. Why - because it's my blog and I can do & say as I want. I cannot understand how self-abnegating your identity can give you equality. And yes, like most westerners, in my eyes the hijab is a symbol of oppression and servitude so naturally, I take exception its imposement when the choice isn't voluntary. I take further exception when I see girls who are clearly premenstrual concealing their girlhood. Veils sexualize women - they in fact do what they intended not to. And just so everyone can plainly see my perspective (in case I've been a little obtuse here), I just can't accept that it is ever truly voluntary.

But allow me a short digression before I blow the dust off of my soapbox:

In Canada, I was friends with a young Egyptian woman who covered her hair in a series of rather stylish headscarves. On one occasion, in the privacy of my mother's home, she removed her scarf and the effect was electrifying. Friends aficiandos may well recall the Denise Richards episode (The One with Ross and Monica's Cousin) which featured the actress' luxuriant tresses cascading and choreographed to the groans & moans of Barry White. Well, Denise Richards has nothing on Nesreen. Nesreen's hair was a thing of wonder. I couldn't take my eyes of it and, as I was staring rather impolitely at her (she claimed it didn't look as good as it should since it had been under a scarf all day), I thought why? Why would Allah want to cover what "he" created? If Allah went to such pains as to create a thing of such ineffable beauty, why hide it - why make it a thing of shame?

With this is mind, consider this little nugget from the UN Office Integration Regional Information Networks recently sent to me by a friend; namely that in Iraq:

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in early 2003, the number of women attacked for choosing not to wear head scarves and veils has more than tripled, according to the Women’s Rights Association (WRA), a local NGO in the capital, Baghdad.“Women are being killed because they don’t wear headscarves and veils,” said WRA spokeswoman Mayada Zuhair. “A life is being taken because of a simple piece of cloth, and someone should prevent more women from being killed by these ignorant people who that believe honour depends on what you’re wearing.” According to WRA, there have been 80 attacks to date against women and reports of four women being killed by their families in 2005. This is compared too 22 attacks between 1999 and March 2003 and one death.

Interestingly, of those killed this year, 2 were married women who "abandoned their scarves and veils after marriage at the request of their husbands". Uncovered women often receive threats from their parents and family but are too fearful to seek help and will ask friends or more liberal husbands to intercede on their behalf. Many will live in self-imposed exile from the outside world, prisoners in their own homes. The police are hesitant to get involved, to "interfere" in what is essentially a family matter (a woman is, after all, her husband's chattel), to walk the razor's edge of a patriarchal society, traditional values, and the power of Islam. “We’re in a Muslim country… if you interfere in family cases concerning veils, you’re considered a betrayer of Islam,” explained police officer Ali Zacarias.

The Iraqi Penal Code, for example, states that "the penalty for killing a woman should be reduced if a crime was committed for reasons of honour". A so-called “honour killing” is where a woman’s relative kills her for what is described as an act which brings dishonour to the family. Not covering up, according to Zuhair, can be perceived as such an act. Yehia Abdul Salam, 37, says his wife was strangled by her father in Baquba, some 70 km north of the capital. “My wife, Leila, was killed by her father because she went to visit him without her veil, which I asked her to take off after our marriage,” said Salam. “They [the parents] thought she had destroyed the honour of her family, and death was her penalty.” Leila’s father has never been investigated for the crime, Salam added.

Perhaps someone needs to toss these women a copy of Sami Yusuf's Free? That if they don the scarf, they too can experience the sweet fruits of liberty, equality and freedom. Or better yet, they can grind up the cd's and add the shards to the kebab. Maybe someone will choke to death and be spared their womenfolk's shame.

I grieve for these women - not only the dead and injured but those walking the earth, covering themselves in modesty (or shame), concealing their identity, beauty, and sexuality, and ultimately abrogating control of their own lives, because of what others insist upon, because of the mutterings of one man many many centuries ago as he wandered about the desert. As a woman, I shake my (uncovered) head in lack of understanding, in profound sadness, in anger
. As a non-Muslim, I shake my (non believer's) head in lack of understanding, in profound sadness, in anger. I think unveiled (and unveiled) women have more to fear from their menfolk than they do from their god.

No comments: