Burqa Prejudice

The fabulous four, Charlotte, Miranda, Samantha and the unlikely leader of the pack, Carrie, are back for a second installment of the Sex and the City movie. Everyone but Samantha is married, and the women spend a good deal of time discussing their husbands and their children rather than the latest fashionable restaurant. But, the gals just cannot help themselves, and they try to recapture their early spontaneous selves. They go on a holiday paid off by the clever Samantha’s P.R. business deal, which includes a week’s stay in a gilded hotel in Abu Dhabi. Once there, they get to ride camels in the desert, relax under Bedouin tents, and sample foods the names of which they cannot pronounce. Culture shock padded with luxury is easy to take.

One cultural phenomenon that keeps the four tourists entertained is the black robe worn by Middle Eastern women, called the burqa. It is on full display for these girls to contemplate in all its variations: as a burqini (burqa+bikini – a misnomer if there ever was one); as a jewel-studded modern creation; with its veil, the niqab; and as the full body burqa that hides those seductive feminine curves from uncontrollable Muslim men.

But the conflict between exposed flesh and bundled body is irreconcilable. A “conservative” Middle Eastern hotel guest and his burqad wife witness Samantha’s inappropriate behavior toward her Danish architect friend (one of those many architects who is raising concrete and glass towers in the barren desert). There is a stark contrast between Samantha’s bare back with a sliver of a white dress and the heavy black robe the Arab’s wife is wearing, as Samantha leaves her table for a moment of debauchery on the beach. No culture clash could have been better illustrated. The Arab patron subsequently has Samantha and her four friends thrown out of the hotel.

Muslims have criticized Sex and the City 2 as islamophobic and “orientalist,” although I see nothing wrong with the second charge other than its allusion to Edward Said’s petulant accusation of the West’s prejudice towards the Orient in his book Orientalism. But, Sex and the City 2 is more convoluted and confused than that. It tries to be Islamocentric – all cultures are good, after all, and often non-Western cultures more so. But then, the feminist side of the Sex and the City gals and the writers kicks in, and they just don’t know what to do about all those insufferable Arab men who are holding their women down, especially through that ubiquitous burqa. Yet, yet, these Muslim women wear their burqas with pride, and insist that no one forces it on them. At least that’s what Naomi Wolf says.

But, in our own Western lands, the focus on the burqa and the niqab must not be what Muslim women allegedly like or want to wear (the covering is not an option for Muslim women), but what it means to our societies. Most Western societies have not welcomed this costume (and custom) with open arms:

- Pools in France and Italy have banned the burqini, citing mostly problems with hygiene.

- At least two Muslim women have been expelled from French language courses in Quebec for wearing niqabs, with teachers complaining that it is difficult to assess pronunciation skills without a full view of a student’s face.

- A Muslim rape victim in Ottawa refuses to remove her niqab during her court case. Although the court still has to decided whether to allow her to proceed covered up, representatives of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers Association are protesting her request.

- Belgium has passed a bill banning the burqa, in effect in July 2010.

- France has banned the head scarf known as the hijab in public schools since 2004, and now seeks a full ban in all public areas.

- The Netherlands are also planning on following suit, which means that many other European countries are not far behind.

- In the South Pacific, an Australian politician is calling for a ban of the burqa

- More and more hijab-wearing women in the United States are being asked to remove their head coverings in the work place, since it violates companies’ “look” policies and disrupts a “diverse and inclusive work environment.”

Many of these Western nations are not directly confronting Islam when addressing their discomfort with this Islamic wear, and are giving legal, multicultural, communication and even feminist reasons instead. But it is Islam itself that is creating cultural manifestations that are incongruous with our own culture, and the best remedy is to remove it and its influence from our lands. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders understands this. His underdog Freedom Party just won a resounding third place in the recent Dutch Parliamentary elections. Wilders is calling for a halt of Muslim immigration to the Netherlands, and aims to greatly reduce Islam’s influence in his country.

Samantha’s Abu Dhabi business associate effusively told her not to worry about the small cultural disagreement – bare-backed impropriety vs. burqad constraint. It was the understatement of the film. Consequently, though, her business meetings were canceled and her luxury hotel rooms no longer a gratuity. Abu Dhabi wanted nothing more to do with her and her friends. Muslims take conflict with their culture and religion, deliberate or ingenuous, very seriously. When will Westerners do the same?

  • Ian

    One slightly nit-picky point, but one that illustrates the situation with, I believe, greater clarity, the patron of the hotel notified the religious police of Samantha's "inappropriate conduct" and it was the police that arrested Samantha. She was then told that her room would no longer be complementary and, if she wished to remain, it would cost her $20,000 per night.

    I say this only to emphasize that her conduct was not only distasteful to the patron of the (very western – appearing) hotel, but actually illegal. Muslim states simply do not tolerate behavior which conflicts with their religion. I find this perfectly acceptable in that each state has the right to enact and enforce laws that it sees fit, provided that it is willing to live with the consequences and provided that it accepts that other states have the same right.

    The failure of the Islamic world to accept the legitimacy of other points of view on (essentially) all issues is the great source of the present day conflict we have between Islam and "The West". This conflict is mandated in the Koran and impossible to resolve without a complete rethinking of the Muslim approach to Islam.

    Tragically for the worlds Muslim population, it will be many decades, if not centuries, before sufficient popular support exists in the Muslim world for the kind of reforms within the interpretation of the religion that are necessary to eliminate the tensions between Islam and every other religion. In the meanwhile, I believe that non-Muslims should support in every way possible Muslim (or former Muslim) reformers of Islam.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lfox328 Lfox328

    I linked to this article http://rightasusual.blogspot.com/2010/06/more-on-

    I also had previously written about burqas
    http://rightasusual.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-bans

  • Diann

    I'm disappointed in Naomi Wolf's views about the total covering of women. She doesn't know what she's talking about. In Islamic Republics, failure to wear this suffocating cover-up can bring at minimum a severe beating by the religious police – and death if one continues to refuse it's use. So – the burqa, abaya, niqab – all these items contribute to the control and punishment of women under Islamic rule. Western countries absolutely MUST develop laws against their use in our land. Otherwise, more of Sharia will be implemented here, and the radicals will be on to the next oppressive rule against women, to subjugate wives, daughters, sisters and mothers, in the free west.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/CanadConserv CanadConserv

      I'm not sure she actually said it is worn by choice generaLLY, AS OPPOSE TO SOMETIMES. bUT SHE CERTINLY PORTRAYED BURKAS A CULTURAL, BARELY HIDING the wonderful sexuality of its wearers.

      How utterly ridiculous.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JosephWiess JosephWiess

    Will you still think each state has the right to keep it's women down when it happens over here….wait, it already is; don't you remember Rifqa and the two muslim girls that were killed in Dallas, just for dating boys?

    Grow the hell up and get over this, "We are all one," mentality.

  • fuds

    please do not indicate Muslim men as 'uncontrollable'.