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Over in Toronto, a Muslim cleric with the unwieldy name of Al-Hashim Kamena Atangana had a great idea. Al-Hashim’s idea was for Toronto to pass laws forcing women to wear burkas. “Cover up or get raped,” was the implied message. Toronto only has an estimated 5.5 percent Muslim population so the Toronto Taliban probably won’t be getting their way until they have higher double digit numbers, but they can wait.
Meanwhile in Egypt where the population is 90 percent Muslim and the other 10 percent are running for their lives, a new TV channel represents a brave new frontier in Islamic feminism. Maria TV features women giving lifestyle and makeup tips while wearing full niqab, which covers their faces and leaves only their eyes exposed. According to some Saudi clerics who think that women are only allowed to leave one eye exposed, this makes them either a bold feminist experiment or shameless strumpets.
In a country where Tahrir Square has become synonymous with sexual assault; the Al-Hashim paradigm is taking hold. There are photos of female students at Cairo University from the 60’s and 70’s that showed them dressing like women did in the 60’s and 70’s. But by the time Obama showed up to praise Cairo University as a great representative of Islamic civilization, the cover-up had begun. The question is where will the cover-up end and what will the Cairo University class of 2020 look like? They probably won’t have faces, but will they even have eyes?
You can attend a university with your head covered, even with your face covered, but it gets harder to attend class when your eyes are covered. If the trend means anything in a decade Muslim feminism will mean fighting for the right to keep one eye open in a creed that wants everyone to keep their eyes shut.
The West has reacted to the Islamic cover-up with its own cover-up. The Western liberal will run through the gamut of his own civilization’s sins before reluctantly admitting that some parts of the Muslim world may not be an ideal place to be a woman, but he immediately reaches for a rolled up copy of the New York Times and uses Tom Friedman’s latest report from an airport’s luxury lounge in Dubai or Kuala Lumpur as proof that the reforms are coming.
Indeed if you read anything from Tom Friedman, who is expert at writing books about how the world is becoming a global village because it’s so ridiculously easy for him to fly anywhere on his frequent flyer miles, that is all he can talk about. Saudi Arabia is constantly being reformed. Why in 1962 it abolished slavery and recently the Saudi king has agreed to let women vote in municipal elections in 2015. This is naturally a big deal in an absolute monarchy that has been ruled by the same family for longer than it had oil companies.
There is no question that King Abdullah is a great feminist. If you doubt that just ask any one of his 13 wives. It may be true that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive or leave the country without permission from their husband; but so long as Tom Friedman has a comfortable seat and an alcohol-free drink whenever he flies to Saudi Arabia, the reports of reforms will keep on coming about this cheerful outpost in our global village.
We all live in villages. Our village is a place where women are considered human beings, but in the village that is an ocean and a desert away, women are considered property. The problem is that lately our two villages have been overlapping thanks to the heap big magic of the airport. Americans travel to Saudi Arabia, where they are told to cover themselves up and respect the local customs, and Muslims travel to Canada where they tell the city of Toronto that it needs to cover up its women or they won’t be responsible for the consequences. Our village just can’t seem to win.
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