Burqa Prejudice

The conscience of the Sex and the City gals kicks in for one split moment.

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?