Sunday, October 16, 2011

Media-led burqa hysteria?

Amusing take from the folks at ABC's The Hamster Wheel on the Australian media's sensationalising of the burqa issue.

But this clip and the content within it represent for me the nature of problematic discussion about Islam in Australia. The Hamster Wheel guys do a good job of showing some of the ignorance that drives the prejudice against Muslims in Australia, and how the media fuel so much of it. But they also hint at the usual idea pushed by the Left that those who worry about the influence of radical Islam in Australia are probably stupid or racist or both.
Our media has essentially created a dichotomy: you are either a Muslim-hating xenophobe, or you accept anything and everything that Muslims do and assume that it'll all be okay in the end. For me, I look forward to a happy medium in which Australians (including Muslim Australians) can accept that Muslims are welcome and valued members of our society, yet acknowledge that certain practices associated with Islamic culture have no place in Australia. Of course, no two people seem to agree on exactly where that happy medium lies, so I guess we are stuck with the polarisation.

See also:

How the media manufactures a racist "controversy"

Is it Islamophobic to ban the burqa?


  1. My happy medium would be a world where Muslims may practice their faith freely and to whatever degree they wish, so long as it does not violate the laws of the land in which they are living. (For instance, don't ban burka's or hijab's, but perhaps get rid of the polygyny, rare as it is.)

  2. @ Zek:
    Polygyny is more common than you might think. In that, it's still not common in Western countries, but there are people doing it unofficially, on the sly.
    For me, hijab = in, burqa = out. The burqa doesn't violate any laws but it's still contrary to the values crucial to modern Western society, and the values that underpin it are repugnant, no matter how some try to redefine it.

  3. Eurasian,

    Hmmm, I'd be interested in your take on how the burqa violates "values crucial to modern Western society". Not that I'm disagreeing -- necessarily -- but rather that I'm curious as to your opinion on the matter.

    (Personally I find the burqa to be kinda strange, scary, and generally discomforting, but that could just be my ethnocentrism.)

  4. ^ Here's how I see it.

    * The burqa is intrinsically oppressive of women. It is based on (1) the idea that women are property and accessible only to those who effectively "own" them - family and husband - and (2) the idea that women's exposed face and skin is sufficient temptation for men to rape and harass them. So while the burqa - and all forms of hijab, actually - is said to prevent that temptation, it actually infantilises men by telling them that the onus is on women to prevent rape, since men clearly can't control their rapey urges.
    I know that modern Western society is not exactly super-friendly to women, all things to considered, but I'm thinking of the type of society we are trying to create.

    * Anything that covers the face is an obstacle to free and open interaction between people. It is contradictory for a Muslim to say they will integrate into Western society, yet wish to wear a veil that effectively prevents social integration.
    Remember that anecdote that in communication, the actual words you say only amount to 20% (or whatever) of the message that gets across? Concealing a woman's face removes a huge chunk of her capacity to express herself, but also for her expression to be fully interpreted by those she interacts with.

    I've gone into more detail in the post I linked above (

  5. Eurasian,

    So I read through your post. I definitely agree on the symbolic level: the burqa, and possibly also the hijab represent two evils of sexism: that men are unable to control their sexual urges and so women must wear literally oppressive clothing in order to stop men from raping them.

    However, I disagree in the practical. At least for the hijab, it's inherent symbolism is being rewritten (in the American vernacular, "taking it back") to send the message, "I am a proud Muslim woman," as opposed to, "I am an oppressed Muslim woman." And this is something I've seen all around California (which is the basis of my, admittedly limited experience), from the Bay Area, the LARGE Muslim-Arabic community of Orange County.

    Young Muslim women see the garments as some form of positive Islamic identity, and attempt to convey it as such. While I cannot help but have mixed feelings on the reality of this statement, I admire the attempt and really enjoy the company of my Muslim friends, coworkers, etc. (Often because they know what it's like to be a minority-religion in a Christian-majority nation.)

    However, the Burqa is more difficult. Mostly because I've never met a self-empowered Muslim woman, living in a Western nation, who advocated for being allowed to wear a burqa. Indeed the only I've ever seen a woman wearing a full burqa was once in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (where I was employed at the time), and the very sight of the woman scared the ever-loving-shit out of me.

    So it is true that the burqa does make social interaction difficult, if not downright impossibly loaded, but I'm not sure if banning it, restricting it, or in any way coming down had on it will ultimately help. I feel it will only make the Muslim community defensive, and cling to it even harder (despite what they may actually think) merely to save face.

    Either way, Australia's problems with Islam, and its solutions, will likely not work here in America. We're too committed to religious freedom; we even defend the rights of the Westboro Baptists!

  6. ^ I think you've nailed the distinction between the hijab and burqa/niqab.I'm not really a fan of the hijab, but am happy to live and let live.

    Some women would claim they are "reclaiming" the burqa in such a way. I don't buy it.

    It's interesting that some Muslims defend the burqa even though they don't personally support the wearing of it. I think that's mostly a reaction to what they see as a climate of Islamophobia in which everything vaguely Islamic must be defended against the Western cultural juggernaut. But personally I think Muslims in the West should take it upon themselves to eradicate those cultural practices that make them look backward, rather than defend them. The women being forced to wear the burqa ARE Muslim, after all.