Monday, July 19, 2010

On Banning the Niqab

Don't get me wrong, I am not myself for stopping people who want to wear what is loosely (and historically inaccurately) called a "hijab", or a niqab, or a burqa. (Do check out the ads for various coverings you can no doubt see on this web page.) My grandmother and her generation wore a burqa all their lives--into the 21st Century. My mother--a Pakistani professional who has headed up educational institutions on two continents and taught Islamic History herself--wore it. She wore it whenever she visited my grandfather in my father's family home in a hamlet on the outskirts of Lucknow, India. She did it out of respect for tradition and her father-in-law. At one point, in the late 70's he--a traditional Awadhi "zamindar", or feudal landowner, himself--told her he didn't think it was necessary any longer. That is how our culture has evolved. Choice. Respect for tradition. Choice in respecting tradition.

But very frankly, when we engage with the issue as one of freedom for women versus preventing the oppression of women, we're buying into the Islamist-Islamophobic binary. The whole hijab-niqab-burqa thing (at least in Europe they make the distinction between the three; in the US, even most younger Muslims couldn't do that) is a power play on the one hand by the neo-purist/Islamist crowd, and on the other hand by the xenophobic/Islamophobic crowd. And, like these things have been for centuries, is being played out on the bodies and modesty of women.

If you need help understanding this, think Gay Marriage initiatives and laws in US elections; they are not put on the ballot because Gay Marriage is a pressing threat to The Republic, but to get out the right-wing vote. That's what the Islamist fringe is doing with hijab; and that's what the right-wing fringe xenophobes are doing with the ban.

And illiberal policies like the one in France are not new, either, or limited to The West; Attaturk's policies in Turkey were as illiberal as this ban--and they weren't restricted to women, either; he banned turbans, too. And, of course, we now have the ban in Syria.

But the point I am making is that this recent surge of "hijab", burka and niqab-related news has less to do with the heritage of these particular Muslims and more with a certain (and rather recent) religio-political movement using it as a political rallying point--much as god, guns and gays are used by the Christian Right in the US.

[Earlier posts discussing the topic of "hijab", which is how the issue of "Islamic dress" for women usually comes up in the US can be read here. This post has also been carried by Newsline Magazine, Pakistan's blog and the Journal of America]

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Fault Dear Brutus…

Been meaning to start writing again and putting it off till I have sorted out my website and all. But I seem to now have some material that might be of interest—or at least, might generate some discussion that might lead to organizing my own thoughts. I seem to do some of my best ranting in conversation with friends, Romans, and countrymen (and not a few wimin; and in my case from at least three or four countries) and in reaction to things I hear, see, and read. And, of late, that has increasingly been through discussions on Facebook statuses.

So. Here is a piece that brings together reactions to two pieces, both of a kind that I keep running into quite often nowadays. It has to do with Pakistanis (and my fellow naijaborn, or Nigerian folks) expressing either cynicism or sarcasm (as in the first case below), or depression (as in the second case) at various things "back home". I know some of my reaction might sound a bit idealistic; and let's talk about if you do.

Here goes:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Cassius, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act I Scene II, 140-141
And, if I remember right, Cassius, too, was at least obliquely referring to authoritarian tendencies in government. [See notes at ]

And to your last point, Ariel, not just that we're responsible, but that it is our responsibility to change it rather than just whine and moan. And this is not to pick on Ali; he, after all, started this discussion and is in there mixing it all up. And, if I may say so, so are the Islamists and the Zaid Hamidists, and the Marxists. At least they are engaging with the problem and and trying to make things move they way they think they should be going. It is the petit bourgeous, latte liberal whining that pisses ME off. Ask how many of them have ever considered joining a political party or a social movement, or a citizen's movement?

The old saying of "Every people get the government they deserve" comes to mind; we Pakistanis deserve the horse-thief-from-a-line-of-horse-thieves we have in every station of our establishment and government.

Here's a something else I wrote in response to another friend's Facebook status:

We used to say our fathers' generation did not do the job right; but they were in survival mode as immigrants or people trying to get a country going that had little in the way of societal and govermental structures. This might sound cliched, bit it was, IS, our job to consolidate and build—and sometimes I think the ten years when the rest of the world ignored and/or sanctioned our asses was the time we could have really built up. And those were the very years I and my crop of upstarts came of age—the 90s—and voted with our feet. And yes, maybe we were too young and, for a lot of us from that Mian Bhai/petit bourgeous class, not plugged in enough to know how. So, having said that, maybe now is the time?