"You must be mad, minister" - Yasmin Alibhai-Brown blasts British Minister who defended the Burka
- July 20, 2010
The burka empowering women? You must be mad, minister
By YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN
The Daily Mail, UK
These British apologists for the burka make me see red, whatever side of the political spectrum they come from. They can be Left-wingers who'll countenance no criticism, however valid, of hardline Muslims. They can be Right-wing libertarians who insist any woman has the right to wear whatever she chooses.
And, as we discovered this week, they can be members of the British Cabinet who ludicrously claim the burka actually empowers women.
Yes, Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, really did claim that the burka delivers its wearer blissful freedom. As a Muslim, you might expect me to agree with her, but I can't. She is wrong. Her fatuous and ill-conceived defence of the burka rendered me apoplectic with fury.
Does she even understand the harm she does by sanctioning this perversion of our faith?
Immigrant Muslims who came to Britain to get away from Stalinist ayatollahs, mullahs and women-hating fanatic regimes in their home countries must be spitting their teeth out after hearing Spelman's astounding endorsement of this dreadful garment.
We Muslims who came here wanted the freedom that Britain's proud history of democracy was renowned for. We wanted better education for our children and to live and pray in peace in a country which, for all its faults, gives us civil rights and equality between the sexes.
Yet Spelman's support for the burka suddenly puts all of our expectations under threat; for the most obvious manifestation of the oppressive Islam we left behind is welcomed here with the blessing of the ruling elite.
I'd like to invite Mrs Spelman to prove she believes what she says by wearing the black sheet and mask - surely she should do that as an act of solidarity with the 'empowered' Muslim sisters she admires so much.
And if she chooses not to, if she feels she would find wearing a burka limiting and suffocating, why on earth is she breezily recommending it as a garment for other women?
Would she honestly be so upbeat about the burka if a daughter of hers hid herself away inside its veil, or if her son brought home a totally veiled bride-to-be? I don't think so. She and the rest of the 'liberal-minded' burka brigade can only afford to be generous because the burka does not - and never will - affect their own lives, nor test their powers of endurance.
To check out the shrouded sisters who tell me they feel ' beautifully' liberated under a veil, I tried wearing a burka for a day - and threw it off in a couple of hours, wheezing asthmatically.
I felt wiped out, a nobody - lifeless and voiceless. A Pakistani shopkeeper said I made him nervous because he couldn't see my face. I saw others shrinking away from me - and I could understand their reactions. So, will the defenders of the burka brand me and the shopkeeper racist? I wouldn't put it past them.
In truth, I am a life-long anti-racist and die-hard defender of Muslims - yet one who abhors veils as do countless other Muslims.
It is a view that has provoked fury and warnings from veiled women, who self-righteously tell me that uncovered Muslim females will end up in hell unless they repent. Women like me, they warn, are 'western whores' who should be thrown on the eternal fire, along with our mothers.
Of course, many veiled Muslim women argue that, far from being forced to wear burkas by ruthless husbands, they do so out of choice. And I have to take them at their word. But it is also very apparent that many women are forced behind the veil.
A number of them have turned up at my door seeking refuge from their fathers, mothers, brothers and in-laws - men brain-washed by religious leaders who use physical and mental abuse to compel the girls to cover up. It started with the headscarf, then went to the full cloak and now it's the total veil.
A good number of these women are warned of the wrath of Allah unless they succumb to life behind the veil; they are told by their fathers they are whores; they are told they will have no friends in the community - and worse still - end up spinsters.
And so these women do wear burkas against their will. I see them in restaurants and parks, unable to eat properly or feel the sun and breeze on their skin. The increasing sexualisation of society should concern us all. But this is no argument for the veil
Today, younger and younger girls are having their hair and small bodies covered up. They are learning the first step to personal incarceration. By the time of puberty, they can choose nothing else.
Muslim parents can and do argue that the rapid spread of these customs is a result of their attempt to protect their girls from the tarty, sexualised clothes of Western culture, where mini-skirts and mascara are increasingly worn by pre-pubescent children.
The increasing sexualisation of society should concern us all. But this is no argument for the veil. Good parents teach their girls to dress decently and with self-respect. And the fact is that covering up little girls defines them as sexual beings, not as children, which is what they are.
By the time they have reached adulthood, covered-up women have all but accepted the idea that they are evil temptresses. This is a notion that grossly insults Muslim men as well - for it assumes they are sexual beasts who cannot contain themselves if they see a hint of female flesh.
But men can be bad. And fully veiled females cannot be protected from say, domestic violence - for the scars of that violence are never seen.
Nor can burka-clad women be detected if they choose to commit crimes or acts of terror. There is nothing virtuous about this garment, nothing.
The Koran says explicitly there can be no compulsion in Islam. Mind control is a subtle form of compulsion. I'd argue that too many burka'd Muslim females are exerting a choice they can't not make.
Nowhere in the Holy Book are females asked to cover their faces. A garment used by upper-class Byzantine people to distance themselves from hoi polloi was adopted by the Prophets' wives to stop supplicants and enemies harassing them. That's all it was.
Our burka heroines collude with those who torture young Iranian women, for they are proxy maidens to the Taliban
True, a minority of feisty Muslim women today don the veil to show off their kind of girl power.
If they had any conscience, they would not and could not wear the garment that, in so many sectors of society across the world, has become the main way to torment and punish women and girls. Our burka heroines collude with those who torture young Iranian women, for they are proxy maidens to the Taliban.
Then again, in this country, the burka is a means by which women disengage from society. Veil-wearers refuse to compromise - yet we all have to in a complex country.
They do not reciprocate, only expect accommodation. They can look at us and deny us their own facial expressions. Instead of fighting for equal rights, these Muslims want only special treatment.
When Caroline Spelman made her ignorant remarks, she hadn't thought through how far the country can go with this. In Afghanistan, women's voices are disallowed in public places. Will that injunction soon come here?
Do we ban the burka? No, banning is a hard weapon and will make martyrs and is - as Immigration Minister Damian Green said - un-British.
But those who oppose the burka must constantly speak out. Modesty is fine, but state schools should not allow pre-pubescent girls to cover themselves. And in schools, hospitals, courts, universities, airports and trains we should insist that faces must be revealed.
For this sensitive issue, we need enlightened political leaders who can work with the progressive Muslims and stop the relentless rise of the burka. Mrs Spelman is not one of those.
If she thinks she is, God - or Allah - help us all.