We see and hear many people gasping at horror at the sight of a burqa or a niqab. Cries of diminishment of women, exploitation of women and the potential for a cover up of the body to assist terror.
For me, the burqa and niqabs are symbols of a religion practised by women.
Whether the women are subjective to men in regard to their garb or whether the men, insisting on this total cover up is on the basis of a woman’s modesty or whether these vestments are a way to continue the subjugation of women are in my mind moot points, albeit they are real to those affected.
I believe that we should respect the right of people to display their adherence to a God of their choice and separate this from the realities of Australian ways of life and work towards a change in culture.
I abhor the subjugation of women (and other non-heterosexual people for that matter), I detest the notion that only a husband can say what a woman can wear in the protection of her modesty, I deplore the diminution of women through the hiding of their bodies and countenances.
But banning burqas and niqabs is not the way to go.
I was reminded of when I was a kid and being taught (and flogged) by the good nuns of the Catholic Church. I don’t recall the order but there were heaps of teaching and nursing nuns who wore head to tail black outfits which only showed the face. They wore gloves and big boots (not to mention carrying around canes with fish hooks on the end to rip the flesh off the six-year-old Johno).
But things changed over the years and now the nuns don’t necessarily wear such diminishing yet intimidating outfits, although a trip to Rome or South East Asia will reveal some Orders still wear this stuff.
I wondered how it came to be that my mate’s sister, the nursing nun, who wore the garments of Christ in my youth, now wore a lovely beige skirt, with a fawn blouse and a matching cardie, with her head uncovered and the only sign of her religious commitment were the two gold crosses she wore on the blouse lapels. She even exposed her legs but covered them with stockings! Whoa!
How come such a massive change came about?
It turns out that the permission for nuns to go mufti was given by the Grand Poobahs of the Micks, the Pope(s) as a result of the Vatican II Conference.
As part of the sweeping changes to the Church, including local languages, the priest facing the congregation, the Popes, John XXIII and Paul VI, liberated the Church from a string of ancient stuff which was out of step with emerging societies around the world. I must say though, that there is still some opposition to these changes but they are shrinking.
Back to the habits. The Popes gave Bishops the OK to allow nuns (and priests and religious Brothers for that matter) to wear clothing which was functional, modest yet part of the people they were sworn before God to serve.
Nice one, Johno 23 and Pauly 6! But here’s the rub. It still took the Church hierarchy, through the Poobahs at different levels, and all males, to give the girls the permission to be girls. I don’t like the process but I like the outcome.
So now, if only the Muslim hierarchy across the world would follow suit, we could do away with the burqa and niqab and let the girls practice their religion and blend in with the rest of us.
I know a number of Muslim women who only wear the hajib when visiting the mosque as I know many Catholic women who still wear some form of head dress when going to Mass. But they are exercising a choice not allowed to too many women.
It seems to me that any religion which is dominated by one sex over another, is a falsehood.
If there is God, He or She would regard the souls of earthlings as equal. When I was at school no-one told me that souls had gender.
Perhaps, when the radicals and extreme fundamentals of religion are dispensed with, the Poobahs of all religions would be good enough to recognise that women are equals.
And for those who think I’m singling out the Muslims, think again. There is a sect of Judaism, practiced in Belconnen which diminishes women in as much a demeaning way as you could imagine. Its practices are medieval and out of the dark ages. Sensitivity prevents me from going into detail.
George Browning, Anglican Bishop of Canberra Goulburn at the time said at a dinner I went to once, “one has nothing to fear from the fundamentalist, but everything to fear from the radical.” I fear the radical fundamentalist and I don’t differentiate between the Muslims, the Jews, the Christians of the US South or anyone else who wishes to say that heaven is theirs and they can get there through either converting or killing non-believers. With that fear goes a sadness that women are subjugated and diminished in the name of a benevolent God. Yeah right!
And it saddens me more to know that the women can’t rise up against this oppression and call it for what it is.