Monday, September 14, 2009

The Islamic Burka: Symbol of Male Power

(I took this picture of two Muslim women in Jerusalem.)

Marnia Lazreg, in her new book Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women, argues that the Islamic burka "stands for political ideology and male power." Lazreg is a professor of sociology at City University of New York. She says that piety has little to do with the burka, the full-face-and-body veil. And, the burka is never mentioned in the Koran.

Robert Fulford, reviewing Lazreg's book in the National Post, writes: "A woman wearing a mask is a woman declining to be human. Unable to look anyone in the eyes, lacking peripheral vision, her hearing muffled, she becomes an abstraction. Encouraging a woman to wear the burka is like offering her a portable isolation cell."

Lazreg shows how, historically, the veil comes and goes with the rise and fall of ideologies, male perceptions of women, and women's perceptions of themselves. And, wearing the burka leads to health problems: "Women who hide every inch of their skin from the sun often suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency and develop early osteoporosis, a syndrome noted by doctors in several countries." Lazreg says that "the veil is a man's problem more than a woman's."

Finally, Lazreg argues against Muslim theologians who put a happy spin on the burka, saying it empowers Muslim women. Lazreg concludes that "the revival of the veil does nothing for the rejuvenation of Muslim civilization; "it degrades Islam" and impoverishes its spirit."