Today on the way in to work I happened across a lovely young family. Well...the husband and children seemed healthy and happy, as to the woman however it was difficult to tell since all I could see were her eyes. She sported a very attractive and form-flattering...er...not so much...burqua, while her husband and children were decked out in t-shirts, jeans and shorts. The weather today, by the way, topped out at over 40 degrees celsius with the humidex. I can scarcely imagine the sauna that woman experienced every time she walked outside. However, her physical discomfort was the least of my reasons for becoming instantly upset.
However, that little exchange continued to nag at me. Arguments and justifications continued to ramble through my brain. Things I would have liked to have said. Things like:
"Is culture a valid reason for accepting female genital mutilation? For a woman having to spend her life peeing through a hole the approximate diameter of a toothpick?"
"Does culture give the Chinese license to abandon or kill their infant daughters because they really want a boy?
"Was culture a valid reason for apartheid in South Africa and the overt oppression and subjugation of the blacks?"
"Was culture a reason to accept slavery in the American south?"
And that's when it hit me. That is exactly the reason that culture is NO excuse to accept such injustices, and that's because SLAVERY is exactly what we're talking about here. Some may argue that these women are making a choice to follow their religion and its traditions. But whether that's true or not, the simple fact is that the vast majority of women are not free to make the alternate choice. Can a woman in Saudi Arabia decide on a particularly hot day that she would prefer to not wear the burqua? That she would like to go shopping without her husband for a change? Drive a car? Go to school? NO! The consequences of such a decision would be almost certain physical abuse and possible death.
How about that woman that I saw--here in Canada? Could she turn around and say to her husband that she has decided the burqa is no longer for her? That she would really like to wear a bikini to the beach tomorrow. She would likely not face execution, but I suspect the ramifications would be almost as dire, and she would certainly lose access to everything that she loves.
And what of the teenage girls in the United States, who tried to put some distance between themselves and their parents' traditions, by going out with their friends and behaving like the other teenagers that they knew? Who enjoyed spending time with boys and not wearing their burqa? Those girls that ended up strangled at the hands of the fathers who had raised and professed to love them?
This is no "choice". This is SLAVERY! There is no other word for it. Certainly there are cultures that live very strange and even somewhat annoying lifestyles. The Amish whose buggies tie up traffic on the roads in my region. The Mormons who still practice polygamy. Or the Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to celebrate holidays like their neighbours. These are curiosities, certainly. And in some cases I would seriously question their choices, since they're not made on accurate information and education, but rather on a lack of information and blind faith. However, I will defend very vocally their right to make these choices, because they can walk AWAY from these situations at any time of their choosing. Because while some of them may face significant emotional consequences like alienation from beloved family members, I do not believe that any of them face bodily or mortal harm for such a decision. This is the crux of slavery.--enforced subjugation of one group by another, without recourse or means of escape.
And where else in the world do we tolerate slavery these days? Nowhere.
There are a scant few women in the world who choose to wear the burqa because this is truly an educated and well-informed choice. However, I believe such a choice is an affront and an insult to the THOUSANDS of women for whom the burqa is a souce and symbol of oppression and a license for physical abuse. To choose to wear it is akin to taking up a placard and declaring your allegiance to mysogyny and exploitation.
The burqa is tolerated under the guise of religious and cultural tolerance. But I would counter that to accept the burqa under the auspices of "cultural tolerance" is merely a mask for apathy, ignorance and indifference.
For any who are interested I would highly recommend reading INFIDEL by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is a provocative and moving account of one woman's battle against and eventual escape from the tyranny of the burqa. She now lives in hiding and in constand fear of her life in the USA.
So read, comment, ask questions, rant and rave...but most of all enjoy and open your mind to possibilities!