Barbara Kay Bashes Burkas and Birthday Suits
It’s amazing how much consternation a couple of square metres of cloth can produce in a certain breed of social conservative. Barbara Kay is the latest journalist to endorse French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s insistence that the Islamic burka should “not be welcome” in his country, and she clearly doesn’t think burkas should be welcome in Canada either. She also doesn’t want anyone going to the opposite extreme and running around naked:
Full nudity arouses discomfort because the naked human is seen as animal-like, and therefore less than human. Full coverage arouses discomfort because the wearer is depersonalized and therefore non-human as well. No rational human being chooses full nudity in the presence of strangers. No woman, left to her own devices, would ever choose to wear a burka.
Kay really should get out more. Surely not every single member of the Federation of Canadian Naturists is fundamentally irrational, and I don’t see any reason to disbelieve women like Naima B. Robert (a self-styled “niqabi”, or veil wearer) when they explain that they freely choose to cover themselves. The controversy over Islamic dress in Western societies is often presented as a question of minority rights vs. women’s rights, or multicultural tolerance vs. forced integration, but it’s also an argument about how broadly the limits of reasonable behaviour should be drawn. Should we all conform to a relatively narrow standard of dress, or should everything from birthday suits to burkas be acceptable?
Personally, I think the latter option makes life more interesting, provided everyone is prepared to display a bit of basic tolerance. Of course, tolerance will have to cut both ways, particularly if Muslims continue to immigrate to Canada in large numbers: according to Kay, some non-Muslim European women now feel that they have to cover their heads to avoid being hassled by their new neighbours, and Canadians should certainly resist any pressure in that direction. I suspect we’re tough enough to manage.
Barbara Kay wraps up her piece with an interesting challenge. She wants anyone who thinks women should be allowed to wear burkas to march in a “Burka Pride” parade in the middle of a Toronto summer:
Naturally all of them will be wearing a burka themselves — men and women both. Let them march and march as the sun beats down on them, as the humidity drenches them in sweat so that they are sure they will suffocate.
And then, supposedly, we’ll all see the error of our ways. We’ll accept that burkas should only be worn at chilly northern latitudes, or something. Nevertheless, it sounds like an interesting experiment. I’d be curious to discover firsthand how stifling a burqa in summer really is, and how much it restricts one’s vision, and whether it induces a sense of isolation. So IF Barbara Kay gets this parade organised, and IF I happen to be in Toronto at the time, and IF I can find a suitably flattering burka that isn’t too expensive – she can count me in.