Sisterhood Blog

What Leads to 'Burqa Rage'

By Rebecca Schischa

  • Print
  • Share Share

It’s interesting to see that my previous post on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the thorny issue of condemning women’s oppression in cultures other than our own sparked an insightful response from Sisterhood contributor Elana Sztokman.

Elana argues persuasively as to what the right choice should be in the feminism vs. cultural relativism quandary that I wrote about here:

She argues that women who suffer from various forms of oppression within religious groups are not the ones telling Western feminists to “butt out.” But I’m not sure if this is always the case.

Here’s what she says:

Rebecca found herself stumbling over these issues of cultural relativism. “What is the right answer?” she asks. “How do the rest of us square our desire to fight for women’s equality with a niggling fear that we should only be criticizing our own?

I would like to say to you, Rebecca, that you should stick you to your guns! Your initial reaction, which is to condemn the mistreatment of women outside of your own culture, is the right one. The voice of “cultural relativism” is a smokescreen. It is the argument put forward by people who really do not want feminist interference. And who would that be? It’s not the women who are suffering from genital mutilation or honor killings who are asking you to butt out. It’s not the women who face violence, polygamy, and corporal punishment for showing ankles and wrists who are demanding that you step aside in the name of some abstract, twisted notion of intellectual consistency. The ones asking feminists to be quiet are the ones who want to continue harming women. And those are voices that do not deserve to be heeded.

But we can’t ignore that fact that there are women within Islam who will passionately advocate their “right” to cover themselves from head to toe with a burqa — just as there are many Jewish women who willingly submit themselves to increasingly restrictive laws pertaining to their modesty,, and just as there are women in communities in Africa who still encourage their female offspring to undergo genital cutting. It is these women — whom we claim are oppressed, but who themselves advocate that these practices are actually an expression of their own religious freedom, that I worry about when I feel the urge to give a blanket condemnation.

More questions to consider: Does Hirsi Ali’s association with controversial figures of the right in The Netherlands, such as the fiercely anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders, or the slain filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who publicly referred to conservative Muslims as “goat-fuckers” discredit her? (Van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim following the release of a film he made with Hirsi Ali about what they see as the misogyny inherent in Islam.)

And does this mean that if we feminists condemn the treatment of women in other societies, particularly in the Muslim world, we risk inadvertently allying ourselves with the xenophobic right, whose critique of the treatment of women in Islam forms only a small part of a much wider politics of religious intolerance.

Just last week in France, a lawyer “allegedly ripped off another woman’s burqa in a clothes shop — and told her to ‘clear off to your country,’” in what has been called the first case of “burqa rage.” This kind of ugly incident just confirms all of my worries about the repercussions of blanket condemnation of women in other cultures.

Rebecca Schischa blogs at RebeccaInSpace, where a version of this post originally appeared.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Feminism, Theo Van Gogh

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.