Life today for Muslim women in the UK is completely different to when I was growing up in a Muslim home. You know you are getting old when you start saying ‘the good old days’ when talking about the past. But life in Glasgow, Scotland in the 70s and 80s for Muslim women was actually really good. Yes, there was racism, but other communities had to put up with that too. The Muslim community doesn’t have a monopoly on victim status.
It was frightening to have our windows smashed by young white men who were not pleased we had moved into their predominantly white area. It was frightening to have white men and women swear at you ‘fucking darkies’ or ‘smelly paki lover’ as you walked passed them, as I experienced when out with my mother, a white Catholic who had converted to Islam, when she married my father. Thankfully, the racism from children at school was less frightening and it didn’t take long for me to be accepted by my classmates. Children are better at integrating than most adults.
Back then the Pakistani community was decent. Everything was all new and exciting. The men had come over to earn a living and make a new life in the UK and in time called for their families to join them or created new families, the first generation to be born in the UK, my generation. Pakistani people, when they first arrived, were relaxed about their religion. There were few hijabs, and niqabs and burkas were fewer still. Men with long beards were generally only the very devout, such as an old uncle or perhaps the occasional eccentric teenager who took his religion far too seriously, and it often went hand in hand with regular praying and learning the Quran off by heart. The majority of Pakistani women and girls in the UK wore a headscarf, either round their neck or on their head, but not to cover their hair
Today Muslim girls face far less racism than when I was growing up, and again I would argue no worse than other ethnic minorities. The more serious problems they face are within their own communities, such as the dilemma of covering or not covering – assuming they have that choice. Everybody is interested in what a Muslim woman should wear and politicians in Europe are now discussing a ban on the burka.
The burka is a head to toe garment that has a piece of mesh to allow the women to see through. Seeing a woman wearing the burka makes me feel uneasy, and I am a woman of Muslim heritage. It makes me feel uneasy for a number of reasons, the main one being I cannot see the woman behind the burka, I cannot see her facial expressions. Is she happy, is she miserable, is she bored talking to me, is she up to no good? Who knows? When a woman wears a burka I am denied the ability to receive crucial non-verbal communication that is a natural part of everyday human interactions in open and free societies. These are simple things we all take for granted when conversing with one another and meeting people for the first time.
Deep down you just know, or at the very least suspect, that the women wearing the burkas will be married to, or are the daughters of, men with beards, long beards. Men who take their religion very seriously. Men who regularly pray at the mosques that preach hate. Men who teach their children to hate the kaffir and all things Western. To say families like this do not live in the UK is foolish.
Women can be seen in burkas at Islamic protests in the UK, protesting with banners calling for ‘Death to those who insult Islam,’ and ‘Sharia Law for the UK’ sometimes even accompanied by children in prams. Sadly, for too many people the burka symbolises something sinister and when you see burka clad women calling for Sharia Law, you can understand why.
Nowhere in the Quran does it say to cloak the women in a black bag with only a tiny piece of mesh to allow them to see where they are going. Nowhere in the Quran does it say to cover your hair, yet many Muslim women do, and they say it is their own free choice. The whole question of what is or is not in the Quran seems to me irrelevant here, though, because if burkas and hijabs are “nothing to do with Islam”, why then is it “Islamophobic” to object to them? And why are they always justified in the name of religious freedom? Which specific religion might that be?
Women in hijabs do not concern me as much as women in burkas, but I fear that our soft stance on the hijab, which like the burka is also a symbol and tool of women’s oppression, has helped lay the path for making the burka so acceptable in mainstream society. At least when someone is wearing a hijab, though, I can see their face and I can converse with them pretty much normally.
Some hijab wearers try to make non-hijab wearers feel guilty and shameful for not covering their head. There was one hijab wearing girl at my school in the 80s – yes just one. We all felt sorry for her, we the lucky Muslim girls who did not have to wear even a scarf to school, never mind the hijab. Now some Muslim girls are feeling sorry for those without a hijab.
I used to think that the hijab wearing girls and women who had a full face of make up done (I swear some of these girls have a make up artist on speed dial) – you know, the ones with skin tight clothes and high heels – were kind of defeating the purpose of the hijab. If it is to be worn to cover your hair and hide your attractiveness to the opposite sex, to make you look pious and protected in the eyes of Allah, then why draw attention to yourself? Now I view those girls as rebellious and mischievous, and I like that, even though they may not think that way of themselves. But even though I might like their own sassy interpretation of how a hijab is to be worn, the downside is that it makes the hijab more and more acceptable and “trendy”, which I think is bad news. This then encourages high street retailers to cater for this fashion trend, normalising the hijab even more.
The burka offers no such choices, and comes only in one style and perhaps two colours, black and dark blue. The burka is incredibly oppressive; it allows men to control the women in their families. How insecure does a man have to be that he will not allow his wife or daughters to leave the house until every part of her is covered up? These men claim their religion is compassionate yet they impose on their womenfolk an oppressive rule made by men to control women.
That we are even having a debate on whether the burka should be banned or not is pathetic. When you see the actions of many burka clad Muslim women on the high streets of towns and cities in certain parts of the UK, promoting death to all things British, to behead those who insult Islam and calling for Sharia Law, you wonder why the ban is not in place already.
If anything banning the burka is probably one of the simplest ways Britain could assert its culture and its values in the face of hostile and uncompromising Islamisation. Banning the burka should be low-hanging fruit. But Britain hasn’t even got the bottle to do that. This is not tolerance. It is weakness. If we can’t win the easy battles, we will never win the difficult ones.