Cover Up - With A Burka --- by Darla Mulder

The Burka, I will argue, was a ripe, chosen topic-of-focus in the U.S.A. during the last months of 2001. Anything negative the media claimed THE BURKA represented, became an adeptly employed reason for invading Afghanistan. This occurred within a few days after the World Trade Center was demolished in 2001. Raised awareness of the burka, worn by Muslim women, exploited the women who had been living within an old, solid culture; it gained U.S. feminist support toward the U.S. invading a country, and it set up imperialistic and promotional profit opportunities for the U.S. to sell ideas of fashion to women. Above all, it was only one ploy diverting attention to any real reasons for what happened on September 11, 2001.

The media influenced many people in the world to think a reason for all the problems was the Taliban and Islam terrorists, and even al-Qaida (three different entities.) They were the reason women wore burkas; this idea was given to us in the news, documentaries and feature articles. We hear that women were beaten with stones when not wearing the burka in public, especially in areas where the Taliban ruled. To refrain from denouncing the force or intent of the media, I must admit now that prior to 2001, I did not know what a burka was ---.

Ashamed at my previous [and current] state of ignorance, I look for everything related to the Burka during what I will call my “Burka Issue.” I find, in The Journal of American History, an article titled “Rescuing the Women and the Children.” This article was found during my research, expressing what I was beginning to sense, and the author is cited on the third page, saying:

"Historians have recognized that the rescue theme often works to display and reinforce notions of the superior manliness of the rescuer nation, indeed, to cast the nation itself in a manly role. The nation, in effect, is summoned to provide protection to women or to a country --- emblematically feminized – that the rival men are violating. Symbolically rendering a country as a vulnerable woman or a child without proper or effective protectors reinforces the paternalistic nationalism of the rescuer-nation and dramatizes its moral mission."

Like many U.S. citizens, during those months of September through December, 2001, I wanted to understand a reason, any reason, the reason, why the Islamic Muslim “bad men” urged by “bad men” chose to hurt “good U.S.A.” Even though I was aware then and now how well the media uses words in similar ways that advertising often communicates to promote ideas, I had not analyzed the adeptness in this timing: Featuring the enemy treating their women did not answer the question on why we were invading Afghanistan or why the WTC was ruined.

Within five days after the WTC disaster I first hear both of burkas AND of Muslim terrorists. I attribute this learning [Thanks} to our enlightening media; I now own that strong image: a burka is a fabric, a dark ghoulish grim reaper shape, hiding the natural shape of a woman’s body. A woman covers herself, I am informed, and she is one who is subjugated and mistreated; the terrorists are Muslim, they are horrible to their women, they are ruled by the Taliban. They all read the Koran, an Islam type of Bible. I learn all bad things, in spoon-fed articles, news alerts and social conversation.

These absorbed images meant somehow that I was safer? That is what Bush said he wanted to do by invading Afghanistan, to protect us from these types of terrorists? Sensing the U.S.A. weren’t the bad guys, we again are right, and the powers that be [God] help the ones who are right. (This process was part of my early acculturation, and I failed to analyze it thoroughly at that time.)

My burka issue reveals to me now that the burka became a well-used word and a symbol, adopted by the feminists. Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues, for example, denounced it, tongue-in-cheek style, saying it was hardly a norm [then] for the Bush Administration to ever care deeply about the liberation of females. She added that the country spends 390 billion dollars from their war budget each year.

First Lady Laura Bush stepped up, also [suddenly caring for the less fortunate of the world], “we must save the "poor" burka-clad females. The American and British media both played a critical role in imagining the liberation in Afghanistan as liberation of women’s bodies from the Taliban -- and the burka. The day the State Department released its “Report on the Taliban’s War Against Women.” When First Lady Laura Bush delivered her “Radio Address to the Nation” the report focused on two key issues: restrictions on female education and restrictions on women’s dress. The report suggests that the burka limits freedom of movement and hence violates “the basic principles of international human rights law.” [they do care!]

But her speech was talking through our Western Media, supported by fashion and seeking to gain support from women everywhere.

"It connects this violation to restrictions on adornment such as makeup and nail polish. This was setting the burka up as repression and “aestheticization” of women’s bodies as liberation….. an analogy used was “the burka as madness and the beauty salon as normal” ….the culture of visual media is now a very important counterpart of the invading foreign armies…..which traffics in exposing the inside story while producing the images so essential to its own product."

How much do burkas matter, to me, a U.S. woman who has yet to swallow her own national culture? After slowly and sometimes painfully spitting out bitter chunks of my own gender-political surrounding, and realizing I’ve filtered much – through my own socioeconomics-- the U.S.A. brand of cultural nonsense for more than forty years, I repeat, I had not during the time of 9/11/01 disaster known what a burka was.

Again, like many U.S.A. citizens, I felt ---wanted to feel-- we were the super power, the good guys, other countries envied us, and that nobody ever wanted to hurt us. If we went to war it was for a good reason, but embarrassingly, I didn’t lesson-well on history, so now, after reading much opinion over fact, I fail believing I’ll ever know the entire truth of the past. Soon, after finding more about my issue, the "Burka," the main thing I learned is that I began to care about both the reasons why “burka” was such an issue and about the “women beneath the veil.” I do realize that people in power are well-skilled in informing their public however they see they need to, [their own purposes. In digression and expression, their purposes are a little bit vague, though, to most of us, I claim to think.]

Since there is an enormous amount of information, I decided to organize my searching into ownership. What are my primary fundamental thoughts or attitudes I had about my earlier raw lessons regarding burka [as “the issue” then and “now”]. [ thank goodness?!] The first foundation is that Muslim women (Islamic worshippers) wear “confining, identity hiding burkas” because they are not free to wear anything else. Second, Burka-wearing is one indication of being mistreated by men, particularly the same men who terrorized our country on September 11, 2001. And the third foundation, Burka wearing is social dress in that culture, a way to show obedience and subservience to men --- within the Islamic religious belief system.

Islamic women have worn the Burka for more than 1800 years. This amount of time contrasts with the Islamic invention of them. Mohammed began talking and writing about Allah after Jesus Christ spread his wisdom of God. This hardly shows that burkas are any invention of Islamic cultures, Islam being established after 500 Common Era. The Taliban nor the terrorists invented the Burka.

The burka covers at least 80% of a woman’s body, and depending on the socioeconomics of each region (socioeconomics includes culture and strength of religious worship.) Also, the harsh weather has an impact upon the type of burka a region chooses. For more than 2,500 years, Afghanistan and other Mideastern countries, what we now call a burka, was a local form of covering that Paashtun women wore when they went out in public. The Pashtun are one of several ethnic groups in Afghanistan and the burka was one of many forms of covering in the subcontinent and Southwest Asia that has developed as a convention for symbolizing women’s modesty or respectability. The burka, like some other forms of “cover” has, in many settings, marked the symbolic separation of men’s and women’s spheres as part of the general association of women and family and home, not with public space where strangers mingled.

There is a lot of disagreement about the usefulness of the burka. There is a wider agreement of its purpose. There is wide agreement that wherever the Taliban rule in Muslim/Islamic areas, women are ordered to fully shield. However, in many cases when the Taliban left an area, women continued to wear covering over their head and over the majority of their bodies.

"The fact that in 2002 after the Taliban fled parts of (mine-field loaded) areas in Afghanistan 2002, the U.S. media realized that the sphere of fashion money was loading up their luggage and sales spiels to convert the Afghanistan women to the western ways of dressing. The city of Kabul was a huge flea market, nearly a circus, set for liberating the women. How? With make-up, sexy out-fits, condoms, nylons, lotion, perfume."

Now the fourth largest industry in the world, the fashion industry brings in $4 billion a year. Imperialim can somehow profit on the behalf of a half a billion Muslim women in the world, I do declare.

Anthropologist Hanna Papanek, who worked in Pakistan, described the burqa as “portable seclusion.” She noted that many saw it as a liberating invention because it enabled women to move out of segregated living spaces while still observing the basic moral requirements of separating and protecting women from unrelated men. Ever since I came across her phrase “portable seclusion” I have thought of these enveloping robes as “mobile homes.” Everywhere, such veiling signifies belonging to a particular community and participating in a moral way of life in which families are paramount in the organization of communities and the home is associated with the sanctity of women. She asked why would women suddenly become immodest? [now, immodesty is an individual perception / definition, and I had to remember that she was probably wearing a head scarf]. Her article continued to ask why Muslim women, after being exposed to Western fashion promotions, suddenly throw off the markers of their respectability, markers, whether burkas or other forms of cover, which were supposed to assure their protection in the public sphere from the harassment of strange men by symbolically signaling to all that they were still in the inviolable space of their homes, even though moving in the public realm? Especially when these are forms of dress that had become so conventional that most women gave little thought to their meaning, she claimed. She added:

"To draw some analogies, none of them perfect, why are we surprised that Afghan women do not throw off their burkas when we know perfectly well that it would not be appropriate to wear shorts to the opera?"

I read comparisons and contrasting ideas about Muslim women and how they might feel about their type of burka. They were published in two works I will mention in this paragraph. The first one, in June, 2010, the San Diego Reader featured an article written by a U.S. woman who formally grew up in “normal Christian community” but adopted the Muslim faith. She chose to wear the burka. Her findings while wearing it were that people listened closely to what she had to say, they regarded her with more respect, nobody judged her on the curves of her body or the color, design, or expense of her dress. They actually conducted intellectual conversations. She reported that she felt safe, respected, and glided around town feeling as though she were in her pajamas sitting at her computer. In another piece, American Muslim women “unveil the truth” that they wanted to be valued by what they thought and felt, not on how they looked, saying that women here were obsessed about how they looked, how they appeared.

More study is needed to connect intentional deception by the administration [good luck, don’t bother] to hide the intricate realities of September 11th, i.e., [how much history with the U.S.A./ Islamic movers and shakers in the past twenty five year] and truth of all intentions to invade, and how they know very well how to steer public opinion for their own gain. I needed to further understand religion and cultural differences.

First, Islam is a religion similar both to Christianity and to Judaism: all three religions focus on “one” God. The most pious, religious and forgiving, ["onward" Christian soldiers, please forgive my sarcasm], for more than ten centuries, have supported our nation's own self-serving and gorged right-wing for-God's-purpose, enormous war industry. Complacently, [myself as complacent for 2/3 of my life] U.S. citizens rightfully learn of or hear about the government stated purposes/reasons for invading other countries... is it the innocent [gullible] freedom fighting citizens who’ve been in need to condone [as if they have a choice] the war? One reason to keep spending billions of dollars on tax-payer war tools has historically been the rhetoric: "save the women and the children, [but during that saving of them, meantime, kill a woman’s child who has joined the military.]

Second, though I agree everyone has a basic right to have safety and feel secure, does saving the women and children have anything to do with what these Muslim women and children ever wanted? Worldwide, in our own “progressive country” as well as third world countries, when have women and children been summoned, been heard, listened to, revered as intelligent or as equally contributing citizens? Look at the U.S.A.’s rank in having women in their government. In female public service leadership, we rank 16th in globe. Certainly, as a parallel, of course, the Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, appear also to regard their women, but second citizens to remain integral in the home and community, but not as leaders or world deal makers. Their purpose has much to do with pleasing the men in the home. The men decide to go to war with other countries.

Third, Islamic women are different from U.S. women, unique also from European women, their roots are deeply planted in separate cultures opposing women of every other faith and culture. Unless they assimilate without a bumpy ride, they will always have their roots in their unique ways, be it because of the culture, the area, their DNA or with Islam. In my opinion, in my life time, even with globalization, they never will be, and I’ve learned through reading that ones given an opportunity to choose which dress and behavior to express themselves with, in general, they practically don't want to be like the westernized cultured women. I learned in my reading that many Muslim women stated and appeared to dislike the sundry of various U.S. imperialistic ideas which had aimed to change them, or rather more accurately, “their appearance” even while the U.S. was in their own homeland.

What I began to see here is that the issue was centered over westerners perception of what women were supposed to dress or look like -- or not -- and, what mattered less was how they (each country’s woman thought processes) thought, and less of how they felt. I realized that the U.S. A. women are like lamb to the media. I realized that in the U.S.A., family is not as strong as it is in the Mideast. I felt that believing anything I have read or heard of in the past is not a wise thing to do, for I could betray myself!

The article called “The Burqa, A Symbol of Confidence or Oppression, in “What is Your Burka?” outlines some ideas that within some areas of the Muslim populations, the burqa is not required, but is instead, ‘liberating’. For the women in Mingora, wearing a burka was both a physical limitation and a symbol of social imprisonment. Other women, however, see dressing in a burka as liberating. The Muslim Student Association at San Jose State University held Islam Awareness Week at the end of April 2009. The week included a speech by Dian Alyan, outreach director of the Muslim Community Association of San Francisco Bay Area and Founder of the Face Life Foundation. Alyan stressed that Islam elevated the status of women and that Muslim women gained the rights to vote, hold a career, and obtain inheritance much earlier than women in Britain or America. She emphasized that Muslim women are neither uneducated nor oppressed, and expressed the belief that the media is partially to blame for the stereotypes about Muslim women. The seminar addressed the idea that wearing a hijab, or headscarf, is a choice for Muslim women. Unlike the women in the Swat Valley who were required to wear full-length burqas, Alyan was never asked to wear a hijab; she began wearing one in her late 20’s, when she felt ready to do so. She says that wearing the hijab givers her confidence and shows the public that she is Muslim.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, has expressed that people in France should not be displaying their religious views to the public. In June of 2009, France formed a commission to examine the extent to which women in the country wear burqas and to study ways to restrict its use. France, which has the largest Muslim population in the Western Europe, banned the wearing of hibans and other eye-catching religious symbols in state schools in 2004. Sarkozy said that burqas are a sign of subservience rather than a sign of religion. He has referred to the topic as a equation of freedom and of women’s dignity. Religious, feminist and human rights groups have expressed concern about the potential ban as it would undermine women’s authority to make their own choices regarding what to wear.

Remember, ordering them or freeing them to unveil at some points, after the Taliban fled? It has only launched a civilization’s self--serving fashion and cosmetic industry. The industry is huge. Saving the women and children meant really to sell a new fashion, to cover their bodies (hearts and minds?} with more ludicrous barriers. These barriers of make-up, hair styling, jewelry, nylons, bras, nail polish had really nothing to do with revealing themselves. Did it intend to obstruct their intelligence and their hearts? Or did the industry even consider this? I am certain that the businesses really didn’t consider what was beneath the face, and probably, they hoped, the newly unveiled Muslim woman didn’t think. Although, after reading, it appears she did think about it.

The strong followers of Islam and on several Islamic [English speaking] websites, one hears voices of men who do speak a Midwestern language will say that the burka is not meant to put down a woman. The burka is intended to protect her from unclean or ill intended stares. The burka will assist the woman to remain modest and hide her beauty, because modesty actually is what Allah orders in the Koran. However, scholars disagree on whether the Koran intends for all women in public to shield their entire bodies, except for their eyes. They must be able to see where they walk, shop, and how they manage the female home tasks.

"Fashion," is a general term for a currently popular style or practice, especially in clothing, foot wear or accessories. Fashion references to anything that is the current trend in look and dress-up of a person. (Wikipedia, free encyclopedia definition. The fashion industry is a product of the modern age. Prior to the mid-19th century, mot clothing was custom made. New technologies made it into a highly globalized industry, with clothing often designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold world-wide. The sales in various forms of advertising and promotion are important in the media. In the book, “Dressing with Dignity, talk about forces behind the changes in fashion. Its force focus is on awakening the chivalry in men, about the privilege of femininity and the key words are modesty and respect. This was published in 1985. In chapter three it has verses from Genesis citing that tunicas are to be word, meaning cover…..since the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.

Greek women wore long floor-length sleeveless tunics, over which they wore a floor-length stola, belted at the waist, and in public they would finish off their outfit with an elegant veils. Veils were worn by married women who would also tie up their loose hair into a bun.

Advertising agencies have researched reactions of different men when watching women wearing different types of clothing. What they found was that the eye would follow a line and the [he] viewer will complete the picture with his imagination. (TAN dignity book, 1985.)

At the height of the news media featuring Burka and much published peer-reviewed Burka articles [fodder], news show (formally from Politically Incorrect) Bill Maher showed complete irreverence displaying a fashion show of burka-clad models on his stage. During his five minute comedic stints double-entendres indicated all these “objects” were idiots, they were not sexy [but they were trying to be] and his male guests sat chuckling along with the audience. The ludicrous fashion industry was the main joke, I realized, but his “There is Lovely Annan who is really hot, look at that sexy, slant of the eye opening!” They were hiding their sexuality for the boy toys, hiding beneath the burkas...but then, and I don’t feel ashamed, I even smiled at Bill Maher because his humor is part of my own culture.

The western idea of a burka being a tool of extremists and the epitome of political and sexual repression seems to have failed. But after the Taliban’s fall in Afghanistan, and after women failed to unveil in large numbers, there were noticeable shifts in the media’s representations of the burka. Extensive exposure had already familiarized this sign of absolute difference, trhansforming it into a commodity used to sell news, films, documentaries, and magazines. In the spring 2006, the burka emerged on Paris runways and later that year in Vogue fashion spreads photographed by the venerable doyen of fashion photographers.

The aim of Vogue and Mari Claire and Paul Mitchell and Frederic Fekkai and other aestheticians and designers aimed to establish a “nascent service sector with the Afghan population. But the aim is also to create needs and desires. As one observer comments, what Afghan women want after years of “being covered up for so long” are “blunt cuts, body waves, blow-outs, and color. They also need “products like sun screens and moisturizers. These women find their skin especially sensitive after being hidden under a burka for five years. …..

Still today, even since Afghanistan’s liberation, veiling persists. The Western media can no longer sustain their interpretation of the burka as a sign of repression. Instead, multicultural inclusion is deployed to incorporate this marker of foreignness. The French continue to battle the veil at the governmental and legislative levels seeing it as an obstacle to assimilation, to secularism, and to women’s sexual availability. But the burkas appearance on the runways, front center in the fashion world, belies the accepted wisdom of the veil as a barrier to foreign penetration and assimilation. Now an exotic good, the burka is no longer an iron curtain barring Western capitalist expansion, but on e of its instruments. By July 2007, the veil is fully liberated in the pages of Vogue, and abayas and burkas as thes seasons’ sun protection. [the strong ones, it appears, set the fashion trend,…..???]

In an interview a former women journalist shows di Giovanni a picture from the rear of the Soviet backed Najibullah government. In the photograph, the Afghan woman is wearing a miniskirt, heels, and pale lipstick. "What I’m trying to show you…is that we were people before the burka." These “signs of personhood: lipstick, dyed hair, eyeliner, miniskirt and heels make Afghan women intelligible to a western audience.

In 2002 Liala Abu-Lughod, an Ethnogrpahic Scholar explored the ethics of the current “War on Terrorism.” When asked by U.S. female reporters her thoughts on their media segments regarding the “Taliban” and “terrorists” and the “subjugated women of Afghanistan”, she had a difficult time, she said, with the ignorance they expelled.

“I mischievously asked whether she had done segments on the women of Guatelmala, Ireland, Palestine, or Bosnia when the show covered wars in those regions, but I finally agreed to look at the questions she was going to pose to panelists. The questions were hopelessly general. Do Muslim women believe “x” Are Muslim women “y” Does Islam mean all “z” for women? I asked her: [‘] If you were to substitute Christian or Jewish wherever you have Muslim, would thee questions make sense? Asking whether anthropology, the discipline devoted to understanding and dealing with cultural difference, can provide us with critical purchase on the justifications made for American intervention in Afghanistan in terms of liberating, or saving, Afghan women. She says she first takes a look at dangers of rectifying culture, apparent in the tendencies to plaster neat cultural icons like the Muslim woman over messy historical and political dynamics. She said the discourses on equality, freedom and rights combined with the “rhetoric” of Muslim women, she said, instead there needs to be a serious appreciation of differences among women in the world, as products of different histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of differently structured desires. Further, I argue that rather than seeking to “save” others (with the superiority it implies and the violence it would entail} we might better think in terms of working with them in situations that we recognize as always subject to historical transformation and, two, consider our own larger responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves. I develop; many of these arguments about the limits of cultural relativism. Through a consideration of the burka and the many meanings of veiling in the Muslim world."

While I personally do not care if a woman [person] chooses to dress a certain way, according to their own traditionally held belief-systems, I do care if I see any woman [person] abused, either physically or mentally, in any way. Be they Muslim, Christian, Jew, Liberal or Conservative. In my opinion, abuse comes in as many forms as modesty does. Abuse comes in the form of lying, a way of covert abuse. Our government might think themselves as wise to let us think that war is only for protecting the innocent. It is too bad that that is the big money machine, employing so many people, as well as the fashion industry. Modesty at times comes in the forms of not assuming one’s way is better than one’s neighbors and perhaps learning something from what you might intend to change. Maybe advertisers can focus on pushing a form of that. What I need to conclude, here, at this time in my awareness is this: the next time I learn about a reason why any powerful entity claims they are doing something for some reason, I can only assume they are not modest and that they need to be thoroughly checked out!

So, I conclude, that the issue of the Burka was a convenient “red-herring” issue used to gain our support for invading Afghanistan, just as much as any ploy has been when without questioning motives, the wool is pulled over our eyes and we don’t investigate --- or even care. There is always a bad man and a good man in the black and white thinker. There is always the right way and the wrong way. We see the explanations and the reasons and the conclusions and don’t analyze them thoroughly because we allowed another entity (media, government, social contacts) to interpret any truth we thought. We sided with the comfortable, the familiar, just as we questioned or denounced the women who kept wearing their burkas. There is always going to be people who will capitalize on anything for their own gain. There will always be people who believe something because somebody told them so. But what I want to add here is that I am ashamed we are so complacent in our country and are so content with our world here and don’t see how much war costs us, not only in time, money, but what is really the truth. I need to say “But then, thinking again,….” we are still free to investigate it, exploring it, writing about it, sharing it with others. It can’t all be so bad if that provokes us into learning something!

Tyrrel, Ian, “Rescuing the Women and Children,” The Journal of American History, September 2002. P. 3. Eve Ensler, Fora TV, You Tube, 2006. Epstein, Cynthia Fuche, “Great Divides : the Cultural, Cognitive, and Social Bases of the Global Subordination of Women,” www. Asr. Ibid. Qadeer, Mohammad, Black Veil, “The Evolution of the Burka,” 2006. March 2002. Salaam, Elizabeth, “They Should not Display Their Beauty,” San Diego Reader, Volume 39, Number 38, September 9th, 2010, pp. 25,27,29. Numberous contributors, “The Burka In Vogue:fashioning in Afghanistan” JMEWS Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, , Gale World History in Context, Winter, 2009 Lughod, Lila Abu, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” Anthropoligical Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others. American Anthrolpologist, p783-790. 2002, American Anthoropological Association. Salaam, Elizabeth, “They Should not Display Their Beauty,” San Diego Reader, Volume 39, Number 38, September 9th, 2010, pp. 25-31 piece, “American Muslim Women Unveil the Truth” Lughod, Lila, Ibid. The New Mexico Media Literacy Project, Deconstructing Media Messages, Creative Commons. Ibid. Caraigal, Doreeen. New York Times, June 22, 2009. Sarkozy’s Backks Drive to Eliminate the Burka. 2009. Ibis Qadeer, Mohammad, Black Veil, “The Evolution of the Burka,” 2006. March 2002. Hammond, Colleen, “Dressing With Dignity, History of Women’s Fashion,” 2nd Edition. Tan Books, 1985. Bill Maher, segment on Bill Maher Show, You Tube, Burka Fahion Show, 2008. Numberous contributors, “The Burka In Vogue:fashioning in Afghanistan” JMEWS Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, , Gale World History in Context, Winter, 2009 Numberous contributors, “The Burka In Vogue:fashioning in Afghanistan” JMEWS Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, , Gale World History in Context, Winter, 2009 Ibid Lughod, Lila Abu, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” Anthropoligical Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others. American Anthrolpologist, p783-790. 2002, American Anthoropological Association.

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