A stand-up comedian’s take on the Roy Orbison oldie ‘Pretty Woman’ is the latest salvo in the burqa wars. The video of Saad Haroon performing ‘Burqa Woman’ seems to have gotten a lot of Pakistanis all riled up, both for and against, with everyone reading into it whatever they already believe.
You’d think that with issues like nuclear weapons, the Taliban, and government corruption, Pakistan might have a few other things to worry about right now. But the burqa is always a reliable way to distract attention and make everyone feel righteous.
The comments on YouTube are way over the top. That’s nothing new, of course, but it’s disturbing to scroll through and see the preponderance of deep pious offense on the one side (one commenter even calls for Haroon to be stoned to death, for Christ’s sake), and a kind of schoolyard ‘yah-boo-take-that-you-Muslims’ Islamophobia on the other.
In fact if ‘Burqa Woman’ is satire, it seems to me a pretty mild form. Cheeky would be a better word for it — the kind of fond teasing a younger brother might deploy against an older sister. True, if you want to get analytical about it, phrases like “sexy ninja” and “mystery prize” reflect a kind of contemporary Orientalism — the erotics of the mysterious hidden East. And lines like “show me your left nostril” or “flirting with my living-room curtain” are kind of tasteless (though the veil did begin as a curtain hung in order to give Muhammad’s wives some degree of privacy). But nobody seems to be getting analytical about this. All we have so far is a slew of kneejerk responses.
But then what else could there be when the burqa has been so highly politicized? With new burqa bans in Europe and elsewhere, the burqa has served as a convenient whipping boy (or should that be whipping girl?), with right-wing politicians manipulating left-wing feminists into joining hands in righteous indignation.
I’ve been a feminist for four decades now, and I know when my feminism is being manipulated. I’ve no desire to ‘defend the burqa.’ I find it as objectionable as any other form of religious ‘hiding’ of women like Orthodox Jewish women’s wigs or Catholic nuns’ coifs — any religious rule that focuses on women’s sexuality under the guise of ‘protecting them’ from the stereotypically ravenous male eye. Such rules honor neither women nor men — nor religion itself.
But why single out the burqa? Why not criticize the Catholic or fundamentalist Christian attitude toward women with the same passion as directed against the Wahhabi or fundamentalist Islamic one? And why use the burqa issue at all when the vast majority of Muslim women would never dream of putting one on?
I’m looking forward to seeing what the dynamite writers over at altmuslimah have to say about this musical storm in a teacup. Meanwhile: