By Mass L. Usuf –
“Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is not a law at all”. ~ (Maximilien Robespierre).
EXIT ISLAM, ENTER FREEDOM. This should be the debate among those with grey matter. Demarcate the areas distinctly and develop the discussion intellectually. Forget Islam but, remember human rights. This will not be possible if the mind is preoccupied with a hidden motive and is irrationally shackled. Then, unknowingly, comprehension takes leave and confusion is substituted. The normal is thrown out and the ‘new normal’ sets in. Islamophobic? Anti-Muslim? There are many who would happily say, “hip, hip, hooray”. Again, not out of reason but out of blind prejudice or sometimes misunderstanding.
Burqa, Niqab and Hejab
“The term burqa is sometimes conflated with niqab. In more precise usage, niqab is a face veil that leaves the eyes uncovered, while a burqa covers the entire body from the top of the head to the ground, with only a mesh screen allowing the wearer to see in front of her. The burqa is also not to be confused with the hijab, a garment which covers the hair, neck and all or part of the chest, but not the face.” (Wikipedia).
How many women wear the burqa in Sri Lanka? May be less than 100, with a bit of generosity may be less than 200. Therefore, is it the niqab that is being targeted or the burqa? An assumption would indicate that it is the niqab that is the subject of a proposed ban however, for sake of consistency, this column will continue to use the term, ‘burqa’ alternatively with niqab.
Firstly, clear the mind of the misperception that all the women wearing the Burqa (niqab) are doing so because they are forced to do it. Secondly, throw Islam out of the equation and independently think on the following lines. Would a ban on Burqa (niqab) be encroaching on individual freedom? Would a ban on Burqa be oppressing women’s rights? Will not a ban take away the choice of a woman to decide which dress she prefers to wear? To whom does the body of a woman belong to? Is it to herself or to some other? If her body belongs to herself, can any other person decide on which part of her body she needs to cover or expose? If the Burqa is considered a threat to national security, has there been an authoritative research done to prove this claim, substantiated with irrefutable evidence?
Where are the women’s rights activists, fighting for gender equality? It is high time that a complaint is lodged with the Office of Missing Persons as all of them have apparently gone missing!
Dignified Nation Of People
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries which could boast and, truthfully so, about the existence of the four major world religions within her borders. Not only having them but, also, devoutly being practised by the followers of each of them. We are a tolerant, respectful and dignified nation of people. We are also a country which hail democratic values and have paved the way to entrench these principles in our constitution. We valued self-determination and sovereignty, until the recent decades. Each of the communities of religion lived side by side adhering to the principals of metta, karuna, muditha and upeksha that is variantly taught in all the religions – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Are these characteristics and many more not mentioned, gradually slipping away from our collective consciousness as a people? Are we going to allow the metta, in which we were nurtured, to be replaced with intense covetousness, intolerance, the desire of clinging to satisfy our lusts and trespass on the rights of each other or, any other? What values will remain to impart to our children if we embrace falsehood and nonchalantly infringe on the rights of others?
For our people who are struggling to justify their intentions among other things, they say that some of the European countries have banned the burqa. How shameful can such a statement be? France makes a hullabaloo about its secularism and liberal democracy. Maximilien Robespierre of France fathered the idea of freedom, equality and fraternity. Fraternity to mean brotherhood and that all people are brothers and sisters. Was not the action of France in direct conflict with the principles of a liberal state and secularism? Does it legitimise liberal values to prescribe to the citizens what to wear and what not to wear? Can the legislation specifically targeting only a few women be classified as observing the Robespierre idea of Equality?
The Washington Post reported, “France’s Interior Ministry released a study that said niqabs were worn by fewer than 2,000 women in the country — hardly a significant portion of the country’s Muslim population, now estimated at 7.5 million — and that very few, perhaps none, wore the burqa”. (August 12, 2016). This clearly indicates that the motive to affect such a ban lies elsewhere and not on what had been touted publicly by the French media.
Sexy Cleavage, Backless, Sleeveless
Here in Sri Lanka, the situation is not any different and the motive is crystal clear. Out of the around two million Muslims in Sri Lanka, there may be less than one thousand women wearing the Burqa (meaning the niqab). So, what is this big deal of banning the burqa as if the country is on fire. Is there a moral case for our counterparts in Sri Lanka to propose to ban the burqa (niqab) just because a hypocritical France did it? Why should our folks in Sri Lanka blindly follow what others do? Are they spineless to act independently or are they still possessed by the mentality of colonised subjects or, is it that they do not have a plausible reason and then looking for stereotypes? For a change, would the following adverts in an online dress selling site satiate the lust of those itching to call for the ban:
“Reveal your inner sexy this season when you wear ‘………..’. The keyhole cut outs along the bust, in addition to the bustier top, accentuate the bust and give you shape.”
“Hot Selling, Sexy, Women Cleavage, Off the Shoulder, Solid Pink, Bodycon Mini Dress (by the way, a bodycon dress is a close-fitting garment)”.
“Women, Sexy Cleavage, Backless, Sleeveless, Solid Black Office Bodycon, Mini Peplum Dress”.
Sexual Crimes And Alcoholism
Should not the priority of this country be for example:
1. To address the phenomenal increase in rape cases. According to the Performance Report of Sri Lanka Police the total number of rape cases of women reported in the last three years (2016-2018) stood at 5,558. Though not directly corelated the number of women wearing the Niqab are much, much lesser than the figure for sexual crimes.
2. Why not look into the growing and uncontrollable issue of alcoholism. According to the World Health Organisation the prevalence of alcohol use disorders and alcohol dependence in 2016 was 5.9% and 4.9 % respectively. These numbers are proportionately very, very high compared to the women wearing the Niqab which is like 0.004%. In real terms, 1.3 million and 1.1 million people with alcohol related disorders compared to less than one thousand women wearing the niqab. What about the hundreds of thousands of our innocent women who are silently suffering at the hands of alcohol dependency disorder husbands? In this context, is the Niqab the priority for our society?
3. Why not deal with the serious issue of the lack of expeditiousness and efficiency in our Criminal Justice system. It takes approximately 17 years to finish a serious crime case. From the date of commission of a crime prosecutable at the High Court up to the conclusion of prosecution it takes an average 10.2 years. Further, it generally consumes seven years (07) for the completion of the two appeals in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court subsequent to hearing of a case at the High Court. (See: Parliament Sectoral Oversight committee on Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) & Media).
4. What about the proliferation of suspect brothels in the guise of massage parlours, the endemic vices of bribery and corruption etc. These are the real issues which are destroying our people and seriously eating into the very moral fabric of our society.
With the General Election around the corner, the time is right for right minded people to rethink the type of people we send to the Parliament who have no sense of priority.