Sure, I find the idea of wearing a burka oppressive and sexist. That's pretty much what I think about the five-inch heels and micro-minis I see on the streets of Miami, too. I wouldn't wear either get-up. But that's my choice.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy used a feminist argument when he announced plans last month to ban the burka in France. The all-enveloping gown is degrading to women, he said to wild applause at Versailles. Burka-wearing females are "prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity."
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Let me get this straight: The French are outraged that a religion is requiring women to dress a certain way, so now they plan to legislate that women dress a certain way? Somebody needs to tell the president in plain French that you can't advance women's rights by moving the rights to dictate their wardrobe from their religion to their government.
If the burka gets banned, what's next? Nun's habits? The caps and aprons worn by Amish women? Those silly khaki pants with whales on them that some Protestants wear?
I agree with President Barack Obama's statements in Egypt earlier this summer, when he reassured the world that the United States prizes freedom of religion and is not going to "tell people what to wear." But why are we wasting our time talking about a few yards of cloth?
There are so many other more important women's issues in the world. Like rape victims being stoned to death for "dishonoring" their families. And young women being mutilated and attacked with acid for daring to attend school. Or little girls being married off to men three times their age.
Let's not fool ourselves. This isn't a debate about gender equality or even freedom of religion. Out of the 5 million Muslims in France, only about 5,000 belong to the fundamentalist branch of Islam that embraces the burka, according to French newspapers. The majority of Muslim nations –including the current Afghan regime – don't require it or the nigab face veil. By all accounts, the burka is waning in popularity, except in some rural areas and pockets of Orthodox communities. No, the reason why the world is so consumed with the small number of women wearing burkas is largely because it's become an obvious symbol of our own fears and prejudice.
The controversy over the burka seems to be excluding the people it most concerns – the women who wear them. As we've learned from reading our Twitter updates from Iran, the most profound changes don't come from Western aggression; they come from within.