Elizabeth Lakey used to be one of the unenlightened. As a student of Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, she struggled to understand why any woman would cover herself in a burqa.
Like many people I know, I feel a frisson of doubt whenever I see these shadowy figures entirely covered up. I struggle daily with these feelings in my studies.
But after a chance department store encounter with a Muslim family, Lakey saw how judgmental she was being. The burqa isn’t just a veil, she realized, it’s also a mobile playground for young Muslim children! Via my Twitter pal @s_dog comes Lakey’s heartwarming tale of “common humanity” inspired by a pair of strangers in identical black burqas:
[A young child] stops, dizzy and out of breath, as her father and mother look on.
But she is caught between the queues, between two women wearing the same burqa with the same gold trim. She is confused. Her head bobs from side to side as the women chortle behind their face coverings.
They are playing a game with her. The one who is not her mother reaches out and calls to the girl. She acquiesces, moving cautiously to this covered mother but still shooting doubtful glances backwards.
Once up close, her uncertainty deepens. She extends a finger and begins to poke this woman gently, as if trying to ascertain her identity by the feel of her veiled flesh.
Her father looks to me and grins from ear to ear. In heavily accented English, he says simply: “Ah, she is very confused.”
No judgment passes between us, despite the fact that I am wearing a short skirt and his wife goes about her day covered from head to toe. I am an unlikely participant in this social play, yet I leave the store feeling somehow enriched.
Ah, yes, the enriching jocularity of the Islamic veil. Is there anything more charming than a heavy black burqa that keeps a little girl from recognizing her own mother?
Andrew Bolt of Melbourne’s Herald Sun summarizes Lakey’s story perfectly: “Whoever wore the burqa was probably nice, but I spoke to her husband instead.” He adds, “What’s she’s indeed forgotten is not that there’s a woman under the burqa, but an individual to whom she did not – or even could not – speak.” Lakey ignores that aspect of her “interaction” with the veiled mother, instead focusing on her burqa epiphany (emphases mine):
I had never considered the burqa in a light-hearted fashion until this chance encounter. I had never seen women playing under the burqa or considered the everyday practicalities that must be accommodated in terms of family life.
Well in that case, maybe all women should try out this burqa thing. After all, women who go unveiled are missing out on the fun of “playing” burqa games! Forget frolicking at the beach with your kids or running around the park without tripping. A little “light-hearted” game of Guess Who’s Behind Burqa Number One is where it’s at! Lakey continues:
I freely admit to feelings of doubt when confronted by a life choice so different to my own. But it is all too easy to forget that there is a woman in every burqa, and that she is a unique individual with her own reasons for dressing the way she does.
I reject the notion that all women clothed in the burqa are repressed beings. I further reject the idea that in order to liberate them we must dictate to them what (not) to wear.
A “life choice”? How many women entombed in cloth crypts actually choose to spend their days cut off from the world, unable to fully participate in the most basic social interactions? How many of these walking mummies choose the serious and debilitating health issues that accompany burqa-induced vitamin D deficiency? How many freely embrace the destruction of their public identities?
Lakey asks none of these questions, instead opting for the cultural relativism typical of the academic Left. “Who am I to judge these women’s motives for wearing the burqa?” she asks.
As a scholar of Islamic Studies, Lakey is precisely the person who should be questioning the notion that the burqa is a sign of religious devotion. She is exactly the person to take a critical look at the way the burqa spits in the face of liberty and equality. But her warped, politically correct, Islamically prescribed view of the veil won’t allow for it.
And so, for her refusal to address the way the burqa dehumanizes and marginalizes Muslim women and for her portrayal of the veil as something “light-hearted” and fun, I am extraordinarily pleased to recognize Elizabeth Lakey with the Naomi Wolf Award, also known as The Howler. For those not familiar:
The Naomi Wolf Award recognizes the failure of feminist commentators to identify Muslim veils, particularly the burqa and the niqab, as powerful symbols of extremist ideology and instruments of subjugation. Nominees will be judged on their use of the rhetoric of freedom and choice to justify these emblems of Islamic gender apartheid.
(Originally posted at David Horowitz’s NewsReal Blog)