I had the joy of watching my close friend, Jacqui Grey, as a panellist on ABC’s Q&A last night (available for the next two weeks on ABC I view for repeat viewing). I have to confess to not being a big fan of the show. Many of the questions asked seemed to bare little relationship to the expertise of panel, and the time given to panellists for response was inadequate–only superficial answers were possible. Notwithstanding this, Jacqui did an absolutely brilliant job.
She did, however, get a little ambushed on the penultimate question. She was asked to respond to Australian concerns about Muslim women wearing the Burka. While she was sympathetic to the free choice of Moslem women to wear whatever they want–whenever they felt comfortable with– she nevertheless was prepared to state that a garment that completely covered a woman’s face is a symbol of male domination and female oppression. She was immediately attacked by all and sundry thereafter.The
The worst of these was feminist Eva Cox, who interrupted Jacqui and went on to insist on a woman’s choice, and to lambast feminists (such as Jacqui) for daring to criticise this element of Moslem religion.
Now, anyone who knows me will know that I think that Christian faith requires a generous response to those of another faith–we are, after all, filled with the spirit so that we can love our neighbour. I’ve invited Muslim imam to the college so that he can share with our students about his faith. I absolutely hate the way Australian society (including too many Christians) have vilified Islam and Muslim people. Indeed, I believe my faith in Jesus compels me to work for peace between the religions.
Nevertheless, none of this means we should stand silent when injustice and discrimination occurs in the name of religion. indeed, I’m the first to challenge the church when her message of grace is replaced with one of hatred. And for this reason, Jacqui Grey was absolutely right to assert that the Burka is a symbol of female oppression. Eva Cox’ concern for free choice completely ignores the fact that ideology, especially religious ideology, effectively undermines an individual’s ability to make free choices.
Now, at this point I need to clarify my criticism. I have no problems with Moslem women covering their head–the hijab is a modest and beautiful piece of clothing. In the context of our sexualised culture, it is also an appropriate declaration that women should not be mere sex objects. More than this, it takes real courage in Australian society to wear it. The hijab is a bold symbol of faith, and I applaud people who are prepared to stand up for their belief, notwithstanding the fact that they are likely to be stared at, talked about and potentially subject to verbal abuse.
There is, however, a difference between the Hijab and the Burka. The hijab helps to establish a Moslem woman’s identity, the burka obliterates it. in doing so, it removes her from social interaction with the community. It thus symbolises and facilitates sexism, and excludes women from the social structures and hierarchy of society.
Anyway, well done to Jacqueline Grey. She modelled throughout the interview a generosity to people of other faiths. But she also took a stand for equality in the face of the inevitable challenge she was going to receive by the bombastic Eva Cox.