Monday, November 12, 2007

DW: The Whole Foods Burqa Woman

Ok, I’ll make this fast.

Last year I saw this woman in a FULL black burqa at the Whole Foods store in my Montclair, New Jersey neighborhood. I had an extreme reaction that vacillated between outrage, fear, and empathy. My overwhelming sentiment was, “please get out of my neighborhood!” It is one thing to see women in burqas on CNN, but quite another to see them in the produce aisle. I was shocked at my response, because at the core of it was fear. I recently read “1,000 Splendid Suns” by the author of “The Kite Runner.” It was a devastating read, because it spoke very clearly about the mistreatment (abuse) of Muslim women in Afghanistan. I’ve also read several non-fiction books on this subject as well, and they don’t contradict each others’ perspective.

I know when I get plugged in like this that it has more to do with me and my stuff than Muslim women in burqas, so I’ve been ruminating on this a lot. Am I jealous of them because they have no shame in covering up their body? Am I enraged because the burqa is a symbol of the abuse and mistreatment of Muslim women? Not sure. As someone who has body issues, I was suspicious that I might envy the Whole Foods burqa woman because she had her culture’s permission to cover up completely without feeling weird. I have heard many Muslim women say that they feel “protected” by the burqa and I’m not so sure about that. That sounds like the Mormon “sister wives” who say on Oprah that being married to a man who has five other wives is a great thing. From what I’ve read, that is far from the truth.

What’s even more disturbing is how successful our government has been in vilifying the burqa and associating it with the specter of terrorism. I feel weird about my response to the burqa because it also feels so prejudiced and that’s not something I want to feel, let alone project out into the world. Today, it seems like more of a political statement than a lifestyle choice. I guess this is why France is adamant that children and teens cannot wear anything that speaks to religious affiliations (like yarmulkes and the hijab). I feel like I’m going in circles here, and just regurgitating a lot of unprocessed primal feelings. What I can tell you is that I’ve shared these feelings with other Montclair friends and people in my writer’s group and they said they felt the same way when they’ve seen burqa-clad women in Montclair.

Ok, I’m going to consider this: maybe the burqa symbolizes something very dark and scary for me, but not for everyone else. Maybe I should think of the Whole Foods burqa woman the same way I think of women who wear 6-inch stilettos.

They don’t scare me—I just don’t understand how they could be comfortable wearing something that would cause me a great deal of pain and discomfort.

1 comment:

Patricia said...

Deb, good post. I too have a violent internal reaction when I see women fully covered this way in my neighborhood. I have a different reaction, but equal level of intensity, when I make a quick stop at the quick check to pick up milk and have to walk past racks of magazines displaying boobs and asses all over the place. Seems to me like two sides of the same coin; just two extremely different ways of stripping away the dignity of women and treating women as sexual objects and even property.