Getting the message

Sheik Hilali clarifies things.

Australia is a multicultural society. Whoever wants to, let them take their clothes off. Whoever wants to go naked, let them go naked. Whoever wants to get drunk, let them get drunk. Whoever wants to smoke hashish, let them smoke hashish. It’s a free country, it’s none of our business. But it is our right to tell our women (that they dress appropriately).

And, presumably, that they stay home and stay in their room, since that’s what he said the first time. So anyway – who’s the ‘our’ in that sentence? Who is the ‘we’ who get to tell ‘our’ women what to do? Men, of course. It always is. ‘We’ are people and ‘we’ own ‘our’ women and ‘we’ tell them what to do; women are not people, so they are not included in ‘we’ and ‘our’; women are objects that are owned, and men are people who own them and tell them what to do. And it is their right to do that. And it is, presumably, not the right of the women to refuse to obey – because they are a wholly owned subsidiary.

After learning the mufti would not be sacked, John Howard urged the Muslim community to act against Sheik Hilali or risk a backlash from mainstream Australians. “If they do not resolve this matter, it could do lasting damage to the perceptions of that community within the broader Australian community and that would be a tragedy,” the Prime Minister said.

Thus getting thoroughly entangled in the various communities, poor guy. What about the perceptions of that community within the broader Australian community within the broader international community within the broader galactic community within the broader cosmic community within the broader possible worlds community? Lotta communities to keep track of these days. Lotta communities and mainstreams and backlashes. It’s all a bit dizzying sometimes.

Caroline Overington thinks the mufti meant every word of it, and she’s not the only one.

Tanveer Ahmed is a Sydney-based psychiatrist who is writing a book about Islam in Australia. He says the great shame is that “many, many” Muslim men, young and old, regard women – particularly Western women – as “less than ideal”. “The mufti meant exactly what he said, and those views are widely held,” Dr Ahmed said…”It comes from households, where young Muslims get the message that white girls are different, and that women in general are a corrupting influence.” Dr Ahmed said it was “an opinion I’ve heard throughout my life, that women can tempt you into trouble. Even otherwise sophisticated people will say this, and slur white women.”…Dr Ahmed rejects the argument that women wear the veil because “it’s their choice”. “You see children aged five wearing it. Are we seriously arguing there is an element of choice, when you sexualise a child in that way?”

Some are, but we disagree with them.

For Karen Green, the debate over the status of women is both personal and philosophical. She has a sister who converted to Islam. Dr Green, whose Phd in philosophy is from Oxford, said she initially accepted her sister’s view, when she argued that women were liberated by the veil. But over time, Dr Green concluded that women were so sexualised within Islamic society “that it is assumed that any private encounter between a woman and a man will be sexual. Women are thus assumed to have two functions, and these are sex and child-bearing. “By submitting to headscarf, chador or burka, women allow men to divide and conquer. Women are either ‘good’ – which is to say obedient – or they are ‘bad’.”

And that’s the context in which some women ‘choose’ to wear it. Sure, it’s a free choice in a sense, but it’s made within a particular context – that’s not a free choice. That context is there, and it can’t be chosen away.

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