Commentary Magazine


Bye Bye Burqa

Barack Obama gave the hijab the all-clear in his Cairo speech, but the poor female souls forced to live under asphyxiating layers are getting fed up. Obama said, “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal,” creating the false impression that gender subjugation is an innocuous matter of beauty-salon options. Contrast that with yesterday’s Reuters story about burqas in Afghanistan:

“When I wear a burqa it gives me a really bad feeling. I don’t like to wear it. My family are not really happy with me wearing a chador namaz, they tell me to always wear a burqa. But I don’t like it, it upsets me, I can’t breathe properly,” 18-year-old Amirejan said.

Margol, who is in her early 20s, said that she was used [sic] to the burqa now, having worn it since she was about 15. Her family prefers her to wear it and does not approve of her walking the streets with her face on display.

“My family says I have to wear it, they say the chador namaz is bad. You understand that if you don’t wear a burqa and your face is open, people will just gossip about you,” Margol said, giggling.

“But it does give me bad headaches, it puts a lot of pressure on my head, especially if it’s sewn too tightly,” she added.

Her cousin Amirejan said she would rather wear a mantau chalvar and discard her chador namaz if it was left up to her.

“Now they say that Afghanistan is free and women should be able to breathe more, but no, your mother, auntie and family still tell you that you have to wear the burqa … I just don’t like it, I like to be free, not under a burqa.”

Perhaps Obama can convince the freedom-hungry eighteen-year-old that being sewn up and suffocated on family orders is just how she’s meant to contribute to the spectacular multicultural tapestry that is “the Muslim world.” He is a very compelling speaker, you know.

Which is a good thing. Because as Muslim women in Afghanistan and elsewhere become empowered to discard their cloth prisons (in incremental steps, from burqa to chador, etc.) Obama is going to have to account for his anachronistic endorsement in Cairo. The fact is, burqa sales in Afghanistan have fallen off since the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001. (This shop owner says business is down 50%.) It is a strange form of outreach that finds the American president endorsing the very practices that American involvement is successfully eradicating.

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