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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

July 16, 2003

burka and bikini: response to Yourish.

I have to object to Yourish's characterization of my burka and bikini post as "american women are just as oppressed as Saudi women."

The essay I wrote took great pains (which Meryl ignored, apparently) to focus its analysis on the articles of clothing, not the women underneath. The burka is often used as a tool of misogynistic oppression. This is enforced with violence and social stigma.

But the burka is also a symbol - when willingly adopted - of modesty and control over how the woman interacts with society. Many women who wear the veil or similar modest dress do so because they perceive a great benefit to it (including my wife).

Likewise, the bikini can for some be a symbol of female liberation or simple vanity or any other perfectly reasonable expression of a woman's free will and pride and independence.

However, there are some cases where women wear a bikini solely in order to comply with a male-driven social expectation by society. That is the subject of my post, because the simple fact that such social coercion exists means that the bikini can no longer be considered a truly neutral article of clothing.

Many Muslim writers try to make a case for the burka as a symbol of freedom alone, ie ascribe a purely positive value to it. They ignore the negative side of the coin (whether it is pos or neg. depends entirely on the rationale behind why the woman chooses to wear it).

In the same vein, most people like Steven Den Beste who ascribe to the bikini a symbolism of absolute American liberty are also assigning a purely positive value without acknowledgeing that there is also a negative coercive aspect.

The burka and the bikini - when embraced of free will - are equal symbols of freedom, and that is why I have referred to America as the greatest Islamic country in the world many times on my blog. The concept of persona liberty and choice is essential to both American society and Islamic theology regarding the value of religious action.

The impetus to write the burka and the bikini post was solely to counter the simplistic claim that bikinis are American and Free and burkas are totalitarian and slaved. In actual fact, they are both just pieces of cloth. What truly matters is the freedom of the woman wearing it.

I also refer you to Jeanna D'Arc's insightful piece about patriarchal oppression. Also, Jane Galt had some related perspectives about cultural imperialism that are must-reads.

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About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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