Burqa-Clad Oxymorons

Another Amsterdam [Gay] Pride Week has now come and gone, with the climactic – even notorious – Canal Parade making its along the Prinsengracht on Saturday afternoon. Make your way to the city center during this period, especially the final Friday-through-Sunday, and/or elbow a place for yourself to spectate at that Canal Parade, and you will definitely encounter all sorts of outrageous outfits. Usually not like we see in the following, however:

It’s Muslim burqas in rainbow colors! But wait, there’s more! You see the yellow one on the left, with the black shades and holding the “Burqa Queens” sign? That’s not even a woman, much less a Muslim, rather it’s Hendrik Jan Biemond, Amsterdam city councilor for the Dutch Labor Party (Partij van de Arbeid – PvdA). Just last Thursday a nationwide burqa-ban went into effect in the Netherlands, although it’s applicable only in government buildings, in schools, in hospitals and on public transport. Biemond turned up here in solidarity to protest that: “I want people to have the freedom to clothe themselves as they want.”

Well, first of all, from this Het Parool piece it seems that Biemond himself is homosexual; should he turn to the Muslim community whose modes of dress he is defending, he might get an unpleasant surprise! (Indeed, sporadic harassment by local Muslims of homosexuals, including during Pride Week, continues to tarnish Amsterdam’s tolerant image.) But let’s take a look at those signs. “No Human Is Free Untill [sic] We Are All Free”: Fine, we dismiss that one as patently ridiculous. How about “My Burqa Is My Right And Pride”?

“My Right”: Not when you’re in schools, hospitals, etc. in the Netherlands, it isn’t anymore! But “[My] Pride”? Clearly “pride” in being Muslim, which somehow is to be expressed by draping oneself in an impractical, excessive arrangement of fabric that barely leaves an opening for the eyes, whose original purpose was to hide any bit of femininity from passing males lest they go mad and proceed immediately to sexual assault. Given what I’ve read about rates of sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo, the burqa may well have a point there, but it’s fair to say behavior is rather more restrained on Western sidewalks.

Related to this concept of “pride” is Biemond’s assertion of “freedom to clothe themselves as they want.” But as who wants? As the women themselves want – or as the patriarchy imposed over them by Muslim belief wants? As their fathers and other male relatives want, as their insistence that their womenfolk wear these ridiculous, anti-modern outfits is forced by means of brainwashing and intimidation?

Thankfully, another voice has just pitched in, that of Amsterdam city councilor Marjolein Moorman, head of the PvdA fraction there (so, in some soft way, Hendrik Jan Biemond’s boss). Her tweet:

For me a burqa symbolizes inequality between women and men. A man is allowed to freely show himself, but the woman must cover herself. For me that has nothing to do with freedom.

At the same time, a burqa can never constitute a licence to threaten or harass a woman.

Finally some sense – and note well, from a woman! (Not to say “sense” is especially rare from a woman; rather to say that in this context the viewpoint of another woman particularly resonates.) Of course, she’s also set off the sort of debate you would expect in the comments down below that tweet.

Perhaps pro-burqa activists next time could research a bit more thoroughly the inherent nature of Amsterdam [Gay] Pride Week, rather than use it as an opportunity to protest simply because it occurs to close to the introduction of that limited burqa-ban! I call for this in part because I am worried that they will next show up in a public demonstration upholding the Muslim ban on drinking alcohol – in Munich, on the occasion of the next Oktoberfest!

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