Saving the Burkha Woman? (Not in Black or White)

Article excerpt

All the things Western women take for granted are denied Afghan women, said Mrs Blair. "Here, we can dress as we please; in Afghanistan, that's forbidden." Well, what happened to Hillary Clinton? And will British voters have the confidence to put another woman in No. 10? It's only a few years since Prime Minister John Major had an all-male cabinet.

The last time I wore nail varnish, I must have been about 19. I never get round to painting my nails, and my cucicles are shocking. But many women do look after their hands, and manicure parlours have become large cottage industries, popping up everywhere. These places look enticing and relaxing: small businesses packed with women; always run by women.

Now, it seems I must buy some nail varnish because it is, apparently, a burning issue in women's fight for equal rights. The personal is the political, they say. And Britain's "First Lady", Cherie Blair, tells us that in Afghanistan, "If you wear nail polish, you could have your nails torn out.

All the things Western women take for granted are denied Afghan women, said Mrs Blair in a speech made at Downing Street. "Here, we can dress as we please; in Afghanistan, that's forbidden."

Cherie Blair, highly intelligent, extremely high earning (she makes a lot more than Britain's prime minister), a powerful woman and a role model to many, never speaks in public about politics.

Her unprecedented appearance on a political platform occurred two days after another politically-silent woman, America's First Lady, spoke of the "severe repression and brutality against women in Afghanistan".

Laura Bush commandeered her husband's Saturday national radio address to open up about female human rights -- unaware, perhaps, that women's and children's lives are being torn asunder by her country's "smart" bombs.

Suddenly, the two wives can speak. I'm sure no one in Downing Street and the White House had taken count of the obviously sour women worldwide looking askance at two white Western war leaders (warmongers?) who insist that Muslim female emancipation from torrid male oppression is as important as revenge on Osama bin Laden.

The pitiful, downtrodden, uneducated, subjugated, submissive, silent, obedient, tied to an arranged marriage, and, above all, veiled woman is the Muslim female image -- in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and in the West itself -- that Westerners prefer and promote.

"Muslim women aren't allowed to lead modern lives, they don't have rights", wail white feminists, pointing accusingly at Islam and Koranic traditions and injunctions. (Since September 11, European capitals have sold out of the Koran).

These feminists charge Islamic female scholars with not providing a "critical analysis" of what the Koran means for "modern" Muslim women.

Perhaps these critics can give me an analysis of how the Bible, a book of mainly folklore stories, written by men, applies to "modern" Western women. And I have been very interested, since aged 14, in someone explaining the "Virgin birth". Or is faith a Christian concept only?

At the heart of the debate about women and Islam is "modernity". But what kind of "modernity" is Islam said to lack? What "modernity" are Western feminists demanding -- or wanting to impose?

The right to work? The right to be educated? The right to be regarded as equal to men? The right to be involved in running your community's affairs?

In West Africa, to take just one example, women exercised all these "rights" -- until European colonialists turned up. They didn't like what they saw. How could they? Back home, these men ensured that their own women were kept firmly in place: no education, no legal or social status, no right to work, no involvement in politics.

This, never forget, was just 100 years ago.

For an excellent analysis of the "dual-gender complementarity that defined independent, pre-conquest social relations and which had been dislocated and marginalised by both the European occupation and the emerging (post-conquest) African state [modelled on European nations]", read Dr Femi Nzegwu's Love. …