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Like much of what we see on the news these days, the burqini issue was all consuming when it trended but ephemeral in its media shelf life. Media outlets would rather repeat what Donald Trump has to say over and over again. Given he repeats himself often, the double repetition serves as a hypnotic trance to which America and the world is slowly falling prey. But that’s another topic for another day. Right now I want to focus on the burqini – because as we’ve seen – the outrage was fleeting and victory was sweet. When the High Court of France overturned the burqini ban, everyone patted themselves on the back and got back to their daily lives, even though several French mayors said they will continue to fine those wearing the burqini despite the high court’s decision. David Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, called the court’s ruling a “victory for radical Islam” and said the city’s ban on the garment will remain.

What does this mean? Has any extremist group issues a fatwa that the burqini must be worn? How is a piece of cloth a representation of any radical faith? The answer is simple – It isn’t. But the concept itself is not so simple. Attached to this simple answer are socio-economic issues; racism, deep rooted misogyny and the male gaze and most of all Islamophobia. But I am not a stranger to complex and concurrent themes. I am a Muslim Australian born in Bangladesh and living in Canberra. My identity is rich in its history and known for its struggle. I am Muslim and Islam is known for ….well a lot. Google it and you’ll see. I am Australian and this country is nothing if not the land of the underdog. I am Bangladeshi and take pride in my county’s victorious independence after years of oppression. And I am woman – by virtue of that fact I am struggle personified. Struggling to be accepted, to be recognised, to be valued, to be free.

When I was 10, my school used to take us swimming and very soon I became the recipient of an award that authoritatively confirmed my floating skills. Then I moved schools and although my love for being in the water grew with each visit to the beautiful beaches of NSW – my aquatic skills did not. This was largely due to the fact that if I wanted to do anything more than dip my feet into the water I had to wear a swimming costume, Lycra tights or pants, a long sleeved shirt, a cap and a scarf.

Every time I went into the water dressed to the nines while bikini clad women swarmed around me – I was less conscious of people watching me than I was of the sand working its way into each and every layer and the dread building up inside me of have to wash it all out. It didn’t matter which beach I went to – no one cared what I was wearing. No one stared, commented or showed that they were offended. Everyone was more than happy to enjoy the beach in their own way. And so I stubbornly continued to layer up and venture out till the water reached my knees because I was too scared to go any further.

Then 2.5 years ago – I got married. And my husband, God bless him, started teaching me how to swim. First at the local pool, where he waited patiently before and after each session while I worked myself in and out of all my layers, and then at the beach. It was at the beach that my friend flaunted her Ahiida burqini and encouraged me to get one. I went online and made my purchase of a loose fitting green and pink suit with cap for $80AUD. A few weeks later my purchase arrived and I made my way to the beach. I cannot explain to you the joy of entering (and leaving) the water in this amazing creation. The material is light yet loose, the design is stylish yet thoughtful (shout out to the strings keeping the top tied to the pants so your top doesn’t float up and reveal anything) and the sensation of water against skin is not minimised at all. The best part – it dried on my body within 10-15 min of getting out of the water. No more strategically placed towels on the car seat, no more sandy wet tugging of numerous layers. This thing was a godsend. And everywhere I wore it people stared… and then smiled. Because they could see this piece of cloth I was wearing was making me radical…. Radically happy. I was ecstatic! My love of the water and outdoors was finally able to be expressed alongside my faith.  

Unfortunately not everyone has the same positive experience. My friends have been taunted and abused and akin to women in France – they felt humiliated and ashamed for no good reason. Thankfully, the need to isolate and radicalise a garment based on who wears it is being turned on its head as Burqini sales have skyrocketed since it’s been in the limelight and non-Muslim women are purchasing the burqini for various reasons including “skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin—they’re all wearing it.” Asian women have been wearing face masks to the beach to protect their skin for years, not to mention nuns, Goths and other people of a race culture or creed who wear clothing or symbols of their faith or identity.

There is no good reason to stop a woman from wearing something they feel comfortable in – this is discrimination.
There is no good reason to prevent a woman from enjoying herself in clothes that define her identity – this is racism.
There is no good reason to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot wear – this is sexism. 

It saddens me that those in positions of authority that have been elected to serve and protect the people are the ones who greedily perpetuate the economics of fear. They who have been elected to oversee peaceful and harmonious societies are the ones sprouting hate speech and dividing communities with ignorance. They who claim to be democratic and stand for the freedoms and liberties of all, are the ones robbing women of their right to be and act as they wish without the diction of misogyny oppressing their actions. And so we women continue to be struggle personified. We continue to wear what we want and act as we do in physical protest of the ignorant rantings of men who neither understand the values of freedom and liberty nor wish to avail it to anyone besides themselves. Society can radicalise my burqini and lace my identity with its vitriol but it won’t’ dissuade me from enjoying what I love. To get in the water and appreciate the beauty and bounty God has provided us with… in my burqini.

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My Burkini and I

Tell me do I look opressed, unhygenic or like a terrorist in these pictures to you? If you said yes to any of them above then please click here and check yourself!

Kudos to the creator of the Burkini – Ahiida designs.

The ‘Other’ is not a new concept. As a society we have marginalised minorities and those that we disagree with or misunderstand for hundreds of years. It is a social construct by which we develop not only our own identity but shape the identity of others. And it is the group or groups with greater political and economic influence that have the greater ability to shape and represent identities. It is important to note then – that an identity, especially the identity of the Other is not something we are born with – rather it is a social construct we step into and live in by design.

Zygmunt Bauman said on Otherness that Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend (Bauman 1991: 8). This is an awareness that we form our own identity through the inclusion of an element of exclusivity. In order to define the self or society you must also define what you are not. Man identifies himself as a superior being by comparison to the animal in attributes that are similar but also attributes that are different or lacking.

Societies have advanced through time by defining identities of civility as opposed to barbarity, colonial as opposed to indigenous, black as opposed to white and free as opposed to oppressed. These same societies have wielded their substantial political clout to shape and re-shape the identity of the other based on characteristics that would be most economically beneficial at the time. When Colombus ‘discovered’ America, the marginalisation of the Indian as Other was economically motivated. How else would Columbus and the ensuing British colonisation have been able to usurp land and build profitable a profitable society? How else would Manhattan be bought for $24?

 

When the British colonised India, Africa and Australia, the characteristics of being poor, dirty and inferior were associated to the colour of their skin and Black became the Other to White. This too was economically motivated. How else could the Dutch East India company convince it’s men that Indian were slaves to be herded onto ships bound for the fields of Africa? How else would the British have been able to commandeer and mobilise large contingencies of colonised peoples to work on infrastructure and fight in wars that were of no material benefit to them? How else were members of the Pakistani Army and society convinced that Bengalis were not Muslim, not human and thus ripe for raping, looting and killing? Man identifies with Man till society finds an economically beneficial reason to distinguish differences and draw boundaries.

Societies of economic influence wield the authority of their social institutions such as the law, media, education, religion to hold the balance of power through their representation of what is accepted as Normal and what is considered Other. Organisations such as the UN are a prime example of a selection of powerful economies distinguishing themselves as leaders and thus authorises to interfere in the societies and economies of other countries. This is not to say the UN is bad – No. Rather it is to understand that our world is governed by a man made awareness of who we are and who we are not based on the economically motivated decisions of the politically and financially privileged.

When we understand and are aware of this concept and remember that none of us are born as the Other, our minds can awaken to the political hegemony being played out on a global scale. Our minds can awaken to the realities of being the Jewish Other in 1940’s Europe. Of being the Asian Other in 1970s Australia. Of being the African American Other in America … always. Of being the Muslim Other in America, Australia, Europe and Burma. When we understand that we have a choice to accept or reject the identity of the Other, we can explore and seek to learn about the so-called Other. If we only venture outside of the propaganda sold 24/7 on mainstream media we can come to an enlightenment on what Islam really is and who Muslims really are. If we do this we can strip the fear we associate with the tag other. We can remove the animosity that drives decisions like the Burkini ban in France and we can celebrate the diversity through embracing our similarities as well as our differences.

What kind of society have we become when a 10 year old boy cannot feel safe in his own front yard? When the very figures of authority that are sworn in to serve and protect are the ones that run down and gun down first and ask questions (or provide weak justifications) later. What kind of society exhorts the values of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and yet leads the way in dictating how a woman should and should not dress? If you ban someone from covering, is this not the same oppression and banning someone from revealing? What kind of society have we become when we spin bias on everyday actions based on the attire of the individual. Would these women have been singled out as ‘members of Isis’ (a horrible thing to accuse someone of!) for being on their phones if they were not in Hijab? Surely there is logic and common sense left somewhere in the world?! Thank God for Canada where Hijabs are not part of the official uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Justin Trudeau who says the burkini ban has “no place in Canada,”

Allah swt says in the Quran, O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13) We are encouraged to know each other for where there is knowledge and enlightenment there can never be fear and animosity no matter how profitable it is to the ruling elite. We are the masters of our own fate and we the masses shape the direction of our society. So don’t let an economically motivated Big Brother tell you who to like and dislike, don’t let faceless corporations teach you to hate – go out and talk to people who you don’t know, who you don’t understand and who you don’t like – you might just find you have more in common with them than you think.

The US presidential election has given not just Americans, but citizens of the world much cause for concern. As the candidates have whittled down from a flurry of Republicans each as stupid and dangerous as the other, we’ve been left with the most dangerous one of them all – A man who doesn’t value his word.

Each time Donald Trump opens his mouth, it’s to say something rude, offensive, racist and/or sexist. His comments are mostly outright lies if not grossly misleading and he has been successfully misleading the American public for the last several months. Trump may or may not be broke and this may or may not all be a big publicity stunt but what worries me is the vitriolic hate speech and actions that he seems to have legitimised in the minds of his followers and supporters…

Read the full article HERE.

A video montage of my recent trip to this beautiful city

Body image and confidence is a growing issue for women in modern society. Our media is inherently biased in propagating unattainable standards of beauty to impressionable females which misdirects their concentration and focus so they, and their male counterparts cannot or will not distinguish between realistic and airbrushed body images leading to a dangerous mindset in the youth of today.

A lot of the current dilemma stems from the male gaze used to portray women in media in an unapologetically misogynistic manner. The success of this kind of branding and advertising has retained its popularity in modern society despite the very real dangers it catalyses. Today, Feminism is frowned upon in order to continue the subjugation of women and female role models succumb to the pressures to conform to standards of beauty that are unrealistic and unattainable by women who don’t have a group of hair stylists, make-up artists and photo shoppers are their beck and call. There are role models that do resist the pressure to conform and they face backlash by the same media that delight in reporting cases of celebs going under the knife. A great example of this was when there was a media furore about Renee Zellweger’s face and every media outlet was asking, “What happened to her face?” Life happened!

We need to be the change we want to see in setting the benchmark for what the next generation see as confident desirable and attainable in terms of body image. We must educate our boys, instil confidence in our girls, empower young women and reassure all women that they are more than enough just as they are. A great first step is to encourage women to stand up for other women. A recent Instagram picture posted of a model with unshaven legs resulted in many disparaging comments from women as well as men. That picture is most of us in real life! So why do we feel the need to insult her picture for reflecting that reality?

When we increase the dialogue of confidence for women by reinforcing all body images as beautiful, we also impact men. We decrease misogyny through education which can ‘cure’ the male gaze and also hopefully curb male entitlement when men are taught to see women as more than objects that sell chocolates and cars on television, magazines and movies. When men learn to respect women, Individual women for who they are and not what they wear or do for a living, this will have a profound impact on lowering the ridiculously high domestic violence and rape statistics around the world.

Women also need to be mindful of the pressure we put on ourselves and other women in the way we comment on people’s dress sense and physical looks. The ‘hot trends’ or ‘must haves’ such as big lips, big butts, slim waists are all passing fads which are hyped up by gossip magazines written by women for women. This can result in an increase in women who doubt their self-worth based on their appearance and resort to plastic surgery. It has become easier to change what you have then love what you are blessed with. Women who dress nicely and look after themselves by keeping fit and healthy and investing in their appearance are labelled shallow and those who don’t are labelled anything from hobo to feminist or even lesbian. Why do we as a society encourage such negative criticism of each other and the misuse of such labels?

If we collectively eat well, sleep well, be disciplined in fitness and get enough sunshine then we can all emulate the positive body image that will make our world a better place. We could learn from our counterparts in rural areas whose lives are not saturated yet by media propaganda and thus they have more confidence in their natural bodies. We need to revert to being confident in our natural state and reinforcing to women that they are special in their own way and that no woman is desirable by every beauty standard so it is pointless to use them as benchmarks.

We should encourage boys and girls to stay fit and healthy to bring confidence and peace within them. There are people who have something they severely dislike about their body that isn’t a result of trying to please others or look like a model. If you are one of those people, do your research, consult your family, friends and doctors and make a decision based on their support and wisdom. If surgery is what is good for you and will make you happy then do it for you. Beware though, it’s a slippery slope when you make one change, one cut – it’s easy to keep digging yourself deeper and deeper in that hole.

The key to rising above social pressure is to stay educated. Keep reading, learning and knowing so that you can distinguish fact from fake and not get sucked into the fake reality sold on TV and in magazines. If you take care of yourself and eat well you will look well and it will rewire the way you think of beauty even if magazines everywhere tell you otherwise.
It’s up to us women to be confident in our varied body types, promote that confidence to other women and together stand united so that the male gaze and the media gaze can’t faze us.

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