Raybon Kan is an award-winning stand-up comedian

Raybon Kan: The burqa - a mistake we made to get here

Medieval concept sits uncomfortably in world of liberal progress.
A woman whose face is covered is like a document with the words blacked out. Picture / File
A woman whose face is covered is like a document with the words blacked out. Picture / File

The burqa was a clue.

"We're joined by Yasir Mohib and one of his wives. Hello, Yasir," said Heather du Plessis-Allan, on TV3.

Cross live to a suburban couch, in Auckland. A man, dressed for the 21st century, sits next to a woman, her face masked entirely by a scarf, burqa-style. Only her eyes can be seen.

She is about to say, live on TV, that her husband shouldn't be punished for hitting her.

He has pleaded guilty to assaulting her with a hammer, only to be discharged without conviction. (This discharge has been overturned by the High Court, who found it "plainly wrong" and another sentence will drop soon.)

The circumstances seem to involve an argument about holding hands, while watching a movie. So, in a way, it was a sweet, romantic assault. It was date night.

He loved her so he put a ring on it. That is, a ring-shaped mark from the hammer.
"Was a hammer involved?" Heather asked Yasir.

No, he said.

"When it was reported to police," he said, "it wasn't reported by Fatimah, it was reported by a third person and they reported there was a hammer used. They were not even the eye witness. They were not even in Auckland."

None of which is inconsistent with abuse. Abuse often doesn't have eye witnesses.

Sitting right next to Fatimah - "one of his wives" - Yasir explained how the police, and the court, got the impression he'd hit her with a hammer.

"She had too much influence from the wider family and they've actually brainwashed her and they've forced her to give the statement," he said.

Heather asked: "Did you hit your wife with your fist, Yasir?"

"Yes, yes I did."

When asked for her version, the wife said: "I think my husband has already described what had happened, so I just wanna clarify that there was no hammer involved, like he said that, um, a third party was involved and they had already given a statement and then they, um, persuaded me to give their statement."

Duncan Garner: "How many times did he hit you, how bad was this?"

Her answer didn't answer.

"Well, to be honest this thing happened almost a year ago, didn't it," she said, looking to her husband. (For the correct number? Or was it a look that said, "darling.")

She continued: "And I don't remember how many times, but yes, I won't deny he did hit me cos we had an argument, but there was no hammer involved, no weapon, he just hit me with his hands."

It's not for me to judge whether this was the script of a hostage situation. For all we know, under the veil, she's mouthing: "Save me."

What she did say, while sitting next to her husband, was: "To be honest, I don't think he should be punished."

I give up.

I'm no fan of the burqa. It's subjugation. A woman whose face is covered, is like a document with all the words blacked out.

A woman in a burqa has been redacted from society. A burqa says, don't look. Nothing to see here. Her identity is unimportant.

Her smile, her frown, all her expressions, are on the cutting-room floor. (God knows how she's meant to eat, or drink.)

And don't get me started on other forms of cutting.

And when this burqa silhouette is out and about, at the mall, on the street, what message do her children receive, unable to see her face?

The message is power and identity - and she has none of it. A woman in a burqa likely isn't voting, and damn sure isn't running for office.

She is generic. No wonder her husband can have more than one wife. How to tell the wives apart anyway, their faces covered? Do burqas have a licence plate?

Faces are incredibly important. People who work in CGI have an expression: the uncanny valley. That's when they try to make a photo-real face, but it's unconvincing.

Because we know faces. We know faces so well, a huge amount of the time, we feel bad we can't remember names.

The burqa is medieval. And like medieval plumbing and medieval medicine, it's out of date. Like women not owning property, not going to school, or not leaving home without male guardians, the burqa contradicts basic human rights.

Of course, basic human rights, is a recent concept. But air travel and YouTube have given us time travel. Medieval people are time-travelling into the 21st century, leap-frogging centuries of liberal progress, and they find our ways shocking.

The burqa isn't some post-feminist freedom from a bad hair day. It's a mistake we made to get here.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Raybon Kan is an award-winning stand-up comedian

Raybon Kan's books of humour include ‘America on 5 Bullets a Day’ and ‘An Asian at my Table’. Before comedy, he graduated with honours in law and his legal research was published in the New Zealand Law Journal. His TV work includes a documentary in which he trained to be a casino croupier. He once held his breath for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. Visit RaybonKan.com

Read more by Raybon Kan

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 06 Dec 2016 20:04:10 Processing Time: 88ms