Muslim Matrimonials and More

Articles and Essays on Marriage and Family in Islam


'Bikini Liberation' of Afghan Women

By Yamin Zakaria
Reprinted from Media Monitors Network,
First published Wednesday 29 October 2003 as "'Liberating' the Afghan Women"

Are we now to believe that a lone Afghan woman in a bikini – as exemplified by Miss Afghanistan, a Kabul-born student in California who last week participated in a Manila beauty contest - is a symbol of progress, simply for having removed the "oppressive" veil? It could have been her promotion to become a university professor, a doctor, lawyer, or successful entrepreneur. But no! The transformation had to involve removing her clothes, in order for the western-dominated mass media to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the liberation of the Afghan woman has begun.

Since the removal of the Taliban, the honorable women of Afghanistan have not rushed to exchange their veils for bikinis – hence the media's attempt to kick-start the process. But why is it that in the West, particularly the Jerry Springer nation, degrees of female nudity are automatically equated with liberation? To what or whom can we attribute such profound and enlightened ideas? And why was the advent of the Chippendales not greeted by applause for male liberation?

One can understand the current frustration of the western intelligentsia. Iraq has not worked out so well: no WMDs to date, foreign soldiers are still viewed as occupiers rather than liberators, oil is not being pumped for the convenience of the US administration, and there are reports (for example from Britain's Charity Commission) of Iraq's oil resources being misused. In Afghanistan, the picture is equally grim: the Taliban are creeping in, and opium production is on the increase, along with crime and lawlessness. Women face the threat of kidnap and rape with far greater ease and frequency than before. Western commentators have forgotten that before any talk of political rights, one needs to ensure security and the basic amenities for survival.

Despite the fall of the Taliban, there has been no great social upheaval in Afghanistan, and the veil continues to flourish as the norm rather than the exception. Hence, despite the televising of this lone, bikini-clad woman, the vast majority of women in Afghanistan, even under President Hamid Karzai, do not want to abandon the veil for the bikini. Indeed, it is not just in the world of the Taliban that Islam – along with the veil - is embraced. But one Muslim woman in a bikini blurs all that.

So what is the thinking here? If a woman is described as progressive for exchanging the veil for a mini-skirt, then surely a move to complete nudity would be welcomed as the peak of progress. Yet total nudity is an offense under the laws of most western countries. Equally, a career path that begins with the bikini can easily move next to the beauty contest and then modeling, which itself can move seamlessly from topless to full nudity, and thence, even, to the porn industry. And there you have it: a career path for the liberation of Afghan women.

The impact of these liberal values on wider society is easily discerned in the sexual behavior of young people in the West. A cursory glance at British TV programming reveals teenagers" casual attitude to sex – much assisted by drugs and alcohol - whether at home or on holiday in Spain, Greece, or any other sunny spot.

What's the consequence? The liberation of women (and men) has led to western-oriented societies becoming more volatile, torn apart by the rise of single-parent families, soaring divorce rates, and increased dependencies on alcohol, drugs and anti-depressants. Increasingly, children are born without knowing the identity of their father and in some cases even their mother. An estimated 33% of the population of the United States is illegitimate, with similar numbers in many European countries. Sexual abuse of children is not uncommon. Ageing parents are cast aside by their children, perceived as too great a burden.

So why is it that those societies that raise the flag of women's rights end up only facilitating the selling of her flesh, be it in the form of lewd pop videos, the fashion industry, advertising or elsewhere, and then end up calling it "liberation"?

In the international arena, such liberal values – and poorly defined ones at that - are increasingly imposed through the weight of western-controlled institutions (such as the United Nations, as well as non-governmental organizations funded by the West), under the pretext of promoting so-called universal values and human rights. These are, in fact, ever-changing parameters of right and wrong: like the notion of a "war on terrorism", these are vague concepts and are meant to remain so. As they say, politicians never give a straight answer - they always like to keep their options open. That is, their opportunities for manipulation, dishonesty, and hypocrisy.

Nonetheless, a clearly discernible trend is now emerging in the western mass media. The venue for a recent world beauty contest was initially to be Nigeria, a Muslim majority country. Following widespread protests, and many deaths, the contest was shifted to Turkey, another Muslim country – and, surprise, a Turkish woman won. No doubt it was another attempt to kick-start that shift from veil to bikini.

Finally, it is just worth noting that anyone with an offensive argument against Islam/Muslims is immediately given recognition and publicity. We have had Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Najib Mahfuz, all of whom gained instant fame (and notoriety) for their attacks. More recently, we have seen open discussion in the media of the possibility that the Iranian lawyer recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Shireen Ibadi, was selected for her perceived stance against Islamic values. Then we had a verbal attack against Islam by senior US General William Boykin ignored under the pretext of freedom of speech, while a perceived anti-Semitic remark by Malaysian President Muhammad Mahathir sends the western mass media into hysteria.

The same criticisms apply to the apparently secular-minded members of the Muslim community who are simply armchair critics of Islam without offering any real solutions – for example on the question of how to organize relations between the sexes. Question them on a specific issue and see how vague the answer is - that is if you can get an answer. Likewise, ask them about women's liberation... and watch how quickly the flag of liberation drops when you invite them to apply their proposals to their own households.

Yamin Zakaria is a writer and human rights campaigner. Courtesy of Media Monitors Network

Footnote: Miss Afghanistan, Vida Samadzai, lost the contest to Miss Honduras, but did get a special award at the beauty contest held in the Philippines – "Miss Earth Beauties for a Cause."

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