(cross-posted from Petal fall from my afro like Autumn)
MY MIND IS BLOWN…
Pakistani Pop Star Aaron Haroon Rashid, has created a new super hero: the Burka Avenger. Quite literally a burka-clad super hero who fights for girls right to education, punishing the bad guys with nothing more than books, pens, and inner peace. This anti-violence, pro-education icon is ‘creating quite an impression in a country where female literacy is estimated at a grim 12% and the Taliban are continuing a campaign which has seen hundreds of girls’ schools blown up in the north-west.’ the BBC tells us. As arguably the biggest weapon of the Arab Spring, social media is once again championing a peoples movement, although this time through animation instead of protests. Could this be a indicative of a move away from religious extremism and back to a cosmopolitan Pakistan where the levels and standards of education rise exponentially across the country, providing both male and female future thinkers, speakers and teachers of the world?
Haroon told the BBC “The Burka Avenger is a great role model. We lack those in Pakistan.” But what about, now author, activist, and international spokesperson Malala? A young Pakistani woman who was the victim of an assassination attempt as a child by the Taliban after blogging for the BBC about her life under Taliban rule, Malala survived a terrible headshot wound and now lives in Birmingham. She continues to campaign for education, and specifically the education of girls, but whilst she has become the champion of many human rights campaigns she is also hated by many people from her home country, not just Taliban supporters, some doubt the sincerity of her campaign, going so far as to claim that she is a CIA agent. Even people who knew her from her own village have called her attention seeking, stating that “Malala is spoiling Pakistan’s name around the world,” Leading me to the question: is this a peoples movement, is it what the people want?
The Burka Avenger shows-off obvious western influences, including a rap-theme tune ‘Don’t Mess with the Lady in Black’ by Haroon and Adil Omar which is sung in English. I was interested to see what responses had come out of a society with a currently anti-Western mood. As I suspected many of the comments agree that “Burkha Avenger” will be written off by many as just more Western propaganda,” And yet, as a U.K occupant myself, I think that this animation could have a tremendous effect on anti-muslim ignorance here in the West itself. Episode one introduces funny, likeable protagonists, not so different to the characters you might find in Dora The Explorer or even our very own Kim Possible which, in a fear-driven world that is increasingly alienating all and any aspects of muslim-culture (both assumed and literal) can only be a good thing right?
However this symbol of education emancipation for women (the message I have tattooed on my forehead) is wearing a burka, seen by many as a symbol of the oppression of women and has, in itself caused a fair amount of debate. “It is demeaning to those brave women in the conservative parts of Pakistan who have been fighting for women’s rights, education and justice, and who have said ‘no’ to this kind of stereotype.” Comments Islamabad-based journalist and human rights activist, Marvi Sirmed to the BBC, “…it says that you can only get power when you don a symbol of oppression,”. But the burka is not just a symbol of oppression. There are many muslim women both in the west and around the world who have spoken out against this stereotype.
I have read accounts that assert the Burka empowers women, allows them to walk the streets without being stared at by men in a derogatory way. I myself have experienced feeling so objectified by men all around me in the middle of an average street in London that I wished to become invisible, to give them nothing to look at. I would not equate this to covering my face as a symbol of my religion, but then, I am not dedicated to any religious body, so accept that such devotional practices are somewhat alien to me. Women also talk about modesty and state that men are also obliged by the Q’ran to cover themselves from neck to ankle in loose clothing. Women have insisted that that they are not forced to wear the Burka or Hijab by any men in their families, but wear it because they want to, and wear it with pride. A particularly concise comment I found on a polling website stated: “The burka is no more a symbol of oppression than the bra.” Well, you’ve got me there…
Whilst this really isn’t the image I have in my head when I think of women’s liberation – neither is this –
– a common occurrence in a seemingly ‘equal’ country…
So I’m afraid I stand a little on the fence with this one, and if this heroic, independent female-role model is fighting for literacy and education for women in a highly-oppressive society, how can we fault her? If she’s not offering me a feminist female president of Pakistan, isn’t she at least giving us a good start?