Wednesday 28 January 2015

On the subject of David Rankin and his latest outburst

It’s been a very long time since I’ve contributed to the Handmirror. I’ve gradually managed to rid myself of the guilt I’ve felt, realising that I have quite a busy life and committing to writing is often a very difficult thing to do.

Today something has changed. That’s possibly because I’m feeling considerably more relaxed than I have in a while because I’m writing in the other parts of my life, which makes it a lot easier to write here.

My decision to write today also comes from a growing frustration with the rhetoric around Muslims in the West. Since 9/11 Muslims have become a very important part of the political discourse in the West. The conflicts we experience, our cultures, the way our religion is expressed in different parts of the world are all up for analysis and comment.

Over the last year, the civil wars of Iraq and Syria, the rise of ISIS and the attacks in Sydney and the Charlie Hebdo offices have meant this discourse
has become re-energised, expressing itself in sometimes quite interesting circumstances. 

Yesterday, David Rankin, a controversial public commentator from the Nga Puhi tribe said that the burqa should be banned from Waitangi. He claimed that Muslim “extremists” were converting Maori in droves and that Islam is in opposition to Maori culture.

David Rankin is right in saying that there is an increase in Maori converting to Islam. The reasons why some Maori have chosen to convert have to do with their own personal circumstances and their own faith journeys. Their stories aren’t mine to tell. But they’ve been told in numerous forums including Radio New Zealand National and magazines.

Some of converts may be attracted to more radical elements in Islam, but that’s something that’s affecting Muslims globally, and has a particular history to it (again, a discussion for a different time and place). The majority, will be like most Muslim converts, they’ll go through significant lifestyle changes, they might start dressing differently and their habits might change. 

None of these changes are necessarily more different to Maori culture than the influence of Western civilisation and Christianity. In fact there are many things that Maori Muslims find similar in their culture with Islam, such as the importance of whanau and recognising lineage, such as in the case of whangai adoption. 

Throughout the world Muslims live their lives in very different ways influenced by their traditions, their environments and their political, social and economic contexts. In the West, there’s a distinct Muslim culture emerging particularly around professional urban middle classes that is very different from Muslim cultures of peoples ancestral homes and their original communities.

Islam in the West is multi-cultural, its young, its tech savvy and draws from the heritage and culture of both the East and the West. There is no reason why Maori who choose to be Muslim can’t create their own distinctly Maori Muslim culture, that contributes to the broader culture of Muslims in New Zealand and New Zealand culture in general. 

The reason why I chose to comment about this topic on the Handmirror blog was because David Rankin specifically chose the symbol of “the burqa”. There are probably Gigabites of Internet commentary written about “the burqa” and face coverings. A cursory look at the worst blog in New Zealand (you know which one I’m talking about) has screeds of comments talking about the oppression of Muslim women particularly those that choose to cover, their bodies, their hair and their faces. 

People like David Rankin, Cameron Slater and the commentators on Whale Oil can’t see beyond the idea that Muslim women are oppressed and that Muslim women that cover their hair and their faces are even more oppressed. They can’t see our agency and they can’t see our intellect. It's true that throughout the world many women are forced to dress in ways that they wouldn't choose to themselves by either the state or their families. However in the context of the West and particularly in the case of converts, this is quite rare.

This rhetoric around "the burqa" is fascinating. It's a clear example of how in one sentence people will point to the oppression of Muslim women whilst failing to recognise how Muslim women are reaching into our own traditions and heritages to empower ourselves with knowledge and understanding. This same movement of decolonisation is happening in the Maori world with wahine Maori reviving knowledge and traditions that have been lost through partriarchy and colonisation. 

One of the fundamental ways that Muslim women can become empowered is by reviving the tradition of Muslim female scholarship.

It just might be that some of the people reviving this important part of Muslim society choose to wear a face veil.

David Rankin and Cameron Slater might choose to call these women oppressed extremists but really, their ignorance is their own oppressor. 


Anonymous said...

Its nice to see you back.

A married couple I know worked in Kabul for a year. When local women trusted them they confessed to impressive tertiary qualifications (and not Arts Degrees either) and showed old photos of themselves in western clothes. These women were not comfortable with their current situation but were not in a position to change it.

Other aquaintances working in Turkey (but with refugees) and Egypt tell stories that have a similar vein - women are second class citizens in many Muslim cultures.

Feminists defending Islam need to ask these women what they want, not what their husbands, culture and religion demand.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you would also like to comment on Muslims calling Māori religion demonic, wanting to ban Maori carvings & treating Maori women like prostitutes. His press release didn't comment on Maori converting to Islam in droves which s not happening it was about tension between racist immigrants & indigenous people which is real & covering it up with this 1 nation multicultural bullshit allows racists like rankin the only people talking about it. When Muslims lower themselves to visit a demon-worshipping marae if they dont want to observe marae protocol they shouldn't come.