New Zealand born Lamia Iman claims that we are fooling ourselves if we think New Zealand is a tolerant society.
To an extent at least she is right. There has been intolerance and prejudice expressed (and set in law in some cases) against Chinese, Irish, German,English, Dutch, Japanese, Pacific Island, Asian, Chinese, South African, Somalian, Maori etc throughout our history of occupation.
In response to recent terrorist attacks on French soil, several towns have banned the burkini – swimwear often worn by Muslim women and people avoiding the sun.
This week, New Zealand responded by putting a burkini on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week.
We Kiwis may pat ourselves on the back for our small act of defiance and its representation of our tolerant society but we would only be fooling ourselves.
Islamophobia is on the rise in the Western world and Muslims and ethnic minorities who “look Muslim” are feeling the brunt of it. New Zealand is certainly not immune.
There are genuine concerns in New Zealand about the potential risks from Islamic radicals, but we have to take care not to over-react to something that hasn’t happened, and we should take care not to ostracise many people in New Zealand for the actions of some on the other side of the world.
Islamophobia is a confronting term that doesn’t encourage better understanding, it isd more likely to entrench opposing views.
We have blamed Chinese immigrants for the housing crisis, barred a woman from applying for a job because she wore a hijab, defaced the billboard of a Sikh candidate running for City Council with “ISIS”, and have barely increased our refugee quota in response to a massive crisis in Syria.
Do we really deserve that pat on the back?
In general yes I think New Zealand deserves some credit but we are far removed from the heat of the problems in the Middle east and Europe, and there have been notable signs of intolerance.
New Zealand actually has a party in Parliament called New Zealand First.
One of its MPs Richard Prosser suggested back in 2013, well before Brexit or Donald Trump’s presidential bid, that Muslim men should not be welcome to travel on Western airlines.
He eventually had to apologise, conceding most Muslims were not terrorists, but then suggested most terrorists were Muslims – despite FBI figures showing non-Muslims make up 94 percent of terrorist attacks in the US.
Muslims make up 0% of terrorist attacks in New Zealand – ironically considering the burkina issue in France at present the most publicised terrorist attack here was done by the French government.
The party’s leader Winston Peters has since called for immigrants to be interviewed “to check their attitude” if they come from countries who “treat their women like cattle”, while ACT’s David Seymour has called for refugees to have to literally sign up to “Kiwi values”.
Both might be talking around race and religion to escape accusations of bigotry, but there is no doubt they refer to Muslims.
To an extent at least they are referring to Muslims, or at least addressing concerns of people who target Muslims.
The primary effect of the burkini ban in France is not reduced terrorism or liberation of women – it is removal of Muslim women from public spaces.
That’s an important point. Some in France claim that the burkini is a sign of the oppression of women with no proof that the women wearing them feel oppressed, but banning the wearing of (targeted) traditional clothing in public may well deter some women from appearing in public. As does public mass blaming.
This might not be successful as it gets tested in the courts but if it were, it would only further marginalize the Muslim community, which can only lead to more radicalization.
It may lead to more radicalisation, but it is at least likely to marginalise Muslim women and children.
Islamic clothing is wrapped in cultural, national, religious, and gendered connotations and the effect is marginalization of women but also Muslims in general, especially non-white Muslims.
It doesn’t matter that nuns can go to the beach or that people can still wear wet suits. What matters is the racial association with Muslims devalues all who don’t fall into the narrow white definition of a “liberated woman”.
A different angle to this is that in New Zealand there have been claims that females wearing too few clothes puts them at risk of sexual assaults so they should dress more safely. Damned if they clad, damned if they don’t.
North and South magazine in its June issue covered refugees and Muslims in New Zealand, but the cover had a menacing photo subtly equating the niqab to something sinister and dangerous with the headline “Radical Islam”.
Nobody has a problem with a white woman in Wellington covering up from head to toe on a cold July morning as the wind and rain comes in from all directions.
There were many heavily clad people at the rugby test in Wellington last night, many wearing highly visible symbols of their culture.
But a Muslim woman is somehow seen as a threat to society by virtue of her modest clothing choices.