Visual Essay – Burqa: Freedom in Restriction, Restriction in Freedom

The Burqa Debate has been a hot topic in the Netherlands, and because of her own background (having lived both in Qatar and the Netherlands) it, according her,’naturally intrigued’ Dutch student Eline Floor to do an in depth research about it. A research that for her turned out to be a confrontation with the Self. She did interviews with an anthropologist specialized in Salafism, Dr. Ineke Roex, a Dutch-Moroccan woman wearing the niqab, and read some research of reports on the debate. One could say it is a debate with many layers and viewpoints, but she chose to focus on the topic of freedom, and who is to say, what freedom is defined to be? With this short film she hopes to open up peoples minds, and look at the issue in a way people can confront their own cultural biases.

Watch the visual essay:

Freedom in Restriction, Restriction in Freedom from Eline Floor on Vimeo.

The spoken word:

How can we define freedom in our globalized, multicultural world? What does it mean for the woman wearing a niqab, and the average Dutch woman? How does this affect our perception on the Burqa ban?

These are the questions I focused on in my research of the Burqa debate. Of course it is a debate with many layers; political, social, and cultural. This issue affecting an estimated 0.00003 percent of the population has sadly become a political symbol, a tool for Dutch parties, to reach their political agenda. Everybody in the Netherlands has something to say about it, but they never question why they say the things they say; to step out of their shoes, and really understand how they as humans perceive the situation.

We of course as Westerners have a different perception of what is free-will what people in Muslim cultures might have. “Some cultural anthropologists believe that free-will is a typically western concept, therefore the question whether women can autonomously wear a niqab, is therefore very much a Western question.” However, Westerners associate, “freedom with the uncovering of something that is hidden, opening what is closed.. not only figuratively but literally.” Contrastingly, the lady wearing the niqab explained me that, “a beautiful diamond is not exhibited, but only to loved ones;” for her closing rather than opening means spiritual freedom.

By speaking to an anthropologist specialized in Salafism, an strict Islamic group rooted in Saudi Arabia, I found that for Salafis in the Netherlands, freedom means the deepening in the Islam and being able to restrict oneself, for the purpose of their religion. In our Western society, so focused on individual freedom and responsibility, this is hard to imagine.

One must always strive to understand the hidden intention before making a judgment. Dr. Moors, researcher of the Burqa debate, found that most women wearing the niqab, wear it for the goal of practicing their religion to the fullest; to become a citizen of paradise after they die; the purpose of most monotheistic religions.

Some people are quick to judge, that their intention is to shut themselves off of society, but fail to see, that in in the context of the Netherlands, in essence they are liberated because they have the ability and strength to express them selves in a society which rejects the ‘burqa.’

Interestingly because these women live in two cultures in one country, both have had major influences on them. This means they have almost two perceptions of freedom. Dr. Moors explained, “they speak of freedom in two ways, firstly that they find freedom in practicing their religion, but at the same time they are also calling for the traditional Dutch perception of freedom,” where you can be who you want, dress how you want to dress.

I encourage you, whether you are a politician, a young person whether you have made your stance for or against, to analyze and educate oneself about the people in question before making a judgment. Although I acknowledge that a niqab does limit your possibilities to proliferate in society, if our intention is to emancipate them, then why do we force them to stay at home instead? The goal of our intention has clearly not been reached, making the Burqa ban is an complete and utter failure of intent. When we define a free person to be true to his desires, values and goals, one must ask oneself, is the Dutch government really free?

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