So I dressed up as the Burka Avenger for Halloween.
The Burka Avenger, for those of you in the "don't-know," is the first Pakistani female superhero. Her creators say she was drafted prior to Malala, but the cartoon premiered in Malala's wake. It's star, Jiya, is a traditionally-dressed, non-hijabi teacher by day and a pen-and-book-flinging bad-ass by night, disguised under a sleeker-than-usual burka while she takes down small-minded mullahs who would staunch female education.
But Jiya's "costume" has spawned a lot of debate.
I've been thinking about the burqa a lot lately, in part because I read Algerian-American author Karima Bennoune's Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here. It's supposed to be about efforts by moderate Muslims and others living in Muslim-majority countries to resist the fundos. Really, it's about an '90's Algerian genocide that many Americans still don't realized happened and a deconstruction of "progressive" Western attitudes toward Islam.
One of the things Bennoune takes issue with is a Western defense of the burqa as women's right or choice. To Bennoune, "the more restrictive garments" represent "the obvious negation of the women who wear them, and by an extension, the negation of other women in the same environment. Not-being-veiled is a condition that is only possible in the presence of veiling. And not-being-veiled has been a life-threatening condition in many circumstances."
She has a point.
I think people have a right to wear whatever they chose, but I also find it near-impossible to convince myself that any woman would chose a burqa, chador or niqab, except as a precaution in a society where it's not safe to be a visible woman. In Karachi, the little bit of the "Muslim world" that I am most familiar with, there are no morality police, but public transportation sans full-armor is an open invitation for groping and insult.
So yeah, the "women choose modesty" argument seems more rhetorical than truthful to me.
But I like the Burka Avenger. I think she works, on a logistical basis and beyond. Her burqa could be perceived as subliminal whitewashing, or it could be perceived as subverting the oppressors, using their own methods.
For a more secular take on a Pakistani (American) super-heroine, there's Marvel Comics new Kamala Khan, a desi in Jersey. She's among the more modestly clad lady-Marvels, but she doesn't seem likely to don a burqa.