Muslims in New Zealand by Susan Grimsdell
Muslims have been getting a bad rap lately, fanned by the illustrious President of the USA.
Concerned citizens with generous hearts speak up against this negativity and are distressed to hear criticism of the refugee influx into Western countries of people from Syria and other Muslim countries. Their argument centres on the fact that these people are not terrorists, not dangerous, just ordinary people wanting a better life for their families.
Inequality on show
I too don’t consider Muslim people to be terrorists in the sense that they do not wish to cause death and destruction. However, my concern is that some Muslims consider women to be essentially the chattels of men and worth less than men. This is visually apparent when we see women wearing a form of veil at all times, from a scarf to a burqa. These garments are a manifestation of the attitude to women held by some Muslim men, and, because we all internalise the dictates of the society we live in, by some Muslim women as well.
I find it hard to agree with some educated Muslim women’s claim that they “choose” to cover their hair. When an entire cohort of a group is “choosing” the same thing, something other than choice is operating. The choice is not free and unencumbered; it’s prompted in my view by acceptance of the idea that a man’s honour is preserved only when “his” women wear cover.
Integration not segregation
I strongly believe that if anyone wants to come and settle in New Zealand, they are welcome; but they must understand and accept the norms of our society. I admire France for outlawing the wearing of the veil in schools and would strongly support a similar law here, extended to include banning the wearing of cover in public places by all women, not just schoolgirls.
I consider that New Zealand is not a suitable place for people to settle if they want to perpetuate their originating culture’s control over women. The idea that women must comply with men’s idea of modesty is a notion rejected by New Zealand law and culture. It’s not acceptable.
Some Muslim women may need help to stand on their own feet and take their place in this country as equal human beings with rights and responsibilities. It will not help them if New Zealanders condone what some Muslim men want them to do in the name of cultural respect. If we forbade the use of the veil, women could walk freely on our streets, knowing that the law and the custom are on their side, backing them up all the way. They could join other women as we march for our rights, and get strength from banding together with us.
Muslim refugees aren’t terrorists, but it is vital that they respect and accept our way of life. We have a tolerant and multi-cultural society which is generous in its acceptance of diverse customs and different ways of worship, but it cannot condone practices which go against the human rights and gender equality which are enshrined in our laws.