Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Another one of my pet peeves

I don't know why this bugs me so much, but it drives me up the fucking wall that most news sources I read don't know what a burqa is. This article states that China has banned residents of Urumqi "from wearing a burqa" and has this picture:

Guess what? The women in this photo are not wearing burqas.

The Telegraph (where the article linked above is from) is not unique, just about every English-language news article about the Chinese move calls it a "burqa ban" and features a picture of people who are not wearing a burqa. (In fact, the ban is on "蒙面罩袍", which is literally “face-masking robes" which would include a burqa as well as other clothes that are not burqas).

This isn't unique to reports about the newly announced Chinese ban. Pretty much every time there is proposed ban on a Muslim head coverings that covers more than just the hair, news sources call that covering a "burqa." And almost always the article has a picture of a woman in a niqab, not a burqa. What's the difference? A burqa covers more than a niqab. A niqab looks like a ninja outfit, with a slit for the eyes. A burqa covers even more than that. You can't even see the eyes of a woman in a burqa. There is just a mesh in the fabric so the woman can see out (though probably not very well). Once you understand the difference it is really easy to tell them apart. This shows two women in a burqa:

 This shows a woman in a niqab:

Why does it matter so much to me? I'm not sure. The weird thing is that when people talk about "banning burqas" I think they usually also have the niqab in mind. The burqa is pretty rare, if not almost entirely unknown, outside of Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. But the niqab is worn by religious Muslim women in various parts of the world. I see them on the streets of Philadelphia fairly regularly.

I'm not completely sure how "burqa" became the default term in the West for "oppressive clothing that Muslim women wear" instead of "niqab." I don't think that "niqab" is any harder to pronounce than "burqa" (they both have a qaaf (ق), which will just turn into a "k" sound for the average English speaker). But I have a good guess. I blame the Taliban. Or rather, the sudden notoriety the group got after September 11th. The Taliban forced actual burqas on women in the territory they controlled. I guessing that is how the term got lodged in so many Westerners' minds.