Tuesday 5 July 2011

Editorial: Lifting the burqa on identity and ignorance

Where the burqa belongs

The matter of the burqa though religiously sensitive needs to objectively thought about in its proper contexts. A number of European and Western countries have promulgated laws or are in the process of creating legal situations where the burqa is banned in public places.

In Islamic countries where the chastity and dignity of the woman is presumably preserved by the total cover-up with slits for the eyes, a see-through net or grille it is traditional and customary for women to be invisible as recognized individuals and personalities.

In more conservative settings, the women would have to be chaperoned by male members of their families to be seen in public and their identity is derived from who accompanies them.

Western societies have no such customs and this type of extreme modesty is rather alien to the concept of individual identity and the representation of personalities.

Where the burqa does not belong

The face is the first object of identification, communication requires eye contact and people, especially adults have the responsibility for acting as free moral agents with verifiable particulars of identification to access all sorts of services especially those to do with security, law enforcement and business transactions.

It means such open societies just do not have the means or the latitude to accommodate these alien customs because it abridges human-rights in terms of having a clear identity in the public space as it disrupts the sense of security people have by facial recognition of those within their space.

The civil liberties advocacy for the right to wear the burqa in open societies that require facial identification as a verification of identity simply holds no water wear no alternative system of identification exists to verify a covered face belongs to a particular person, it burdens such societies with impossible hurdles and impacts on the sense of equality we all have.

Whilst the preservation of right to religious observation is apparently sacrosanct, that of customs that go against the grain of easy identification cannot be so. The burqa just does not belong in free societies.

Unhealthy burqas of ministers of health

Health ministers would be expected to have the medical health of their fellow citizens as paramount with the aim to facilitate access to good, affordable and accessible healthcare to all.

For all their erudition, expertise and organizational ability, we expect that whatever they do will attract the greatest commendation of respect and praise of their service and one can dare to hope that they would avoid being embroiled in controversy.

It was bad enough that a health minister in Nigeria did not see the medical emergency of fake drugs and substandard drugs being dispensed in Nigeria’s University Teaching Hospitals suggesting only his predecessor was directly addressed and informed of the matter.

However, when somewhat progressive countries end up with health ministers in that kind of mould, a greater disservice is done to the people who deserve better than that kind of cack-handedness.

In South Africa it was the health minister in Thabo Mbeki’s presidential tenure who advocated the use of beetroot garlic and herbs for the management of HIV and AIDS that she earned the embarrassing world-stage moniker of Dr Beetroot as the medical situation in South Africa was allowed to grow into an epic emergency.

She has passed but the baton seems to have been handed to the health minister of the world’s second most populated counted and the largest democracy.

Donning the burqa of crass ignorance

Whilst health ministers are entitled to their moralities and values, they are not put in their positions to preach to the adherence of some moral code and alienate others on grounds that have no professional or medical basis.

It therefore comes as a shock beyond words when the Indian Health Minister at a HIV/AIDS conference he was attending said that “homosexuality is a disease which has come from other countries.”

It is hard enough listening to people propose that an element of human nature has a particular racial or regional progeny in their quest for a sense of cultural purity but to hear such stuff from a health minister is really beyond the pale.

There is every reason to expect this person to walk the plank before their pronouncements validate and promote the persecution of others on all grounds predicated from a false and illiterate medical perspective, one can only be filled with trepidation at what might result from this statement in a country where the matter of rights are not as sure and in others where India is supposed to serve as an example.

We need to lift the burqa on this kind of intellectual arrogance which is portends to have moral underpinnings but is stark ignorance expressed by one who should really know a lot better.


The BBC news website writes about giving powers to the New South Wales police concerning criminalising burqas by reason of the fact that it hampers the identification process in crime investigation and law enforcement. After a BBC documentary five years ago, I wrote a blog about the Unhealthy directors of Nigerian Health and yesterday, the Indian Health Minister took on the mantle of Dr Beetroot of India.

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