This response by Conrad Koch to Gareth Cliff (a local DJ on 5FM) was so good, I simply had to repost it in it's entirety.
To visit his website, simply click here.
My response to @GarethCliff and his Eurocentric arrogance towards Muslim women
Mr. Cliff, purveyor of the truth, I am responding to our little twitter chat this Saturday where you displayed the profound depths of your cultural wisdom. You started it off with:
“I feel dreadfully sorry for any woman who has to cover herself up for religious reasons in the heat of summer. Very cruel.”
Now I did assume you were talking about Islamic female clothing as opposed to Hasidic Jewish, Parsee or Hindu gear. You didn’t challenge me on this on twitter, so I’ll continue in this vein. My entire argument is summed up by Lila Abu-Lughod, who unlike you and I is actually a woman, and is actually Muslim, and actually has a PhD (gasp, they can think for themselves!!!). See the link  to her article below,“Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others”.
Aside from the fact that your above statement is just plain ignorant (Islamic clothing was designed for the desert smartypants – its makes you feel cooler. Watch Lawrence of Arabia for a reference), it is also packed with prejudice. I am going to attempt to help you understand why.
You say you “feel dreadfully sorry for any woman who has to cover herself up”. The important points here are that you a) feel sorry for them, and b) see them as having to do this. I have never heard you feeling sorry for Western women who ‘have to’ pour hot wax on their genital area and legs to make themselves more socially acceptable, or feeling sorry for female Idols contestants who ‘have to’ have near anemic figures to fit into the tight clothing we prefer them to wear, or for African women who are forced into the cultural practice of genital mutilation, so I need to ask, why the special sorrow for poor suffering Muslim women?
The academics reckon the reason white guys like us are so obsessed with Muslim women is because they have come to occupy a special place in our symbolism. George Bush calls them ‘women of cover’ (at least his prejudice is mildly entertaining, Gareth). They form part of a discourse of how the West has justified its exploits in the Middle East… they are the primary example for how weird and oppressive these crazy Muslim men are, or in Chakravorty Spivak’s (1988 in Abu-Lughod, 2002: 784) words: “White men saving brown women from brown men”.
The second issue is what your statement says about what you think of the women themselves. They have to wear these silly clothes, i.e. if they could choose they would wear something else. The problem with this could and has filled several theses, but let me try and explain it in language that even an Idols-judging-vodka-pouring DJ can understand.
1) By your choice of language you are implying that these women are incapable of making their own choices; that they are just passive objects waiting for The Cliffanator to save them. They’re not. (Obviously Islam, like the rest of us, has its loonies. You certainly can’t generalize Taliban behaviour to a religion of billions). The trouble, Baby G, is that this passive image of non-western ‘Others’ (this is anthropology talk for people who wear funny hats and talk in funny languages) is exactly what we used to justify colonialism. It’s VERY out of date.
2) Your statement implies that these women would prefer to be uncovered. I think Abu-Lughod (2002: 788) says it best: “I have done fieldwork in Egypt over more than 20 years and I cannot think of a single woman I know, from the poorest rural to the most educated cosmopolitan, who has ever expressed envy of U.S. women, women they tend to perceive as bereft of community, vulnerable to sexual violence and social anomie [big word Gareth, get Fresh to explain it to you], driven by individual success rather than morality, or strangely disrespectful of god.”
An issue, my famous friend, is that you believe that these funny clothes Muslim women have (for the most part) chosen to wear are purely religious. They are not. The idea you expressed on twitter that their religion is not cultural is so silly as to be absurd. Culture is everything we do, and the symbolism, etc, that goes with it . Read Abu-Lughod’s explanation if you want to know more, but suffice to say clothing says a lot more about these women than ‘Allah Akbar!’
Finally, my most serious issue with your outlandish take on culture is how you are influencing our own South African social norms. In our twitter debate you said:
“I reserve the right, on a Saturday, to say Fuck you @conradkoch, and your bleating cultural relativism. I've debated your like before”
You are aware that we have one of the most discriminatory societies on earth? You are aware that the justification we (European types) used to create this situation was cultural? ‘Cultural relativism’  is just the idea that I should try understand why people do things from THEIR point of view as well as my own. That you think this is ‘bleating cultural relativism’ cuts to the core of your profoundly Eurocentric view on the world. I ain’t saying let’s set up an Islamic state and live by sharia. I’m just saying, lets make everyone feel at home, because I don’t want this place to turn into France.
I refer you to Abu-Lughod once again:
“We need to have as little dogmatic faith in secular humanism as in Islamism, and as open a mind to the complex possibilities of human projects undertaken in one tradition as the other.”
Gareth, you have in excess of 77000 followers on twitter. You throw this kind of Eurocentric bullshit out and think it doesn’t influence our SA culture for the worse? Come now my guy, I know you are struggling but I reckon you are cleverer than that.
Stay cool, and try not to use ‘fuck you’ in debates… it makes you seem desperate.
Ps, if this came across mildly sarcastic and arrogant, go read your letter to the government.