Thursday, 24 October 2013


i don't want to be doing another post about burqas.  it's not like i haven't written extensively about them.  and to put the focus on them again is to reinforce the notion that the only thing important about muslim women are burqas.

but this happened today, and i find that i can't ignore it:

Yuet Rappard, a farm worker, appeared in front of Justices of the Peace in the Dunedin District Court yesterday and was found guilty of offensive behaviour for telling a student to remove her burqa while she was shopping on May 17.

Rappard, representing herself, did not dispute that she told a University of Otago student to take her burqa off at Garden's New World, but told the court she was expressing her freedom of speech.

"I said 'shame on you, you should take it off. When in Rome you should do as the Romans do'."

Rappard, who moved to New Zealand from the Netherlands when she was a child, believed burqas should be banned and felt "intimidated" when she saw people wearing them.

when in rome. a tired old argument that i wrote about a couple of years ago. but let's pretend for now it's a valid one.  the burqa is legal in nz, and ms rappard is in nz, so ms rappard should adhere to local culture & accept the fact that we allow women to wear burqas here.  maybe she should accept that in this country, we have a bill of rights act that includes freedom of religion, and she should be prepared to live with that.

she might also want to learn about nz history, which involves colonisation and settlement, land theft and institutional injustices by the crown which we are still in the process of resolving.  those people who came here at that time did not "do as the romans" (well, actually if you look at the history of the actual romans in their heyday, they pretty much did), they did not adopt the local culture, live a tribal lifestyle, change the way they dressed so they were compatible with the local inhabitants.  in fact they did so much the opposite that maori couldn't be spoken at schools, and even today, many maori are shamed or denied employment for following the cultural practice of te moko.

so the burqa-wearing foreign student is following exactly in the footsteps of those who came before her by not changing or adapting her own religious beliefs to her environment.  in fact, she isn't quite living up to our history, because she isn't trying to force anyone else to wear a burqa, she hasn't any institutional power to prevent anyone else speaking a language or practising their own culture.  she's not in a position to set up land courts and a voting system designed to alienate a people from their land.  so that wearing of a burqa is a pretty poor attempt by her, and doesn't come anywhere close to what was going on here in times past.

let's not forget another fact: the burqa-wearing woman is a foreign student.  this means that she (or her family or her government) will be paying truckloads of money in order to purchase an education in this country.  it is highly likely that she is from one of those countries where nz education is heavily marketed, where there are important and high-level delegations sent to try to persuade said country to send its student here.  education is a big income earner, and this country, at an official level, has invited foreign students here so that this country can make money from them.

at the very least, if we're going to behave in that way, if we're going to invite them here and charge so much money for providing an education, the least we can do is make sure they are safe while they are here.  that's part of what we're selling when we sell our education.  it means we're accepting them as they are when we ask them to come here, because i'm quite sure no-one who is selling nz education overseas is saying "oh by the way, when you come here, you can't wear a burqa, because when in rome..."

then there's freedom of expression argument, and i've written a whole lot about that as well.  in fact, i've had a pretty robust discussion on facebook today on that particular freedom & what constitutes censorship.  and i'm oh so tired of the people who think freedom of expression is an absolute right that trumps absolutely any other right that anyone might have, in the way that ms rappard so clearly does.

we don't have total freedom of expression in this country because we have broadcasting standards, advertising codes, press council principles.  we have a very weak section of the human rights act around hate speech, and i believe it is still a crime in the crimes act to directly incite violence by way of speech.

but we also have other rights.  as i've already mentioned above, the freedom to practice one's religion (or to not have to practice one at all).  the right to freedom from discrimination.  and certainly the right to be free from harassment and intimidation as you go about your daily business.  i'd say the last one trumps freedom of expression, especially if you're expressing that freedom by getting into someone's face and shouting your opinion at them.  i realise ms rappard denies doing this, but there seems to be more than one witness who is of the view that this is what happened.

so yes, it's a good thing that ms rappard has been convicted and fined.  she hasn't learned anything from this experience though, and relies on the old "PC gone mad" to avoid any responsibility for her own actions or any empathy for the woman she harangued.  but at least the nz justice system has sent the message that this kind of behaviour is not ok, and that is something to be thankful for.

just to finish off, i'm going to recommend this piece that someone linked to on facebook today.  it's pretty long, but very well worth the read.  i can identify with so much of it, having migrated here as a child & feeling very much caught between two cultures and not really fitting in with either one of them.  i'm extremely lucky to not have the experience of war that this writer does, and she writes about all of it so very well.

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