Here’s an interesting case regarding Muslim women’s veils. They’re instruments or symbols of patriarchal repression, right? Well, check this out.
Dania Mahmudi is from my area, Fisksätra. She’s 14 years old and wears a veil. Mahmudi has been practising karate for years. Two weeks ago she went with her club to the district championship, eager to compete. But the umpire disqualified her – for her veil’s sake. It covered her throat, and karate competition rules state that the umpire needs to be able to watch for damage to each contestant’s throat. OK, said her coach after a heated argument, so she can’t do the hand-to-hand part of the competition. Surely the solo performance element, kata, will be no problem given this reasoning. No, she was disqualified there too.
Things are changing in the karate world. You couldn’t compete wearing any kind of veil until last year. When it became allowed, Iran’s women’s team immediately won a world cup medal at kata – wearing regulation veils.
My guess is that this problem will be solved a few years from now. But look at it from a repression perspective. I have no idea whether Mahmudi’s parents are forcing her to wear the veil. But I do know that they’re fine with their daughter practising karate for years at a dojo half an hour’s bus ride from home. Competition rules are apparently a bigger problem for her athletic career. Luckily, Mahmudi isn’t about to give up. She’s aiming for the world cup.
I wrote about the veil in 2006, comparing it to the bikini top, which is pretty much the same deal only in Western culture. This is what cultural relativism means, not the condoning of atrocities.