Get out your handkerchiefs: this one’s a real weeper. A Useful Idiot Alert from Eastern Michigan University’s EchoOnline, with thanks to EPG:
“It felt like no one wanted to be near me.”
This is how Eastern Michigan student Zoe Piliafas summed up her winter semester. Her new isolation wasn’t the result of being a bad or unpleasant person.
It was simply because she was — at least, for this semester — different.
To her professors and her classmates, she was not Zoe, an outgoing and outspoken student. She was Zhooda, a student with a soft Middle Eastern accent who wore a burka (sometimes spelled burqa or burkha), the heavy, concealing garment that became known to most Americans only when the media turned it into a symbol of the repression of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“You’re not seeing the body of a female,” Piliafas said. “You’re seeing a garment that represents female.”
Under the supervision of political science professors Elaine Martin and James Ivers, Piliafas received independent study credit for wearing the burka the entire winter semester.
“Zoe kept a daily journal of her experiences,” Martin said. “She met with me several times throughout the semester, wrote and conducted an e-mail survey for students and professors and turned in a final paper summing up the experience. She received one credit hour.”
“I thought about this for probably three years,” Piliafas said. “At first I had really strong judgment on it, and I thought, ‘Well, what is this? Why would a woman have to cover herself from head to toe to stop someone else from looking at her?’
“I thought by telling a woman that she needs to be covered up, we’re telling her that she’s basically unworthy,” she said. “But I don’t think that’s how Muslims view it. I think they view it as one so worthy that she can’t be looked upon.”
Up is down, black is white, good is evil and evil is good. If these people who are so worthy that they can’t even be looked upon get out of line, beat them (Qur’an 4:34).
It was an EMU political science class that solidified Piliafas’ interest in the subject.
“In one sense, Zoe’s project began with a women and politics class in which we discussed some of the human rights issues during the Taliban control of Afghanistan, and other countries with similar practices, including ‘honor killings,'” Martin said. “Zoe’s interest was in women’s rights.”
“I wanted to say that you can’t breathe underneath this, which you can’t,” Piliafas said. “I wanted to say that this is so inhibiting I couldn’t run, which you can’t. I wanted to say that you can’t feel the sun on your face. You can’t. You can’t feel the wind on your face … And you don’t realize how much you miss those things until they’re completely taken away.
“There isn’t just a dress and then something you put over your head,” she said. “There’s something that goes on your arms … and then you have the dress and then you have a headband that pulls your hair completely back so … it never would be shown. And then you have a scarf that goes over all your hair and then you have a veil. So you have three layers of clothing on your head.
But none of this is bad, of course. What’s bad is people who object: just as Islamic apologists routinely portray me as evil for pointing out what the jihadists say and do — rather than point at the jihadists.
“But at the same time,” she said, “Everything that I wanted to go in and say negative about this, I ended up finding more — not positives — but more negatives in the opposite direction. How people treat people dressed like this.”
“I can tell you that she did feel de-humanized, although that was not her only feeling,” Martin said. “I think she wants to share her experience with others, in order to help us understand both why women may freely choose this and why some women may feel persecuted if they are forced to conform.”
“The first day walking out in public without my boyfriend next to me, without someone else having knowledge of the study made it so strange,” Piliafas said. “The reactions were completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. Staring. I felt uncomfortable. Nobody — it felt like nobody wanted to be near me.”
She also told of instances of blatant discrimination she encountered. Students laughing as she passed. One person referring to her as “ninja” to his friends. On an evening walk toward Halle Library, a group of students threw snowballs at her as she passed.
The difference in treatment was noticeable in her classes as well.
“People talked down to me, like I didn’t have any intelligence — and I have a 4.0,” she said. “There were many instances where I was in a group setting, and normally I take on a leadership role. I wasn’t even allowed the chance.”…
The idea of a non-Muslim student dressing in a burka for a semester proved controversial. Some students in her classes were not only surprised to learn the truth but also irritated at what they considered to be “dishonesty” on her part. Some felt she was being disrespectful to Muslims — although most Muslims she spoke to were supportive. She was even threatened once after she revealed herself to her classes.
When questioned about their stance on the project, most people seemed to be cautious but supportive.
“The motivations/ideology of the person performing the study could greatly influence the results or reporting of the results,” said Arain Affan, a 1998 graduate of Northwestern University, 2001 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and practicing Muslim. “Based on the description (provided by writer), it seems — and I’d hope — that the motivations of the person who did the study are without hidden agenda…
Right on, Affan! To think that some women might not want to wear burkas…well, that would be evidence of a sinister “hidden agenda.”