Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan reveals origins of controversial garment

In Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan, local filmmaker and Afghan-Canadian, Brishkay Ahmed sets out to discover the history and mysterious origins of the burqa, while analyzing her own understanding of its place in Middle Eastern and Western culture.

Controversy surrounds the burqa, not only in Western cultures where countries including France and Italy have out right banned the encumbering headdress, but also in the Middle East, where the origins of the burqa remain torn.

Ahmed contests that much of what we consider to be true of the burqa are misunderstood and indeed, confusing.  As an Afghan-Canadian, Ahmed’s views are not immediately apparent, but the overall negative subtext of the narrative about the burqa makes it clear that she defiantly opposes its use. 

Traditionally, the burqa is not a part of Afghan culture.  The film presents a number of theories on the origins of the burqa with Ahmed interviewing citizens and historians in Afghanistan.  Many Afghans believe the British were responsible for using the burqa as a tool for psychological warfare, to keep the women oppressed.   Historians suffice that a class system is responsible, whereby in the time of the royals, only women in upper classes wore the burqa-style dress and the lower classes wore Western styled-clothing; indeed, at one point, it was even seen as fashionable and trendy to wear a burqa.  There is strong evidence to support that the deeply dogmatic Taliban regime enforced the wearing of the burqa as a way to suppress women, and keep the men in control.  When progressive government rule was present in Afghanistan, the burqa would not be tolerated.  Its ties to Western culture may even be connected to futbol, or as we call it, soccer.

It can only be assumed that the women who currently wear burqas in Afghanistan, do so because of strong moral codes enforced by family that forbid them to show their faces in public.  The male opinion seemed to range from those who enforced the burqa in their households, to those that were disgusted by its presence in Afghan culture.  Gender suppression, a burgeoning burqa business with ties to China and the use of the garment in terrorist attacks, continue to fuel this ancient practice in modern times. 

Intelligent and revealing interviews with experts in the United Kingdom and Afghanistan build strong, yet baffling cases for the use of the burqa, but a key voice is missing: those of the women who wear the burqa on a daily basis.  I was disappointed that there was no representation by the female population either in Canada or Afghanistan who wear the burqa, as this leaves out a critical viewpoint to support the film-makers vision.  It would be fair to assume that many of the women who wear the burqa were unable to participate in an interview, but given Ahmed's tenacity with the subject matter, I would have expected further exploration into this.

Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan premieres at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival on May 10th, 2012 at 7pm at Empire Granville Cinemas. More details can be found here:

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