Just in time for Halloween, the Toronto Star‘s ethics columnist, Ken Gallinger (whose columns I enjoy), received a question from a parent:
We are a Christian family. Our daughter, 7, goes to a school where there are many Muslim kids. Some of their moms walk them to school in burqas. My daughter is fascinated by these mysterious “costumes” and says she wants to go out on Halloween as a “Muslim lady.” Do I let her?
Gallinger’s first remark (“Absolutely not”) and his concluding paragraph (which I’ll get to) aren’t bad. Cultural appropriation via Halloween costumes seems to be a yearly thing, which we’ve touched on before on MMW,* and is never okay, so I’m glad that Gallinger was so forceful in his initial statement.
But the reasoning is off. Gallinger begins by saying that, “In the first place, the Muslim community in Canada is conflicted, within itself, about the place of the burqa in religious life.” This is an interesting point, and it’s definitely good to point out that the Muslim community isn’t monolithic, but it’s not exactly relevant here.
Wearing a burqa as a Halloween costume is wrong because of issues of cultural appropriation (which is problematic no matter how well-intentioned the young would-be burqa wearer), not because the Muslim community doesn’t have one unified stance on this. Gallinger continues:
At one extreme are those, of both genders, who see wearing these garments as a matter of religious devotion, even obligation, for Muslim women. At the other, many see them as signs of the oppression of women, and therefore offensive in a progressive society like ours.