(11 minutes, watch it here

Submission, Part 1 - StillThis is a short film made by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo Van Gogh. In it, Islamic women’s stories are told, of how their submission to Allah and to the demands of their religion and culture has led to beatings, floggings and daily miseries.

Two powerful images recur in the short film.

The first is of a woman dressed in a burka and veiled so that only her eyes are uncovered. The burka, however, is made of sheer black fabric reminiscent of a sexxy negligee, so that her naked body is clearly visible underneath.

To me, the burka is a powerful symbol both of oppression and protection. It is meant to afford a woman protection – from inappropriate and unwanted male attention. It is her barrier against violation. However, as a compulsory and cumbersome garment, which focusses attention on the woman’s body as a cause of male violence, it is clearly, to me, a symbol of protection by oppression rather than protection by liberation. To make the burka, instead of a heavy, impenetrable garment, into a sheer, transparent one – this is a comment on just how flimsy a protection it provides. To make the burka, instead of a sexless shapeless drape, into a sexually vocal item of lingerie – this is a comment on just how effectively it prevents unwanted sexual attention*. And to focus attention on the naked body of the covered woman is to point out that burka-wearing is just as much about control of rampant female sexuality as it is about control of male urges. One image says so much.

[* It is worth remarking that in Princess, Sultana describes her transformation from unveiled girl to veiled woman. Before she veiled, men ignored her. Afterwards, they watched her, ogled her, desperate to catch a glimpse of the flesh under the fabric.]

Submission, Part 1The second key image in the film is that of Koranic scripture inked onto naked female flesh. Inked onto the naked female flesh of a woman beaten or flogged. Such an image illustrates the effect of Islamic law, as currently interpreted in many countries, on women. It shows how women pay the price of the strict, violent, antiquated notions that predominate in such places. No translation is needed for such an image.

Sadly – very sadly – the film does fall down a bit on the casting and the acting.

This was really disappointing, because it was a film that I really wanted to love. It was visually powerful, the script was great but the acting let it down. I did not hear an oppressed Muslim woman speaking out about her ordeal. It was too – flat.

Sigh.

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