By Antonia Marrero, Moral Courage Project
"The freedom that compelled them to leave their own land was also the source of their deepest fear. In this freedom, they could find everything, be anyone, but rarely did they have the courage to let go of what had previously defined them."
~ Nadia P. Manzoor, creator and star of Burq Off!
Cognitive dissonance hits some women harder than others. We're talking about ubiquitous, contradictory demands that feminists have analyzed for decades: be pretty and sexy, but dress modestly and keep your knees together. Or this: be smart, but not so smart as to make others uncomfortable.
Here's a soul-killer: speak up, but only to support your family; and please keep your questions and opinions to yourself.
Few artists address the clash of tribalism and modernity with more wit and insight than Nadia P. Manzoor, whose one-woman show, Burq Off!, explores themes of sex, religion, culture, truth, and family. She not only wrote this comedy gem, she inhabits twenty-plus characters to tell her story, a story that many in her community are too afraid merely to talk about.
Nadia's parents emigrated to England from Pakistan during the 1970s, and they brought tribalism with them. While her English classmates were learning to wash their hands, Nadia was worried that the devil was leering at her on the loo. When her friends would go to the movies, Nadia had to fib about her whereabouts in order to tag along. As her twin brother was cementing his identity with campus fundamentalists, Nadia was falling in love with an Irish bartender.
And in a startling parallel, Nadia describes the difference between wearing a burqa in Mecca and wearing a bikini in Majorca. Her astonishing conclusion is, nevertheless, logical. Burqas and bikinis are actually uniforms, nondescript within their respective venues, rendering the wearer inconspicuous almost to the point of invisibility.
To her, both outfits feel "normal." Difference is, when her brother finds snapshots of Nadia cavorting on a Spanish beach, the honor of the family is compromised.
After revealing her parent's stash of forbidden materials to her Islamic teacher, Nadia muses, "Clearly, it didn’t matter that God was watching, what was more important was what other people were watching . I didn’t have to convince God of my allegiance, I had to convince the people around me. I had to pretend."