Veiled insult

I see that Anne Appelbaum of the Washington Post has a similar reaction to my own at the sight of veiled women.

Just this month a Michigan judge dismissed a small—claims court case filed by a Muslim woman because she refused to remove her full—face veil while testifying.

Critics call the veil a symbol of female oppression or rejection of Western values. Defenders say that it is a symbol of religious faith and that it allows women to be "free" in a different sense —— free from cosmetics, from fashion and from unwanted male attention. Debate about the veil inevitably leads to discussions of female emancipation, religious freedom and the assimilation, or lack thereof, of Muslim communities in the West.

And yet, at a much simpler level, surely it is also true that the full—faced veil —— the niqab, burqa or chador —— causes such deep reactions in the West not so much because of its political or religious symbolism but because it is extremely impolite. Just as it is considered rude to enter a Balinese temple wearing shorts, so, too, is it considered rude, in a Western country, to hide one's face. We wear masks when we want to frighten, when we are in mourning or when we want to conceal our identities. To a Western child —— or even an adult —— a woman clad from head to toe in black looks like a ghost. Thieves and actors hide their faces in the West; honest people look you straight in the eye.

Given that polite behavior is required in other facets of their jobs, it doesn't seem to me in the least offensive to require schoolteachers or civil servants to show their faces when dealing with children or the public. If Western tourists can wear sarongs in Balinese temples to show respect for the locals, so too can religious Muslim women show respect for the children they teach and the customers they serve by leaving their head scarves on, but removing their full—faced veils.

Bookworm also has somewhat different thoughts:

The other day, Mr. Bookworm noted accurately and with some surprise that we're seeing more and more veiled women in Marin. As does Mr. Lifson, he expressed his distaste for these wrapped up packages, often seen shuffling behind their husbands.

It's not only the obviously traditional married women (many of whom look like recent immigrants) getting covered up in Marin, though. The other day, we saw an energetic young woman, in skin tight jeans and t—shirt, dispensing smoothies at Jamba Juice, despite an unmistakable headscarf (that is, the scarf could not be mistaken for a fashion statement).

I'm uncomfortable seeing these shrouded figures in Marin, but figure it's their prerogative, as long as they don't impose it on us. After all, all over America, in Orthodox Jewish enclaves, Jewish women in wigs, hats, long sleeves and heavy stockings go unremarked, primarily because they consider that their clothes are none of our business.  To me, that's the essence of religious and ritual freedom in a pluralist country. 

I do not propose anything other than a societal norm as far as women on the streets go. If they choose to flout our values, they can expect social disapproval and even hostility from strangers. But if they want a drivers license or to testify in court, or to hold a public service job, then I believe we have a legal right to insist on seeing the human face.

Thomas Lifson  10 25 06

Update: This is a hot topic all of sudden. More from The Australian:

when women wear headcoverings that hide the face, they are committing a powerful act that has political as well as religious overtones and which sends a message that many people find threatening. [....]

But when an individual or a community feels that their personal practices should trump widely held values while also setting themselves apart, the question arises as to whether those people would not be more comfortable in a place where such behaviour is the norm.

At its heart is the question of where tolerance should end and the old adage, "When in Rome, do as the Romans", should kick in. While tolerance is certainly a positive virtue that should be strived for, it cannot be a cultural suicide pact. A culture that is tolerant of those who are intolerant of its freedoms is ripe for destruction, and bit by bit will see all it values eroded. And radical Islam knows this. Just as an Australian wouldn't go to Saudi Arabia to wear a bikini on the beach and drink beer in the corner pub, those who see the proper role of women as subservient, anonymous and under cover should not expect a postmodern secular democracy such as Britain or Australia to accommodate these beliefs.

Hat tip: Dennis Sevakis

Update:

Dr. Sanity comments on the veil debate thusly....
I would submit that the behavior and attitude we witness today from the practitioners of Islam——in Britain, France and most of Europe; as well as in the Middle East——has gone way beyond "rude" or "impolite", however; and more clearly belongs in the realm of "borderline" and "narcissistic" psychopathology.

I wonder if you can describe a religion as completely narcissistic? Well, if the shoe fits....

The supposed "Religion of Peace" (RoP) would definitely meet diagnostic criteria for a "Religion of Malignant Narcissism" (RoMN). Some of the more radical practitioners of this religion seem to think that it is their divine right (also called having a "sense of entitlement") to demand the world accede to their wishes at all times....
 
Rosslyn Smith

I see that Anne Appelbaum of the Washington Post has a similar reaction to my own at the sight of veiled women.

Just this month a Michigan judge dismissed a small—claims court case filed by a Muslim woman because she refused to remove her full—face veil while testifying.

Critics call the veil a symbol of female oppression or rejection of Western values. Defenders say that it is a symbol of religious faith and that it allows women to be "free" in a different sense —— free from cosmetics, from fashion and from unwanted male attention. Debate about the veil inevitably leads to discussions of female emancipation, religious freedom and the assimilation, or lack thereof, of Muslim communities in the West.

And yet, at a much simpler level, surely it is also true that the full—faced veil —— the niqab, burqa or chador —— causes such deep reactions in the West not so much because of its political or religious symbolism but because it is extremely impolite. Just as it is considered rude to enter a Balinese temple wearing shorts, so, too, is it considered rude, in a Western country, to hide one's face. We wear masks when we want to frighten, when we are in mourning or when we want to conceal our identities. To a Western child —— or even an adult —— a woman clad from head to toe in black looks like a ghost. Thieves and actors hide their faces in the West; honest people look you straight in the eye.

Given that polite behavior is required in other facets of their jobs, it doesn't seem to me in the least offensive to require schoolteachers or civil servants to show their faces when dealing with children or the public. If Western tourists can wear sarongs in Balinese temples to show respect for the locals, so too can religious Muslim women show respect for the children they teach and the customers they serve by leaving their head scarves on, but removing their full—faced veils.

Bookworm also has somewhat different thoughts:

The other day, Mr. Bookworm noted accurately and with some surprise that we're seeing more and more veiled women in Marin. As does Mr. Lifson, he expressed his distaste for these wrapped up packages, often seen shuffling behind their husbands.

It's not only the obviously traditional married women (many of whom look like recent immigrants) getting covered up in Marin, though. The other day, we saw an energetic young woman, in skin tight jeans and t—shirt, dispensing smoothies at Jamba Juice, despite an unmistakable headscarf (that is, the scarf could not be mistaken for a fashion statement).

I'm uncomfortable seeing these shrouded figures in Marin, but figure it's their prerogative, as long as they don't impose it on us. After all, all over America, in Orthodox Jewish enclaves, Jewish women in wigs, hats, long sleeves and heavy stockings go unremarked, primarily because they consider that their clothes are none of our business.  To me, that's the essence of religious and ritual freedom in a pluralist country. 

I do not propose anything other than a societal norm as far as women on the streets go. If they choose to flout our values, they can expect social disapproval and even hostility from strangers. But if they want a drivers license or to testify in court, or to hold a public service job, then I believe we have a legal right to insist on seeing the human face.

Thomas Lifson  10 25 06

Update: This is a hot topic all of sudden. More from The Australian:

when women wear headcoverings that hide the face, they are committing a powerful act that has political as well as religious overtones and which sends a message that many people find threatening. [....]

But when an individual or a community feels that their personal practices should trump widely held values while also setting themselves apart, the question arises as to whether those people would not be more comfortable in a place where such behaviour is the norm.

At its heart is the question of where tolerance should end and the old adage, "When in Rome, do as the Romans", should kick in. While tolerance is certainly a positive virtue that should be strived for, it cannot be a cultural suicide pact. A culture that is tolerant of those who are intolerant of its freedoms is ripe for destruction, and bit by bit will see all it values eroded. And radical Islam knows this. Just as an Australian wouldn't go to Saudi Arabia to wear a bikini on the beach and drink beer in the corner pub, those who see the proper role of women as subservient, anonymous and under cover should not expect a postmodern secular democracy such as Britain or Australia to accommodate these beliefs.

Hat tip: Dennis Sevakis

Update:

Dr. Sanity comments on the veil debate thusly....
I would submit that the behavior and attitude we witness today from the practitioners of Islam——in Britain, France and most of Europe; as well as in the Middle East——has gone way beyond "rude" or "impolite", however; and more clearly belongs in the realm of "borderline" and "narcissistic" psychopathology.

I wonder if you can describe a religion as completely narcissistic? Well, if the shoe fits....

The supposed "Religion of Peace" (RoP) would definitely meet diagnostic criteria for a "Religion of Malignant Narcissism" (RoMN). Some of the more radical practitioners of this religion seem to think that it is their divine right (also called having a "sense of entitlement") to demand the world accede to their wishes at all times....
 
Rosslyn Smith