Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Face facts

What, if anything, makes the full-face veil problematic? According to the BBC, Tony Blair says, "It is a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable." Since the same could clearly be said of everything from blue hair to Hasidic garb to visible thongs--not to mention school uniforms, or this versus last season's jeans--why worry about veils? Isn't all clothing intended as a mark of separation?

Of course it is. The simple answer to why veiling presents a problem is that this particular mark of separation is one used by a community that is, in part, at war with Britain and the West in general. If Islam in general were not seen as a threat, women could presumably go around in opaque bubbles and no one would complain. But, then again, there's a bit more to it.

While both the headscarf and the full-face veil symbolize Islam, and thus set off whichever fear signals those disposed to thinking along such lines will experience, there's something different about a face being entirely covered. Facial expression is such a large part of communication that voluntarily giving it up isn't all that different from voluntarily choosing to gesture and write but not speak. There is modesty intended not to show how sexy you are (everything from a headscarf to a turtleneck to an unflattering pair of slacks), and there is modesty intended not to show who you are. I'm not saying this difference means one should be banned and not the other--I also see the arguments for banning neither or both, depending on the context--but just that the arguments against the full-face veil are not the same as those against the basic headscarf.


Dylan said...

It's also a problem to some that it makes apostacy or backsliding harder, just like the Taliban imposed norm in Afghanistan that men had to wear beards. Lying to your mom that you go to church is one thing, having to wear something that pretends and allegiance you no longer have (or face the consequences ranging from ostracism to violence) is something more serious.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone choosing unflattering slacks is modest. They're just not French.