The Muslim Veil in Western Society

For a Muslim woman, the niqab is not a tool to lock herself out of the world and cut people off. Rather it empowers her to invite whom she wishes into her world.

What an interesting idea, quoted from an article in today’s Irish Times.  And yet, what a puzzle.  Since it’s so empowering, how is it that Muslim men aren’t walking around all day in a tent that covers them from head to toe, peering at the world through a slit in a face-mask?

I haven’t noticed Mr Ahmedinejad asserting his power by appearing on the podium with a coal-bag over his head.  Have you?

As a matter of fact, and now that I mention it, I haven’t noticed a single Muslim man, or any man at all for that matter, wearing an outfit like that, apart from those hardy fellows who fought with Lawrence of Arabia and had to keep the sand out of their eyes.

Maybe it’s just women that Islam holds in such high esteem.  Maybe Islam honours women above men to such an extent that they and they alone have the right to be empowered by wearing a tent everywhere they go.

If I happened to appear in a bank wearing a motorcycle helmet or a balaclava, I’d be arrested on the spot, but perhaps that’s due to cultural intolerance, and maybe if I explained to the security guards that it was part of my religion they might take their knees out of my spine and let me get up.

I wonder what they’d do if I turned up in a full-length burqa?  How would they know I wasn’t a rather ungainly, loud, foul-mouthed woman?  Would they jump on me or would they respect my rights as the world’s first Muslim-woman-imitating cross-dressing atheist?  That would make an interesting case for an equality tribunal.

One of the women interviewed for the article explained that she takes her driving lessons while wearing a niqab, and that’s fine as long as you don’t mind sharing the road with a learner driver who has no peripheral vision, but what does her driver’s licence look like?  Is it a picture of a scarf?

Is that where this is all going?

Will you and I have to submit ourselves to biometric categorisation while Muslim women can all look like an unmade bed and still get through airport security?

And all because some invented , religious belief dictates that it should be so.

I don’t think so.

There’s no reason why anyone should be allowed to go around wearing a disguise, especially not when the only basis for it is religious.  I don’t accept what one woman said in the article, that a society has to respect other traditions.

No it doesn’t.  It’s the other way round.  If your traditions don’t respect society, keep them to yourself.

The author of the article, Mary Fitzgerald, is living proof that not all Muslim societies regard women as chattels to be hidden from public view.  Last October, during negotiations to free kidnapped aid workers Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki, she managed to secure a lengthy interview with Musa Hilal, the Sudanese minister for federal affairs, widely regarded as the man who controls the notorious janjaweed militias.  It was an exclusive scoop for the Irish Times and a personal coup for the journalist.

If Mary had been wearing a burqa, she wouldn’t have been able to grin triumphantly at the discomfited Irish diplomatic officials as she swept past them into Musa’s office.