An objection

The veils over some Muslim women’s faces present a problem for those on the extreme left.  Somehow the same people who rightfully see oppression of women as a crime don’t see this particular oppression of women as a problem at all.  In fact, according to them, anyone who notices the veils is a flaming racist and is intolerant of religious expression.  Interesting.

The same veils present a problem for those on the extreme right because by objecting to the veils, the wingnuts are effectively striking a blow for women’s rights as much as they are striking a blow against Islam (or a certain form of it).  Yikes!  God forbid!

As usual, I’m somewhere in the middle.  I’ve been told more than once by Muslim women that the veils are indeed a symbol of oppression and have more to do with specific cultures than with the religion itself.  (That makes sense; all religions are nothing more than extensions of cultures.  For example, the Roman Catholic Church is nothing but a latter-day extension of the long-defunct Roman Empire — note their continuing problems coping with the modern world as well as their problems coping with the actual teachings of Jesus.)

The fact is that even if I hadn’t been told that by Muslim women, I have problems with not being able to see people’s faces.  At the very least, veils must make it hard to do simple things like drive a car or eat in a restaurant.  For some, finding employment becomes hard: I once worked with a Muslim woman who became upset with our company because it could not provide an all-female office where she could remove her veil. I don’t know if she went the civil-rights route, but I do know that eventually she left.

Such people have to deal with a simple fact that this is not the norm in the society in which they now reside.  I see this as no different from people who live in this country for decades but refuse to learn English.  By doing that, they are isolating and limiting themselves.  No number of screams of “discrimination!” will change that simple fact.  By remaining on the outside, you remain on the outside.  Period.

What brought this to mind?  I was shopping the other day when I came across a group of women, one of them with her face heavily veiled.  I just glanced at her and then went back to my shopping.  Next thing I knew, she was asking me some question about an item — what I thought about it, I guess.  No doubt she noticed my glance.  The fact is, by making oneself obvious, one becomes keenly aware of the reactions of others.  Being left alone is not an option, particularly if you catch someone looking at you for even a split second.  Think of the teenager with the piercing in her nose, for instance.  It’s not there so no one will notice.

I appreciated this effort to reach through the veil, but could not get over the fact that I was speaking to cloth.  Hidden faces bother us Westerners.  It’s a gut reaction due to tradition that goes way, way back to the Dark Ages: covered faces hint at threat.  In some places in the U.S. one cannot drive with a Halloween mask on — or even a face mask in cold weather.  And if you walk into a shopping mall with some sort of mask on…well try it and see how long you last.

Yes, there have been passing fashions for veils and we have in the fairly recent past veiled our widows; we still veil our brides.  Until about 40 years ago, nuns were mountains of black, brown or white cloth; some still are  — however, they have never covered their faces.  (Please note that I am not referring to head scarves, which are worn not only by Muslims but by devout Jews.   Even the rare Christians, such as the Amish, wear head gear.)

This was a young woman heavily covered in black from head to toe; her face invisible.  To me, it was weird.  I wasn’t rude to her, but was brisk and cool.  Looking at the face of oppression — whether it is felt by the oppressed or not — does that to me.

This sort of garb has no place in the U.S.  Nor will it.  As I’ve said in the past, all attempts to bring the “old country” to the new eventually fail.  As a woman, I’d like to see this one fail fast.

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