The Burqa Meme.
I'm not really sure why this has become an issue right now, but there is of a sudden a sweeping national imperative to force Muslims out of burqa. Anne Applebaum caught my eye with her piece a few days back:
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.... It isn't religious discrimination or anti-Muslim bias to tell her that she must be polite to the natives, respect the local customs, try to speak some of the local patois -- and uncover her face.First of all, to the extent that law forces us to expose our faces, then there can be no exemption based on religious rights. (The USA could be less nativist and allow burqa-ed women being searched by airlines to do this in screened privacy, by a woman, but that seems to violate American cultural norms.) But there's a lot of hogwash about women being "oppressed" and forced to wear burqa. That's a pretty slippery slope. Theres an Indian family on my block, and the mother still wears a sari. India is a fairly patriarchal country, so should we also demand that she throw off her persecutor and wear jeans? When I hear white Americans place themselves in the position of judging who is "oppressed," I wonder, "does the woman have any say over her emancipation?" Even when it's Anne Applebaum, it's a pretty patriarchal argument.
But what about violating our culture? Another slippery slope. Should we legislate fashion norms? What about people who violate the headscarf rule who hail from, say, Romania? Rip their headcloths off, too? And what about Sikh men, who wear turbans as one of the external signals of their faith? Verboten, too, or do we make exemptions when the headgear is worn by men? If we're banning headgear, how about Yankees caps?
The more I look at the burqa issue, the more I find subtle racist and sexist overtones. The real issue is cultural: we have never lived in a more anti-Muslim time than right now. We impute meaning to burqa of our own creation and then condemn Muslims for our missunderstanding. There's a lot to criticize the Muslim world for right now, sadly. But American Muslim women, the full measure of any American, shouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being targeted by a skittish majority culture who doesn't know how to handle her.