Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Niqab: A Veiling of Humanity
I came across this article about the niqab in The Daily News Egypt and was very surprised by the content and arguments presented. The article says, “Unfortunately, most debates revealed prejudices and an unwillingness to accept differences.” I found that very naïve because the case against the niqab isn’t as simple as just prejudices, it’s about the welfare of a society. The simple logic of just comparing the niqab to the hijab unfortunately doesn’t quite cut it.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even know why the issue of ‘niqab’ is even being discussed amongst educated thinkers. It makes sense if the educated try to argue with the ignorant in order to make them see the errors in their logic. It makes sense if the poor and the ignorant debate it amongst themselves all year long, after all, it is these kind of people who end up embracing such an idea.
There are only a handful of reasons why an educated person could argue for the niqab in the modern day, and the reasons are rather subjective. The main arguments are driven either by ignorance or fear. There are other sub reasons but they all relate to either one or another. One such example is the desire to appear neutral or open minded to all ideas by hiding behind a fake pretentious façade of liberalism or human rights advocacy. This relates to ignorance because all the principles of liberalism can only be misapplied if they were to be used as an argument for the niqab. That’s to say that a person chooses to be ignorant of meaning of the principles when applying them to the niqab.
Ignorance is the easy route out in a view supporting the niqab. Unlike its counterpart, the hijab, there doesn’t exist the same distant suspicion that the niqab has roots in the original Islam, nor is it suspected to have been expected of all Muslim women. Hence, anyone arguing for the niqab from a religious perspective has no ground to stand upon. Usually those who know about the niqab know it from extreme preachers on television or are handed it down from others in poor places. It’s easier for someone to listen than to read, and those lazy to read will probably be too lazy to think. We’re faced with the impossible situation of trying to change someone’s thoughts, and the irony is that it hasn’t entered their heads through the natural means of thinking.
Most educated arguments sprout from a human rights perspective. Those who make this argument have missed the important points completely. Needless to say the argument is that it’s people’s right to do as they please, one’s dress style relates to their personal freedom and their choice can be considered freedom of expression. This argument while at first glance seems liberal and seems to make sense, it fails every kind of objective test. The first thing to point out about a right is equality. To claim something is a human right means to give it to everyone. If women have the absolute right to dress as they please, then it should follow that just as a woman should be allowed to cover up all her skin, so too should a woman be allowed to bare all her skin. As one extreme shows, both are unacceptable. The sophists may argue that showing all the body skin is indecent, but I would also say that covering up your identity is unfair, indecent and rude where manners are concerned. It’s not only rude but pretty terrifying too. The idea of big brother watching you from under the niqab is a horrifying prospect. So just as no clothing violates people’s sense of decency, the niqab threatens people’s sense of security.
Don’t get me wrong, people can do whatever they want in the privacy of their properties, cars, houses, spas. They can wear the niqab or dress up as super heroes for all I care, but that doesn’t include public places where others can’t help but be there.
While on the subject of equality of rights, would society allow men to go around in ski masks with their identity concealed? Would we allow our doctors, our butchers, or our waiters and cooks? Do we protect the right of men to hide behind the niqab thus concealing their identity and allowed in places they were never meant to be? We actually seem to be doing just that, but it doesn’t make it right. In terms of equality the argument for the niqab fails and serves only to violate people’s rights by giving a group of people unexplained and unjustified privileges. It not only fails to give equal rights to women on the opposite side, but it also fails across genders.
Let’s say we can ignore all this, let’s think of who and what we’re fighting for, if it is even conceivable that this is a human right. We’re fighting for a group of people who want only their way. If we guarantee them this as a right, we forfeit others’ rights. What I mean to say is that those who choose the niqab probably don’t believe in the rights we’re using as an argument and while some might say that this is not relevant in theory, I say that in practice it is. It doesn’t appear likely that people for whom we will ensure the right to wear a niqab would start fighting for other people’s rights of freedom even if they got what they want in the name of human rights. It would be like democratically electing a leader who doesn’t believe in democracy and would abolish it whence in power. It’s like an inciter of hate demanding freedom of speech not recognizing the limitations of his right.
The hijab managed to sustain itself because it’s a dress code that doesn’t hide the facial features that identify a human being. It can’t be used to commit a crime, can’t be used to disguise men as women, can pass as an expression of faith, and if men wear it, it’ll be weird but acceptable.
The niqab needless to say is full of problems absent from the hijab. So why then don’t the more knowledgeable, non ignorant people speak up and state the obvious as vehemently as I have just stated it? The answer is fear. It’s not easy describing the exact quality of fear that inhibits speaking up about this matter, but I can attempt to flit around it. The fear might be of being criticized for appearing less zealous over Islam than others around, for the niqab has come to symbolize piety. There is among many a trend to call people infidels for no particularly good reason as excuse to get their way, much like people were called enemies of the revolution when their views were in conflict with the leaders and the person along with his views was disposed of by mere accusations. In our descent into the abyss of extremism it has become harder to tell the truth without fear. It may be fear of a damaged reputation or sometimes fear of acquiring a damaged body part. And in our world of extreme political correctness and human rights advocacy it’s becoming harder and harder to be logical for fear of appearing less humane and more of a bigot.
There’s always a fear of being accused or misunderstood and in our effort to survive we let extremism drag us further down the bottom of an endless ocean. There’s a fear of going against the flow needlessly and there’s a fear of losing popularity if you are in the position to have your voice heard.
It’s hard to pinpoint what scares each person, but there’s a cloud of fear hovering over our heads. Even the all mighty government is afraid of touching the subject for the repercussions and retaliation against any action it might take and that’s why it’s approaching it indirectly by allowing the educated to voice out their concerns. The hijab managed to become quite near our holocaust, untouchable despite previous debates around the subject. You might think that the niqab is far from sharing this fate but one need only take a look at Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia to observe how instilled a meaningless tradition can become.
So is it possible to accept the niqab under the umbrella of human rights and freedom? I’d be a fool to pretend that we could if we are to be honest with ourselves. Under the umbrella of extremism it is possible whether it be religious or pretentious human rights. However, it’s impossible to integrate with an alien watching from behind a screen interpreting my every expression and keeping his to himself. The whole quality of human interaction is compromised much less human rights. So the question becomes are we ready for humans to give up on their humanity?