Monday, 7 March 2011

Faced with the Veil

Is it possible to dress too modestly? Or, rather, should anyone be allowed to wear full burkhas with face veils in Canada? I really dislike this picture, by the way.

Ignore for a moment the fact that many women are forced into wearing burkhas, as it probably is true that some choose to wear it of their own free will. In their view, a woman showing her face is immodest and provocative. We generally respond to this with something along the lines of, "You're in Canada now. Your face is fine. Deal with it." As far as I am aware, a woman must show her face in certain situations, like when she is pulled over by a police officer for speeding. He has to verify that she is who she says she is, and she can't demand to show only a female because there may not be a female officer present.

But suppose we head down to the jungle of Ecuador somewhere and we come across a village where the people wear g-strings and precious little else. It is certainly counter-cultural to then wear a standard amount of Western clothing. We would probably be quite uncomfortable taking off our clothes just to fit in with the locals. Yet, what if we were required by law to bare all? Is that fair? What if beaches in Canada required all swimmers to wear bikinis or speedos and nothing else? I suspect there would be some backlash.

Apart from being oppressive and dehumanizing, the thing about face veils is that they can actually prove to be a security risk. For all we know, it could be a man under there using the veil as a way to get into some place he shouldn't be. Or perhaps it is a female, after all, but the not the female who is supposed to be taking the exam or who has the license to drive (naturally, this is only a problem in more Westernized nations where women are allowed to take exams and drive). And I wouldn't be surprised if you could smuggle a bazooka into a school under a burkha.

But then, if we start considering clothing as security risks, things get silly fast. Bulky clothing itself can be a problem, because of how easy it is to smuggle something in under a full skirt or a hoodie. In warmer climates, this problem could be fixed by having everyone join a nudist colony. In Canada, however, we would quickly end up a bunch of naked popsicles. I suspect that the best way to combat this would be to have electrically heated spandex unitards for everyone to wear. I'm not sure if spandex would burn or melt or not, but currently it's my best idea.

Finding the reasonable middle ground may prove difficult, but unless we already suspect that someone may try to smuggle contraband, then it's not really all that bad for them to wear some clothes. And in the vast majority of cases, if not all, there are other ways to make sure people aren't carrying weapons than to strip them naked.

So, if we are reasonably sure that a woman isn't armed and just wants to wear a burkha because she likes wearing them and not because someone will throw acid on her face if she doesn't, should she be allowed to do so? At what point does security trump personal rights? Well, if someone insisted that they should be allowed to wear a balaclava around the mall, how far would they get?

It's not like we're nomads in the desert, where you may need something over your lower face to keep you from breathing in sand and to keep your face from burning off. In Canada, you might need something over your face while you're outside on the coldest days of the year, just to keep your nose from falling off. Beyond that, however, there is no practical reason to wear face veils like that, except to hide your identity. If you don't want an identity, that's your choice, but if you don't care to have an identity then why do you care to be a part of Canadian society?

Your identity isn't hidden at all if you wear western clothes in the jungle. Being modest isn't the issue - the issue is who you are. What you do in your own home is up to you, but I say no to allowing burkhas in public.


Brianna said...

Wow what a creepy picture.

A few days ago I read an analysis of the Supreme court decision on the right to wear kirpans to school... a metal dagger important to the Sikh religion. He found that absolutely people have the right to religious freedom and those against a practice must show the matter is of sufficient importance to society - in this case being public safety. Then there must be a reasonable alternative offered which infringes on the right in the smallest way possible and has a rational connection to the objective - public safety. At the same time, those defending the practice must demonstrate that they sincerely believe the practice is connected to their religion - which they do.

I don't think banning burkhas is the way to go unless it is a matter of public safety where identity must be confirmed. Otherwise we ARE infringing on people's rights and telling them what they should wear. Instead, I would suggest encouraging women (maybe using other more liberal Muslims?) that the burkha is not required. Saying "you can do this" is better than saying "don't do this" and making it a law. Just my opinion! :)

CavDawg said...

This is an interesting problem. I pretty much agree with Brianna in that it's not really the government's place to outlaw certain clothing types unless there's a compelling reason to do so.

I think the only happy ending to such a debate is one in which both sides are ready to give in a bit--there are situations where you obviously need to confirm someone's identity, and in these situations face veils would probably have to go. That said, I think sensitivity for those who believe it is a religious obligation to wear a face veil also needs to be a consideration.

And even casting religious sensitivities aside for a moment, regulating what people can or can't wear is a slippery slope at best.

art said...

There are women who are forced to wear the burkha which is sad but how does the government protect those women without infringing on the rights of the women who want to wear it? I think the government can discourage certain behavior without outlawing it (eg. smoking) On the other hand, we already have decency laws which prohibits nudity as it is culturally unacceptable. In our culture, the government can say that the face needs to be visible except for cases of safety. If a woman wants to cover her face, then she is not allowed in public.

It is tragic that anyone believes it makes women more acceptable to God if they cover up from head to toe. What bondage it must be.