I work in a public library in a very large American city and have encountered several women in a burqa at the reference desk. Immediately I am struck by how our culture is not set up for a woman to be almost completely covered like that. I am a woman, and have found myself several times by myself at the reference desk trying to converse with another woman, who happens to be veiled. The veil made it difficult to hear these women since it covered their mouths. It occurred to me this burqa is not designed for a free society where women are allowed and actually expected to speak for themselves. Body language communication was impossible to read from these veiled women which is such a huge part of conversing, almost as big as the words actually said.
Last week I encountered a person in a burqa in my crowded suburban Baltimore supermarket. I hadn't realized how much of our public interactions require "feedback" of one sort or another. Even the minor "excuse me" requires some sort of feedback to properly "read" the other. When I moved closer, I was able to make eye contact and so complete the social dance. Ironically, this moving closer required me to invade her social space.
Is all this discomfort important enough to outlaw? Of course not. In time with more interactions like this it will become easier to read the other. I will become fluent in reading "Burqa". This is however a large problem if there is segregation like with Muslims in France. However can you become fluent enough in other cultures and so adapt to one another in the public space if you have no experience with one another?
Let me respectfully disagree with your views. The burqa has nothing to do with religious freedom or a woman's "choice" or any of that crap. It is a form of subjugation. It is a way to reinforce the notion that women are dangerous and that they belong to men. It says "you are allowed out of the house only if no one can see you. Only if you are invisible." It is akin to wearing chains.
I invite you, and that idiot who compared banning the burqa to banning Red Sox gear, to wear one. Drape yourself in long, heavy, dark material from head to toe. Walk around like that for a full freakin' day. On a hot day, preferably. It might help put the whole issue in a bit more perspective. The burqa is NOT comparable to modest or humble clothing, the way long sleeves or a scarf might be. It is meant to erase one's personhood, and it is very effective.
Women who "choose" to dress like this are women who have been raised from childhood to accept their second-class status. They have been raised to believe that they are unacceptable to society, and to god, unless they are dressed like this. Very few have chosen this belief system; it has been imposed on them. And if they disobey, they are punished. With violence. I fail to see the "choice" in this.
Religious liberty is not a limitless right. As with civil liberties, it has limits. When the British outlawed Sati and Child Marriage in India, it was an encroachment of religious liberty. But, as an proud Indian who is deeply the damage done by colonial rule and a proud Hindu with deep appreciation for Hindu philosophy, I have no doubt that it was fully warranted, and that we are better off for these particular "liberties" being taken away from us. Burqa may not rise to the same level as Sati or Child Marriage. Or perhaps it does. Whether to outlaw Burqa or not should not be based on the faulty notion that there is limitless religious liberty.
My significant other lives in Rogers Park, about just slightly northwest of Uptown, and that area is also significantly multi-ethnic; women in burqas are there too, and their daughters. I've spent a lot of time up there recently, living in the neighborhood and brushing past women with burqas.
Unlike your reader, however, I've invested some time in the course of my education to get to know some Muslim communities in the north, and have spoken with a handful of women who wear burqas. From the ones I've spoken to, their lives are interesting and rich. And I have spoken to a few of their daughters as well, and more than one has told me that she intends to wear the burqa when the time comes. Furthermore, a great many have pointed out the very real truth that the freedom to wear what you want is not always as clear-cut in America: sexualized clothing is increasingly prevalent in America and increasingly moving to younger populations of girls, yet no one stops to think that this might also be a form of gender-policing and enforcement.
It is true that women who are willing to speak with a Christian male involved in interfaith relations are not likely to be a random sample. I am not claiming that these women even remotely emblematic. I am claiming, however, that these women represent only themselves, and these women would be significantly impacted in their personal religious decisions should a ban like this go into place. Yet nobody seems to want to, you know, talk to these women and hear what they have to say. People are only interested in passing laws "for their own good."
(Photo: A Muslim woman dressed in niqab (veil which covers the body and leaves only a small strip for the eyes) walks through the streets of Brussels, on April 27, 2010. By Julien Warnand/AFP/Getty.)
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