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The Veil Debate

By Amil Niazi

Wednesday November 1, 2006

Silently judging from head to toe I’ve been trying to avoid reading about the veil debate happening in the UK, but it’s virtually impossible since opinions on the issue are cropping up everywhere. It’s been quite confusing encountering these opinions on everything from the actual meaning of tolerance, to the political implications of sheathing yourself in black. It just keeps striking me as odd that the only people whose opinions I’ve been able to read are from the ones who aren’t really affected by the outcome.
I realise that airport security should be able to confirm that a woman’s real face matches her passport face, much like some men have to know if the curtains match the rug (authenticity is important, you know). But that’s airport security; it should always be rigorously enforced–not to mention humiliating, inconvenient, and expensive.

I guess I just didn’t realise how much white people value the naked face, and the naked head for that matter. I had no idea it actually violated their constitutional rights to have to look at someone practicing their personal beliefs. I really had you guys read all wrong. When I think that conservative columnists from the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun are being denied their rights to silently judge other people head to toe without the impediment of full body armour, it makes me want to cut myself. It makes me physically ill. You know what I mean? It’s like, “Hey browny, we fucking let you guys in to this country, the least you could do is put on a goddamn Team Aniston baby tee and stop covering your face.” It’s rude. Brown people are clearly all rude, undemocratic terrorists with poor fashion sense.

But seriously, we clearly don’t all have poor fashion sense, okay?
I tried to avoid this debate, and now it’s glaringly obvious that I can’t. I am a self-identified Muslim woman. I don’t wear a hijab or a niqab. My mother never has, my grandmother never has, and I’m not sure hers did either. I have no intention of ever hiding my face from the world, but if I felt like I wanted to, I would. If tomorrow I decided I was going to convert to a new religion based on the ascension of cows to the outer heavens and I wanted to wear a milkable udder, I would. Why don’t we have a debate about Madonna’s annoying Kabbalah bracelet? I find that really stretches my tolerance to the limit, and I’m not sure it’s very polite of her to go stealing babies and forcing them to learn about her unique form of mysticism.

The reality is, we are increasingly surrounded by a culture of fear, by the belief that it’s the differences themselves that spawn hatred. That the sheer fact that a woman veils herself means she has no desire to integrate, relate to, or experience her surroundings. And that she generally condones terrorism and wants to blow shit up.

It’s not the case. The new cultural landscape of our global society is that there are no hard judgments. We have to consider and reflect at every step. Many women are forced to veil themselves; that is an injustice and to me it’s a crime. Most religions at their core attempt to promote free will, while oppressive regimes use religion to distort and advocate quite the opposite. And I’m not talking about the thousands of women forced in to covering up. I’m talking about women choosing to express their beliefs through clothing, and pundits telling them it’s inappropriate.

Tolerance shouldn’t be a carrot wave in the faces of those whom we feel are undeserving of it. Tolerance isn’t something you give on condition and take away at whim. It wasn’t that long ago people said they didn’t mind homosexuality, as long as they didn’t have to see it. Are we now saying we don’t mind Islam, as long as we don’t have to see it?