Stilling the Jerk of My Liberal Knees

Look at this picture (click to embiggen) of a woman arrested in France for refusing to remove her veil. A tiny, defenseless woman, a plucky warrior for the rights of a minority to live and breathe free, is manhandled by racist government thugs.

It came up on my Facebook wall recently, from a group called the Muslim Defense League (MDL) United We Stand, Divided We Fall (“Fighting against racism, fascism and oppression”).

The photo caption was “A Muslima is arrested in France for refusing to remove the veil! If you are against this act then Share it everywhere!”

Yes, it looks horrible. One little woman being arrested by large uniformed enforcers. But … I can’t feel wholly outraged at it.

I’m taking it at face value that the event described is actually what it’s said to be. But I don’t think the context of the picture is what it purports to be, an innocent private person arrested in a way that offends the rights of individuals.

This is not JUST some downtrodden privacy advocate or religious freedom protester molested by merciless government enforcers. It’s a couple of other things smuggled into the conceptual package, arguments I’m afraid I don’t accept.

Firstly, I don’t think anyone has a “right” to wear a mask in public. I just don’t. I would much rather live in a society where I can see the faces of the people I live among.

It seems to me that, in public at least, people around you in a society have some sort of right to see your face. We’re a social animal; I suspect that needing to see the faces of those around us, so we can judge the moods and intents of these diverse strangers, is something evolutionarily innate to us. Not being able to do it … well, in my own case, it would definitely make me less comfortable. In private, you can wear whatever you want, but public places strike me as a different matter. In my mind, the “right” of people to see our faces trumps our individual right to wear masks. (Of course, with the exception of parties and Halloween.)

(BTW: I hope nobody will bring up Trayvon Martin in the comments. I was and am totally in favor of the arrest and prosecution of his killer, and I do not agree with those who said his hoodie was the reason he got shot.)

I can’t help but imagine what would happen if I walked into a bank or an airport wearing a mask. Nothing good, I’d bet. And yet here’s this person, tiny defenseless woman though she might be, who is Exhibit A in a demand for the right to do just that. In my mind, she and others are attempting to claim MORE rights than I have, based on an argument from religion, or culture, or whatever it is.

In other words, she’s asking for special privilege, something the rest of us don’t have, and won’t get.

The choices are:

1) Nobody gets to wear masks in public.
2) Everybody gets to wear masks in public.
3) Some people get to wear masks in public.

The only choice I’m wholly comfortable with is the first one.

I’m honest about the fact that I don’t care much for Islam itself. In fact – hey, “atheist” here – I dislike ALL religion. Yes, people have a right to follow their religion, including Islam. It’s sad to me when people make that choice (sadder still when defenseless children are forced into it by religious parents or authorities), but I can live with it.

But if you look past the shocking image of “defenseless Muslim woman accosted by violent thugs empowered by a racist government” … I think you can find a contrary position that deserves a public airing.

I’ll go you one farther: I look at this picture and feel more than a little manipulated. “Little woman hauled away by big men” definitely pushes my protective buttons. I instantly WANT to be on her side, defending her.

But she’s not JUST this little woman, is she? And those are not JUST faceless thugs hauling her off to be, for instance, beaten and gang-raped.

Drop someone less sympathy-button-pushing into this same situation and see how it makes you feel. Then drop this same little woman into a totally different law-enforcement context and see how THAT makes you feel.

For instance: Imagine that the figure in question, the person making this claim for special religious/cultural privilege, was a massively muscled biker with chain-wrapped boots, skull tattoos on his thick, hairy wrists and a picture of fighting pit bulls screened onto the front and back of his burkha.

Likewise, change the context of the picture so that an identical tiny, defenseless, burkha-wearing woman was being hauled away for running a puppy mill, and the picture alongside was a stark shot of sickly, skinny female dogs with matted fur and crusted eyes, trapped in filthy cages with litters of dead puppies.

Would you feel the same about HIM and his burkha-wearing right? Would you feel the same about HER and her defenselessness in the face of arrest? I don’t think so.

Remove the defenseless woman from this visual argument about rights, and it doesn’t seem to be as much about rights. Remove the argument about rights from the picture and the tiny, defenseless woman doesn’t seem quite so sympathetic.

To me, this feels less like an honest plea for equality and more like a deliberate manipulation of some of what I consider the best within me. As if someone wants me to see this defenseless little woman and leap to her defense. Which in this case would also be the defense of the followers of Islam to walk among us wearing masks.

Which – sorry – is a right I do not support, and will never support.

Looking Past the Bright Sun of Crazy
The Wrong Answer on Race
The Book of Good Living: How to Avoid Being Killed By A Train
  • ischemgeek

    I’m comfortable with #2. Reasons:
    1, masks are sometimes important for doing good things, for the same reason pseudonyms are important online. You may wish to show that another person cared about this cause enough to show up in person but face serious reprocussions personally or financially if you do. Case in point: the Anon protests of Scientology. We can’t all be Mark Bunkers, as amazing as he is. Some of us have to hold down day jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to subject your family to harrassment and threats. Masks at those protests allowed those who would otherwise have to stay home to show up and lend support.

    2, some masks have practical purpose. Here in Canada, it can get what might not-so-scientifically be referred to as Really Fucking Cold. We have masks designed to prevent frostbite for those days (or you McGyver one with a scarf). If masks in public are prohibited, all of the sudden, I have to court frostbite for several hours when I have to walk into work because the busses aren’t running and the uni is stubborn like that and won’t shut down for anything short of a storm worthy of the title Storm of the Decade. Consider also the dust masks construction people wear (including outside, in public).

    Which brings me to my third reason: If you ban masks in public, then one of two things happen: either you require people like firefighters and construction workers and transplant patients to put themselves at risk in work or daily living scenarios, or you create a scenario where there’s a legal double standard and your objection of some people having more rights than others comes up again. Should a transplant patient’s right to preserve hir health be considered more than mine (on a Really Fucking Cold day where not wearing the face mask passes uncomfortable into dangerous, or in the flu season when I’m trying to protect my chronic condition just like ze is)? How about a firefighter? Should hir safety be considered more than people protecting theirs if there’s nasty dust from a demolition on the street?

    I prefer a scenario wherein 1, mask wearing without legitimate reason can result in a police warning and an order to remove the mask, and 2) mask wearing in commission of a crime modifies the sentence in some way, similar to gun crime up here.

    • Hank Fox

      Some good points!

      The temporary wearing of a face protector during extreme cold, I can live with. I’ve worn a balaclava many times while skiing, and a dust mask in construction work. But even there, I wouldn’t want such masks worn in banks, schools or courthouses.

      As to someone wearing it for specific reasons of health, I can easily see an exception kick in there too, the same exception that causes us to create special parking spots and restroom stalls for the handicapped. In those cases, we don’t see it as privilege — it’s more an attempt to level the playing field for someone who’s already disadvantaged.

      Emergency situations, those I have no problem with either. It’s temporary and obviously related to a public safety issue.

      I hadn’t thought about the possibility of wearing a mask during a protest. I’ve seen the Guy Fawkes masks of Occupy protesters, etc., and seem not to have been bothered by them. Hmm. (I’m asking myself if that is already illegal; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.)

      The flip side of protesting and masks, though, would open the gate to cops wearing them as well. In fact, I have seen them wearing masks, including tape over their badges, apparently so they can violate the rights of protesters without repercussions. Raises my hackles every time I see it. How would we deal with that situation?

      • ischemgeek

        Regarding cops at protests: Police officers are already set apart from the rest of society while they execute their duties in that they have the uniform, they have power to arrest and detain, they have weapons that no ordinary citizen (in Canada at least, I know this isn’t the case down South) is allowed to carry, and they can cause a great deal of harm if they abuse their considerable power (everyone on this site can probably name a half-dozen examples off the top of their head).

        For the public to have recourse for misconduct, they need to be identifiable. Therefore a ban on cops wearing masks in the performance of their duties makes sense for the same reason we in Canada require telemarketers identify who they’re calling for and some employee identifier, or why doctors have to identify themselves (and their credentials if you ask). Further, self-protection comes into it: how do you know the cop isn’t an imposter if you can’t identify the cop?

        Nothing says that cops going about their day-to-day activities as private citizens would be prohibited from it, just cops conducting their duties, where they have already voluntarily give up the designation of “private citizen” and instead become an agent of the Crown (in Canada and the Commonwealth) or the State (in the US and many other countries). With greater power should come greater responsibility: If you want the power to be able to arrest and detain and in some cases hold the power of life and death over someone else (in that you have the ability to choose to shoot your firearm), you have the responsibility to make yourself identifiable while you weild the power so people hold you accountable if you abuse it.

        Back at the protest thing, if you ban masks, people who are currently prohibited from openly engaging in political activism would be denied the ability to engage in the process. I know a guy who wore a mask at the Occupy protests because as a government employee, he’s prohibited from making any political statement including being photographed at protests that is not pre-authorized by his bosses. If a newspaper photographer captures him bare-faced with a protest sign, he could get fired. With the mask, he’s not participating as Government Employee #whatever, he’s just there as Anonymous Guy In A Mask. Someone else I know wears a mask at public events in general because her abusive ex still lives in the city and she doesn’t want him to know what she’s involved with so he can track her down and harass her. Many people who would be otherwise unable to make their voices heard for varying reasons can if they do so anonymously.

        Finally, on the bank and airport scenarios above (I realized this point after I arrived at work today and thought “Oh crap! Can’t believe I missed that!”): they’re not public, they’re private property. You can declare a uniform or dress code for those who want to be on your property or accept your services if you want to. In other words, you can set your own conditions on admittance. Nothing stops any business from saying “People wearing masks will not be admitted.” So businesses and institutions can already make their own call on whether they want to admit people with masks.

        • triamacleod

          In many states (in USA) it is illegal to walk the street with an actual ‘mask’ on. To circumvent that, many Anon’s had special bandannas / kerchiefs made which had the Fawkes mask imprinted onto them.

          While I prefer to keep as many of my rights as possible, I think a middle road with the religious dictates CAN be met. Forget the Burka, use a Hijab instead. You would still be covered but the face would be identifiable. Truthfully a hijab with large sunglasses would have pretty close to the same effect as a burka only the mouth would be exposed instead of the eyes.

    • Christopher Booth

      Actually, not good points. Construction workers and people on frostbite days still take the masks off in public. You get to the university, and you don’t keep the mask on in public. The construction worker, if no longer in a dangerous-dust situation–coffee break, walks to the equipment shed, whatever, takes the mask off. It is a *functional* mask, not a mask to hide or disguise, and it is temporary. The burqa doesn’t come off except in the home, behind closed doors and shaded windows. The men, when engaging in violent “protests” in Europe wear masks, and clearly think it makes them more scary–ninjas for allah. When a knight isn’t in the thick of battle, he wears his beaver up; even in Medieval times that would have been considered cowardly and suspicious. The Black Knight of Monty Python.

      The mask is an attempt to supercede identity. The burqa is imposed denial of identity. It is so prominent a scream of modesty that it is immodesty masquerading, via false piety, as modesty. A stripper’s exposed vulnerability is far more respectable. Far. Far.

      The burqa is a symbol of non-personhood and of humans owning humans. She is trying to boost her value as chattel by displaying in public her subservience. Its pure economics and security within her group; it has NOTHING to do with personhood or rights. It is in fact grossly the opposite. She is being used by the men, and is a willing tool; but a tool nontheless. No person who cares for rights of individuals should fall for this hypocrisy. And the staged photo-op is nothing more than a deliberate manipulation of public response. It is a bit like the old chestnut of the elderly slave weeping for the days of massa: Tugs at the heartstrings–but the one doing the tugging isn’t in the picture, and the picture ain’t true.

      • ischemgeek

        Hank’s post, though, proposed the banning of masks in public, which is what I was addressing. I can’t imagine any situation more public than walking on a city street.

        Further, I did address the issue of when concealing your identity is legitimate: the Scientology protests, for instance.

        Lastly: You’ll notice I did not address the issue of burkhas, only Hank’s proposal to ban masks in public. That was the point of my post, not burkhas.

        I happen to be torn on the issue: On one hand, they’re a religious expression and therefore should be protected if you have the right to freedom of religion. On the other hand, I agree with you entirely on how horrible its significance is. IANAL, but I think the only way you could practically ban burkhas in my country is if you also ban clothing or accessories that express religious or anti-religious viewpoints. Then it’s not targeting one specific religion and therefore can’t be struck down in court on freedom of religion. But then you get into freedom of expression issues so they’d probably end up having to notwithstanding argument it to the Supreme Court anyway. Again, IANAL, but, I don’t think you could do it at all in the US: if it didn’t fail at the First and Fourteenth Amendments on the religious angle, it’d fail at the First in the freedom of expression or at liberty, self determination and pursuit of happiness angles.

  • MarkNS

    I’m very uncomfortable for any law which limits an individual’s choice (of clothing in this example) without an overwhelmingly good argument to do so. Your example of masks being banned in airports or banks provide such an overwhelmingly good argument. As would any time your identity must be verified (eg. a traffic stop by police). However, to tag along with my fellow Canadian above and use your own logic, if balaclavas are allowed then burkas are allowed…whether it’s cold or not. How does the outside air temperature impact any threat to public safety that a balaclava might pose? If they were only allowed during cold weather and I needed a mask to commit some crime, I’d just wait til it was cold to do so.

    • Riptide

      The thing is, Canadian law *already* bans the use of masks in public (at least in protests), while excepting weather-proofing clothes. The issue thus isn’t “Burkha or no baklava,” as you two would have it.

  • drowner

    It’s good to discuss the practical utility of the burkha, but what interests me is its symbolic value. These women don’t freely make the choice to wear the clothing. I can’t imagine any French woman converting to this particular strain of Islam so that she can be subjugated and treated as property by men. And that is why I agree with the ban. The mere sight of women wearing burkhas is a message to their fellow Muslims (and women everywhere) that they submit to the harsh patriarchy of their religion. I vacillated about jailing the women, but they’re abused by their husbands, so perhaps it’s a respite from them, if not from their children.

  • MarkNS

    “These women don’t freely make the choice to wear the clothing.” You can’t know that and it is patronizing to speak for them.
    “I can’t imagine any French woman converting to this particular strain of Islam so that she can be subjugated and treated as property by men.” I can’t imagine enjoying canned spinach but that doesn’t mean others don’t.
    What we need are laws that prohibit violence or threats of violence to coerce someone to do something. Those laws exist. Are they hard to enforce…yes…but that doesn’t mean we should bring in draconian measures limiting the freedom of others just because we “can’t imagine” someone having different desires than we do.

    • Riptide

      (Don’t mean to pick on you, Mark.)

      “These women don’t freely make the choice to wear the clothing.” You can’t know that and it is patronizing to speak for them.

      I really don’t think you fully understand the repercussions of making the contrary choice in the vast majority of cases. If your family and community is holding you hostage, threatening economic (or physical) violence, and anyway has brainwashed you for your whole life…are you really choosing freely?

      I’m sorry, I find that failure of understanding far more patronizing than refusing to let a minority of voluntary cases (those women who could remove the veil with little to no repercussions) overwhelm the misogynistic, paternalistic culture in which the “choice” is most often made.

      • Riptide

        Goddamned formatting.

  • Butch Pansy

    What else would you make illegal because it makes you uncomfortable? Beards, wigs, sunglasses, and/or hats are just a short way down that slippery slope. What about makeup? That’s not even beginning to argue for the freedom of religious expression, all of which makes me, as an atheist, uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of feeling threatened.

  • fastlane

    I guess I would only be supportive of this woman’s (and others like her) if I knew they and their husbands would publicly support others’ freedom to not wear burkhas, even if they are practicing muslims. If the woman is being forced to wear a burkha by her religion, that is just as bad (or worse) than the government trying to force her to remove it in public.

  • Robert

    Look, let’s stop bullshitting and pretending that this is about verifying identity or security, because we all know it’s not. We aren’t talking about banning beards and sunglasses, or low worn hoodies, or ski masks on days when the temperature is above 32 degrees or any other bullshit.

    This is about one religion forcing women to be covered and dehumanized. It has nothing to do with masks in public as an individual choice.

    I think the burka is inhumane, but fighting a religious decree that all women must be veiled in public with a government decree that all women must be uncovered in public is not an excercise in increasing democracy.

    And pretending this is about some kind of mask doctrine is beneath us.

    • Robert

      I suppose I should actually offer some solution other than my angry comment.

      I believe this is primarily a culture war, a conflict of ideas. Attacking an idea with a government ban isn’t a likely way to succeed (do we have any evidence of legislative ban ever actually stopping any kind of behavior?).

      What we need to do is challenge the idea that it’s ok for women to be subjugated by men, and forced into burkhas. A campaign to let the women of France know that we value them with or without the burkha, and that we will protect them if they decide to not wear the burkha.

      And we need to make sure we can protect them. Setup education and work centers and help with housing if they decide to leave their husbands and stop wearing the burkha.

      We need to prove that religious tolerance and personal choice is a better way. Because we can’t compete with a culture that has no problem with ordering the death of apostates and the marriage of women to their rapists in terms of totalitarian authority.

  • arakasi

    I am against the ban on wearing burkas primarily for one reason – if a woman is prohibited from wearing the burka in public, then the answer for far to many of them is that they will not go out in public at all. At least with the burka, there is some measure of contact with the outside world.

    • timgueguen

      That’s one of my reasons for opposing burka bans as well. It just plays into the hands of the idiots who would keep these women completely isolated if they could.

  • Alasdair

    Could someone explain how the ban on wearing face-coverings in France is any different from the bans in some Muslim countries of *not* wearing face coverings? Either way, women are getting arrested and punished for how they dress. Why not just rename the French police the ‘Decency Patrol’ and have done with it?

    I believe that subject to very few restrictions (e.g. public nudity), people should have the right to dress how they want. (I would support option #2 above.) If some people force other people to dress in a certain way, that’s bad and should be strongly opposed, but not by banning that form of dress outright. The target of your anger should not be the women wearing burkas but the men forcing them to dress that way.

  • Alasdair

    Oh, one more thing: if the reason you support a ban on face-covering in public is because you believe everyone should show their face in public, fair enough. I disagree, but I don’t think that’s a totally unreasonable position to hold. But it’s disingenuous to pretend that such high-minded beliefs about openness and the public sphere are the main reason for these laws. In France and other countries where such laws have passed, one of the main reasons, if not *the* main reason, for them is simple racism and Islamophobia.

    I’m not saying there aren’t any good reasons to support banning face-covering in public; I’m only saying that in reality, these laws are generally not passed for good reasons but for bad ones, and if you support them you need to ask yourself if you’re OK with that.

    • snebo154

      I have to agree with you, this is purely an example of racism and Islamaphobia. France has decided that wearing the uniform of a cult that advocates terrorism, mass murder, total subjugation of women, and violent global domination is wrong. They have seen what happens in countries where Islam gets a foothold and they are trying to stop it from happening in France. I understand and totally agree with their fear and their goal. Unfortunately I don’t agree with the way they are doing it. I don’t have an answer as to what might be a fair, just, and humane way, but this picture bothered me. How do you rid yourself of an evil group masquerading as a religion without harming the members of that group who are not evil, merely deceived? Punishing an old woman for going out in public dressed in a way that she believes that she must dress in order to avoid punishment is a cruel cache 22, and it is not right.

  • Rabidtreeweasel

    I would prefer to see policies and groups put in place which would educate, aid, and encourage women who wear the burkah and give them avenues to make changes within their own community. Shrugging and saying, “Well, the state decided we’re tired of your husband telling you what to do so WE’RE going to tell you what to to” smacks of colonialism. It’s changing appearance, but not mind sets, and in fact runs the risk of ingraining indoctrination even further by way of a persecution complex.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Wonder how all those cameramen happened to be right there on the spot? You don’t think the woman rang them up and told them where she was going to hold her political protest do you? Surely not.

  • docsarvis

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

    Sorry Hank, but your argument is a nonstarter. If women choose to be oppressed we have no right to force them to show their faces in public.

    • anfractuous

      “If women *choose* to be oppressed” ???

      Are you freakin’ kidding me? I thought the definition of the word “oppressed” specifies the lack of choice. So women following rules imposed on them (by force or threats of force) for reasons of self-defence means they choose to be opressed? Well, I guess that’s just those silly women, donchaknow?

      • docsarvis

        And exactly how are you going to outlaw burkhas in light of the First Amendment?

        • anfractuous

          I don’t believe outlawing burkhas is the way to liberate women, as long as men are allowed, and even encouraged, to punish them for not wearing them. Does that mean I shouldn’t speak out and criticize them? As Robert (7) says, let’s work on changing the culture and protecting women who wish to protest the culture.

          One more thing. We all seem to focus on how women can protect themselves and how women should do the work of changing the culture opressing them. Even Robert, who was right otherwise, didn’t suggest penalizing the men who impose the restrictions, but offers women the choice for education and suggests leaving their husbands as a viable alternative.

          As rational people, we usually agree that the best approach to solving a problem is to address the cause, not the effect, of the problem. The cause of the problem we’re discussing is not the burkha or the women; it’s men’s culturally and legally approved ability and propensity to control women. When that situation is ameliorated the burkha, along with all the problems it creates, disappears.

          • marcus

            “If women *choose* to be oppressed” ???
            The fact that “choose to be oppressed” is an oxy-moron doesn’t change the fact that people do indeed choose to be oppressed all the time, for many different reasons. A large percentage of the actions taken by organized religions could arguably and persuasively be called “oppression” much of it enforced by the aforementioned “oppressed”. I don’t think in the US that a legislative ban on burkhas (or crosses), except in cases of occupational or public safety, would be constitutional.

  • Art

    In business transactions and social situation I depend of people’s faces and eyes to give me a clue about the person’s intentions and honesty. It is part of being human. Deprive me of your face and eyes and I’m going to be reluctant to deal with you. Possibly reluctant enough to refuse to deal with you.

    But also Robert @ #7 is right. Forcing a person to keep their face and/or eyes covered is a fine way to dehumanize them to others. As a human I gauge humanity by my ability read your face and eyes. Remove that and I might as well be dealing with a vending machine.

  • Dunc

    I find it fascinating that we’ve got two simultaneous arguments about “choice” going on around FTB at the moment – one about women’s “choices” to be sex workers, and another about the “choice” to wear the veil… And some people are managing to come down on opposite sides of the two, in such as way as to argue that the “choices” which happen to conform with their culture are valid, and the ones which don’t, aren’t. Sucking cock for money? Totes fine, ought to be legalised. Wearing the veil? Dehumanising, ought to be banned.

    Me? I think the whole language of “choice” is iffy at best… Most people don’t need to be coerced into conforming with their cultural norms – they’re actively eager to do so. And the cultural norms regarding women are fucked up in pretty much all cultures…

  • Leo

    I didn’t take the time to read all the comments preceding mine, but, if no one has mentioned it already, I fear there is a double-edged sword here. That is because the veil is not a choice! (Nor is this woman asking for special privileges.) This woman is a victim of a patriarchal religion. She likely wears the veil because she thinks she must according to her religion. There are people who support the ban in France because they want women to realize that they don’t have to wear the veil. However, this is a good example of how this law can backfire. The victim then gets punished further by secularists (or even people who may be raciest). I agree with many of your arguments, Hank, but the problem is women like her have been suppressed by an unreasonable patriarchy.

    There are then a few things I do want to say about the photo, though. I think the photo is a bit absurd. It seems that the focus is on how these cops are suppressing her; yet, the suppression she likely receives from the patriarchy in which she lives gets ignored. That’s largely in part because it appears that it is that patriarchy that is complaining the loudest (they are thus projecting as they are upset that others are doing what they alone want to do). The unfortunate part is that there are likely too many people who live outside that particular patriarchy that will miss the big picture and will only see the suppression by the cops. On that, while I’m glad you are using good skepticism to recognize a number of problems with this photo, those reasons why she wears the veil in the first place must also be considered.

  • geocatherder

    Sorry, Hank, I’m with the crowd on this one. I DESPISE burka, niquab,etc….anything that covers even part of the face. I LIKE seeing people’s faces. All of their faces. But if someone wears a mask in public, that’s their choice.

    I’m also cool with courthouses, shops, etc., putting up signs that say “Persons covering their faces not allowed” for the former, or “Persons covering their faces will not be served” for the latter.

  • d cwilson

    I’d be fine with option #2, so long as “some people” included Newt Gingrich. Covering up his pudgy mug should be considered a public service.

  • crayzz

    Would you feel the same about HIM and his burkha-wearing right? Would you feel the same about HER and her defenselessness in the face of arrest? I don’t think so.

    You think wrong. I don’t like this image because it shows what I consider to be a violation of human rights. Yeah, the fact that it is just some little old lady bothers me extra, but the idea of doing this to anyone bothers me, including big burly bikers. And if said women had abusing puppies, then yes, I would have no problem with this scenario. But that raises the question as to how the hell you think abusing small animals compares to wearing a mask in public. That women wearing a mask harms literally not one other person.

    We’re a social animal; I suspect that needing to see the faces of those around us, so we can judge the moods and intents of these diverse strangers, is something evolutionarily innate to us.

    Since when do we enact laws based on the consequences of evolution? Just cause some idea comes from evolution does not mean we should go after and eliminate any sort of expression that contradicts that idea. Frankly, I don’t give a shit what evolution says I should do when it comes to dealing with other people, cause I always figured that’s what my brain was for. Also, just cause I like being able to see another’a face as I deal with them, doesn’t mean I get to dictate how they dress. In fact, there are many ways I prefer others to behave as I deal with them, but that doesn’t mean I get my wish, even if the majority agrees with me. Many people say they “don’t mind gays, as long as they’re not public about it”. Many people would probably prefer that black people just shut up and stay out of the way. Dear lord do some people hate it when when black people bring up racism. They don’t get their way, cause their preferences, as well as yours, do not determine another’s rights.

    Now, there are obviously scenarios where wearing a mask is inappropriate, such as banks, prisons, anytime someone needs to verify identification etc. But that’s not what’s being shown in this photo. Laws banning burkas are targeted towards legitimate problems to the same extant that “informed consent” laws about abortion are targeted towards informed consent. As for the whole “but she’s only wearing it cause she’s oppressed!” bullshit, I really have to ask: Do you honestly think that punishing the victim helps in any goddamn way?

    • FlipC

      “Now, there are obviously scenarios where wearing a mask is inappropriate, such as banks, prisons, anytime someone needs to verify identification etc.”

      So walking into a liquor store with a mask on would be deemed acceptable? How about a gas station or a convenience store? Shouldn’t private businesses be allowed to prevent entry to anyone wearing such?

      Stop someone coming in wearing a Guy Fawkes mask; no problem. Stop someone coming in who’s wearing a burkha and oh no now you’re discriminating against them due to their religion.

      Continuing from that a total ban in public may seem excessive, but how is this any different from many countries bans on nudity in public places?

  • c2t2

    I’m torn on this issue, and reading the comment section’s arguments for both sides is just making it worse.

    Since it’s the internet, I’ll blab my inexpert stream of consciousness:

    The first thing I thought of were the people I’ve seen who are horribly disfigured. A woman at the store whose cheek and neck were a deep plum color, a severe burn victim, the Afghani girl on the cover of Time whose husband cut off her nose and ears, face transplant patients pre-transplant. Etc.

    A veil or a partial mask means these people can live almost-ordinary lives. They’ll get some bemused double-takes, but children won’t scream when they show themselves in public. People won’t stare in horror.

    Second thought: It’s been proven over and over – both in studies and on the entire internet – that people become raging assholes when anonymous. The original post is absolutely right about reading people’s intentions in their faces, and without that, the world would be far scarier.

    Thought the third: cosplayers, other convention-goers, former gang members with facial tattoos that could literally get them killed, people at unpopular political events, people hiding from abusive family members / ex-lovers / stalkers

    Thought 4: women in full veil who never get sunlight can develop all kinds of related health problems.

    Finally 5: One of my deepest-held values is a variation of live-and-let-live: “If it’s not my business, I don’t get to tell you what to do.” The fact that the veil is NOT a free, uncoerced choice throws a monkey wrench into that philosophy.

    In conclusion: I have no idea.

  • c2t2

    Shoot, I hit post too early. I also wanted to mention Michael Jackson’s kids, who always wore masks in public before his death. Kids with ultra-famous parents need some semblence of a private life. Children who grow up under constant media scutiny tend to end up like, well, Michael Jackson.

  • Interrobang

    I’m kind of with c2t2 and the rest of the Canadians on this thread. Seriously, dude, what exactly is it to you if someone wears a veil in public? Assuming they’re not in a situation where you have to trust them to be who they say they are, exactly how does a veiled/masked person just existing in your vicinity pick your pocket or break your leg?

    I frankly don’t much care what people wear, and, in fact, I’m at times rather envious of hijabi women, because I have dark hair and it gets hot here in Canada’s banana belt in the summer. I have also done enough time actually living while veiled (not with my face covered, but equivalently to wearing a hijab) that I can honestly say it doesn’t interfere with a damn thing I want to do.

    Furthermore, if you want to get rid of the burka, you need to educate and prosecute (if applicable) the men, not go after the women. As long as the men are in charge of the social penalties, all the “support” and help you give to the women will be pretty well useless.

    Also, I think a lot of people are forgetting that it takes time for people to assimilate to new cultural norms. In North America of even 50 or 70 years ago, this was well-enough understood to pretty much be the punchline of jokes. It takes about three generations — the first generation tends to stay very much attached to the old cultural norms, the second generation is slightly influenced, and the third generation pretty much is completely assimilated. (I can actually see this in my own family — my grandfather immigrated from Scotland, and spoke Scots at home with his family; my mother has some Scots-isms and Gaelicisms in her vocabulary, and I am basically about as Canadian as it gets, though I’m better at reading Scots than most people.)

  • Amyc

    The problem I have with the burkha ban is that it punishes the victim (and I don’t know yet whether or not I’m entirely against these bans). First she’s a victim within her own religion and her own home for being forced to hide her personhood and act as non-identifiable chattel, then she’s punished for being a victim by being arrested and/or fined. I have a problem with this. I don’t think a ban on the burkha is a good solution. The problem is not the woman wearing the burkha, the problem is the culture/religion that tells the woman she has to wear it. She’s damned either way.

  • Wrensh

    I’ve been lurking around free thought blogs for a while and thought I should finally contribute.

    I think the idea that you can offer classes that educate women out of religion is a non-starter. If she can’t justify leaving the house without a full veil, then how would she justify leaving the house to go to classes about how leaving her husband might be a good idea?

    I wonder if it would be useful to view the question from another point of view.

    France is a country with a strong national identity – ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ and all that. Isn’t it fair that a democratically elected government can say, ‘If you’re a French citizen you can’t outright reject our most basic principles – religious veiling is an explicit rejection of the principles of liberty and equality and as such is not allowed in France.’

    I guess I’m wondering: do people feel the same way about public nudity as they do about burqahs? After all, you can’t be naked in public because its a breach of the peace.

  • rapiddominance

    What might help us sort this out is if those who wanted to wear masks would at least try to understand the heightened vulnerability and fear it causes their non-masked counterparts.

    Is there any indication at all that the pro-burkhas give a shit about your perspective?

    Or hell, maybe they’re so used to being around them that they can’t see what there is to fear. Maybe outrage is not the answer, either.

    Somehow, though, they need to at least try to understand your point of view.


    Anyhow, what about wigs and fake mustaches? Or any garb that would positively make me look like some other ‘authentic’ human being? Its not as immediately frightening, but these things can be used to cause a lot of harm.

  • jennyjfwlucy

    It is really not clear to me what France is trying to accomplish by banning the veil. Practically speaking, if I want to disguise myself for any purpose, there are way better methods than the veil. If they are trying to quash the visual expression of membership in a religious sect, it is hypocritical and futile; ANYTHING can express such membership.

    It might be that while all clothes (intentionally or not) communicate/provide clues about the wearer’s identity, a veil or a mask is a particularly irritating signal of membership or rejection of membership in a societal group because it covers up one’s “true” identity or face in a way that a pair of shoes or a tattoo or a t-shirt does not.

    When I think of Muslim women not being permitted to wear veils, I imagine how I might feel if I were not allowed to wear a shirt in public. And the truth is, that IF NO OTHER WOMEN WERE WEARING SHIRTS, I’d probably not have a problem with that, even though I’ve had to keep my shirt on outside since I was a tiny girl. I can’t think of anything I’m THAT invested in wearing, except perhaps my wedding ring.

    I don’t know if that is a failure of my imagination or a lack of commitment to an idea that can possibly be represented by clothing.

    The thing that I absolutely do abhor most is seeing very young girls (African American, in a US context) wearing full veils and long niqabs. They can’t run. They can’t climb, or shout, or play. And they are fricking FIVE YEARS OLD. Even the Wahhabist Arabs don’t veil girls until they hit puberty. It borders on abuse, IMHO.

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