Thursday, November 09, 2006

To veil or not to veil?

I've seen a lot more women on campus and on the TTC wearing not just a hijab (at right), but a niqab (at bottom) as well lately. Originally I must admit, it struck me as quite odd. I mean, hijabs are so common in T.O., and I don't understand how it could be seen as oppressive. If I were visiting a conservative Muslim country, or even married a conservative Muslim, or what have you, I would probably take one on voluntarily as a sign of respect. How is it any different from an Amish bonnet, a kippah, a turban, etc etc?

But a niqab, similarly to a burqa, covers the face. Especially in the West, that's like a prototypical symbol of dehumanization. Scratching out someone's face in a picture is a symbolically powerful act, and injuries to the face are evidence of a personally-motivated murder, and so on. For that reason, I can understand why veils are so much more disquieting to Westerners. I myself have had moments of *...the hell?* upon seeing a woman veiled.

But here's something else I've noticed. Women wearing the niqab are categorically not wearing a burqa. The veil does not seem particularly physically uncomfprtable, and is often worn with suitable modest but individually styled clothing. A woman in a black hijab/niqab on the bus this morning was wearing a beautiful light purple robe or dress (I couldn't tell under her coat, but it was open at the front) embroidered with little white flowers. Another woman on campus was wearing a beautiful brown underskirt. And these women walked tall, looked up, and for heavens' sake, were at university. I would be hard-pressed to make an argument that either of these women were "oppressed" or in any way "suffering" for the religious or cultural garb they were wearing, which for all I know, they chose themselves. Certainly, their individuality was externally apparent, perhaps more so than the parade of cookie-cutter Prada-sweatsuit knockoff-Louie-Vuitton-bag-carrying young women of other religions or cultures who swarm campus.

What would be a concern, I suppose, was if the rules were so fluid as to be adapted to quash whatever sign of individuality might be allowable beyond the black-letter law.

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