Jonathan Kay: The space between the hijab and niqab is where our anxieties lie

Jonathan Kay on the contrast between the hijab and the niqab, following the experience of a young non-Muslim woman wearing a hijab for a week. I think he largely has it right on the contrast between the hijab being compatible with integration, the niqab not:

One of the effects of the niqab is that it strips away all of the informal social cues that we typically rely on when we talk to people: the smiles, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows and such that tell us if our jokes are funny or not, our stories interesting or not, our presence welcome or not. The Burqa signals to the non-burqa-wearer that, to the extent he is capable of arousing any emotion at all, it is of the negative variety. In such a situation, most of us non-burqa folks are likely to put on a nervous smile, say something harmless, and get any necessary social or commercial interaction over with as quickly as possible so as not to induce the fear of sexual predation that, the niqab’s existence implicitly signals, is but thinly suppressed in all of us.

Since 9/11, all Western societies have become obsessed with the way Muslim women dress. (Indeed, in parts of Quebec, it has become a sort of full-blown neurosis.) But Rawhani misunderstands the issue if she thinks that this is really about the hijab. It is about our basic, socially felt human need to see the faces  of those we interact with. The fact that we politely tolerate those who live behind masks bespeaks Canadian civility. But it does not mean the underlying practice is in any way healthy or desirable.

Jonathan Kay: The space between the hijab and niqab is where our anxieties lie | National Post.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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