Banning the niqab harms an open society. So does wearing it: Omer Aziz

Omer Azis on the niqab debate:

Assuming it is genuine modesty and not an ostentatious display of conservative religiosity that motivates a woman to wear a black veil sequestering her from the rest of society, a cultural practice that demands of one sex to cover up is inherently misogynistic. If anyone should be required to cover their faces, it is the men who torture and kill their daughters and sisters for marrying of their own free will. Let us not mince words here: Women are certainly ‘free’ to wear the niqab, in the same sense as they are ‘free’ to enter the mosque from the side and ‘free’ to stand behind the men while praying. This is a blinkered idea of freedom, but liberalism requires tolerating and legally protecting illiberal attitudes.

The main problem with the niqab, though, is that it diminishes liberal democracy. What separates liberal societies from dictatorships is that the former are open, allow for face-to-face consultation, encourage dissent, and recognize individuals as equals. Liberal societies must allow one citizen to see another citizen’s face when in conversation or contact. When only one party’s face is visible, the informalities of open conversation disappear, body language is eliminated, the natural empathy we humans feel when looking at our fellow human’s face is extinguished. A veil over the face of one citizen permanently alters the terms of the discussion, which is why niqabs have no place in classrooms and other institutions where free discourse is designed to flourish. Imagine a society where all women covered their faces, as some of the more totalitarian Islamists would impose. Call this society what you like, but it would be the farthest thing from liberal democracy.

The enemy of the open society, the late Czech playwright-president Vaclav Havel once wrote, ‘is a person with a fiercely serious countenance and burning eyes.’ Both the politician who seeks to ban what a woman may wear, and the patriarch who seeks to dictate what a woman must wear, are not friends of the open society.

Neither, however, is the niqab.

One of the most articulate commentary yet.

Banning the niqab harms an open society. So does wearing it – The Globe and Mail.

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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