Hassan: What face masks tell us about the niqab

While I am less worried about the niqab than Hassan and recognize that wearing the niqab may reflect a variety of reasons, I do share her annoyance over the facile comparison between face masks and niqabs. Reasons, objectives and intent are completely different:

One annoying narrative emerging from the COVID-19 seclusion is the way some religious people gloat about the niqab being somehow equivalent to the now mandated masks.

“See?” they say. “The government wanted to ban the niqab, but Allah has decreed otherwise. Now everyone must wear a niqab.”

Let it be clear: a face covering during a pandemic is a medical recommendation. A niqab is nothing but a religious travesty inflicted on a minuscule number of Muslim women by their Islamist guardians.

This false equating of the niqab to medical face masks has even made the print media rounds. Katherine Bullock, chair of ISNA-Canada, wrote an article with the provocative title We are all niqabis now: Coronavirus masks reveal the hypocrisy of face-covering bans.

First, we are not all niqabis. And secondly, there is no hypocrisy because the objectives of the two types of face coverings are completely different. Bullock asked, “If Canadians, Americans and Europeans can get used to the new ubiquitous face masks, will they also get used to niqabs?”

The answer is no. And why should opposition stop? Niqabs are discriminatory; face masks are not.

The fact is niqabi women wear what they wear because many face discrimination at home. They are considered chattel, or commodities that need to be hidden from public gaze. Their “protectors” worry they may bring shame to their families if not segregated and marginalized.

Bullock’s article further states that whereas people with surgical or medical masks are allowed to interact freely with each other without having to remove them, niqabi women are forced to remove their niqabs in public or at citizenship ceremonies. Well of course. The masks are being worn during an unprecedented medical crisis that presents an extreme danger to people’s health. What purpose does the niqab serve under normal conditions other than to create interpersonal barriers?

Another article, by freelance writer Sami Rahman, makes the same mistake of equating niqabs with medical face coverings. It alludes to U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson’s derision of niqabi women as letterboxes, and says perhaps we have all become letterboxes – as if this is some sort of divine judgment meted out to all people.

The article further confounds the debate by associating the niqab with all Muslim women. She writes, “Anti-racism organization Tell MAMA recorded a surge in hate crimes towards Muslim women that very same week.”

Muslim women? The overwhelming majority of Muslim women do not wear the niqab or even the hijab. Why associate these garments with the practice of most Muslim women, who rightly assert that their faith does not prescribe them?

The fact is that Islamists promote the niqab and hijab as symbols of mainstream Islam when they most certainly don’t represent Muslim practice.

Let Islamists gloat over the current requirement for face masks. When the crisis is behind us – and hopefully it will be soon with the development of a vaccine – all the medically prescribed masks will be gone.

But the niqab will persist, and all its supporters will still have to answer the familiar and fundamental questions: Why must they promote such patriarchal and cumbersome attire? Why glorify the niqab and hijab when they are arguably not even prescribed by Islam?

Source: HASSAN: What face masks tell us about the niqab

We are all niqabis now: Coronavirus masks reveal hypocrisy of face covering bans

Overly cute comparison, as the reason for wearing the mask, and gender-specific requirements and impacts are not insignificant:

Grey’s Anatomy, the longest running prime-time medical drama on U.S. television, contains many scenes of doctors and nurses in full gear (hospital scrubs, surgical caps, face masks) around the operating table. As they talk, laugh and argue, close-ups of the actors’ eyes convey concentration and emotion.

These scenes contradict one of the common arguments against face coverings — or more accurately, niqabs worn by some Muslim women — that they are a barrier to communication.

Now that face masks are being used to help fight against the spread of COVID-19, it has caused some to look anew at general discrimination against Muslim women wearing niqabs. And it has got me wondering about Québec’s face-covering ban, which came into law in October 2017 as well as France’s ban which came into law in 2011.

If Canadians, Americans and Europeans can get used to the new ubiquitous face masks, will they also get used to niqabs? Will discrimination against the few women in the West who wear itstop?

History of face politics

The European disapproval of the face veil has a long history, as I learned while researching for my book on Canadian Muslim women and the veil.

Niqab has been seen as both a symbol of cultural threat and also of the silencing of Muslim women. In her book, Western Representations of the Muslim Woman, Moja Kahf traces one of the first discussions of the veil in western fiction to the novel Don Quixote. One of the novel’s characters, Dorotea, asks about a veiled woman who walks into an inn: “Is this lady a Christian or a Moor?” The answer came: “Her dress and her silence make us think she is what we hope she is not.” As this scene from Don Quixote indicates, European women sometimes also covered their faces or hair but when they did so, it was not associated with something negative.

Eventually, the rise of western liberalism, with its prioritization of the individual, capitalism and consumerism led to a new “face politics.” Jenny Edkins, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, studied the rise of a politics centred around this new meaning of the “face,” including the idea that the face “if it can be ‘read’ correctly, may be seen to display the essential nature of the person within.”

The flip side of this new face politics became true as well: concealing the face became something suspicious, as if the person had something they wanted to hide, and prevent others from knowing the real them.

At the same time, we grow up learning our face is something to be manipulated, in the same way actors manipulate their faces to entertain viewers. We learn about “putting on one’s face” with makeup; “facing the world” through our education and personal grit; cultivating “poker face” to deceive people in cards or lying to parents and teachers. We learn how to compose our face so as not to show emotion in the wrong places, like crying at work.

The face is often a mask of our real selves.

Anti-niqab attitudes and hate crimes

Generally, hate crimes are on the rise in Canada with the highest increases in Ontario and Québec. In Ontario, the increase was tied to hate crimes against Muslims, Black and Jewish populations. In Québec, the increase was the result of crimes against Muslims. According to a recent peer-reviewed study by Sidrah Ahmad, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, a tally of hate crimes in Canada released by Statistics Canada in 2015 noted that Muslim populations had the highest percentage of hate crime victims who were female.

The rise in hate crimes mirrors the opinion of many public leaders who have loudly proclaimed their anti-niqab attitudes. Jason Kenney, the former Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, tried — and failed — to ban niqab in citizenship ceremonies. In 2015 he called the niqab “a tribal cultural practice where women are treated like property and not like human beings.” In the same year, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it a dress “rooted in a culture that is anti-women … [and] offensive that someone would hide their identity.”

A 2018 Angus Reid poll found that the majority of Canadians support a ban of niqabs on public employees. These contemporary attempts to unveil Muslim women echo British and French attempts to the same in both colonial and current times.

Medical face veils

In a recent op-ed for the Toronto Star, University of Windsor law student Tasha Stansbury pointed out that in Montréal hospitals, people are being asked to wear surgical masks. They walk in and interact with medical staff without being asked to remove their mask for identity or security purposes.

But a woman wearing a niqab walking into the same hospital would be forced by law to remove it.

A decade ago, U.S. philosophy professor Martha Nussbaumbrilliantly exposed the hypocrisy of face veil bans, in an opinion piece for the New York Times. If it is security, she asked, why can we walk into a public building bundled up against the cold with our faces covered in scarves? Why are woolly scarves not seen to hamper reciprocity and good communication between citizens in liberal democracies? She wrote:

“Moreover, many beloved, trusted professionals cover their faces all year round: surgeons, dentists, (American) football players, skiers and skaters … what inspires fear and mistrust in Europe … is not covering per se, but Muslim covering.”

Is a face mask used to help block coronavirus really that different from a niqab?

Both are garments worn for a specific purpose, in a specific place and for a specific time only. It is not worn 24/7. Once the purpose is over, the mask and niqab come off.

The calling of the sacred motivates some to wear the niqab. A highly infectious disease propels many to wear face masks.

If we all start wearing masks does it mean we have succumbed to a form of oppression? Are we submissive? Does it mean we cannot communicate with each other? If we are in Québec, will we be denied employment at a daycare? Refused a government service? Not allowed on the bus?

Source: We are all niqabis now: Coronavirus masks reveal hypocrisy of face covering bans

The misplaced moral panic at York University | Toronto Star

Amazing. Much of what is said is valid. Of course the male student had the right to request accommodation, of course we have to take accept his beliefs as sincere, but we do not have to accept this request. The authors of this piece skirt that key issue: do they favour the granting or not of the request?

The implication is they do but lack the courage to state so clearly, and just muddle things up with general comments about lack of gender equality and participation in Canada.

Importantly, the Canadian version of secularism does not require people to abandon their deeply held beliefs. Religious people are welcome to bring their ideas to the public table. As Muslim women, we may disagree with the accommodation-seeking student that Islam requires absolute social segregation between men and women (assuming the student is Muslim; his religious affiliation has not been confirmed) – but we defend the right of individuals, including this much-maligned student, to hold their personal religious opinions and to ask the state to accommodate them.

Moreover, as Canadian women, we appreciate how far academic institutions, and Canadian society in general, still are from the ideal of gender equality. Women in Canada – like women in other recovering patriarchies – experience high rates of gendered violence; are persistently underrepresented in the senior ranks of politics, law, business, and academia; and face a significant gender wage gap (Canada’s is among the highest of the OECD countries). Islam is not the threat to gender equality in Canada: patriarchy, in all its various manifestations, is.

The misplaced moral panic at York University | Toronto Star.