Saturday, March 01, 2008
Struggling With The Veil
Last week I put up a post linking to an article about Walmart's apology to a Muslim woman customer who was the target of a jest by a Walmart employee. It was not a post I had set out to do. But when I came across the article while reading the news online, I did a quick post about it in a rather hasty fashion.
I am sorry to say that my comments on the matter were rather visceral in nature, and, in retrospect, perhaps a bit harsh. I gave the impression that I believed that any Muslim woman in this country wearing a veil in public deserved whatever happened to her, which I really did not mean. I certainly did not mean to convey the impression that wearing a veil was a license to taunt or harass a Muslim woman. I have since taken the post down, as it was below my personal standards that I set for myself here.
This is a rather delicate issue for me. I consider myself to be a male feminist. I support reproductive rights for women, believe in equal pay for equal work, and reject patriarchal ways of thinking. So, on one level, I find the idea of Muslim women being forced or brainwashed into wearing veils as a public badge of inferiority. Even worse, as an atheist, I see the veil as an act of submission to an entity, Allah, that I know does not even exist. Like Hasidic males with their locks of hair dangling on each side of their head, or Catholics on Ash Wednesday walking around in public with dabs of soot on their foreheads, the veil represents to me a bold affirmation to society of one's belief in something that I find to be totally insane.
On another, seemingly contradictory level, I find the idea of Muslim women wearing veils in our society to be a provocative act. The veil serves not only as a physical barrier, but a psychological barrier as well. It is as if the Muslim woman views the rest of us as some kind of contamination to be kept at bay. The message I get from seeing a veiled Muslim woman is "I abhor the prospect of having to associate with you."
I understand that there is some validity to the argument that for a Muslim woman, wearing a veil from her perspective is in its own way a feminist act. It is an expression of her individuality and her right to deal with our society on her own terms. But given the fact that we find ourselves in a struggle with an ideology that mandates the wearing of the veil wherever it takes hold, I find it hard to be sympathetic to this point of view. Instead, I can't help but see a Muslim woman wearing a veil as being a public expression of solidarity with the very ideology with which we find ourselves at war.
In the last couple of years, I have noticed Muslim women here on Long Island in our shopping malls and even driving on our streets, garbed in the veil. So, for me, this is not just some academic exercise. It is something I encounter on an increasingly frequent basis, and I feel an extreme discomfort everytime I see it. I want to see an America that is increasingly more rational and secular, and seeing Muslim women openly wearing veils in this country is a sign to me that reason is in retreat.
I don't want Muslim women who wear the veil to be harmed in any way. But at the same time, I can't deny that I desire a climate that serves to discourage them from wearing it. I pride myself on not being a man who succumbs to prejudice and bigotry. I find myself struggling with this issue because it represents a clash of my own values, in this case my respect for religious freedom colliding with what I fear to be the very threat to freedom that the veil represents to me.
This post is a departure from much of my past writing here at Exercise in Futility. I am baring my inner most thoughts about a rather heated topic. I am revealing my fears and prejudices for all to see and to comment on. I would appreciate reading what others have to write about this subject and the publicization of my own thoughts on it. If by chance any Muslims come across this post and wish to add their own two cents, I certainly welcome them to do so. While the veil is not as big an issue as it is in places like the United Kingdom, which have larger and more traditional Muslim populations, I think it will become an increasingly important issue here in the United States in future years.