Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Veiled threats

In today's Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente (snippet below) takes on the very sensitive issue of the Muslim veil. In my mind, pushing anyone to conform with a societal dress code -- whether Western or Muslim -- is out of line. But it is more complicated. There are issues of seperateness involved. And intolerance flows both ways. Would a Muslim-dominated Western society use the tools of democracy to enforce its rules on non-Muslims? Not in traditional Muslim culture, but likely in an Islamicist state. Mark Steyn and others claim Europe, with its declining native birth rate, could head that way. People going about their business covered in ways that hide identity and emotion are challenging the social rules of Europeans and most other cultures, but, at the same time, are causing no real harm. Whether women really want to wear the niqab, and why they might want to, in the West, is a question I'd like to se more discussion on. But there's legitimate reasons to talk about the impact of immigration without pressuring people already here to conform to some kind of dress code:

The reason to get fussed is that the veil -- specifically the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered -- has crystallized the issue of Islamic separateness. For many people, it stands for the deliberate rejection of Western norms. They argue that it is a political symbol as much as a religious one. And so it has become a lightning rod for the many stresses and woes of newly multicultural Europe.

Meanwhile, in Detroit (Hamtramck is actually an enclave in the north-central part of the city), a judge threw out the testimony of a woman who would't show her face while testifying in his court. And that was big enough news to make London's Daily Telegraph (although the reporter was in Los Angeles, strange as that may seem):

Defeat for woman who refused to take off her veil
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles

A judge threw out a Muslim woman's court case against a hire car company because she refused to remove her veil when she testified.

Ginnah Muhammad, 42, wore a niqab – a scarf and veil covering the head and face that leaves only the eyes visible – for a court hearing in Hamtramck, near Detroit. She was contesting a $2,750 (£1,470) charge from a car hire company for damage to a vehicle she said was caused by thieves.

Paul Paruk, the district judge, told her that he needed to be able to see her face to gauge whether she was telling the truth.

He advised her that if she did not remove the veil while testifying the case would be dismissed. She refused to take it off.

"I just feel so sad," Ms Muhammad told the Detroit Free Press. "I feel that the court is there for justice for us. I didn't feel like the court recognised me as a person that needed justice. I just feel I can't trust the court."

Mr Paruk said he told Ms Muhammad to remove the veil because it was his job to determine "the veracity of somebody's claim". He added: "Part of that, you need to identify the witness and you need to look at the witness and watch how they testify."

Michigan law does not stipulate how religious attire worn to court should be handled so judges have discretion to rule on such matters individually.

Metropolitan Detroit has one of the country's largest Muslim populations but Mr Paruk said it was the first time someone had come before him wearing a niqab.

Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the judge violated Ms Muhammad's civil rights. He called for greater sensitivity towards the Muslim population.

The wearing of a niqab is the subject of intense debate in Britain after Jack Straw, the former home secretary, said Muslim women should remove their veils as he felt they were "a visible statement of separation and difference".

It has also triggered controversy in the US. In 2003 a Muslim woman from Florida unsuccessfully tried to sue the state for ordering that her face be visible in her driver's licence photograph.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Facial identity is important. Even though we may think someone can be trusted, we need to see the face (for what it's worth -- that may not be enough for trustworthiness, but is sure is for identification). It is purely a matter of identification. I need to see whom I'm facing and talking to. It could be anyone under there.