Monday, May 24

Box men & burqas

For the record, I agree with Steve Chapman:

The veil, we are told, is a symbol of oppression imposed on women by husbands and other male relatives. Could be. But how do the critics know? The same thing can be said about surgically enhanced breasts in Europe and the United States.

Just because a few adults may be coerced into doing something doesn't mean others should not be allowed to do it of their own free will. If men are employing violence to control wives and daughters, the reasonable response is to punish them sternly while encouraging women to report the crimes.

But outlawing the burqa merely trades one form of compulsion (you must wear this) for another (you may not wear this). Besides, it is bound to backfire: If brutal men can no longer prevent women from wearing veils when they leave the house, they can prevent them from leaving the house at all.

It may be difficult to interact with someone whose face you can't see. But lots of things that are difficult when unfamiliar soon become tolerable or irrelevant.

For my part, every time I see a discussion about the burqa, I think of Abe Kōbō's The box man. Abe says,
In seeing there is love, in being seen there is abhorrence. One grins, trying to bear the pain of being seen. But not just anyone can be someone who only looks. If the one who is looked at looks back, then the person who was looking becomes the one who is looked at.
(Actually, I'm probably thinking of a niqab, the black dress that covers everything but the eyes, not the burqa, which covers the eyes as well. And apparently I'm not the only one who's thought of this connection.)

So should I appear on the street in France wearing a niqab (and nothing else)? Or on the street in a more "permissive" country as a box man?

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