Social Question

Iclamae's avatar

What does the face veil represent to you?

Asked by Iclamae (2409 points ) July 21st, 2010

I read an article about Syria banning face veils from their universities. Specifically being anything that covers the face fully, so the niqab and the burkah. I originally read a different, more vague article, but here’s the one I will be referring to:
http://tinyurl.com/22lff83

It is a different question to ask if you agree with it, so I’ll ask that separately. Right now I’m curious about how people view the face coverings. This article implied that the original logic for the ban was that parents felt the full coverings represented extremism and felt unsafe. What does the face veil represent for you and how do you react when you see someone wearing one? Either niqab or burqa are fine.

If you are unfamiliar with the different head coverings, you can go here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10611398
Down, you’ll find a handy little thing that gives you the name and description of each covering. Note that the illustration for niqab is a little misleading. It is specifically a head veil, not necessarily accompanied by the full length body covering.

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38 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I am against banning veil, burqa or the hijab – it is paternalistic, imperialist and yes, sexist because it is nonetheless anti-woman. When I see someone with a covering, I don’t make a point of staring like a lot of other people and I remember that they might have a myriad of reasons for doing so and I feel sad for the portion that are pressured into wearing it.

tranquilsea's avatar

What @Simone_De_Beauvoir said. We have no business telling women what they should or shouldn’t wear. Period.

Iclamae's avatar

I was a bit naive at first about the fact that they were religious at all. At college, I met and saw a surprising number of girls wearing scarves around their hair. I thought they were very pretty and a nice idea, fashion wise. When I found out that they were a religious or traditional act, I didn’t really think much about it. Seemed natural.

While I haven’t met anyone who wears the full burqah or niqab, my assumption is that it wouldn’t affect me very much either. Actually, the number of pictures with them in the news has gotten me used to them. Despite the negative connotations often given, I don’t really associate women wearing them with terrorism either. I consider them along the same lines as the Orthodox Jewish girls who wear the long skirt, etc.

I understand how interacting with someone whose facial expressions can’t be read would be offputting. But I don’t really associate it with extremist muslim.

YARNLADY's avatar

I an mot a member of any religion what so ever, but I do have a complete burqa and I enjoy wearing it to befuddle people.

Luffle's avatar

Were women allowed to wear the niqab or the burkah in their identification cards or passports? I don’t have a problem with them wearing it in most circumstances but I do have a problem with them wearing it when it affects security measures.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Luffle Your concern is quite common these days – do you think people were this concerned about Muslim women posing a threat pre 9/11? Could there be some thinly veiled prejudice in such a belief? Are you really concerned about security or does the caring about security absolve you from figuring out what this sudden unease with burqas is all about? (all questions not directed at you but maybe you have thoughts?)

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with the ban. I do not consider it the same as orthodox Jewish women wearing long skirts. If I meet someone who is wearing a burqa I do not treat them any differently, but I can tell you the two times I have interacted with women in a burqa they seemed very restricted.

Here is what I wonder. Are the women at the universities happy there is a ban? Can they use it as an excuse not to have to follow a rule that maybe their parents ask of them, but they don’t like. This happens sometimes with medical care when a religion forbids medical intervention, when the court orders care, the parents can feel good in front of their God, because it was out of their hands, and their child is saved.

And, don’t the professors need to know that the corect person is taking the tests in class?

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I would argue that people who were not concerned before 9/11 were not paying attention to terrorism around the world. And, it is not about them being Muslim for me. I would be just as nervous about security if they were white Christians, or Asian Buddhists. The point is if someone is veiled you really don’t know what they are or who they are. I would guess in airports they can be taken into a separate room and identified by a woman, but that is a lot of extra work.

Luffle's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I’m not trying to be offensive. It has nothing to do with Muslim women. I’d ask the same thing about people being able to wear ski masks. I’m just curious as to whether or not they are able to take the pictures with their veils on.

I had no idea there were full length veils before you posted this either.

It’s perfectly fine if they wear the veil and have some other way of identifying that it’s them like a fingerprint. My concern is people who might wear veils as disguises to get away with using someone else’s identity or framing the Muslim community.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie @Luffle It just seems doubtful that this is the focus of people’s security concerns – civil liberties chip-away and security paranoia have been rising in the past decade and no one bats an eye but women wearing burqas – there is a violation of some sort…to me it seems like a classic ‘look over there while we’re going to waste all your money on this unnecessary war’ kind of trick – seems to work on many people.

Iclamae's avatar

@JLeslie There are some other articles posted on the internet about this story that have shown a mixed opinion, but a majority against. Those opposed are worried it will prevent them from going to college. (This is a syrian wide law. I originally thought it was just 1 university).

on another note, France is working on/has banned face veils in public. It was brought up because of women driving with them and the debate about whether they can see clearly at all times. I think the concerns regarding identity are legitimate but should be handled more tactfully and differently. Muslims students taking exams could have the option of removing the veil or using another method of identification

Why do you consider them different from the Orthodox skirts? (or the orthodox population that doesn’t use electricity from Friday evening to Saturday?) I use them as my example because they are the only other group of very conservative religious people I’ve met.

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Well, I know I have no negative feeling about Muslims. I don’t think they are all terrorists, or hateful, or anything really. I think there are some crackpot Muslims out there, but true in every religion. Today at my gym, I was swimming laps and a young girl was fully clothed in the pool. I assume she is Muslim. Another girl takes a Latin fusion dance class dressed head to toe and her hair covered. How can they be comfortable? I guess they would be uncomfortable if they are not covered, since they are raised with those rules and values, but they are restricted by their clothing.

JLeslie's avatar

@Iclamae For me the veil is one step too far. It makes a person faceless, which to me is like saying they don’t exist. I am fine with the hijab, I don’t see that any different than Orthodox Jewish restrictions, they cover their hair also.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie I hear they are more comfortable in many ways.

JLeslie's avatar

@Iclamae I meant to add that it is an interesting point that girls may not be allowed to go to university if they cannot wear a veil. I actually was surprised that women who go to university would want to wear a veil. Or, that they are allowed to go when the family is so strict, but that would be a prejudgement on my part.

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir What do you mean specifically?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JLeslie I mean they feel safer and more comfortable physically.

JLeslie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That is what I was saying. That they would be uncomfortable not covered. Psychlogically uncomfortable.

JLeslie's avatar

Sorry, I can’t get past the face being covered. I want women to have the right to choose for themselves whatever they want, but I seem to always draw the line at the veil. Anything else is fine with me. As a citizen I prefer everyone be identifiable, and as a woman I find it oppressive.

YARNLADY's avatar

To me, the controversy has nothing to do with clothing, but rather with the ability to conceal your identity. If facial veils are allowed, would masks of every variety also be allowed? Why would a religion be allowed a right that any other member wouldn’t be allowed.

Luffle's avatar

Is it a necessity for them to wear veils that cover their face completely in order to follow their religion or is it by preference? To my understanding, it’s by preference and some head coverings are even seen as a fashion statement by some Muslims. If it is an issue of preference and they have other alternatives for head coverings, I don’t see anything wrong with banning them.

Iclamae's avatar

@JLeslie that’s what I wanted to know. thanks for the answer.

With regard to your comment about finding them oppressive, my assumption, as with all religions, is that if it bothers them enough, they’ll stop wearing it. But I acknowledge that not everyone is strong enough to battle their family’s religion or cultural customs. HOWEVER, I find that true of all religions and strict customs.

I have a friend pseudo dating a very conservative jewish girl who can not take the relationship further because her parents want her to marry a “nice jewish boy” and she has no interest in fighting them or the religious aspect of that decision.

Iclamae's avatar

@Luffle It is not Islamic law to wear them. It is a custom that is optional. That is another reason why there are so many different styles for covering the hair. However, many people would argue that peer pressure or pressure from the society push women in the burqas. I don’t agree with that argument but I have heard people make it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Luffle I think the OP is just talking about the veil, not a hijab or other head coverings. I don’t think anyone has a problem with someone covering their hair, unless they are hateful anti-Muslim bigots. Although, I can see an argument against it for schools and places of work that require a uniform, but that would be another topic.

TexasDude's avatar

I see the veil as oppressive to women from my western point of view. However, I do not support banning it, just like I could not support making it mandatory either.

Iclamae's avatar

@YARNLADY Intriguing… I haven’t been thinking of it in terms of a mask. I have been thinking of it in terms of the religious apparel, like the orthodox skirts. hrrrrm. Not sure how that affects my opinion of it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Iclamae I agree, it can be difficult to counter your family or spouse no matter what religion. I really am not specifically targeting Muslims, I am not ok with anyone covering their face, the religion is a non-issue to me. In my first answer I mentioned that some women might like the rule because then they will be have the law or a regulation on their side to rise up against their family. That is why I wondered if the women are upset about the ban, or if it is other people who are fighting against the ban?

Iclamae's avatar

@JLeslie I figured you were for the security aspect but I just wanted to poke more because of some tricky wording and details, to be sure I was reading your comments right. The opponents seem to be mixed from what I gather on the internet. And there were some Muslim women who agree with you regarding helping with family matters.

mammal's avatar

i am against it, because people have a fundamental right to wear what they want, this is a dangerous precedent, i think the motivation for some Politicians to attempt a comprehensive ban is completely unacceptable it’s totally fascist and there is no way, absolutely no way this will ever occur in the UK. i’m surprised that Spain with a so called socialist government and France has become horribly conservative and corrupt under Sarkozy.

Personally i would like to cover this particular politician and his fascist piggy face with a body bag, nasty right wing bastard, he hasn’t even got him within himself to go down the `it’s oppressive to women, and sexist road.’ it’s just plain old fear and intolerance.

However there are situations whereby the veil must be removed of course, where identification is necessary. Banking, Passport control etc.

JLeslie's avatar

@Iclamae I grew up with Muslim friends from Iran and Pakistan. Total non-issue. None of us thought twice about our religions.

YARNLADY's avatar

If you walked in to the DMV dressed as Darth Vader and asked them to take your picture because it is your free speech or some such other right should they allow it?

JLeslie's avatar

@YARNLADY Another GA. I know in some countries women are not allowed to drive. I wonder if in the Muslim countries that do allow women to drive, if they allow them to have a drivers license without a picture of their face?

downtide's avatar

I am opposed to any kind of ban because I believe that everyone has the right to express their religion however they want. However I stress however they want and I do not belive that Muslim women should feel in any way forced or pressured to wear a burqua or niqab if they don’t genuinely want to. But a blanket ban is not the way to resolve that issue.

LuckyGuy's avatar

To me the veil represents hiding one’s identity. There are signs at my bank asking me to remove hats, masks and hoods. That is so security can get a good picture of me and know who I am in case I attempt to do something foolish. I have no trouble complying with that request. If you want to wear the veil, fine. But do not use my bank.

Image how a soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq must feel when approached by someone wearing a full burqa. What’s under there? A man hiding as a woman? Is this the sniper who has been firing on us? Is the person wearing a bomb? Have we been searching for this person? Is this one on the terrorist list? Or is it simply a woman who has different religious beliefs from mine? I’d better slide the safety just in case.

Qingu's avatar

@worriedguy, your name is fitting; you’re a scaredy-cat.

I don’t think women who wear burqas should get special exceptions to security measures at banks, airports, etc. However, such cases are pretty rare; I’m not familiar with burqa-wearing women refusing to comply with such measures.

I’m also not familiar with any snipers pretending to be women in Afghanistan or Iraq. There was the case of the terrorist who dressed up as a woman to get through a security checkpoint, but they caught him.

Frankly, I think limiting what people can wear because of irrational cowardice has no place in a free society.

Iclamae's avatar

@worriedguy bombs can be hidden under any clothing and if you know what the sniper looks like, he’s not a very good sniper.

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

To me, it represents religious oppression of women.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ve said this before: Veils or headscarfes to cover hair are fine if women want to wear them. But a veil is not required to prevent women from being looked at as a sex object as many Muslims would argue, because this is the problem of ignorant men – and foolish men should not be the reason for women to turn into faceless ghosts whenever they are in public. If anyone has to change it’s the men, not the women. When I look at women I see human beings, not sex objects. Good parenting is required to raise boys so that they become mature men. When I look at a beautiful women I see beauty. When women look at attractive men, they see beauty too. No big deal.

Dehumanizing people by taking their faces away is very wrong in my opinion. Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication. They are a primary means of conveying social information among humans. There are seven universally recognized emotions shown through facial expressions: fear, anger, surprise, contempt, disgust, happiness, and sadness. Regardless of culture, these expressions are the same.

Face perception is the process by which the brain and mind understand and interpret the human face. Mirror neurons help humans understand goals and intentions of other humans and many researchers argue that the mirror neuron system is involved in empathy. The human face’s proportions and expressions are important to identify origin, emotional tendencies, health qualities, and some social information. From birth, faces are important in the individual’s social interaction. Face perceptions are very complex as the face expressions involve vast involvement of areas in the brain. Sometimes damaged parts of the brain can cause specific impairments in understanding faces or prosopagnosia (Source: Wikipedia).

As I said there’s no problem for women wearing a headscarf either as a symbol for religion or to keep the head warm in winter. There is a problem with face veils and moderate Muslim women should come up with creative strategies to make this unfortunate tradition disappear. Face-hiding garments are wrong except when walking to the south pole or riding a motorcycle at high speeds.

Women should participate in public life, show their faces and have a significant influence in society. Showing their faces in private is not enough. Faces is what makes us human. As social creatures we rely on face perception. Therefore taking faces away is a way of dehumanizing people. To me a burqa symbolizes a mobile prison. Not even the eyes are visible through the bars of the women’s tiny prison windows.

In Western countries we got dress codes too. In a city it’s not appropriate to run around naked and it’s also not appropriate to run around fully cloaked. This has little to do with religion. It’s a matter of culture and dress code. When Western women travel to Iran, for example as journalists, they respect the local dress code which means wearing a headscarf. This is okay. We should respect that. But we also want some respect when it comes to our culture and our dress codes in Western countries.

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