Lifting the Veil

I remember going to London in the 1970s and going to visit Duggie Fields in Earl’s Court and turning a corner and coming across an Arab woman, covered in black head to toe and wearing a strange gold metal mask. It looked a bit like the beak of a hawk or owl and she scared the shit out of me. It was as if a hawk headed Egyptian god had come down to eat me. Yikes! Scared the hell out of me.

I had no idea where she was from but I knew I didn’t want to go there. I found it utterly threatening and sinister. Today I believe that she was probably a tribal Arab woman from one of the Persian Gulf monarchies like Qatar and was wearing what is called a batoola. And I think that the fact that the mask was gold means that she was high society.
I know I’m not supposed to but I still get a creeped out feeling when I see a veiled woman in a western city like London or New York. I know they are doing it for religious reasons, but somehow withholding one’s identity in such a way strikes me as aggressive and threatening. Maybe it goes back to watching cowboy movies as a kid, where the bandits holding up the stagecoach usually had bandanas pulled up over their faces, but I still tend to associate masking with robbery and terrorism. Women in burkas are even scarier than nuns, and nuns scared the hell out of me as kid. I didn’t think they had hair! One day I caught a glimpse of hair uncovered by the wimple and I realized that nuns were women in disguise.

If a woman wants to go around in a babushka, that doesn’t bother me. But I don’t think society should force women to cover their hair. Hair is beautiful. If there is a God, blondes are one of his better inventions. But the all-male mullahs of the Iranian Islamic revolution decided that the Prophet wanted women’s hair covered. Supposedly the Prophet indicated this intention in the Koran, dictating that women shouldn’t “display their beauty or ornaments except to their husbands, fathers, husband’s fathers, sons, husbands sons, brothers, brothers sons, sisters sons, or their slaves. Also their male servants free of physical needs,” which I take to mean those whose testicles have been removed for one reason or another. Maybe it’s me, but shouldn’t the Prophet have done something about slavery and castration first, instead of worrying about visible pony tails?

And so the mullahs made women showing their hair punishable by 100 lashes and six months in the slammer. But the brave beauties of Tehran are fighting back, inching their Hermes and Chanel scarves farther and farther back, trying to hold the line against the past. And that’s exactly what’s going on here. The future is fighting against the past, which is waging war to make a comeback.

Supposedly the mask and the veil are intended to protect women from the lustful gazes of men, but trust me gals, if you were unveiled the rest of your get-up would be enough of a turn-off for many of us. I don’t go for looks that I associate with the Blessed Virgin or Sister Imelda, who used to whack my knuckles with a ruler. On the other hand, I must admit that I find modest women sexy. I find a girl in a skirt at the knee, a twin set and pearls much sexier than one with a midriff and butt cleavage short shorts. But a society where men are grossly unfamiliar with female anatomy and charms is one that programs them for alienation, perversion and fanaticism. In fact I believe that the veil actually produces the opposite of the supposedly intended effect in the societies where they are worn. As long as women are veiled then men will have an unhealthy curiousity regarding them, and awkward manner with them and a very low threshold of arousal in their presence. The countries where women are most likely to be groped by strangers are the countries where they are veiled. In New York, where young women go around half naked in season, such behavior is rare.

But that’s not my only problem with the veil. I also resent it, because in the national security state that we have today, allowing Muslim women to wear full body burkas some is giving them rights that we ourselves no longer have. When we travel we have to partially strip at the airport, remove shoes, jackets, hats and sunglasses. Now they want to x-ray us through our clothes. My community board district in Manhattan alone has 364 police surveillance cameras. So, in our maximum security state, should we allow certain people to go around with hidden identities because an invisible and very possibly fictional authority ordered it?
“What did the culprits look like?”
“Well, they were black shadows from top to bottom. They had no faces.”
I wonder what would happen to me if I went around Manhattan in a veil. Right now I have to show my driver’s license to get into a business appointment in just about any office building in mid-town. . So why should people be able to go around masked? I find it disturbing even on Halloween.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France had the courage to stand up to a cult determined to erase our civilization, along with its modernism, and return us to medieval ways by supporting a ban on full body veils. He said, “The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom.”
I was dismayed that the supposed paragon of American rationality, the New York Times was offended by Sarkozy’s position, insisting that people must be free to choose to wear or not to wear full body veils, a position that seems an absurd exercise in bend-over-backwards liberalism. I believe that if we permit full body veils to be worn in public, we are allowing individuals, by right of their religion, to behave in a way that subverts the public interest.
What if I went around in a burka? Would they let me in bank? Drive a car? Would they buzz me into Fred Leighton’s estate jewelry store. Would 605 Third Avenue let me up to see my lawyer? If everyone wore a veil in the West we’d be set back a thousand years. Which is, I suppose, the whole point. I would prefer to be set back 2500 years to ancient Greece where common sense was respected.

The creepiest thing about the New York Times defending burkas is that they are worn by adherents to the very same groups responsible for acts that caused the government’s invasion of our privacy in the first place. Burkas are Taliban couture, you know, the Taliban, the guys who drove airliners into the World Trade Center, murdering thousands of innocents while saying their prayers. I wonder how the Times would react to a mass adoption of ski masks in Manhattan. Imagine them worn by men in our banks and airports. Imagine masked men knocking on your doors. Imagine the Klu Klux Klan kit as business wear. I believe that in a civil society that’s drifting toward a national security state, we can reasonably expect people, for the greater good, to voluntarily refrain from hiding their identities, with the possible exception of Halloween. If they get to wear veils, do I get to do my banking in a balaclava? Unlikely.

And while some degree of multi-culturalism is good, especially for tourism, (look at the Amish people, kids!) I don’t think we are required to encourage groups that seek to efface the individual in deference to an abstract totalitarian conformity, and who seek to bring about their anachronistic code through a combination of obscurantist readings of ancients texts and brutal intimidation. The Taliban enforced the burka in Afghanistan saying that “the face of a woman is a source of corruption.” I say the face of a woman is a source of inspiration, comfort and joy.
And so, brethren and sistren, I’d like to close this sermonette with a couple of quotes from the Right Reverend H.L.Mencken: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
And from 1925: The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous… True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.”
So hey, lady, take off your hat.

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