Matthew Parris writes in The Times today under the headline, “Please uncover your face. It’s our custom”. That says it all, really.
He talks of how he would not knowingly offend someone. He took off his shoes when visiting Middle Eastern mosques. Fair enough. There’s a Chinese custom of spitting in public, but we in the UK (most of the West, I suspect) consider that unacceptable behaviour (although you see yobs doing it often).
He says further that he wouldn’t knock back booze in the streets of a Muslim country or walk about skimpily dressed.
So why is it that he sees “more women with their faces covered in Tower Hamlets than I did in Damascus”?
He goes on:
Would it be wrong to try to convey to communities in Britain who adopt the full hijab that, though it is a woman’s legal right to dress as she chooses, she should recognise that she’s in a country where many people will find a masked face disturbing, and that (without meaning to) she is acting in a culturally inappropriate manner, which may offend? Do the masked women I see in the street in Whitechapel actually know this? I cannot say, because I’ve never spoken to them; or, rather, when I do, they look away and walk away.
This too, in Britain, is rude. Do they know? Shouldn’t they?
In a word, “Yes”. Of course they should know. And, yes, the thought of having to try to communicate with someone whose face is hidden behind cloth is rather disturbing, and I for one, if wanting to ask directions, say, would shun that woman in favour of the one whose face is not covered.
But, then, that’s the point, I guess. The former woman would not wish to have any conversation with me (or would feel religiously or culturally prevented from doing so).
The point is, however, that, in our culture, we should not be made to walk streets where a large percentage, in some areas, have their faces hidden. If I wore a mask I might be stopped by the next cop who happened along.
We even get Muslims demanding the “right” to hide their faces in court – and misguided civil-libertarians supporting that demand.