Of Machiavellian Tales… and Veils

Sherrie G takes a provocative look at what may be the biggest "homeland security" hole in communities, regions, and even entire nations ruled by religious fundamentalism

I originally joined Twitter because of Egypt. As a result of a combination of military service and the galloping hots for a 10thSpecial Forces guy whose thing was archaeology, I found myself in Egypt several times during the 70’s, cheerfully hiking through the Valley of the Kings and visiting the various Egyptian museums so many times I probably wore footprints into the floor.

I was raised in the Mojave Desert, so that environment has always been home to me. The people I met on my travels were patient, friendly, and more than helpful. I had always intended to go back, but political situations changed, I changed, the world changed.

Then the Arab Spring began, and Egypt got my attention yet again. I jumped in, I made friends, I learned what not to say if I wanted to continue a conversation and I learned that if I asked questions respectfully somebody would give me an answer or point me in the right direction, no matter how dumb the question might have been.

The situation kept getting more and more widespread and intense, and the next thing I knew I had friends in Bahrain, in Dubai, in Libya, in Pakistan…by this time I had begun doing some research so at least the quality of my questions got better, if the frequency did not.

At some point I began talking to the women about veils. As a California girl, I occasionally saw veiled women in the city – I don’t remember seeing a lot of veiled women in Egypt, but I was mostly in their homes and not on the streets.

Of course to veil or not to veil was a topic that got bandied about a lot. Since I am not Muslim, it is something I never had to personally make a decision on, but there were women I spoke with who gave me the feeling they not only had to decide, but it could very well be a life or death decision.

I remember giggling about how dumb Ashleigh Bancroft looked when she was veiled. It suited Christiane Amanpour perfectly, and I learned about the different types of veiling, how covered you had to be where, etc. etc. Some girl in Bahrain sent me a You-Tube video of women in a restaurant in full niqab, eating spaghetti. The logistics alone blew me away.

Finally, this Muslim guy in England started talking to me about Islam and the veil. They were interesting conversations for the most part, if delivered in a fairly stern manner. Apparently he felt I should be taking the subject a little more seriously. Well, to be honest there were a lot of things he thought I didn’t take seriously enough, but that’s another matter.

Around this time we started seeing a LOT of stories in the press about places in the world where very specific and very direct steps were being taken to prevent women from appearing in public while veiled. This remains a fairly hot topic, particularly among Muslims NOT living in the Middle East. There is also a divide between women who want to be veiled and women who do not, women who find being veiled somehow offensive, while women who veil seem to look askance at those who don’t.

I’m neutral on the subject. I think people should be able to dress as they see morally and visually fit. However, as an American, I understand why non-Muslim governments have an absolute interest in knowing who, exactly, is walking among them, no matter how disturbing it might be to the woman ordered to unveil. Niqab is not like a nun’s habit or an Amish woman’s bonnet, or even a crucifix. While it may fulfill a Muslim woman’s religious beliefs, it can and does inspire fear (and anger) in non-Muslim sharers of the sidewalk.

Recently a university in Great Britain announced that henceforth no niqab would be permitted. Apparently they have no problem with headscarves as long as they can see the face, because Niqab was specified. And a mighty hue and cry arose across Twitter. It’s not fair, it’s profiling, we are being discriminated against. All valid points. I should mention that the majority of people making the complaints were men, although there certainly were women speaking up.

So I read the arguments on both sides and finally a thought occurred to me.

I asked some of the people I was talking to if they could consider the matter from a different point of view. This is how the West deals with the prospect of terrorism, and since they can’t ban kaffirs, well, do what every nation does in the face of a problem, make it somehow the woman’s problem. In a non-secular government, matters of religion are not taken as seriously as they are in the Middle East where, in most cases, the veil is not a choice, you either wear it or you face very unpleasant consequences.

Suppose, I said, five thousand Germans, or Koreans, or Americans, or Italians decided that they were going to wreak havoc in the Middle East, for WHATEVER reason. Suppose that they had decided that mass bombings in the market place or in restaurants or in business sections was the best way to damage the greatest number of people and cause the maximum amount of physical fear and financial damage to the region.

Now the problem arises, how do we get in and out with the least possibility of being captured or stopped in advance? Because, you know, we’re all blond and blue eyed or otherwise don’t look Middle Eastern, and while they are having this conversation in a French café or German gasthaus, a couple of veiled women walk by, and all conversation ceases as the wheels begin to turn.

I am not by nature Machiavellian, although I do have a fairly well-developed sense of imagination. If I were one of five thousand people wanting to create total havoc, what better disguise is there than one which is demanded by the State? It is not even required by this group of crazies that the person in niqab actually be a woman. And who could wander through the market or the offices or the restaurants with less notice than someone wearing anonymous clothing, required by the government to wear this clothing, than a small group of people in veils?

So I said, what would happen if suddenly, in the heart of the Middle East, people were being killed and property was being destroyed at an alarming rate, by means which no one could figure out, since the purpose of niqab is to render one as invisible as possible? And, once they inevitably figured out what was happening, what would happen to a country whose main religious tenets REQUIRED people to appear in disguise?

Not being particularly optimistic when it comes to a sea change in the habits of Muslims, one of two things would happen, as I see it. Either women would be indiscriminately slaughtered on the streets, or women would be forbidden to leave their homes at all. Neither of these alternatives bode well for the Muslim men who would be imposing these conditions upon their female family members.

Or…is it possible that full veiling could become a thing of the past in the heart of the area where full veiling was invented? Since the law of the State is religious law, is it even vaguely possible that when confronting directly what the rest of the world has been confronting since 9/11/01, and in the interests of their own self-preservation, some form of change might be effected?

I don’t want to call it liberating, because that seems to be a very western way of looking at what the results might be. On the other hand, I have no idea how many of the women who vociferously argue for their right to veil would stop arguing if it no longer was required as part of their daily lives. Does the veil matter so much as a matter of religion, or as a matter of keeping the family peace?

I was told that this was a dangerous question to ask, and it very well may be. On the other hand, if the possibility is discussed and dealt with before the reality exists, it could be a dangerous question NOT to ask. I cannot possibly be the first person to recognize that this is a problem. I would like being the person who made it important enough to digest and discuss.

Your thoughts are welcome. Stay tuned.


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