The idea that women in niqab can assimilate properly into a community or be effective as teachers distresses me, because it is at heart disingenuous. Clearly, meaningful social exchange requires a face. And the argument that non-verbal communication is inessential only addresses half the problem. The obscured woman, who can see her interlocutor clearly through her slits, is enjoying contact with a face; it's the other party, conversing with a tiny black tent, that bears the burden of the discomfort. It would be more sincere for niqab-wearers to say that they accept the cost of refusing to compromise on the niqab; that it will be considered provocative by their non-Muslim fellow citizens, that it might slow their own assimilation into British society.The point that follows is that teachers are role models and children should not have to be confronted with a discussion about why a male teacher may find the faces of his female colleagues morally offensive. Further, the underlying idea that men cannot control their sexual impulses is discriminating to men. I can appreciate the argument but I am a liberal so I have to disagree, mostly.
(Showing the face to children of any sex is typically not a problem for the woman in the niqab. When the kids are turning into young men and become a threat, they are also old enough to appreciate that some teachers in the school are very serious about their religion).
- Religion is an individual choice, mostly. Although sometimes people don´t think about it as an option, it is as natural to them as breathing air, thinking about the loved ones and falling asleep.
- A society is a gathering of individual people, all with their own habits, thoughts and beliefs.
- A liberal society is a society where everybody is respecting that people are different.
- People who are originally from another culture and country are not lesser people than those whose parents and grandparents were born in the country. They are just the same and deserve the same rights and respect.
Therefore, it doesn´t make sense to tell a person that your values and beliefs are not appreciated in our corner. It is rather rude, actually.
That said, I too think it is desirable if less women wear the niqab. But I do not demand it from them. People in Egypt are becoming more intolerant, ignorant and religious at the same time. Of course there is a connection. But I try to meet that trend with opposition, arguments and education. Not a ban, demand or legal regulation. For the same reason is neo-nazi groups allowed to demonstrate in Western cities: because it would do no good to shut them down (they will continue recruiting underground and will feel victimized). Instead, they are allowed to speak; in the name of democracy and to protect democracy.
The proper conduct is to welcome everybody, regardless of belief. To realize that this is new to me, but I will learn and understand. Above all, to recognize my own fear of what I do not know. Instead of saying "poor darling, hiding under that", think "oh, did you see what beautiful eyes."
All arguments in these discussion are based on the same fear and assumption: we know what we have; we see what we can get and we don´t like it, therefore we resist it.
I can not agree with that position. My liberal heart is bumping too fast. There is room for everybody, everywhere. Just because my neighbour is Buddhist, I don´t have to be. Or care. Or worry. It is not to say there is not a problem, or that non-muslim peoples position should not be respected. But it is to say that Blair is looking in the wrong direction and that he in doing so are becoming part of the problem instead of the solution.