Jim raises some good points in the comments section of the other day's "Veiled intolerance" post. I have enough to say about it that I thought I'd do it as a new post, rather than as a comment to that one.
Taking things a bit out of order:
Hiding one's face is an act of distrust and isolation.But this is a cultural thing. Hiding one's face is an act of distrust in your culture (and mine, indeed). But in Ms Azmi's culture, to show her face would be an act of disrespect, and, in fact, would be shameful.
That points out a key question: to what extent are people who join another culture expected to adapt to that culture and give up their own? The answer to that question has varied over time (and cultures). We generally try to be more tolerant of people retaining their native culture than we once were, and I think that's a good thing — it's what I'm advocating in the "Veiled intolerance" post. But it's not the only answer, and it hasn't always been that way.
There are also, clearly, limits, and the other key is deciding where the boundaries should be. Someone who came from a culture where any clothing was considered disrespectful would have to adapt to our norms, at least to the point of covering certain bits, because nudity is not something we're willing to accomodate in our culture. Jim is arguing, along that same line, that face-covering is also something we shouldn't have to accomodate. I'm arguing it the other way. The British authorities are with Jim.
This is why people take their hats off when they enter buildings — not to do so shows disrespect.That's also cultural. I have a story....
Around ten years ago, on a visit to the United States Holocaust Museum, I walked into one of the exhibits behind a school group from the south (Georgia or Alabama, I forget which), and in front of an old-ish Jewish man who wore a yarmulke. Some of the school boys were wearing baseball caps, and as they entered the exhibit an adult brusquely told them that this was place of respect, and they should take off their caps! Which they did. The man behind me quietly observed that if they want to show respect they should all keep their heads covered. I nodded to him, and said, "Yes, but they have to show respect their way in order for it to be meaningful." He thought about that for a moment, then nodded back and said, "You're right."
Turning it around, one has to wonder what someone says with a gesture that has different meanings in their culture and yours. Are they giving you their culture's message? Or your culture's? I'm told that in Turkish culture it's rude and disrespectful to show someone the bottoms of your feet, so one never puts one's feet up in that attitude there. Here, it's an expression of comfort and casualness, but not of disrespect, and if someone puts his feet up in my house I consider it a sign that he feels comfortable enough there to set formalities aside. It's a friendly act, to me. If a Turkish man puts his feet up in my house, what does that say? In general, I'm not sure.
In the case to hand, I think Ms Azmi considers it shameful to show her face to strange men (men outside her family). That's what removing her veil would mean in her culture — that she has low morals. It's easy to say that she should just adapt to our culture... but how easy would you or I find it to adapt to that hypothetical culture that said we should walk around naked?
Perhaps I'm just reactionary, but I wouldn't be comfortable if (e.g.) my doctor had his face covered, whatever the reason.Well, I don't think you're "reactionary" at all, no. I think you're coming from your own culture, and that's normal, of course. And, in fact, in Ms Azmi's culture her doctor wouldn't cover her face either — because her doctor would be a woman, and they would be unveiled in front of each other. But I'm sure that the doctor would have a veil ready to don when she leaves her office.
We think of airport security as a classic place where this is a problem, and it is a problem there for us because we have so few people who push this issue, so we're unprepared. But in airports in Arab countries there are separate security and waiting areas for women, where women check women with no men present, and the veils do come off. Even here, all that's needed is a visually screened area where no men are present during the search. That's not hard to provide.
[...] there's nothing in the Qu'aran that compels them. It's just an Arab interpretation of the commandment to dress modestly.I don't think that's relevant, because it's all interpretation. There's nothing in the Bible that stopped Catholics from eating meat on Fridays, either. It was interpretation/custom, and it was changed in 1966, when Pope Paul VI limited it to the period of Lent. Many of the Jewish customs come from the Talmud, not the Bible, interpretations by rabbinical scholars. They're religious/cultural law nonetheless.
And, in fact, I'm not arguing that we should accomodate any of these customs specifically because they're religious customs. I'm arguing that we should accomodate them because they're part of the person's culture (which includes religion) — and because there's no harm to us in accomodating them.
But would the same logic apply to a teen-age boy who decided he wanted to walk around school/town/wherever with a balaclava helmet on?I think if the teen-aged boy, or you, walked around with a balaclava and refused to take it off, citing cultural norms, we should accept that after verifying that you weren't just making that up. But you are making it up, which is a central part of the issue. Of course the folks in the bank would freak out, as people do in this video.
If I walked into the bank or some such place with a balaclava on I'd expect to be asked to remove it; why should there be one rule for me and another for Muslim women?
But that's really a straw-man argument. We can always make up scenarios where the accomodation will be unacceptable (as I did with the nudity culture, above). The point, though, is whether it serves society best to accept and accomodate real, well-known, common cultural differences.
I think it does.