By Bob Quarteroni
WILKES-BARRE, Pa — I was wandering around Kirby Park here not long ago, taking pictures of trees budding – one of my harmless little passions that makes me happier than it probably should.
In the distance I saw – with my bad eyes – large black shapes coming toward me.
As they got closer I realized they were people and closer still that they were most likely Muslim women in head-to-foot clothing, including the “burqa,” with only a slit for eyes.
I say probably, because that’s one of the problems with this kind of all-enveloping, all-concealing outfit: You can’t really tell.
(Nomenclature break: In Islam, hijab describes the general act of covering up; the burqa is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen or eye slit to see through.)
There were six of them and they parted as they passed me – silently.
And I felt spooked. My instant visceral reaction was that I felt not just uncomfortable but apprehensive.
I expressed this sentiment on my Facebook page. I got more than 40 responses in an hour — with more coming later.
Some agreed with me: “We have NO idea who or what is under those garbs…. just wish they would realize they are in America & not need to do this, even if their religion dictates it.”
Some didn’t: “Many of my co-workers wear hijabs and turbans – and they are the kindest people I have ever met.”
And: “I’m a practicing Muslim here. How about an open-minded dialog instead of saying the wearing of a head scarf is ‘torture?'” (The torture comment came from someone else’s post.)
No one is neutral on this.
You’re either ok with this cocooning or you’re not. And I am definitely not.
Before diving into that, let’s be clear about one thing: Being against the burqa has nothing to do with interfering with anyone’s freedom of religion.
People can worship however they like.
But to say there should be no bars – within reasonable constitutional bounds – on religious practices is patently absurd.
If some people said their religion dictated that they must walk around nude from the waist down, we wouldn’t tolerate it. Society would say that this is not acceptable behavior.
And the burqa, it seems to me, is just that: It’s unacceptable behavior.
On the most basic level, the decision to completely hide your humanity, your identity, is psychologically untenable.
Our most basic human interaction is face-to-face, seeing each other, sizing each other up, getting a sense of the other person. The ability to see another person’s face is primal, an instinctive need.
Refusing to engage in this basic human discourse is not the way we, as a race, function.
To purposely hide the face is also an affront to an open society, where a level playing field requires, at a minimum, that we can at least see our neighbor
And there’s just something that jars me psychologically when I see these black-robed figures. It just doesn’t seem right.
It seems to me that the other reason it’s harmful is that stands in defiance of the reliable, if slow, time-honored American “melting pot” tradition.
Unlike past generations willing to make compromises to assimilate into American society, the burqa feels, to me, like a repudiation of that tradition, like an unwillingness to blend in.
As Daniel Greenfield wrote in Frontpagemag.com: “The essence of a modern society is that it extends civic participation to everyone. Deliberately preventing an entire gender from participating in society as identifiable individuals is an assault on the democratic character of the state.”
One Muslim woman, Qanta Ahmed, writing in the Spectator, cut right to the chase:
“I was raised as an observant Muslim in a British family. Women, I was taught, determine their own conduct — including their ‘veiling’…. That’s why I’m baffled by the notion that all good Muslim women should cover their hair or face. My entire family are puzzled by it too, as are millions like us. Not until recent years has the idea taken root that Muslim women are obliged by their faith to wear a veil.
“It’s a sign, I think, not of assertive Islam, but of what happens when Islamists are tolerated by a western culture that’s absurdly anxious to avoid offence.”
Ahmed is right. It’s something silly that has been canonized by the high priests of PC. So yes, even here, political correctness exerts its baleful influence.
In Europe, disdain for the burqa has led to action. It is banned in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway, Denmark and several other countries.
The situation is worse in Europe than it is here. But as my Kirby Park encounter shows, Muslims who choose to observe this tradition are living among us. And it’s a tradition that we need to understand.
Do we need a ban? No. And it would probably be unconstitutional anyway.
But do we need a conversation?
Almost definitely, yes.