‘Importing ghastly patriarchal values’ – Joan Smith on the veil

Joan SmithJoan Smith complains that “we now have a growing minority of the population demanding the right to go about their everyday business in masks, which is what the word ‘niqab’ means in Arabic. This, I think, is where a lot of people discover the limits of tolerance … rightly perceiving that the face-covering is not so much an obligatory religious requirement as a challenge to the values of our largely secular society….

“Of course it upsets people in an open society where we’re used to seeing each other’s faces; our identity is expressed in facial expressions, which ease everyday transactions by indicating whether someone is happy, sad, pleased to see us or lying – an important issue when so many of our dealing with strangers are based on trust. In that sense, it can’t be read as anything other than an assertion of not belonging, of separation from the majority population, a political position some Muslims have begun to take to absurd lengths….

“It’s the worst sort of identity politics, importing ghastly patriarchal values into a country where we already have enough problems with a male political class which believes it knows what’s best for us….”

Independent, 27 December 2006