The Why Show

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The Niqab: Privacy, Accountability and Freedom

Posted on 14 October, 2015 at 0:40

The Niqab: Privacy, Accountability and Freedom


In Canada, there was a recent scandal as a woman insisted on wearing a Niqab (face-cover) during a citizenship ceremony as she felt it was her “religious duty”. It got everyone talking, which is good. The case itself is not even worth our time, but the ideas behind it certainly are. Should someone be able to cover their face in public?


If you know me, read what I write, listen to my show, or have ever asked for my opinion, you will probably know that I am not a fan of making rules. I describe myself as libertarian, as it is the closest single-word answer to the questions of “where are you on the political spectrum”. So you might expect me to say that government interference in a person’s headwear is unacceptable. I only condone intervention in someone’s life if they are being aggressive or dangerously negligent. Does merely covering one’s face fall into either of these categories?


First, let’s dispose of something easy. No one should care what you do in the privacy of your own home. Wear whatever you want there. We are only talking about covering your face in public. If you want to take part in society, you need to be identifiable. People have the right to feel safe, and therefore we permit interventionist laws that keep aggressors or dangerous people from being aggressive or dangerous. This is right and good. But every law we make rests on a foundation of accountability. People must be accountable for their actions, otherwise all the laws in the world will be of no effect. If we don’t know who did something, we cannot even activate the legal system. To provide a barrier to your own identification, you are placing yourself above the right of others to feel safe in their current legal framework. The safety of others supersedes your right to follow cultural practices, always.


No, people should not be allowed to hide their face in public.


Are we really asking for a huge concession here? All I am proposing is that we ask people to trade one tiny part of their culture for the right of society to feel safe. It seems to be a very minor request. Perhaps there is a way around it if necessary, involving technology that makes a veiled person otherwise identifiable to everyone, and I am willing to explore that option. But I would ask, to what extent are we willing to change the world around us and consume resources to accommodate a cultural practice that eliminates the possibility of accountability and hinders security? I don’t know, but I suspect not very far.


Categories: Whitlock's Logs of the Mundane

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