Oct 242006
Authors: Ryan Speaker

It has been two weeks, but the issue has failed to die in Britain. And sadly, it has barely been spoken of here in the U.S.

On Oct. 6, Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, was asked if he would like Muslim women to quit wearing their veils. He said he would like to see that but made it clear he was not suggesting he was “being prescriptive” with the issue.

Straw is a representative for Blackburn, which is roughly one-quarter Muslim. Prior to this comment, he was never accused of being a bigot or anti-Muslim; indeed, many of his Muslim constituents applauded his past efforts in representing them. According to Straw, for the last year, he has asked women wearing burqas entering to his office to remove them. He said every woman has without protest.

However, much as we saw months ago with the cartoons of Mohammed, Muslims are unhappy. They are not yet burning him in effigy or anything, but they have asked for apologies and have vowed to continue public protestations until he offers one. But should he?

Yes, yes, it is a religious thing, it has some special value that no one should infringe upon. And to be fair, within our own country, people have a right to express themselves religiously up to the point it infringes on another’s rights. But religion should not trump the personal freedoms we have all been granted in this country.

Lou Dobbs noted, “The fundamental value of this country is equality, period. And the fundamental issue with that burqa is inequality. It offends our culture, it offends the British culture.”

Bill Maher said, “I think a lot of people think tolerance goes to the level of tolerating intolerance, and to me, the burqa is a symbol of intolerance… There are countries in the world where they are living in the 14th century; why come to the West and maintain the burqa? The West believing in equality of the sexes, that is superior, and that’s what I mean about tolerating intolerance.”

So why do we do it? Why do we tolerate this symbol of intolerance? Is religion really such a sacred thing that the natural rights of women should be suppressed?

In our culture, eye contact is important. I remember growing up I was often chastised as a child for not holding eye contact. Many adults, particularly males, told me no one would trust me when I got older if I couldn’t look them in the eyes and maintain contact.

Further, keeping your face hidden, just as walking while looking at your feet, separates people. Without eye contact, a random smile, a random hello… is all but impossible. Communities fail to grow together simply because of a lack of casual contact. And if communities aren’t growing together, they are staying, if not growing, apart.

As a non-Muslim, as a non-religious person, maybe I just don’t get it. Frankly, if “getting it” means supporting women separating themselves from the world the rest of us participate in, be it for religious, economic, or other social reasons, I don’t want to get it. I do not think the advancement of women in society should be turned back in the name of “religious expression.” Here’s to Jack Straw and the advancement of rational ideas!

Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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