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What was right about “See the veil for what it is”

Written by Sherwin, published on December 29, 2011

Evolutionary tree sketch by Charles Darwin

This post is part of a series of reflections on Dan Gardner’s Ottawa Citizen editorial, “See the veil for what it is.”1 There are some things that Dan Gardner got right and I thought it would be good to make note of them.

Gardner opens his editorial by noting, accurately, that Canadian Conservative Minister of Parliament Jason Kenney has directed that men and women will not be allowed to wear a veil during the Canadian citizenship ceremony. Gardner also writes that this affects Muslim women who wear the Niqāb. Anyone that doesn’t take the oath, doesn’t become a Canadian.

Gardner, rightly, also points out that the Niqāb is different than a turban, a yarmulke, a hijab or “Senators jersey.” Gardner’s point is that some folks argue that the Niqāb is no different and he thinks this is misguided. I think I agree although probably for different reasons. But it’s generally an interesting point.

It is also true that human babies can distinguish between their mothers faces and a stranger’s face. Babies recognize faces and they can distinguish between some individuals and there is a growing body of evidence that these capacities are, in some sense, built into our brain. There is some controversy about the ages and the precision of these capacities, but these are generally interesting issues.

It is also true that the human brain is a pattern seeking machine. Humans can’t help but perceive and be stimulated by real and imagined patterns.

It is also true that some human facial expressions are common and shared across cultures. This is compelling evidence that these facial expressions are, in some sense, built right into our brains and are, in some sense, universal. The work of Paul Ekman and others in this field is interesting stuff.

It is also true that facial expressions can add to, shift, or radically change the meanings of spoken words. And I think it’s an interesting idea, deserving of more consideration, that women who wear the veil may be in some way restricting or changing their capacities to communicate with others and to have others emotionally connect with them.

And, perhaps most poignantly, I agree that “many of those who loudly condemn veils out of a professed concern for women are simply anti-Muslim bigots.”

Also, in this series:

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