386 To Burqa or not to Burqa

To Burqa or not to Burqa, that is the question. This discussion is raging in Australia, at least in the press and on the letters page. Apart from the fact we’re misnaming the garment that is referred to … the full face covering leaving only the woman’s eyes visible - as pictured, which is worn in Australia - is the Niqab; the Burqa, from Afghanistan, where even the eyes are obscured by a mesh (see blog 381), is rarely seen in Aus. There seem to be three arguments for or against: For some the issue is a question of tolerance, everybody should be allowed to wear what ever they want, where ever they go … budgy smugglers? Bikinis? Niqab or Burqa? It’s all the same: Just a personal choice of garment. For others it’s a question of security, a face should be visible for identification; yet others deem the Islamic attire - where a woman is totally obscured - a symbol of oppression. I do have a stance on the issue.


this is not my photo, I found it on the net

I used to be a shopkeeper, for a couple of years I had a little  gallery  in the QVB. People were coming and going … apart from the fact that I showed my photographs, I met a lot of interesting people, other photographers and folks from all walks of life. One group of visitors stands out for me, I’ll never forget them:


Once a man walked into my gallery, and like most other people who visited me, he made eye contact, smiled and gestured in a way to let me know he was ‘just having a look’, not intent on buying anything. That’s fine with me, I smiled back, “if you have any questions, just let me know.” We acknowledged one another in a pleasant, though uncommitted manner. Then I noticed two more persons, who were with him.


Right behind him was his son, he was about ten years old. When I looked at him, he just smiled at me and started inspecting my pictures. But a few meters behind these two males was a female. She hesitantly entered the gallery and remained close to the entrance, with just a cursory glance at my art works. She wore a total body-covering garment - a Niqab - with just her eyes (hardly) visible … not that I got to look at her eyes. She made not even the most fleeting contact with me. I felt most uncomfortable in her presence and I was glad when the three left my shop.


I believe the face is a person's most important feature when it comes to interacting with other people. Facial expressions are consequential in communications; often a facial expression is as important - if not even more so - than the spoken word. This issue of course is most pertinent for a photographer who likes to photograph people ... one is inclined to concentrate on the face. 

In my considered view everybody has the right to wear what they want, for which ever reason they want. And if someone feels the wish to set themselves apart from others by means of their attire, then that too is their choice to which they are entitled.

But confronted with a Niqab wearing woman, I feel a cringe; I feel apprehensive in the presence of a person who obscures his/her face and in no way interacts with me, especially when under 'normal' circumstances we would have an exchange.