Muslim women veiling has become the subject of intense controversy in Britain in recent days, with Prime Minister Tony Blair calling the veil a "mark of separation." National Review Online asked a group of commentators — Bill Bennett, Mona Charen, Phyllis Chesler, Andrew McCarthy, Emanuele Ottolenghi, and Daniel Pipes — to discuss the niqab as security problem: Should the nikab be banned? CAN it be? For all replies, see "An Unveiling: Separate, but acceptable?"
The niqab, which leaves only a woman's eyes showing, is the second most extreme Muslim covering of women after the burqa (which covers the entire head, including the eyes). Both garments have become the topic of debate in Europe in recent years; in "Europe's Burqa Wars," for example, I catalogue some efforts to penalize or render illegal the burqa.
Thanks to a statement by Labour politician Jack Straw, the niqab has in recent weeks become the center of furious dispute in Great Britain. To a lesser extent, it is already debated in the United States, such as in the case of Sultaana Freeman, who wanted to wear a niqab for her driving license picture, or Ginnnah Muhammad, who had her lawsuit thrown out of court because she refused to take off her niqab.
I see the niqab or burqa doing immense damage to male/female and Muslim/non-Muslim relations, but in those areas an American's right to freedom-of-expression prevails. On grounds of security, however, I believe that both coverings should be banned, as one cannot have faceless persons walking the streets, driving cars, or otherwise entering public spaces. (October 25, 2006)
Nov. 21, 2006 update: I document in detail the danger suggested here in a weblog entry, "The Niqab and Burqa as Security Threat."