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Cohesiveness, conformity, and privacy

Reader comment on item: Niqabs and Burqas - The Veiled Threat Continues
in response to reader comment: Ostracism and Feminism

Submitted by J. Sheff (United States), Sep 6, 2009 at 16:28

Sara, I appreciate your reply. I think we are getting closer to the nub of our disagreement which is, I believe, about the rights of the individual. I shrink from using the legal system to enforce cultural cohesiveness, or, to use a less pleasant term, conformity, no matter how desirable that goal might be.
Having grown up during the 50s, I remember how repressive the urge to make everyone act the same can become.

This country was founded by religious non-conformists, Quakers, Puritans, Catholics and others, who threatened the social unity of England by refusing to accept its official religion as theirs and its monarch as their religious leader. Ever since, the concept of "freedom of conscience" has been basic to our country, even going as far as allowing avoidance of military service to defend it.

Your reference to Jewish observance of kashrut (kosher laws) is an good one, since no-
one claims that is not a religious issue, and, as of yet, no-one has decided that it is a threat to security. Yet, the religious refusal of Jews and Moslems and Seventh-day Adventists, and the non-religious, but conscience-based refusal of vegetarians to eat pork and other foods which the majority of our society enjoys, is definitely an obstacle to cultural unity, since "breaking bread" together is the source of the word "companionship." Another, and closer analogy, perhaps, would be banning the custom of Orthodox Jews, and therefore, of all Americans, from growing beards if it made their facial expressions more difficult to discern.

By the way, the argument that Islamic head-covering is solely a cultural preference is undercut by the laws of some states, including Oregon, that ban teachers from wearing them because it is considered to be a religious symbol. These laws are now being challenged. The resulting court rulings may make this whole discussion moot.

Concerning adoption of English as the only national, official, language. I do not see this as forcing anyone to speak in any other language they choose to in public, only to require them to understand our common tongue and be able to use it for official purposes.

You might wish to give more consideration to the privacy issue and the precedent that would be set by passing anti-dress legislation that would result in my right to ogle you superseding your right not to be ogled. On our little sub-conversation, we see the J(effrey) Sheffs and Ron Thompsons chatting with Lynns and saras. To me this greater desire by females for anonymity makes sense, in our society as well as others. In this connection you might recall the story of the biblical Sarah, who suffered the consequences of being too identifiable when she and Abraham spent time in Gerar and Egypt. I don't think that men and women in positions of authority have changed that much since the time of Abimelech and Pharoah.

Thank you for your comments, and for making me think in greater depth about the source of my visceral revulsion at the idea of legitimizing "dress police".


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