The following article is from the print edition of The Age. It seems to be unavailable online, so our Australian correspondent Nilk kindly sent along a digital version of it.
Since Anson Cameron writes for The Age, one must presume he is leftish. Nilk says:
You can just feel the cognitive dissonance dripping off the page. Many pointy heads will be spinning, and how long will it be before the cries of ‘waaaaaycist!’ begin?
Behind the veil
by Anson Cameron
From “The Age”
How the burqa is wiping the smiles off our faces.
I was sitting in a bayside park in Melbourne on a sunny spring day recently, silently manufacturing vitamin D and dialogue, when a woman in a black burqa walked past me pushing a pram. Astride her nose, a pair of sunglasses fronted a grilled eye-slit. I could see not one atom of her. A wholly invisible person.
I must have been staring rudely, maybe my mouth was hanging open, because she said “Hello” to me in a bright voice that told me she was a young Australian woman. I would have preferred she was some backwoods Egyptian who had never seen a schoolroom, nor opened a book. It would have made her garb more palatable.
I snapped out of my astonishment and said “Hello” and smiled as she pushed her child onwards. But I watched her go with a creeping feeling that I’d just suffered an injustice. There were only two of us in the park. At the moment we met, I was the only male in her world.
So, as I understand it, her face was covered to prevent an eruption of lustful thought in me. It was disquieting to realise she was hiding her face on the assumption that I couldn’t be trusted.
I wondered if she wore the burqa by choice, or was coerced. She would say by choice, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t? So I’ll go ahead and assume it was she who thought the covering necessary protection against my prying eyes.
I hope it gives her comfort to think of herself as an extraordinary jewel that warrants a portable sanctuary. To believe her allure is as potent as Helen of Troy’s, and that her face might launch a thousand lusts and must therefore be covered. That in the park her beauty is too great, and my lust too fervent, for a simple act of trust, a face-to-face greeting.
But in covering her face, she made me an accomplice in an act that hadn’t happened. Accompanying her presumption that her face would unleash evil thoughts in me is the insulting presumption I am some sort of incorrigible fiend.
The face is an orchestra and the mouth its virtuoso soloist. A smile speaks a language older than any other and makes you marvel at the world playing out in the mind behind. One answers a smile with a smile. A smile is a gift I granted the woman in the park. A gift she could not grant me. How sad for her. For both of us. Or, perhaps, behind the veil, she did smile. If so, that smile was a poet shut away in a tower.
And the eyes, it is said, are windows on the mind. I was taught as a child to look people in the eye when talking to them, because the locking of a gaze was not only a path along which honesty flowed, it was an affirmation of equality.
Both these possibilities were negated. I might have found her interesting, beautiful, dignified. I might have been momentarily uplifted by her smile. Instead, I found her faceless. She would say her facelessness was self-effacing. I would call it a sly pride. You hide your face because of its power.
And if, park lady, juggling motherhood, belief and career, you become a famous scientist and an artist wants to paint you for posterity, would you have that artist paint you with or without your burqa? Is posterity also a lustful brute? Alas, woman is born free, and is everywhere in burqas.
I’m saddened a woman has chosen to walk through a park with her head in a sack because of my perceived wickedness. A little angry, too. For it seems she has judged me without meeting me. Perhaps upon meeting me she would have put her head in a sack anyway. But I would have liked the benefit of the doubt. I was always told it was right to give people that.
Islam asks not to be judged by the acts of vile extremists. So it seems a little hypocritical to meet a woman in a park in Melbourne who has her head bagged just on spec that, as a man, I am a foul-minded hound.
It feels like I have been judged and found guilty because of my sex. And because I consider it my right to look into (into, not onto) the face of a fellow citizen as they look into mine, it feels like discrimination, too.