If you are Amish and accustomed to seeing women only in long-sleeve, floor-length dresses with bonnets covering their hair, it must be uncomfortable to visit a non-Amish town and confront women in miniskirts, girls in tank tops and females of every size and shape in form-fitting garments cut down to here and up to there.
But that's life in a free society. Any Amish who object to provocatively dressed females have the option of staying away or averting their gaze. Any non-Amish who are annoyed by the sight of "Little House on the Prairie" fashions can do likewise.
The mutual tolerance approach works well in this country. But some nations that require ultra-conservative Muslims to accept constant exposure to immodest attire think modern Westerners should not have to put up with the clothing choices of ultra-conservative Muslims.
These governments want to forbid women to venture into public wearing the niqab, the black dress that covers everything but the eyes, and the burqa, which covers the eyes as well. Belgium has banned them, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to do the same.
Never mind that faceless women are not exactly rampant in the West. The Belgium Muslim Council says that of the country's 500,000 Muslims, only two dozen or so keep their faces covered. Among France's 5 million Muslims, those in veils number just 2,000.
So why are some people so riled? Muslims suspect the motive is religious bigotry, but the opponents insist they are safeguarding the values of a democratic society as well as the rights of women.
The veil, we are told, is a symbol of oppression imposed on women by husbands and other male relatives. Could be. But how do the critics know? The same thing can be said about surgically enhanced breasts in Europe and the United States.
Just because a few adults may be coerced into doing something doesn't mean others should not be allowed to do it of their own free will. If men are employing violence to control wives and daughters, the reasonable response is to punish them sternly while encouraging women to report the crimes.
But outlawing the burqa merely trades one form of compulsion (you must wear this) for another (you may not wear this). Besides, it is bound to backfire: If brutal men can no longer prevent women from wearing veils when they leave the house, they can prevent them from leaving the house at all.
It may be difficult to interact with someone whose face you can't see. But lots of things that are difficult when unfamiliar soon become tolerable or irrelevant.
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