WASHINGTON -- Stuffy old London is all jitters about a new craze in woman's fashion, the niqab. It is a black gown that covers the ladies from head to toe. Even their arms are covered. Two slits, somewhat reminiscent of the slits in armored personnel carriers, allow the ladies to see out. There are no openings for the nostrils. How the ladies breath is a mystery. Perhaps they carry oxygen packs.
The heavy black garment is generally worn only by British Muslims, though possibly non-Muslim British ladies are also wearing niqabs. How would one know? For that matter, how would one know if there were more than one woman under a passing niqab, or perhaps a man, or two women and a goat? That is the problem, according to British authorities. No one knows what is going on under a nearby niqab.
Frankly, I would think that religiously strict mullahs also would be alarmed. There could be a man and a woman illicitly cohabiting under a nearby niqab, or just a rude woman sticking her tongue out at him. Compared to a miniskirt or a thong, a niqab is actually quite subversive. That is the view of British authorities. Some months ago, the Labor Party politician Jack Straw barred niqab-wearing women from his offices, even if they were wearing Chanel No. 5 and whistling "God Save the Queen."
According to my research, the niqab (pronounced Ni-@#$?) is a relatively new fashion trend among Muslim women, dating back only 600 years. Before that, the ladies wore relatively primitive garb. The niqab was originally devised as an attempt at modesty meant to mollify the raging libido of Muslim males, but it is causing trouble in Britain, where a gentleman's libido is not so problematic. Throughout the rest of Europe the niqab has already been banned, and the French have even banned the hajib (pronounced Ha-+*@^%), which only covers a woman's hair, somewhat like a babushka.
I doubt the niqab will ever be seen in America, where it would doubtless bring to mind the flowing robes and masked headdresses of the long-discredited Ku Klux Klan. True, the Klanspersons' robes were white, but that is a minor detail. The fact is that, owing to the Klansmen's controversial views and tendency toward extreme mayhem, we Americans banned most of their behavior long ago, even cross burning.
I wonder how American Muslims would be treated if they adopted the practice of cross burning. Actually, for some Muslim fundamentalists, cross burning would be one of their more moderate religious expressions. American liberals are taking an increasingly tolerant view of Muslim pietism. Only recently did authorities in Minneapolis act against Muslim taxi drivers who booted passengers from their vehicles rather than allow the infidels to stop off at a local liquor store to pick up some firewater.
So possibly I am wrong. Possibly our liberals will allow American Muslims to don flowing robes and masks, at least during a cross burning at Friday prayers. You know that our liberals would go along with the recent fatwa of the Egyptian cleric Ezzat Attiya, who endeavored to allow unmarried men and women to work together in a modern workplace by ruling that if the men breastfed from their female co-workers, working together would be A-OK. Breast-feeding, according to Islamic law, establishes a maternal relationship. Thus the male worker who nursed from his colleague would not be suspected of coveting her or having any sort of adulterous relationship whatsoever. Perhaps they could even engage in ballroom dancing after hours.
If all this sounds faintly absurd, it is meant to. The response of Western democracies to the excesses of fundamentalist Islam is approaching the absurd. There is, in our free societies, abundant precedent for limiting provocative behavior. Unfortunately, many of our liberals are susceptible to the complaints of those who hate us. They were susceptible to communists and in the 1930s they were even susceptible to Nazis. It is my hope that the British authorities will ban the niqab and return to a celebration of the miniskirt. I personally admire a woman who has nothing to hide.