Faces shouldn’t be covered. Either should discussion about faces being covered.

I’m not a member of a misogynistic, medieval death cult. Am I allowed to wear a facemask in public?

France has decided to ban the facemask (and I’m not trying to be clever or funny by using that word, by the way, I’m just describing the garment for what it is).

Personally, I don’t think the regulation of female clothing habits is a worthwhile use of laws and police officers, and I find it depressing that a liberal country like France has deemed it necessary to use the blunt sledgehammer of legislation to deal with this issue.

Let me make my position on the facemask clear, though: I absolutely hate it, for a number of reasons.

  1. It scares me, because I generally associate concealed identity with weirdness or ill-intent. Occasionally I associate it with humour, revelry and gaiety, as in fancy dress parties and carnivals, but for some reason I don’t think that applies here. Do you?
  2. It’s plain bad manners. Why should I show someone my ugly mug if they won’t show me theirs?
  3. It hinders proper communication, because human beings communicate not just by words, but also by facial expressions. Why should one party to social interaction be able to glean all the non-verbal communication and not have to divulge any? I don’t want to see your tits or your arse, luv, I just want to see your face. Is that really too much to ask of you, you as my fellow citizen, in a public place or a place of work?
  4. I don’t like being branded a rapist-in-waiting. I’ve managed to go almost forty years on this planet without raping anyone, and I can confidently say I never will rape anyone. That includes you, Fatima. Relax, for fuck’s sake.
  5. It creates a physical barrier between one sector of society and everyone else and it highlights, in the starkest possible terms, the differences between them.
  6. If one sector of society can cover their faces, then we all can. I wouldn’t call that society, though – I would call that a Monty Python freak show (literally) masquerading as society.
  7. Far from protecting women, it creates a perfect, ready-made excuse for any wannabe rapist, because any woman who comes to sexual harm who wasn’t covering herself up is obviously asking for it and she deserves everything she gets. You can picture the deodorant advert: Young Muslim men just can’t help raping on impulse. Are the sexual desires of Muslim men so base, so unhinged, that they can’t be trusted not to be sexually violent towards women?
  8. Many women say it’s their choice to wear a facemask, but how about analysing the concept of choice through the prism of a culture where women might be murdered by their own fathers for having the temerity to be raped and where a woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man’s? If you’re getting money out of the ATM and I hold a gun to your head and ask for the money, you still have a choice whether to give me the money, don’t you?
  9. There are obvious questions of security, not just in the common examples of banks and airports, but generally:
    “Can you describe the person who mugged you, Sir?”
    “Of course. He/she wore a black cloak from head to toe, and he/she had no face. When do you think you’ll catch them, officer?”

The religious/cultural justification for wearing the facemask is irrelevant and can be dismissed pretty easily, because literally anything can be justified on that basis. Whenever there are underlying, objective grounds for something, people generally put those forward rather than lazily invoking the supernatural (“My God says so”) or the cultural (“We’ve done this for hundreds of years”), so any argument justifying something purely on religious or cultural grounds is, to my mind, nothing more than a painful admission that no underlying, objective reasons exist.

What should we do? I don’t think we should pass legislation banning the facemask because that will only create “martyrs” and highlight how different one sector of society is: so different that we need to pass laws to deal specifically with an issue that generally only applies to that sector.

We need to stop paying so much attention to these ridiculous superstitions and practices, and actually be prepared to challenge them. If someone wants to wear a facemask, we should grow a pair of balls and tell people to remove them. Let them wear these ancient relics in their homes or their places of worship if they so wish, but if they want to come into a shop, or a public place, or get a job, the facemask has to go. Everyone else has to show their face. So should they.

Don’t let people accuse you of jumping into bed with the British National Party or the English Defence League when you speak out about the facemask. On the contrary, not speaking out suits them perfectly because it allows them to dominate the airwaves on this and claim they’re simply upholding mainstream, British values. Those organisations have their own agendas but just take comfort in knowing that the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend, my friend – sometimes it’s simply another enemy. Hitler liked German Shepherd dogs. So do I. Sorry, what’s your point?

I was listening to a pretty farcical radio phone-in about facemasks and one Muslim lady who wore one explained how people in shops were very “respectful” towards her, but I’m not sure if “respectful” is necessarily the correct word here.

At best, I might use the word “sympathetic”. Putting aside the extent to which choice is freely given, let’s assume this woman genuinely wore this facemask out of choice. How exactly is the shopkeeper to know that? For all he knows, this woman might be forced to wear this facemask against her will every single, miserable day of her life. For all he knows, this woman is beaten to a pulp every night (after prayers) and the religious garb is just a neat way of covering up the split lip and the black eyes.

At worst I would use the word “fearful”. Maybe the shopkeeper wasn’t too sure what would happen if he was anything other than deferential to this woman. Maybe his shop would be bombed, maybe a hoard of angry Muslim men would appear outside his shop with one of these friendly placards, maybe he would be arrested, or maybe he would just be assigned the standard label that people are given these days when others are too lazy or stupid to actually think through these issues intellectually: ISLAMOPHOBIC. Maybe the shopkeeper just concluded that his life would be much simpler if he didn’t make a big deal of this, even though he might have been deeply uncomfortable about it. Remember, that’s all it takes for freedom to die – not necessarily bad people doing bad things, just good people doing fuck all.

A refusal to idly sit by and allow one sector of society to conceal their identity in public is not “Islamophobic”, it is not racist, and it is not evidence of intolerance towards other cultures.

Multiculturalism does not grant each and every community the unfettered right to formulate its own rules of engagement with the rest of society, using “religion” or “culture” as wild, flapping hoses to extinguish criticism or even debate about how it wants to interact with others (or how it doesn’t want to interact, as is the case here).

Multiculturalism grants different communities the right to co-exist peacefully with others in accordance with their own traditions but, as with all rights, there’s a debit account: a corresponding obligation to accept certain basic, fundamental principles, such as the rule of law, equality, respect for others, and integration, and I just can’t see how concealing your identity in public is compatible with those. And while we’re on the subject of rights and obligations, how often do you hear Muslim organisations talking of the obligations they owe to everyone else, rather than just the rights they demand from everyone else?  That’s got you thinking.

The British are supremely tolerant. The German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann (OBE) eloquently summarised this in a recent documentary:

“I’ve always said my education began in the UK. The way I was treated – with fairness, kindness, tolerance – even as a prisoner of war – by the people of Lancashire, Mancunians and Great Britain. I am more English than German, even though I was born German. You are a special kind of people, and this is a special kind of island.”

(Whether you love or hate football, I would strongly recommend tracking down The Bert Trautmann Story; it was excellent.)

I would go further than Herr Trautmann and say that the British are tolerant literally to a fault because we even tolerate intolerance of our own extremely tolerant way of life. The women demonstrating about the facemask outside the French embassy in London yesterday were exercising a precious freedom of protest which doesn’t exist in many theocratic, Muslim states – for anyone, let alone women – and where there is no freedom of religion at all. These women were making it clear just how much they despise our tolerance and our whole way of life in one simple phrase: a placard reading “Shariah 4 France”.

Yes, these women hate our way of life, that vile way of life which allows them to protest about the ban on the facemask, that vile way of life which allows them to choose their religion or to choose no religion, that vile way of life that provides them with food, shelter, housing and education and welcomes them with open arms when they are fleeing oppressive regimes, that vile way of life which gives them equality and a justice system where their testimony is worth no less than that of someone with an extra Y-chromosome, that vile way of life which sees no distinction between “honour killings” and other killings, and that vile way of life which doesn’t bury them in sand up to the neck so that brainwashed, brain-dead ogres whose only achievement in life is being born with a cock in one hand and a Koran in the other can stone them to death for adultery while reassuring them that Allah, of course, is great and merciful.

Religion of Peace? Religion with a serious irony deficiency, more like.