I watched the Granada 6pm news last night. They were interviewing a masked bank robber; I assumed. It was difficult to tell. A pair of eyes was all you could see; they could have been male or female.
Sadly a child had died from meningitis. The parents were upset and outraged. The child had been sent home from Rochdale Infirmary Urgent Care Centre with precautionary antibiotics, and instructions to return if he developed any other symptoms, after he had started vomiting at school. He later developed a rash on his stomach, and returned to the Infirmary where the Doctors were unable to save his life.
I was struck by the fact that in the midst of this grief, the Mother, for it was allegedly she behind the mask, was coherent enough to make a political point, with her complaint against the downgrading of the A & E department to one of ‘Urgent Care Centre’ – ‘I wouldn’t have taken him there if I had known it was downgraded, if I hadn’t taken him there he would still be alive’ – a curious statement given that the same lady had attended a rally against said downgrading a few weeks ago.
It was the political point she made with the mask that really drew my attention. It was impossible to tell what emotion lay behind the mask; impossible to evaluate the information we were being given. Did she really believe that the child would have lived if she hadn’t taken him to hospital? Was this really the Mother? Who could tell?
If she turns up on television again next week, loudly complaining that her local branch of Tesco’s should not be allowed to sell unpeeled bananas, will we treat her words with the disdain that we accord professional complainers? We won’t even know it is her.
All the pointers we use to make a decision on what we are hearing were removed. No body language, her body was covered in black cloth. No facial expression, neither absence nor presence of facial tics, no means of knowing whether this was someone we had seen before – a later news item showed Gillian Duffy waylaying Nick Clegg on a visit to the constituency; instantly recognisable from previous news clips, we were able to assimilate the knowledge that this middle aged woman was a staunch labour voter, who had previously sandbagged Gordon Brown – we added that knowledge to the words she said, simply because we recognised her.
It is an issue very much in the news – ‘France bans the Burqa’ scream the headlines. Actually, they haven’t, not specifically. They have banned covering your face in public. They haven’t banned the hijjab, or headscarf, another religious symbol.
There are many reasons why it is important to recognises or identify your fellow citizens in public.
It is some years since face coverings were banned in public in UK shopping malls and banks. Regrettably, the Federation of Bank Robbers were unable, despite the left wing belief that denuding the banks of their money ‘is a good thing’, to muster the essential soi-disant liberal and Libertarian hand wringing and emotive outpourings that have enabled the latest grouping, to wit, female adherents of the modern reincarnation of Wahabi Islamism to campaign so vigorously for the right to be masked.
‘We should be allowed to wear whatever we like’ say the Libertarians, of which I am one. Indeed, I respond, but where was the similar outpouring of rage when it was decided that we may not wear para-military clothing at a demonstration, nor dress up as a policeman, nor keep our motor cycle helmet or balaclava on when we enter the bank? What about the entirely innocent balaclava wearer who had a facial injury that he wished to conceal? Did anybody bemoan the fact that it would cause him stress to be forced to remove his facial covering?
The mistake the Sarkozy has made is to allow this to be portrayed as a suppression of religion:
“the veils imprison women and contradict this secular nation’s values of dignity and equality.”
It is not, it is the freedom for the rest of us to be allowed to recognise our fellow citizens and use our memory to evaluate what we see and hear of them. A straightforward ban on covering your face in banks, shopping malls, and petrol stations would have had the same effect without the religious connotation.
More than 60 people have been arrested in France since the ban came into force last Monday. Women who appeared masked in order to demonstrate – not against genital mutilation, or forced marriages, or ‘honour killings’, but to uphold their wish to be treated with special consideration – they alone should be allowed to walk around masked. To be different from the rest of us, apart, unrecognisable.
Their religion has dictated that the right to be masked is a symbol of religious freedom.
Pity the bank robbers didn’t think of that one.