Face Value

It really doesn’t matter just how hard people try to convince you: A lie remains a lie, it is not going to become true by virtue of constant repetition. And it doesn’t matter just how gullible you are, looking into the liar’s face will help you see through the deception (unless someone is a hard–boiled liar — or truly believes the nonsense he is telling).

You may or may not know it, but everyone of us is able to recognise and interpret micro expressions on other people’s faces properly. You don’t have to be “Cal Lightman” (the main character of an American TV drama series titled Lie to Me) to identify at least the most basic indicators for fear, distress, anxiety, hatred, love, joy, gratitude, etc.

More often than not, we do so without even realising it. These are the moments when we “have a notion” that a story might be true or false, when we agree or hesitate to “buy the story” we are told, even though we cannot specify the reasons for believing or rejecting it.

This is the reason for being uncomfortable if we cannot see the face of the person we are speaking with (especially so, if we do not know this person very well), and people averting their face when they are about to tell us a blunt lie.

Did anyone ever call in sick to work using Skype (or similar software)? I don’t think so (except, perhaps, they considered it wise or necessary to immediately prove the authenticity of their claim). A doctor’s attestation, presented days later when “everything’s fine again”, will have to do.

Showing one’s face to others is the modern equivalent of approaching people with open visor. (Yes, the time of medieval warriors is over, but that is no reason to forgo chivalries.) It is the best — perhaps even the only — way to build trust.

Failing to show one’s face, or even purposefully hiding it when approaching, meeting or conversing with others, is a faux pas. Apart from being considered a social blunder, it also injures our individual demand for safety. Everyone telling you that they do not at least feel uncomfortable when e.g., someone wearing a helmet with closed visor is approaching them, should hide their face.

The attentive reader may already have a notion what I’m going to aim at with my words. Of course, I’m talking about this useless debate as to whether or not wearing a “burka” in public should be prohibited in several countries across Europe.

Quite recently, I read a supposedly informative article published by a person who is supposed to be an expert in all questions concerning Islam.

Interestingly, this person did nothing to shed light on the matter in order to eventually inform us “ignorants” and help us arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Instead, he mentioned that only particularly pedantic people keep distinguishing the individual garments worn by Muslim women. In other words, it’s (considered) quite fine if we call all of them “burka”.

The problem with this logic is that it helped cause the chaos we are facing right now. A burka (wearer entirely veiled) is considerably different to a niqab (face veiled, but eyes visible), and even more so to other forms of hijab (generic term to describe any form of veil, but usually meant to indicate that hair and neck are veiled).

By constantly calling all of them “burka”, we (inadvertently, I hope) subject people who dress properly by European standards, and who do not violate any applicable law in Europe, to undeserved verbal (and in some cases even physical) hostility. Yet this is clearly contradicting European standards. We do not discriminate people for the clothes they happen to wear — or does anyone out there call a man wearing a kilt a “fag” or a “douche”, to his face?

In many countries (in both Asia and Africa) with predominantly Muslim population face veils in public are either banned, or at least seriously frowned at, but we still (pretend to) consider potential “religious aspects”? Is it not enough that neither Quran (the writings of Muhammad) nor Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) — or the vast majority of Islamic scholars — consider face veils fard (obligatory)?

We pretend to be concerned about some (relatively) few “poor, oppressed women”, but not about the potential threat to each and everyone of us when “unidentifiable walking subjects” (don’t you dare giving me the “political correctness” speech for that) are allowed to appear in a crowd of unsuspecting people? Is it possible that some have lost their sense of proportion already?

We publicly tell women who — for reasons unknown to most of us — decide to wear a khimar, an al–amira (by a wide margin, these two are most often seen in Austria and, I would assume, also in other European countries), a shayla (that’s what Claire Dane’s character is donning in Homeland) or any other form of hijab leaving the face clear (like, the plain old kerchief your grandma used to wear), that they “do not belong here”, and even suspect that they are part of (or at least sympathise with) a terrorist organisation? Is anyone out there accusing everyone wearing a pair of blue denims and a Stetson of stealing cattle or shooting innocent members of indigenous people?

We let reactionaries utilise a single piece of garment — we are really talking about the niqab, for the burka is a very rare sight in Europe — to excite an unreasonable debate as to whether “Islam belongs to Europe”? It may not be clear to some of our young, dynamic “friends” on the far right, but “Islamic culture” has been part of central Europe at the very least since the 1520s, and part of southwestern Europe since the Umayyad conquest in Hispania (711). You must not confuse “Islamic culture” with “Islamistic lack of culture”.

We don’t even keep from humiliating ourselves by discussing the ban of so–called “burkinis” from public baths for “hygienic considerations”. Does anybody believe chlorine in public pools is used because of its lovely scent?

Do me a favour and repeat your prejudices aloud in front of a mirror. I can only hope you will see your face crimson with embarrassment.

To be honest, I disagree with all current national approaches in this respect. There should not be some countries who prohibit “burkas”, others who don’t, and yet others who are still undecided. This is a matter of security concerning everyone in Europe, and therefore should have been settled by the European Union for all member states for the longest time.

Several European countries did enact individual anti–masking laws a while ago, but these are not really effective as they are limited to “public events”, or public gatherings “such as demonstrations”, or apply only when a criminal offence is committed in their course (which is particularly illogical, as anti–masking laws are supposed to be a preventive measure).

Since there is no obvious reason for anyone to hide their face in public (except wearing a helmet while riding a bike, of course), there is no excuse for the European Union’s failure to enact a policy that applies in all of its member countries at all times.

This does not have to mean individual communities cannot lift the ban during certain authorised “public events” for a set amount of time at their own discretion. (The carnival in Venice would be such an event as it were utterly pointless without wearing masks. Nevertheless, the prime motive for wearing masks at this particular event should never be forgotten.)

As appears to be often the case of late, we keep asking the wrong questions and therefore fail to arrive at satisfactory solutions. We lack in specification and so allow all kinds of pseudo–arguments enter the debate. This is a waste of time and energy — and not very helpful, to say the least.