Folks within the UK will likely be quickly be required by legislation to put on masks in retailers to stop the unfold of coronavirus. This follows the introduction of necessary face coverings on public transport in June.
There’s proof that helps the general public well being advantages of carrying face coverings in public. However the UK authorities and public have been gradual to simply accept masks as a pillar of the nation’s coronavirus technique. This could maybe come as no shock after 20 years of unfavourable messaging about face coverings, largely concentrating on Muslim ladies.
Since 9/11, Muslims within the west have endured fixed scapegoating and vilification for his or her non secular and way of life decisions. This contains the carrying of the hijab, burqa, and niqab – various kinds of hair and face protecting.
These clothes have been attacked by politicians, together with the UK prime minister himself, usually characterised as impeding communication, being non-British and representing an anti-western patriarchal tradition.
Banning the burqa, mandating the face masks
The truth that Boris Johnson is now calling for face coverings to be imposed is especially ironic given his previous feedback on the topic.
When he was overseas secretary in 2018, Johnson wrote in his column within the Telegraph newspaper that whereas he opposed a ban on Muslim face coverings, he nonetheless felt “entitled” to see the faces of his constituents, and likened ladies who wore the niqab to letterboxes and financial institution robbers. “Human beings should have the ability to see one another’s faces and browse their expressions,” he wrote. “It’s how we work.”
These beliefs usually are not restricted to the Conservative Occasion. In 2006, Labour overseas secretary Jack Straw wrote about his encounter with a Muslim couple, together with a girl who coated her face, describing the “incongruity between the … totally English accent, the couple’s schooling (wholly within the UK) – and the very fact of the veil”. In doing so, he additional cemented the notion that face coverings can’t be English.
For at the least a decade there have been calls to ban Muslim face coverings within the UK. Within the aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2016, greater than half the British inhabitants stated they supported a burqa ban. Many international locations throughout Europe have carried out so regardless of negligible numbers of people who find themselves affected by such a coverage.
In an act of controversial hypocrisy, France, the primary nation to ban face coverings in 2011, made them necessary this month to stop the unfold of coronavirus. Face masks are actually required in all indoor public areas in France from August, however the burqa stays banned.
This implies fines will be imposed for individuals who usually are not protecting their face, but additionally for these whose face coverings are deemed to be non secular in nature. Within the UK, nonetheless, non secular clothes can be utilized because the necessary face protecting in retailers.
Face coverings and ‘freedom’
The proof for carrying a face masks in public to stop the unfold of coronavirus is evident, and analysis has proven that almost all face coverings, together with the niqab, don’t impede communication.
However the repeated affiliation of Muslim ladies’s gown with missing freedom and being managed appears to have resulted in a psychological barrier round the usage of masks. In a latest viral video, an American girl screams, “We don’t cowl our face in America. They don’t management us. We’re Individuals!”
There are additionally echoes of the affiliation between face coverings and stereotypes of “submissive” Muslim ladies. A latest preprint examine – which has but to be peer-reviewed – reveals that males are much less more likely to put on a face masks, with some believing it to be a “signal of weak spot”.
In a weird act of parallel solidarity, many anti-maskers are protesting with the phrase, “My physique, my alternative” – a feminist slogan about bodily autonomy that Muslim ladies have used to demand their proper to cowl their face or hair.
The reality is that Muslim ladies have all the time had company of their alternative of what they put on, and the explanations for his or her decisions are manifold, as my analysis has proven. Some ladies might be pressured by their husbands to put on the hijab, simply as some western ladies are pressured to decorate in methods they don’t wish to by their companions. This is a matter of misogyny, not certainly one of faith.
Now we discover ourselves in a state of affairs the place politicians, who’ve sought to make use of the non-public gown codes of Muslim ladies to painting them as pitiful and managed, have a battle on their arms to persuade the inhabitants that masks don’t prohibit communication, usually are not an indication of coercion, and are literally a marker of being a part of an built-in group the place individuals take care of one another.
As we transfer in direction of face masks turning into extra extensively accepted, we are able to solely hope the optimistic messages of unity which might be related to stopping coronavirus an infection now can persist in the long term and be prolonged to all who cowl their faces, irrespective of the rationale.