[Exchange with Mark, on a train in Holland]
We were settling in our seats when a vision of loveliness floated by us in airy layers of black and brown chiffon. I immediately understood the Arabian Nights tales where our hero nearly dies of lovesickness after glimpsing the beautiful princess. How do you know a woman is beautiful enough to develop an adolescent crush on if she is draped in loose clothing that only reveals her eyes? Well, you do.
Mark started to become visibly agitated. I asked him what was wrong and we had the following conversation.
Mark: My friend would be very upset if she saw that.
Mark: A woman veiled like that.
Alison: Oh. Why would your friend be so upset?
Mark: She would say the woman was oppressed.
Alison: She’s a young woman travelling alone. I’d say that’s a pretty good sign of emancipation in any culture.
Mark: She was married young.
Alison: Who is she? What’s her social background?
Mark: Oh, her husband’s a factory worker or something.
Alison: I don’t think so. She’s extremely stylishly dressed. I don’t think factory workers’ wives swathe themselves in silk to take the train.
Mark: Well anyway, she’s isolated and not integrated. She can’t read. She doesn’t even speak Dutch.
Alison: [Craning to get another look at the woman, now seated a few rows down] She’s reading a book.
Hm. What a veil can hide and reveal are not necessarily what you’d expect.
*** *** ***
[Exchange with a Greek-born taxi driver in Mississauga]
Taxi driver: Immigrants have more rights than Canadians these days. It’s not right.
Alison: You weren’t born in Canada. Do you think you have more rights than I do?
Taxi driver: No, but I’m old school. In my day immigrants came to Canada and adapted. Immigrants these days go too far. Just look at the problems muslims are causing with their veils.
Alison: A veil is a declaration of faith. I see a cross hanging from your rear-view mirror.
Taxi driver: They take it too far. In Quebec they were having all that trouble because the women wouldn’t take off their veils to vote. They had to make a law.
Alison: Well, I’m from Quebec and I can tell you that when I go to vote nobody asks to see my ID. All they want to know is my address. If they don’t need to see my face, then they don’t need to see my muslim neighbour’s face either. It should be the same for everyone.
Taxi driver: That’s right! The same here in Toronto! They just look at my address. No ID. It should be the same for everyone! You’re a really nice person, do you know that?
Taxi driver: You’re such a nice person.
Taxi driver: Well have a good trip home! You’re so nice, I wish you have a really good trip.
I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to have a job where you work for tips by deprecating a group you belong to. It reminds me a little of a scene in Black Like Me where the author witnesses an elevator conductor charging passengers a dollar to kick his ass.
*** *** ***
[Exchange with a Syrian-born taxi driver in Montreal]
Taxi driver: I’m muslim but I don’t like it when women have to wear veils. That makes me angry.
Alison: Aren’t they a statement of faith? Don’t women choose to wear the veil to make themselves visible as Muslims to everyone?
Taxi driver: You know what I hate? When those hypocritical imams get up in front of everyone and say so sweetly that you have to treasure and respect women. And you know exactly why their wives can’t show their faces. They’re hiding the bruises and scars.