The Face Behind the Veil

Face covering veils such as the niqab, a veil with only a narrow slit for the eyes, can mask a clear and present danger both to the individual and to national security, and it's not because wearers of the niqab tend to adhere to a strict sect of Sunni Islam.

I will admit to a certain paranoia because of my writing. Also, it doesn't help that during my time with the Department of Foreign Affairs I was mugged on two separate occasions; once in Washington D.C. in a park behind the White House, and once in the Soho District of London.

This spring I was walking along the Rideau Canal near the National Arts Center, which is located only a few hundred yards from Parliament Hill, when I spotted an imposing figure covered in a tent-like, dark-brown garment coming towards me.

The individual's face was covered by a niqab and, he or she, was wearing a burka (a loose fitting, voluminous garment).

Even when we were just a few feet from each other, it was impossible to ascertain if the person beneath that tent-like covering was a man or a woman.

It is a most unsettling feeling to know you are being watched and not being able to identify who is watching you and whether it is a friendly, innocent stare or a cold calculating one.

The concealed figure walking towards me towered over a thirty-something bearded balding man next to it pushing a baby carriage. The burka appeared to be made of silk with, what appeared to be gold embroidery, so it was probably a well-do-do Muslim family with the diplomatic corps out for a stroll.

But what if you were a terrorist like Yassin Omar* who wanted to reconnoiter the site of a planned attack without being recognized or challenged by the security forces – the niqab-burka combination is a perfect disguise! Not only will your face, your sex be hidden, but because the niqab wearer is also expected to wear gloves, you won't even leave fingerprints behind.

Bernard Payeur, October 30, 2006

* Yassin Omar, one of the four men who were convicted of a botched attempt to repeat the devastation of the July 7 attacks in London, disguised himself in a burka when visiting a subway station in Birmingham.