What’s Hiding Behind Liberalism’s Veil of Tolerance?

In April 2010, I published this post on my old blog, The Bike Lane, which no longer exists. An article shared on Facebook today reminded me of it.

Westerners see themselves as culturally neutral, unwilling to see our own fashion practices as potentially suppressive, but rather as the “norm.”

We will bring you to liberation by force. You Muslim women really aren’t independent until you embrace our lifestyle choices.

The niqab issue strikes me as a technological issue.

In order to receive various public services in Canada you must disclose your identity, such that the authorities might match your face to a photo of your face.

But identity can also be disclosed via retinal scan or iris recognition, finger print scan or – perhaps less appealingly – DNA or bodily fluid test. The point being, your face is not your identity. (For example, in order to post this blog I first had to identify myself to my web-publishing software by disclosing a 12-character password that is stored no where else but inside my head.)

Don’t get me wrong: I recognize there are cons to biometrics, probably most obviously having to do with marketers and insurance companies. (Then again, what are the cons? That you wouldn’t be able to lie to health insurers? That advertisers would know what you are likely to prefer?) The pros of moving beyond facial recognition are that racial profiling and identity theft would disappear – at least, in their current incarnations. Point is, there are pros and cons of every technology. Maybe the niqab issue will simply be remembered as the end of photo ID’s.

What’s the alternative: that photo ID will be the end of the niqab? And would such a petty victory be a triumph for liberalism — is this what Western values have been reduced to?

Biometric identification is an alternative to photo ID which, if adopted universally, would remove the “rationale” for niqab-banning. (It would also remove the rationale that prevents you from smiling for your passport photo, which makes you and everyone else with a passport look like a serial killer.)

And if that rationale were removed — what then? Would liberals move on, or is this about more than the efficient delivery of public services?