06/24/2007 06:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Muslim Veils and British Tolerance

Ok, so there was this ought-to-win a Pulitzer photo on the front page of the NY Times this last friday (6/22). It shows a fully veiled Muslim woman sitting next to an anglo woman on the subway. The anglo woman is eating an apple and glancing over at the Muslim woman with an expression that shows why the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words, though often mistaken, will never lose its truth.

The article is good too. Especially the parts about why young Muslim women, born and bred in England, have taken to wearing this full body and head covering veil -- a "niqab." Hint: it's all about me, me, wonderful me being who I want to be. In other words, it would be just another manifestation of media-induced self-centeredness, if it weren't for the very real hostility that's building around the issue, especially over on the supposedly enlightened European continent.

But here's my little contribution to cross-cultural understanding. The way the niqab shows just the eyes is probably fusing in the collective unconscious (Freud called it "condensation") with the way the ski masks worn by paramilitary thugs show just the eyes as well. I mean, the symbolic load becomes threatening through that association.

What those wrap-around sunglasses our troops in Iraq means is another topic, but you don't have to be a structuralist to notice how neat the opposition is...