By Mohammad Azeemullah
Not long ago, many countries around the world seemed hostile to face coverings in public. They not only banned them but also discredited them as a ‘sign of subjugation’.
Boris Johnson, when he was a foreign secretary, criticized Muslim women wearing face coverings as looking “like letter boxes”, and compared them to bank robbers and rebellious teenagers.
Social Democrats and the conservative Austrian People’s Party said that face coverings in public stood in the way of “open communication”, and are an affront to “open society”.
In India, the Shiv Sena, once demanded a ban on burqa by writing about it in Saamna, its mouthpiece “People wearing face masks or burqa could pose a threat to national security,”.
The list of invectives against face coverings is unending. Apart from European countries such as France, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, a few Muslim majority countries namely Tunisia and Turkey too viewed face coverings in public with skepticism.
While ban is still in place in many Western countries, Tunisia and Turkey recently lifted their prohibition.
However, coronavirus epidemic has upended the dynamics. The virus has given rise to reversed stories about face coverings or masks in public around the world.
Those who abhorred and stigmatized face coverings as ‘socially backward’ and medically ‘disease-ridden’ have come to realize their healing value.
In fact, face coverings are proving to be a life-saving mechanism in the midst of widespread infection, and authority around the world is issuing guidelines how to use them in public.
On April 03, 2020, the White House urged Americans to wear cloth masks or face coverings in public to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
According to internal memos and new guidance provided to the White House by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “In light of these new data, along with evidence of widespread transmission in communities across the country, CDC recommends the community use of cloth masks as an additional public health measure people can take to prevent the spread of virus to those around them,”.
Earlier the practice of face covering was a step backward in society. Now it is a way to protect ourselves from coronavirus. Strange! As we learn more about the virus, more experts voice that there is probably some benefit to covering faces in public.
Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, who recently wrote an article about how the coronavirus behaves inside patients, says, “The mask works two ways — not only to protect you from me, but me from you.”
He further reflects: ““I think the vast amount of data would suggest that the coronavirus is an airborne infection carried by respiratory droplets, and it also can be passed on by direct contact.”
In view of ongoing coronavirus outbreak, face masks are in such a huge demand that many countries are unable to afford them for their people.
Suggestions are being made how to make or afford them locally as professional masks, scarce in supply, should be reserved for hospitals and emergency workers.
Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs who co-authored a widely shared article about the need to cover your face, explains: “Cover your face pretty thoroughly from your mouth to your nose to prevent large aerosol droplets coming out or going in.” She further adds: “Cover your face with cloth — however you want to do that.”
Whatever the obligation of social necessity, the debate around face covering has come to a full circle. Secularists as well as religionists have crept to join hands for a common cause to fight coronavirus by using face covering or mask in full view of public.
The present viewpoint demonstrates that ‘conceptualization behind face covering, veil or mask is in itself not an inferior and unhealthy practice’ but ‘the sentiment about the way we look at and interpret it’.
The author teaches English at College of Education, Gulf of Sidra University, Bin Jawad, Libya.