See Something, Say Something?

It’s the middle of the day. You are coming from one work meeting and on your way to another. You go down the subway stairs. A train is pulling in as you swipe your Metro-card. It’s not packed, but there are people.

You take a seat in a row of four seats to the left of the door. There is one other person sitting in the row. She is wearing a black niqab. There is an empty seat between the two of you. All that’s visible is her eyes. Not even her eye-brows or nose. You notice her feet. She’s wearing shoes that don’t have laces. They are not masculine or feminine and they are large. Grandma what big feet you have….

You don’t want to stare, but you look to the side and see what you can of the face. Plump bit of cheek. Dark copper skin. No make-up, no mascara. It’s hard to tell with only this side view, but there’s nothing “womanly” about what you see. Her body too is so covered it’s hard to make out the shape. She has a bag — it’s not a purse, more like a small briefcase with a zipper. You feel a weight in your legs like when you suddenly can’t move in a dream when something bad is about to happen.

She pulls a small leather-bound book from the bag and opens it. The print is Arabic and the borders are very elaborate. She looks like she is praying. You notice her hands holding the book. Her hands are unadorned and quite big. Suddenly you think of the phrase from that old TV show. Man hands.

The train pulls into the next stop. What do you do?

13 thoughts on “See Something, Say Something?

  1. I would get out at the next stop and find a policeman and let them know. I would be very apologetic to the policeman, tell them I was probably making a mistake, etc., etc., but that’s what I would do.

  2. I wouldn’t do anything. I think if someone were to try to bomb the subway the last thing they would dress up as is a veiled woman. A bit too obvious.

  3. This is something that happened to me the other day and I wanted to record my reaction honestly. I know that rationally Gina and Mary are both right. I’m reasonably certain the person sitting next to me was a woman with big hands and feet and a threat to no one.

    I actually left the train the next stop and when I got onto the street, I called it in with apologies and making it clear that the person was probably a woman whose only crime was “man hands.” But I hate to think that I might have diverted police from someplace where they were more needed or caused the woman any embarrassment or discomfort. If I hadn’t called it in I would have felt terrible if my gut reaction had been right, and at least a couple of my fellow NYers understood what I was reacting to once they got: “really big feet” and “couldn’t see face.”

    On the one hand we are all being encouraged to be aware of what and who is around us and to say something when we see something, but this was about what I couldn’t see. It’s not about Islam or profiling. What I’ve been thinking about today is Elizabeth Smart who was hidden in plain site for months under a veil.

    I’m not suggesting that we ban religious garments, but I’d have no problem with a local law making it offense to hide one’s face by wearing a mask, veil, etc on the subway. I doubt it would do anything to prevent a terrorist attack, but if we are all supposed to report what we see, we should be able to identify those around us.

    I have no problem with Mormon’s wearing funny underwear, Orthodox Jewish women and their hideous wigs, or Moslem hijab. But what if Fred Phelps decided that all his followers should wear nylon stockings over their heads? Would that be acceptable? Do we let Sikhs with ceremonial knives in their turbans wear them on planes? The US isn’t France or Turkey, but there have to be limits especially where public safety is involved and certainly the veils have the potential to create risk and dangerous distraction.

  4. If the Time Square bomber really was that white man taking off his sweatshirt in the video the press was showing over and over again and there were similar bombings by white men with sweat shirts, I would then understand that if I came to NY City wearing a sweatshirt – why people would be a little suspicious of me. I would then do one of two things when I come to NY; either don’t wear a sweatshirt in NY, OR, if I must wear a sweatshirt, allow myself to be subjected to suspicious eyes – and even allow myself to be profiled and brought “downtown” for questioning. Especially if I drove an SUV.

    Though very inconvenient, I would allow and understand this because there could be real white men with sweatshirts planning to bomb a place near me and or my family while we are in NY. I would hope that other people like Marion are as aware of what and who is around her.

    I would also CERTAINLY understand if there are other people like Marion who when she sees me in a sweatshirt, she “suddenly can’t move (like) in a dream when something bad is about to happen.” We who don’t live in NY City don’t know that kind of fear right now. We need to understand that those in NY have that kind of fear right now. We can’t blame them.

    Let me also add, Arizona and Arizonians are no different, as to the fear they are now experiencing because of all the crime coming across the border caused by Illegals immigrants.

    Great post by Marion. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks Kevin though I get the sly reference to my previous blog. I don’t see a conflict between my opposition to Arizona’s law and wondering if a ban on face veils would be wise. Arizona’s law is badly written broad legislation that gives police the power to stop anyone who they think looks “foreign”. To me this smacks of profiling and gives police way too much power. It also sets up a situation where crime victims can’t come forward.

    Over the past few days I’ve been doing some research about the niqab controversy in Europe. Many who make the case against the veil are making cultural judgments. They find it “degrading” and “humiliating” to women. While clearly many of the women who are veiled would find it degrading and humiliating to be wearing modern dress. I’m not arguing it from that perspective.

    In the US our tradition is to allow the practice of religions and even at times bend the law to accommodate free expression, but it’s never been absolute. We don’t allow female circumcision for instance. While some may argue that that is a cultural belief and not a religious one, the same argument can be made about the veil. The question becomes does it just make us uncomfortable, or does it pose enough of a potential danger to be banned in some circumstances.

    I know that there is no way that New York City is going to take this on. While it’s common to see all kinds of dress and religious expression on the subways including headscarves, black hats, turbans, Buddhist robes, etc, it is exceedingly rare to see someone wearing a veil. Rare enough, that it would be silly to stir things up by trying to ban them, to create a controversy and make a big case about something that isn’t a big deal. Though I’m sure that if New York has its own Elizabeth Smart, or a man robs a bank in a burka or anything like that occurs, this could change.

    If we are going to act with common sense and logic about public safety in a time when things happen, then it would make sense to have a clear rule and enforce it proactively. Unlike a plane there’s generally no search done before you get on the train. You can take stuff like packages that aren’t subject to inspection. I’d like to keep it that way. I just think given all the freedom we have on the train to not be searched, it would make sense to have a rule that you could see the people around you especially as we are all being told that we have a responsibility to report what we see.

  6. Marion, I agree what you said about the burka and niqab stuff. But, as you might have guessed I didn’t agree with your opposition to the Arizona law. In Arizona, they had 316 Elizabeth Smart (a reference you made) type kidnappings last year. Almost all involved were illegal immigrants from Mexico and linked to the drug trade. They are as scared of illegal immigrants as you were of that person with her face covered on the train. Though they can see their faces, it is as though all Mexicans have there face covered. They can’t tell the difference between a legal immigrant or an illegal one. As a matter of safety, there has to be a way to identify between the two. 70% of Arizonians agree. Put yourself in the Arizonian’s shoes. Well, you did. They feel the same way.

  7. I’m trying to think if I would even notice. I’m not the most overly attentive person in the world.

    Recenty I saw a man with handcuffs hanging off him in the vestibule of a bank. I called 311 and the operator gave me such a hard time, I don’t think I’ll be rushing back for that experience.

    1. Funny. I wouldn’t have if I’d taken another seat. Once I saw the feet, I went there. But funny on 311. They aren’t good at the possible crime stuff, but there’s a lot of stuff you don’t want to call 911 about because you aren’t sure. Maybe there needs to be a special number to call in for weirdness.

  8. Interesting conundrum. If I am Osama I would right now be getting the whitest, whtie sleeper sell,Lars Soren Yngstadt who unbeknownst to anyone converted to Islam and is a radical. But that is hard, and there are few around. But young men, who grew up in secular Western middle-class backgrounds but who are Muslim do, well ave a much higher than average tendency to blow themselves and others up. Interestingly their parents and poor immigrants don’t. It is the second generation priviledged, whether in Britain, US, or Netherlands.

    So to end this, Marion kind of profiled, should she have, yes. We all do. If you are walking down a dark street and see four young men (of any ethnicity) walking up, and they are boisterous, you’re gonna be nervous, unless they are four Hasides being being boisterous over some witticism of Reb Nachman of Bratslav.
    Profilinig is one thing, jumping toconclusions is more.

    1. CJS, with all do respect, Its not the “Dark Streets” we are talking about here. Its the streets that , as preferred by those who want to do harm, to be full of light and full of people. And there are defined, verses “any,” “ethnicity” that we need to be aware of, i.e profiling.

      With Israel being the number one enemy of the same people who want to do New City harm, and their passenger Airliners, the El Al, under a constant threat to hijack and or blow-up, you don’t hear to many of these attempts being carried out lately. Why, because they profile their passengers.

      We were lucky with there attempts to blow up the Plane on Christmas day, and the attempt at Times Square. In Israel, now, because they profile so much, if a bomb goes off in Israel, its the Terrorist who get lucky.

      “Always wear a smile. The gift of life will then be yours to give.” ~ Rabbi Nachman 🙂 (No, I’m not Jewish)

  9. My policy is not to censor comments on my blog. Though it’s my blog and I can violate that policy anytime I want. But I want to clarify that the initial post was a recording of my own experience. There’s nothing in it endorsing a particular course of action. My opinion which is not expressed in the post is that the wearing of masks in public places, particularly the subway, is not a good idea. There are local laws in various municipalities against wearing masks for various reasons. A lot of them were passed because of the KKK and concerns about people wearing masks to avoid identification. The person next to me was suspicious not because she was Muslim, and not because she might have been a he in drag. She was suspicious because if she was a man, it was reasonable to suspect that he might have been wearing a niqab to hide his identity for some nefarious reason (and not simply because he was a very religious transvestite). That’s a lot of “if’s.” As a matter of public safety, it would make sense to simply have a policy prohibiting people from wearing masks in the subway. That’s all. This isn’t about limiting people’s self-expression or freedom of religion except in the sense that those rights are sometimes limited when there are other concerns. It certainly is not meant to be any kind of endorsement or call for profiling on the basis of religion or perceived ethnicity which is not only unconstitutional but stupid and ineffective.

    As for a previous comment made by someone about Israel. Having flown out of Ben Gurion (albeit many years ago), I can tell you that “profiling” means something else entirely there and is not primarily about “ethnicity” or religion. They know that the terrorist may be a blue-eyed blond name Ingrid or a pregnant British girl. They ask many questions and look for answers that raise eyebrows. It’s not stopping people because of the way they are dressed.

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