July 4 for many Americans is a beery day of sports, food and boating but I worked a few hours at a retail job in Madison. When I worked on July 4 in the American South, customers would often share a plate of food from home. Barbecued ribs, chicken and fish were common with baked beans, potato salad and some home-made sweet tea. Now that I am Up North again, I might have anticipated the offer of a bratwurst, kraut and an ear of corn but no such offer was forthcoming. Southern hospitality is not just a cliché.
I wished people a Happy Independence Day. It is such a uniquely American holiday, celebrating our declaration of independence from Britain in 1776 when it was a risky proposition. The response by most Americans was “you, too.” I pulled a chair outside to watch the Madison fireworks display against the night sky.
Madison is also home to many foreign-born students and workers. Most born elsewhere who are not naturalized U.S. citizens clearly were not expecting a holiday greeting and did not know what to think. Most probably date their independence to throwing off their home country’s colonial oppressors even though many traded one repressive regime for another. As the Who said: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
It was a hot day for Madison; it was sunny and about 85. I went to the grocery store for some items. As I left, a woman wearing a niqab walked in. A niqab is what Americans think of as a burka. It is full face covering with slits for the eyes. She was also wearing a full-length black gown. She bowed to how hot it was by wearing sandals. I see many hejabs worn even by native-born Americans (as a father, I am picturing this lecture: “As long as you live under my roof, you will follow my rules”) but I had never seen someone wearing a niqab before. She was leading a little bareheaded girl.
I did not wish her a Happy Independence Day. A religious society that requires her to wear a niqab in public does not believe in independence of thought and action. What kind of message does her public apparel send to the little girl?
America prides itself on being a free society with a division between religion and state. Are we too tolerant of the intolerant?