One day here at the University of Toronto I was stepping into the elevator at 215 Huron Street (the philosophy department is located on the ninth and tenth floors). There were several people already in the elevator. One of them was a Pakistani-Canadian girl I knew from my Islamic Philosophy class the previous year. We hadn't talked much in class; she was taking it as part of a Near Eastern Studies program, I was taking it as part of a Philosophy program, so we never really met outside of class. However, when I stepped onto the elevator her face lit up as if I had been an old friend.
The reason is that she observed hijab, in a way that was quite conservative (everything except her eyes and hands were covered). One of the other people on the elevator, as he entered, had pointed to her veil and said, very angrily, "That's a sign of oppression. You should take it off."
Not only was she uncomfortable, she was a bit frightened at the angry tone of his voice and the equally angry looks he gave her. So, when she saw me come into the elevator, it was a great relief; she remembered me from the class. After the young man got off the elevator, she told me all about it, and we talked a bit. Fortunately, such incidents were rare, although apparently she had occasionally come across similar uncomfortable and even frightening situations. We finished by talking a bit of Islamic philosophy - she was apparently doing something with al-Kindi's discussions of the 'Cosmic Man', which sounded very interesting. [That should read 'al-Arabi's' rather than al-Kindi's. Wow; that was a big slip, since the two aren't very similar at all. An odd trick for the memory to play. -- BW.] And then we parted, and we haven't met up again. But the incident made a vivid impression.
What brings it to mind is International Women's Day. That we have accomplished so much in the cause of women is a reason for a bit of celebration. But I hope there will eventually be a day in which nice Muslim girls will not be agressively accosted on university campuses in major liberal democracies and treated so poorly. I have no doubt that the young man meant well, and meant to place himself on her side; but instead of being on her side, in that elevator he put himself in opposition to her. (This memory is one reason why I get so impatient at the tone of some who consider themselves progressives.) May God grant that we will all be a little bit wiser than that young man.