Razib talks about veils at Gene Expression and breaks his observations into five major points. I found that I had some commentary on each, and originally was going to leave the following as a comment there, but decided to post it here instead.
One of the guests, who wore a full face veil, basically implied that women who don't dress the way she does are sluts.
This is a fairly commonplace and reasonable attitude among conservative women (Christian, especially). To put the incidents where a muslim woman has her veil ripped off in context, imagine someone walking up to a Christian matron and tearing off her blouse. Imagine such a matron's reaction to someone wearing no blouse (a la Sue Ellen Mischke).
To be perceived as modest and not draw attention in the West doesn't necessitate taking up the niqab, or, frankly even the hijab. If one has an absolute scale of modesty this might not be so, but, if the concern is how others perceive you, then that is the reality
This is actually backwards. The concern - ostensibly - that drives wearing the veil among conservative muslim women is not how others perceive you. It is how you perceive yourself. It is a statement of value that the woman places upon her own body and how she defines her own modesty.
Whether you draw attention or not is irrelevant - of course you will draw attention in teh generic sense. But someone gawking at your niqab is someone who is not imagining you naked. And that is the key.
Wearing the veil is a statement, just like getting a lot of peircings, or tatoos, or dying your hair is a statement. If the goal is to be modest and keep a low profile, walking around in a full body veil is not doing that. That's just the reality.
the goal is modesty, but NOT "keeping a low profile". Modesty is a goal but it doesnt require copartmentalization away from society. In fact the goal of the modesty is to enable women to attain a "normal" profile in society without the baggage that abandonment of modesty entails.
This is an important point which needs to be reiterated: wearing a fully veil is an interpretation of Islam.
absolutely true! And yet I don't think anyone - even myself - has ever stated that so directly. It needed to be said, and I will say it from now on. Having said that would have really strengthened my Burka and Bikini essay from way back.
veiling was never really normal in any society that is like a typical Western society where women are independent and are out and about in the world.
I disagree rather strongly. Muslim women in various states of veil and niqab participate fully "out and about" in India, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Jordan, Dubai, ... and the United States.
A fascinating article of relevance btw is Karen Armstrong's observation about what her years in a nun's habit taught her about veiling. Highly recommended reading.