"A New Zealand court was considering whether to order two Muslim women to remove their burqa veils when they testify in a fraud case an issue that has sparked a debate about how much immigrants should change to fit into society here."
"The two, both Afghan [...] refugees, have refused to remove their all-encompassing burqas in court while giving evidence for the prosecution."
"But defence lawyers have insisted on seeing their faces when they testify, saying 'we need to see the body language' of witnesses."
"If the women are ordered to remove their veils and they refuse, they could be held in contempt of court and face penalties that include imprisonment."
"Defence lawyer Colin Amery told the radio station that people who come from outside New Zealand 'cannot expect to impose an alien culture, clothes and so on, upon a system of law which has always had openness,' [...] adding that migrants when in Rome (must) do as the Romans.'"
Boy, do I hate that phrase.
The loyalty of these women is admirable, Masha Allah, and understandable that the superior thing to do is to fight for what one believes in, that it is superior to cover the face as was the practice, although the face does not qualify by Sacred Law as awrah (part of the body that must be covered for basic decency). However, to say that one would be in trouble with God for taking off the niqab would be incorrect, since traditional Hanafi jurists (Afghans are primarily Hanafis) have said that maintaining niqab is difficult in the West and there is no blame in removing it.
However, the women are confronted with a situation of conditioning, just like normal people. Not used to exposing their faces in front of men, they have grown accustomed to the personal freedom that they perceive in being covered from head to toe, not dissimilar to the personal freedom other women feel by not covering.
This judgemental attitude of believing oneself to be "open" and another to be "closed" must be abandoned. All societies have norms and unwritten restrictions that are easily circumvented over time. That the Muslims choose to document them to preserve their perception of decency is, if anything, to their credit. Since "open" Western culture chooses not to have any such standardized moral code, they are open to integrate foreign elements of culture and norms, and by taking in refugees and immigrants, must be prepared to handle these elements in a manner that is mutually beneficial.
These immigrants come from distant and foreign lands where they grew up, and have known nothing else. They leave behind their families and possessions not out of will but out of need. A more compassionate and understanding stance needs to be taken, to reason with them and help them integrate rather than cornering them by judging them for being different and impoverished.
Like most immigrants, they have much to offer.