Sunday, February 22, 2015

On the niqab

I live in Scarborough where a lot of women wear hijab*** or the niqab. Hijabs*** don't bother me. The niqab forces me to look away. It says the wearer doesn't want to meet me, has no interest in the world outside of her culture. I respect that-- their business. That might not be the message she is trying to send but it's the one I'm receiving as a Canadian raised in Toronto during the 70's.

That said, I'm in a pretty heavy twitter argument over whether Harper's response to the niqab is right. I'm actually being mistaken for a Liberal. Should a woman in our free society be allowed to cover her face during the oath of citizenship. Harper says no. I believe he's wrong.

I believe the person taking the oath is ID'd prior to the oath-taking and the choice to cover her face during the oath taking (if based on religious or cultural tradition) should be respected. Who am I to say it goes against Canadian culture? My schooling told me that our culture was whatever we said it was... well ... we said we were pluralistic, we embraced multiculturalism ... Would we say 'no' to a kilt or a sari? A turban or a kirpan? The covering of the face by some Muslim women, except in the presence of their immediate families, seems foreign or strange.... but we invited them... we said come: keep your traditions so long as they are non-violent and don't infringe on the rights of others .... and now we want to say "EXCEPT" ... except Muslim women who choose a niqab.

This is not about oppression. If you are against the niqab because it symbolizes the forced submission of women ... then be against the niqab but you can't pick and choose and say it's fine for women to be subjected to oppression every day except when they are swearing an oath of citizenship.

If it is the garb of oppression, then be like France and get rid of it altogether... don't be wishy-washy and pretend we are enlightening anyone when in fact we are just subjecting them to OUR will instead of the will of their husband or culture ... either way they are not free, so why the moral indignation?

In the end we non-Muslims will never know the dynamic within families where this is the norm, but since many of our families are also messed up in so many different ways... are we really going to get in the way of people exercising their freedoms?

The niqab is not honour killings, it isn't FGM -- it isn't any of our business. If we are going to pick and choose the cultural or religious traditions of our immigrants, it should be in matters that affect the public or their potential safety. A woman wearing a niqab is disconcerting.... to us. Maybe women walking down the street topless is disconcerting to them but by law, we can. But the niqab is not, as some on my twitter feed have suggested, equivalent to chains or KKK robes.

If I was a Canadian, born to a culture where the niqab was expected or acceptable, and I was told that in order to be allowed to swear the oath of citizenship in our free country, my mother was stripped of her choice and her dignity and forced to submit to the will of the government, I might not think this was such a free country after all. I might in fact, choose a niqab as a form of political protest. By pushing back when people test the limits of our willingness to accommodate, we risk alienating the very people we hope will learn to embrace our values of inclusiveness, acceptance, understanding, diversity. It's a lose-lose and Harper should re-think his position.

*** Edited -- originally read burqa, Was corrected by commenters. I actually meant hijab.