Depending on which poll you believe, 67%, 68%, 72%, or 82% of Canadians agree with Stephen Harper, that women shouldn’t wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies. The excuse given is that it contravenes our standards, customs or some other Canadian thing that the offended person pulled out of their ass. Filter out the fact that, natives aside, North America is an immigrant melting pot with tons of traditions, and Harper’s Canadian customs quickly become early immigrant white customs.
You know, old stock Canadian customs.
The “old-stock Canadians” remark, instead of going unnoticed, immediately unleashed an onslaught of questions over what “old stock” meant, whether it had racist overtones and whether it was part of an overall Conservative campaign to engage in identity politics or stoke fears against other groups.
Why Harper is wrong
A niqab, in case you can’t read or hear, is a face covering worn by some Muslim women in public and in front of most men, leaving only the eyes visible. It differs from a burka (though many people mistakenly use them interchangeably), which covers the entire face. In one of the polls cited above, 72% also agree with Harper, that the niqab is a symbol of oppression and anti-woman culture. I couldn’t agree more, and unfortunately that has absolutely nothing to do with why Harper wants it banned, despite what the Conservatives have occasionally said. They’ve been working this angle since 2011, but unless they decided to change the law (you know, the thing we’d use to decide if something was or was not allowed) it’s a moot point. I suspect he knows using his majority to do that is a loser with new stock Canadians, so it’s easier just playing to fear.
During the 2015 election campaign, realizing that mistrust of the niqab is playing well with the electorate (see polling numbers in the first paragraph) the Conservatives have promised to implement a barbaric cultural practises hotline.
The heightened rhetoric over “Canadian values” coincides with a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Montreal police are investigating an incident in which a gang of teenaged boys attacked a pregnant woman in the city’s north end and knocked her down while attempting to remove her head covering.
Ostensibly a place where people can report incidents of immigrants and newer Canadians doing stuff that offends the old stocks, it would seem all the anti-Muslim rhetoric is doing nothing but increasing anti-Muslim crime (and bolstering polling numbers, of course). I don’t actually believe he cares, aside from the effect it might have to firm up support from those who might also believe his terrorist and crime fear-mongering (both of which are actually miniscule risks to the populace), or that his income splitting or TFSA increases will help them (both of which will only help those who make the kind of money few of us do). To some degree, many Canadians who won’t benefit from any of the foregoing are buying the rhetoric.
Canadian law doesn’t ban wearing a niqab, but talking about banning it is helping his election cause. He’s also more recently been fanning the flames by coming out in favour of banning niqabs for those working in the federal public service. The argument for the citizenship ceremony ban was that all people should be willing to show their face as they become Canadian. I have no idea what falacial logic he extends to working in the public service and, frankly, zero shits given here. There is no logic to most of what Harper says, other than wedge logic. Beyond having no legal ability to stop public servants from wearing niqabs, I suspect there’s also a labour fight there, should he actually try to ban it. Again, this isn’t a real issue, but an electioneering Australian-devised wedge. Let’s not even talk about how small the numbers of women who actually wear a niqab are …
The only reason we’re talking about this now is because Harper has received help from Lynton Crosby in figuring out how to spout nonsense for the sole purpose of dividing the electorate and getting votes from fear. Frankly, if you let any of this stuff sway your vote his way, you’re being played, just like 67-82% of Canadians who respond to election polls. Mind you, Crosby has apparently left the building.
Is a niqab truly a matter of choice?
As no law prohibits it I can’t see an argument for banning it, but I’m no fan either. My feelings admittedly get pretty grey in this whole area. If I felt that wearing it was truly a freedom of choice issue, I’d have no problem. However, as women claiming freedom of choice are the product of generations of religious doctrine delivered via male teachings, it’s hard to make the case it’s truly a choice. If you, and generations who came before you (including the previously subjugated women), are taught to believe you should cover yourself because of your deity’s will, your second-class status is burned into your psyche.
Niqab use varies widely across the Muslim world, with many cultures banning it, many making it optional and, in fewer very hardline examples (Taliban-led Afghanistan anyone?) making it mandatory. I’m no expert, but there seems to be a correlation between male subjugation of women and the prevalence of the niqab. In other words, the worse a Muslim society is for women, the more likely they are to cover themselves.
Even Muslim women, themselves, find this to be a distraction from the real issues. Note in the following passage from the linked story, the use of the term “personal form of modesty” and you’ll understand where my concern about the niqab being a personal freedom comes from.
“This is not a fundamental issue that we must all agree on,” said Vali. “It is what you consider to be your personal form of modesty. For me to tell you that you’re wrong in thinking that way, that is not what Canada is about. That is not what Islam is about.”
I’ll admit that I have no real answer, but …
First, Harper is about getting votes right now and has never been terribly plussed about human rights, and he’ll say pretty much anything to get elected. Second, while I have strong negative feelings about what the niqab represents, there’s presently no law preventing the wearing of it anywhere. So, where does that leave me/us?
Well, this is really just the latest in a long line of examples of Harper using fear, praying on ignorance and outright lying to get, increase or hold on to power. In no particular order, just a tip of the iceberg:
- Women who wear a niqab are probably hiding something, but I’ll make this about protecting their rights if you’ll vote for me.
- No one else can be trusted with the economy, even though I’ve run six deficits in a row. Now that it’s election time, I’ll magically balance the budget next year.
- Marijuana is infinitely more dangerous than tobacco. And while I haven’t a single legitimate study to back up this claim, I’ll just tell anyone who questions it to talk to Health Canada. I prefer ruining peoples’ lives over something no worse than a drink, than doing the right thing and decriminalizing/regulating it. Oh, and while my own poll says 2/3 of Canadians want marijuana laws relaxed, I don’t believe it.
- The other parties will kill income splitting and TFSA contribution limits (important tax measures for families), but I’ll continue them, even though almost none of you can make use of them. Similarly, I’ve killed the Child Tax Credit which actually targets tax relief based on need, and given everyone a Child Tax Benefit and child care subsidy increase which many don’t need. This defies logic and economics, but it plays well with my base.
- I’ve passed important terror legislation, even though I have no evidence it’s needed and its net-effect is to impinge your human rights. Oh, but I also care deeply for human rights as per my stance on the niqab.
- I’ve gutted environmental stewardship and stopped scientists from talking about it. I like science, but it’s inconvenient when it runs counter to business interests.
- I’ve closed/gutted lots of science libraries, but still, I like sci … OK, even I can’t say that with a straight face any more.
Where does that leave me/us, indeed. I can’t honestly remember the last time Harper did or said anything I agreed with or even believed. I do know, though, that we, as a nation, deserve a far better leader. At a bare minimum, we need someone who doesn’t cheapen public discourse by racial stereotyping, uses science and evidence to form public policy and law, and doesn’t just formulate strategies that play well with his narrowly defined base.
We need a leader that governs for everyone.