Think Anew, Act Anew

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why the niqab should decide your vote

for undecided voters, the niqab debate offers a good way to narrow down who to vote for

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - JULY 20: A woman wears a full face Niqab on the streets July 20, 2010 in Blackburn, England. Syria has banned the wearing of full face veils in its universities. The controversial Islamic niqab and the full face burqa has also seen calls across Europe for them to be banned. Many Islamic groups have called the ban discrimination against Muslims (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In the past weeks, the niqab – that curious face covering favoured by women from certain parts of the world – has become a divisive and perhaps decisive issue for Canadian voters. As you doubtless know, the Conservative government has declared that the veil must be lifted during citizenship ceremonies. The courts have ruled otherwise and the debate will inevitably end up at the Supreme Court, where Harper’s worst ideas go to die.

Moot though it all may be, the Conservatives are delighted to rip the niqab off women (figuratively speaking) and wave it like a flag, rousing the bullish nativist sentiment stirring not only among Quebeckers, but everywhere else. It’s helping the Conservatives.

A very smart guy asked me why the niqab might be acceptable for the citizenship ceremony, but not for testimony in court. My answer was this: because seeing someone’s face is important to assessing their testimony. Fact is, we don’t need to see someone’s lovely chin to to know she means it when she swears an oath to Canada. She can mean it, or not, face covered, or not.

No, the citizenship ceremony simply “feels” like a place someone shouldn’t be covered up, because the covering itself “feels” so deeply un-Canadian. And I’m not putting “feels” in quotes because I mean to diminish the sentiment: it’s valid. The shrouding of women is widely interpreted as treating them as second-class citizens, property, even sub-human. Exactly the wrong symbolism for the citizenship ceremony.

Most Canadians are affronted by the niqab. Indeed, I presume that the women wearing it do so because they feel intimidated – by men, by tradition – into being hidden. The niqab covers them up because they are so damned sexually tantalizing and all that tempting facial flesh must be concealed from everyone save the man who owns her. It’s appalling. When I see one, I shudder, the way I would getting a glimpse of a battered wife’s black eye.

I don’t want to see the niqab. I don’t like what it represents. I don’t like to think what it does to a woman inside it. But if I’m serious about that, how does denying a woman her citizenship correct that? If a woman is truly imprisoned in this garb, under the domineering command of some male, does anyone think she will lift that veil in a room full of strangers if she can avoid it? Might her husband decide his wife or daughter doesn’t need to become a citizen? Why not – he makes her wear a bag over her head.

Denying a woman her citizenship because she wears the niqab makes as much sense as arresting a woman whose husband gives her a black eye. We don’t like what we see, we don’t like what it suggests or tells us about her life – so we punish the victim. It is worse than stupid, it is stupidly mean. And it is ugly. And it is un-Canadian.

But there is another way to look at the niqab, some say: it is a woman’s choice. I’m sceptical about that but let’s say a woman truly feels she has a choice and decides to wear the veil. In that case, her outfit does not represent oppression, but rather its opposite: an exercise of liberty. And if that’s what a woman means to do by wearing the niqab at her citizenship ceremony, what could be more Canadian than that?

I have read that 85% of my fellow citizens agree with the sentiment that the niqab should not be worn when a woman takes the oath to Canada. My respectful message to them is this: you’re wrong. Whether she is forced to wear it or wears it by choice, no woman’s rights are improved or respected by denying her the citizenship she has otherwise earned. It’s wrong.

If you care about the women trapped in these clothes, do something to help them. Let them take the citizenship they have earned and use it. Denying her citizenship does only one thing: it lets you feel that strange tingle people experience being tribal and bigoted, with a politically correct reason for feeling it.

Some people will decide how to vote because they like that feeling and, finding a party happy to exploit it, will vote Conservative.  There are some good reasons to vote Conservative, but this is not one of them. In fact, this a very good reason not to vote Conservative. After all, does a party which thinks so little of your intelligence and decency, really deserve your vote?

Unless they’re right about you, of course.

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7 comments on “why the niqab should decide your vote

  1. Steve Bradley
    October 3, 2015

    Nonsense to say the Conservatives are exploiting it. The Liberals and NDP talk about it more than Harper, and certainly kept coming hack to it in last night’s debate when Harper tried to change the subject. When you only harangue the Coservatives, who actually feel strongly about this issue and not just the votes that the Liberals and NDP are chasing with this issue,your article becomes completely biased and beneath you.

    Like

    • dkl
      October 4, 2015

      Cheer up you’re winning

      Like

  2. Bill Calvert
    October 3, 2015

    David, this is an excellent entry. You express exactly my conflicting feelings about the situation, and reach the same conclusion; that it would be a sad day were we to deny a woman Canadian Citizenship based on her choice re the niqab, especially since such women have perhaps a greater need for the protections that Canadian citizenship provides.

    I fervently hope that this issue, plus the “hotline” for reporting neighbours’ “barbaric cultural practices”, plus whatever other racist wedges the CPC attempts to throw into the works in the next two weeks, will sufficiently expose the slimy underbelly of this collection of bigots that Canadians will recoil in disgust. And vote Green, natch! (or even Liberal…gag)

    On a side note, if you ever get a chance to visit the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, I strongly recommend it. We visited yesterday, and I was surprised to have such an emotional reaction to what I had expected to be a museum to bureaucracy. The displays do a good job of conveying the fears and hopes and courage of those who in many cases give up so much in order to join us. They often have “alumni” visits from people who originally immigrated through Pier 21. In our group we had a women whose family had escaped from East Germany and fled to Austria, “riding the rods” and having to wait in Austria for 2 years for her mother and youngest sister, who got caught and sent to a concentration camp. It makes your hair stand on end to actually talk to a person who has such a history.

    Bill

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  3. Ann
    October 5, 2015

    How do you know who this person is if only the eyes show. Could be a male. Could anyone. How DO you know?

    Like

    • dkl
      October 5, 2015

      The citizenship application process requires an earlier ID cheque. The ceremony is a ceremony. I do not think we can accept covered faces in other situations like airport security etc

      Like

    • Dave
      October 6, 2015

      ID and face is checked beforehand. This is only about the ceremony.

      Like

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This entry was posted on October 3, 2015 by in Canada, Canada Election 2015, Politics in Canada, The Rights of Women.
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