Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Burqa...to ban or to tolerate?

The burqa, that symbol of Islamic female dress, covers the face, leaving barely a netted opening for the eyes.
Is it acceptable for Islamic women to wear such attire?
In France, there is a law forbidding it.
In England, the wife of former British Prime Minster, Tony Blair, Cherrie Booth, acted as solicitor for a woman pressing her case for continuing to wear it. She was successful.
In Quebec, there is much discussion, with the general public opinion leaning towards rejection.
In Ontario, the matter is still undecided, although there seems to have been more energy behind the push for Sharia Law in domestic disputes, an issue the Ontario Government has rejected.
How to deal with different minority groups in a pluralistic society?
For the last twenty-plus years, the "left" seems to have been the political support for minority groups such as gays, lesbians, racial minorities, and in the U.S., immigrant groups, espcially Latinos.
The "right" favours the "rights of the individual, and prefers not to be swamped by a tidal wave of "pandering to minorities."
Political correctness, including the abhorrent fear of offending a newcomer, motivates some to declare support for clothing such as the Burka. The R.C.M.P. a few years ago, acceeded to a request from a Sikh member to permit him to wear his native head-dress, rather than the "issue" uniform head-dress.
Extending an authentic welcome to new immigrants is an important gesture of friendship; on the other hand, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" has been a long-standing aphorism that has guided social policy in official language debates.
It is the delicate balance between permitting the appropriate expression(s) of immigrant culture while preserving the traditions that define Canada, that we would seek. This is being written on the southern border of Canada, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River.
Since the treatment of women is so radically different in Canada from the countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, perhaps it would be supportive of women from those countries to ban the burka, thereby creating a fresh starting point for those families, upon their entry into this country.
Is it likely that the Federal government will even debate such an issue?
Is it more likely that, depending on the decisions of the provincial governments, an individual who disagrees with a provincial law, (either banning or permitting) will petition the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court?
And in that venue, is it likely that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be the guiding and operative statue, leaving the justices to research and to debate and to rule on whether or not a person's religious freedom is violated, for example, if the burka were to be banned?
As the world shrinks, and people from all countries move to visit and live in other countries, perhaps an international code might emerge from the United Nations, guiding individual nations on the level of openness, acceptance and tolerance for different costume traditions.
Personally, I would prefer that Islamic women not wear the burqa, given the history of oppression which has accompanied its wearing. And I would also prefer that the provinces, and the federal government not create a statute on the subject. And I would also prefer that Islamic young men not wear any piece of metal on their leg, that could and might be used as a weapon, simply because our culture is not prepared to deal with such potential incidents.
There is, after all, some obligation on the part of the newcomer to "adapt" to Canadian customs, without having to discard the essence(s) of their own traditions, and to celebrate the religions freedoms and legal rights which they receive upon becoming citizens of Canada. It seems that that tradition is not threatened by the voluntary removal of the burqa.

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