Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wearing the niqab in Canada....there must be limits

A niqab (/nɪˈkɑːb/; Arabic: نِقاب‎ niqāb , "veil" or "mask"; also called a ruband) is a cloth that covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab. It is worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of non-mahram* adult males, especially in the Hanbali Muslim faith tradition.
The niqab is worn in the Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. The niqab is also worn in countries such as Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh as well as some parts of Palestinian-ruled territories, southern provinces of Iran, and additional areas with sizeable Muslim populations. Because of the wide variety of hijab worn in the Muslim world, it can be difficult to definitively distinguish between one type of veil and another. The terms niqab and burqa are often incorrectly used interchangeably; a niqab covers the face while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground. (from Wikipedia)
The it a woman's religious freedom?
Is it a rejection and a denial of an open society?
Is it another expression of the repression of women?
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a woman applying for Canadian citizenship is free to take the oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab, and must uncover her face in private to an official of the government prior to the ceremony. The Quebec government has placed before the National Assembly a motion that would restrict the wearing of a niqab by all people in serving the public of Quebec and those applying for service from the government, that is all civil servants who serve the public, and all citizens accessing governmental services.
According to reports, 80% of public opinion in Quebec favours the Quebec governments' restrictive proposals, and some reports indicate that some 75% of the Canadian public also favour restrictions on the wearing of the niqab.
Stephen Harper is so confident of his position to require all applicants for Canadian citizenship to remove the niqab while taking the oath of citizenship that he is proposing an appeal of the Supreme Court decision, should he return as the leader of the government following the October 19th election.
Both the leaders of the NDP and the Liberals, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau respectively have declared their agreement with the Supreme Court's decision, and Trudeau has even found air time for his oft-repeated line: "A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian!"....touting individual freedom and individual rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for which his Prime Minister father, Pierre Trudeau, is so famous and highly regarded.
In a recent French language debate including all five party leaders in Quebec, the Green Party leader Elizabeth May asked rhetorically, "What has the niqab got to do with the economy? What has the niqab got to do with the environment?" in a valiant attempt to avoid this wedge issue distracting from her main message on those two important issues.
Like it or not, this election campaign encompasses both macro and micro issues. Whether or not the niqab is merely a wedge issue seems now to be a mute question, given its rapid rise up the scale of issues taking time in debates and in public affairs programs. There may even be some who will cast their vote primarily on the basis of the party's position on the question, although that in itself would be sad.
Religious garb, especially garb that is premised on the notion that the male human being is lecherous, dangerous, unable to be trusted and must be precluded from even the thought of being attracted to a passing Muslim woman is most offensive. The wearing of the niqab also removes the notion that men have to learn how to relate to both men and women with respect, regardless of the emotional and sexual stirrings of their interactions. What is really stake in this debate is the question of the strength, viability and sustainability of an open, free, democratic and secular society. If such an idealistic goal, one that has permeated our history and resulted in the loss of many lives in the fight for its preservation, is to be upheld, then the injection of a religious garb of his preventive nature, must have limits placed on its use. For example, in the courts, if a woman were permitted to wear the niqab, especially should the subject woman be under arrest, the court would have to have the power to require its removal, in order to conduct the proceedings with witnesses knowing the identity of the accused. Even in the commission of an offence, the niqab is a rather convenient "cover" of one's identity limiting the likelihood of discovery. Furthermore, the notion of Sharia Law, underlying the wearing of the niqab, which is one step in the direction of the promotion and incursion of Sharia Law, is elevated to the status of a public issue, without the politicians having to engage in the question directly as to whether they favour the deployment of Sharia Law for those Muslims living in a secular society. Seen from the perspective of the potential imposition of Sharia Law, step by step, as a creeping strategy of those who favour the imposition of Sharia Law, the people who are charged with the maintenance and protection of our democracy (lofty and idealistic as those words sound), must be also charged with protecting our democracy from the erosion that would occur should the niqab be permitted in all places, at all times.
Individual freedoms such as the freedom of speech, in Canada, have limits. Libel, for example is one of those limits. Hate speech is another legitimate curb to the freedom of speech, a curb which proudly distinguishes Canada from our neighbour to the south. Right now, Bill C-24 is being enacted by the government of Canada, to remove the citizenship of an individual (and maybe others) for his overt participation in promoting Islamic jihad. Of course, those who consider such a removal to be another
"dangerous slope" in the direction of removing the citizenship of all other offenders, and thereby creating two "classes" of citizenship, oppose the government's decision, and some will undoubtedly take the issue to the Supreme Court for a ruling.
Meanwhile, with some 3-4 weeks remaining in a federal election campaign, the question of the niqab will continue to plague both the politicians and the media will grant considerable time and space for its explication and debate.
We know and must acknowledge that there is a distinct difference for Muslims, as compared with Christians, Jews and agnostics and atheists, that requires their political life to be an expression of their religious beliefs. Islam, through the Koran, does not respect the separation of church and state.
Sharia Law, for example, would be required in any state controlled by Muslims. This linkage between the faith rules and the secular rules of the state (or perhaps even a deliberate unity) is one against which most western democracies have fought, in an honourable attempt founded on the belief that religious freedom requires  freedom "from" religion and well as freedom to practice one's faith without prejudice. We would not, could not and will not tolerate a state calling itself a democracy that is controlled by a single faith community. We would not and could not call ourselves free if we lived in such a state. And we would not consider it possible or feasible for our children and grandchildren to live in a free society should a single faith impose its religious views on the laws of that state.
So, does the niqab have anything to do with the economy or the environment?
Indeed, as the Pope reminded us so eloquently, the human being is part of the environment and if the society does not care for the individual, it will not care for the environment.
However, just as "incarceration does not mean exclusion" (Pope Francis in a Pennsylvania prison, Sunday September 27/2015) so too, caring does not mean acquiescence in all requests. Our democracy can and does respect the rights of the individuals of all faiths, (or no faith) without having to accede to the specific demands of all segments of that faith, when those demands contravene the democratic, open, free and secular values of our history, our tradition and our preferred future.
If the Roman Catholic believers can and do support a woman's access to therapeutic abortion, as a matter of law in Canada, while continuing their attempts to overturn that law, then the Islamic women who prefer the niqab will have to remove their niqab in all conversations with the civil government and its agencies, including the police, the fire departments, the courts and the providers of public services. The schools, as always, provide a hybrid, in which, if identity is determined openly upon entry, then students and professors should be permitted to wear the niqab while engaged in the pursuit of an education. Employers, however, would, in an ideal world, must retain the right to determine professional attire, and could and would be enabled to exclude the niqab from the workplace.
As an afterthought, one would hope and prefer that all restaurants, hotels, hospitals and libraries would not permit the wearing of the niqab by all employees.
Does this meagre opinion resolve the issue? Of course not!
It merely adds another voice to the chorus of those considering the issue in this country and abroad.

*In Islamic sharia legal terminology, a mahram (Arabic محرم, also transliterated mahrim or maharem) is an unmarriageable kin with whom sexual intercourse would be considered incestuous, a punishable taboo.

No comments:

Post a Comment