Monday, February 23, 2015

Canadian Niqab Ban: An Ex-Muslim Immigrant's Perspective

Face veils....Niqabs.... *sigh*

While everyone else discusses the Oscars, this is the stuff that keeps me awake at night. 

There has been so much talk about niqabs in Canada recently. Especially since in December 2011, former immigration minister Jason Kenney brought in the ban during a specific time - only while taking the citizenship oath. And also since Zunera Ishaq, a religious Muslim from Pakistan, has contested this ban by stating that she wants to wear a full face veil while she swears the oath of citizenship.

In Toronto, the liberals are outraged, the conservative Muslims are outraged, the liberal publications (which seem to have lost the plot in today's Islamist political climate) are outraged and printing nonsense, the right-wing publications have almost always been printing nonsense. There is very little left for readers like me who don't align with the right and are increasingly disappointed with the left.

The issue of the niqab and burqa is being volleyed between anti-Muslim bigots, Islamofascists and their ever-loyal, naive, liberal Western apologists - who in the fogginess of their collective 'white guilt' often trample on basic liberal principles such as gender equality and in fact endorse disgusting levels of misogyny. 

Their knowledge of Islam is limited and shallow, yet these are the 'experts' called upon by Canadian large-name liberal publications to discuss the topic. It's almost always 'white' (non-muslim) experts attempting to explain the nuances and loopholes in freedom of speech to the rest of us, where we are almost coerced to think that niqabs are ok, because they are a 'choice'. And here in the liberal, secular West - we value freedom of choice. 

As expat Pakistanis from Saudi Arabia, myself and my family hoped to escape this abhorrent visual reminder of the subjugation and mistreatment of women when we immigrated to a secular country like Canada for a better life. Yet, I am reminded that Islamofascism transcends geographical boundaries, it travels across oceans and nestles in every secular corner of the earth. It attempts to rear its ugly head by using secular principles to its advantage. Uninformed Western liberals allow this to happen under their perception of supporting equality. Equality for minorities in this instance. 

One does not have to scratch the surface too much to realise that niqabs represent the opposite of equality. Let's look at the the core principle behind the burqa and niqab. What is this about? It is about telling women that their bodies are shameful, that their face may provoke lust in men. So they should be the ones to cover and hide, exist in discomfort and be ashamed of their bodies, their faces. It's about victim blaming AND not telling men instead that they should keep their lust in check like all humans should, which should render such extreme covering useless in civilized society. 

This is about a visual representation of what male privilege looks like (and privilege in this case is an understatement). 

If Toronto publications wanted to hear an honest view about what the burqa means, they would not be asking people of non-muslim backgrounds to write on these topics. They would be putting their investigative skills to use and finding people that have suffered under burqa-regimes - asking for their opinions. They would be asking women born into Muslim families that have had the courage to stand up to this subjugation to balance their perspective. If they wish to publish niqab-supportive articles, one can only expect that the flip-side be discussed too and in an authentic voice. 

As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, I witnessed my mother's ankles being 'lightly' caned by morality police, despite her wearing the burqa/a'abaya. I was terrified that people had such control to dictate what women looked like. I experience a flashback of that childhood terror and my heart sinks when I see a woman being treated this way and put into a niqab. Surely women did not invent this rule of invisibility, men did.  

The ban on niqab during the small slice of time that is the citizenship oath and the pushback surrounding it is telling. One, Islamists don't like to budge even on reasonable things, but they will expect Westerners to abide by their rules while in their countries constantly. Below are pictures from an official Qatari campaign aimed at Westerners, in hopes of teaching them about Qatari "culture and values". Please note that 'any gesture', 'reciting songs', or 'uttering indecent phrases' can get you imprisoned and fined. And two, liberals are basically scared to disagree because of the whole 'minority' issue. Can you imagine the outrage if Western countries had similar signs up in their malls, banning hijabs and burqas? We wouldn't, because we're better than that and we do value freedom and diversity. All that is being asked here is to see your face while you declare yourself a Canadian. That is the least one can do. 

it seems person #3's lovehandles are not permissible either? Whut?

The one article that really got under my skin was Saturday's Globe and Mail piece on the topic. Wente's opening paragraph's basically set the tone for the well-meaning, damaging naiveté that follows (might I add that I am not a huge fan of Harper, and usually don't agree with him):

"I loathe the niqab. I agree with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that niqabs are “not how we do things here.” A cloth that covers the face is a symbolic rebuke to Western values – especially when the covered woman is walking three steps behind her jeans-and-sneakers-clad husband.
But I also think a woman has the right to choose – even when her choice is offensive to a lot of people. I believe that religious freedom is a cornerstone of Western values. People should have wide latitude to exercise that freedom as they wish, and we shouldn’t constrain them without very good reasons."
This whole 'not how we do things here' business reeks of othering a group of people. Which is what's happening. It needs to be rephrased. No one should do things like this anywhere and that should be the expectation we speak from. Treating women like this is not ok, it is not ok if someone claims its a part of their culture, or if someone claims its a part of their religion. The same standards of humanity should apply across the board. Do not infantilize and expect lower levels of morality from Muslims. That is offensive. It is. Treat our communities how you would treat other groups. 
If you think a woman has the right to choose to cover her Identity in a government space, while taking the citizenship oath to Canada, will this 'choice' extend to other women/people? Can we choose to wear balaclavas/clown masks/satan masks at the citizenship oath? I'm a citizen, but I would like to ask potential future citizens taking the oath to put this to a test. If we're really claiming freedom of belief here...then it should extend to all. Will my devout pastafarian friends be allowed to take the oath with a colander on their head and an FSM mask on their face? If so perhaps we can at least claim consistency and 'equality' for all. But somehow I doubt this would be allowed. We see major religions being given special privileges in our secular country time and time again, excluding those who do not follow mainstream organized religion from receiving such benefits. 
If Wente thinks people have a wide latitude to exercise freedom and shouldn't be constrained without very good reasons (which I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with) would the following arguments against niqab be 'good' enough reasons? 
- countless crimes and robberies (including a 500K jewelry heist in our very own city, Toronto) achieved via the burqa and niqab's convenient concealment of identity.
- Grenade attacks on Christian minorities in my motherland, Pakistan, carried out by niqab and burqa-clad anonymous people, on Christmas day.
- The multitudes of accounts of forced veiling, that women go through. The shunning and isolation they face if they don't abide. The fear of hellfire that they are threatened with if they don't make the right 'choice' for 'themselves'. 
- The systemic, legalized oppression women face regarding 'modest clothing' and veiling, by various Muslim governments.
- The fact that many Muslim countries have banned the hijab/niqab in government spaces themselves: 
(for the record, I have no issues with hijab - the head covering, as that is definitely not something that impacts people's safety or well-being, sometimes that is just a cultural identity thing, the niqab, face-covering is a clear human rights violation a symbol of subjugation and a security hazard because it provides people with constant, unquestioned on-the-go anonymity) 
  1. MalaysiaAlthough headscarves are permitted in government institutions, public servants are prohibited from wearing the full-facial veil or niqab. A judgment from the then–Supreme Court of Malaysia cites that the niqab, or purdah, "has nothing to do with (a woman's) constitutional right to profess and practise her Muslim religion", because Islam does not make it obligatory to cover the face.
  2. MoroccoThe headscarf is strongly and implicitly forbidden in Morocco's military and the police.
  3. SyriaBefore it fell to the hands of Islamists Ghiyath Barakat, Syria's minister of higher education, announced that the government would ban women from wearing full face veils at universities.
  4. EgyptThere have been some restrictions of wearing the hijab by the government as it views hijab as a political symbol, in 2002, two presenters were excluded from a state run TV station for deciding to wear hijab on national television.
  5. Abu Dhabi - In Abu Dhabi, the niqab was banned in all public offices to fight unrestricted absenteeism.

(info sourced from here and various linked articles)

- Also, how about the fact that even in the Muslim world the niqab is increasingly seen as a political statement, a symbol of Islamism rather than Islam. There are official fatwas against the niqab, by muslim scholars themselves. As an article points out,
"Last October, Shaykh Tantawi, the head of Al-Azhar university, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni world, ordered a school girl to remove her niqab during a visit to an Al-Azhar school, saying he would seek an official ban for the face-veil in schools as “the niqab is a tradition and has nothing to do with Islam.” "
"This decision was reaffirmed in a fatwa issued by the Iraqi Shaykh, Ahmad al-Qubaisi, who stated: “People have the right to know the identity of the person they are in front of in order not to feel deceived. The obligation of niqab was only for the Prophet’s wives as they were the mothers of all believers. Women who do not agree only have to look for another job in which they are not requested to show their faces”."

- And finally how about this for a reason (full article here), 

"In Kuwait, women wearing the niqab have been banned from driving for security reasons, as the only hole in the veil allows no 180-degree perspective. Moreover, it would be impossible to recognize the driver in case of driving infraction." 

In short, there are multitudes of valid, reasonable reasons for secular societies to ask that people do the bare minimum and at least show who they are *at least in government buildings*, ok no? How about for the few minutes where you are swearing your personhood and loyalty in the form of citizenship to the secular country of Canada. Can you please just show us who you are while you do that? You can wear whatever you like, as long as we can see your face...It'll only be for a few minutes? Please? Is that reasonable?

And all this is aside from the very obvious, you know, don't put women in black bags where their face can't be touched by the warmth of the sun. Where they don't have the privilege to breathe/see comfortably and simply exist like other people. I mean we have enough problems getting vitamin D in Canada as is. Mother Nature imposes some level of shariah-compliant modesty on us for much of the year... but our faces, those are one of the few parts that get to live and breathe and see freely. Do not endorse ideologies that take that away from women. Some may shout about how it's their choice to live so inhumanely. But that's what any person suffering from Stockholm syndrome would do.  If they want that 'choice', they do have it outside of the specific situations people are asked to show their face for security, government reasons. 

You will also hear from some manipulative Muslims who use the feminist (feminism means equality for men and women btw) argument of bodily autonomy. Of how other people should not decide what women wear, their body, their decision. I am in complete agreement with that, but as a society we do have some rules and mores, when things cross a certain line. We do forbid public nudity. And in the same vein, we should not be endorsing misogyny and the othering of women. We should not be allowing unchecked anonymity in certain situations. And that's that. No one is trying to dictate what you wear, they just want to be able to identify who you are. The functionality of knowing who you are, trumps that faux-feminist card you will play. 

Also Toronto publications, please stop with your non-muslim 'experts' on Islam. Hear from us, those of us who were born into the religion. Those of us who have dared to stand up in the face of this treatment. 

Please Canada, don't listen to the anti-muslim bigots, and don't listen to those who wish to oppress women in the name of Islam. Don't listen to Western apologists for such things either. Listen to US who have lived under and stood up to Islamist fascism. How hard is that really? 

Kind of hard. I get it. I do understand that ours is a view that is rather inconvenient at times. It endorses none of the pre-existing 'template narratives' the mainstream media has set up for everyone. 


As the child who saw her mom's ankles getting caned by morality police, for not having enough hair or skin covered...I speak with a deep concern for my culture, and I want us to be included like the rest of the world, at the adult table. I want us not to be viewed as the loonies who can't help but treat women unjustly. Don't talk down to us, don't look down on us, treat us as your equal and expect us to evolve like other people do. We are not the barbarians you think we are, we may require a nudge, and the rest of the world to tell us when we are in the wrong. 

I repeat, it is not ok to treat women like this. Tolerance and diversity does not mean or include tolerance of intolerance.... tolerance for misogyny. Fellow liberals please speak up for liberal values. 

If you are a Canadian concerned about this issue, I request that you share this piece. Because many do not want you to hear from people like me, obviously. 


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1 comment:

  1. The first Muslim immigrants from Asia to Canada conformed to the way of life in Canada. They abided by norms and societal requirements, did their utmost not to offend the sensibilities of the Canadian people. They did not know if their stay in Canada would remain if they did anything which did may result in them being deported. They lived in the perpetual fear of that. However when their children grew up in the country, started asserting themselves. Some women insisted in wearing head covers, hijabs etc. because religious freedom allowed them that, however what they forgot is that they were in a secular society, no one has the right to impose their religious values and opinions on others.
    Things have come to pass these Muslim women started condemning other Canadian women who did not dress like them. Expressing horror and indignation of women wearing shorts, miniskirts, halter-tops and small blouses. For them the exposure of the body and face was 'haraam'. These women are hypocrites, they should appreciate that they were not being condemned for being the religious fanatics they had become. But everything reaches a breaking point. Intolerance is met by intolerance. When these Muslim women face the backlash, the cite religious freedom, but that religious freedom does not mean that their values on those who are not Muslims, they should mind their own business. There was one such woman went to visit to Malaysia and dived in the hotel's swimming pool with her burka on. This is nothing but a display of insanity nothing else.