Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Response to 'My Niqab gave me a Voice'

Just when I thought things couldn't get any more bizarre surrounding the niqab debate in Canada...I read the most er, 'surprising' article by a niqabi woman....claiming her niqab gave her a voice.

Yes and cheeseburgers help me lose weight, handcuffs help me feel liberated, etc.

This debate has been heated with both sides speaking passionately. However, some perspectives are missing from the discussion at large - making it a little one dimensional. The whole thing has been brought about by Pakistani immigrant Zunera Ishaq's refusal to take off her *face* veil in citizenship court, where absolutely no one else gets to wear a mask.

This rigidity, this sense of superiority...this opposition to following rules that EVERYONE else has to abide by, asking for religious privileges, this is exactly the kind of political Islam that I have seen my birth country, Pakistan, be destroyed by.

Many a Muslim cleric will even tell you that the face veil is not a mandatory part of Islam. This is not about religion necessarily, this is about not backing down, this is about ego. This is about politics. This is about 'playing the race card', when this is not a 'card' to play... racism is a real and very horrible experience, and yet some people are attempting to manufacture a tinge of racism here.... to use it to their gain. How are they any better than the opportunistic politicians they seem to oppose?

This is about using freedom to propagate oppression. It's truly an insult to myself, my family, and many immigrants like us ...that are regular people...who are not manipulative in this way, who do not demand 'special' privileges under the guise of multiculturalism or cultural relativism....We are happy to abide by rules and laws meant for everyone. We are happy to extend a hand in friendship and to meet others, to learn about other cultures while sharing ours. We hare happy to be reasonable, to give and take, to find a balance in our new country's culture as well as our birth country's culture. We are happy and proud to embrace both.

I thought framing the niqab as some sort of feminist tool of bodily autonomy was the most ludicrous, topsy turvy thing I'd ever heard of... but today this letter to the Prime Minister from niqabi-Canadian, Aysha Luqman-Pandor seems to have surpassed that. She frames the niqab (the epitome of misogyny) as a tool of empowerment. Oh the irony...And as far as I can tell, this letter is not meant as a submission to The Onion.

I had so many thoughts while reading it. I thought I'd unpack some of what I was thinking for you here. It is so easy for extremists and fundamentalists... apologists for the awful that religion in general does, that Islam does, to shut down critique by screaming racist, or bigot. Those words or even the implication of those things will scare most reasonable, well intentioned people into silence. Anyway, here we go:

Here's the maddeningly manipulative and misleading title (for those who do not know what the niqab is about, or know much about Islam)

'My Niqab Gave Me a Voice'

Raised in a hockey-loving household, a woman explains why she donned the veil.

I mean thats exactly like a slave saying his or her ball and chain is what gave them an identity. And why throw in the hockey-loving here? 

In an attempt to frame this conversation as an us vs. them thing perhaps.... 

This is not about making you, as immigrants, seem less Canadian, so stop trying to put it like that. You can play hockey and eat poutine till it leaks out of your ears but it won't turn the niqab into a practice that embodies the Canadian values of equality, freedom. That's not anti-immigrant, that's just a fact. 

"Do you know who I am? You should, because you are asking me to unveil myself. So, let me tell you who I am.

I am a Canadian." 

He wasn't asking you to unclothe yourself or bare your soul. Please do get the facts right. This particular incident is not at all trying to frame you as any less Canadian than anyone else. This is about calling an ancient misogynistic practice what it is. We have been able to do that with FGM (female genital mutilation) but with the niqab, the damage is only psychological, not physical. So niqab-apologists are able to disguise it, and get it to slide under most people's human rights radars. 

"often terrified, but not a terrorist, a fan, but not a fanatic. I am just me."

Sure, you're absolutely not a terrorist. But you just want to fight for your 'right' to wear this symbol of extremism, thats all. I am certain you yourself are not at all violent or intend harm to anyone. But you wish to physically associate yourself with many that do. Because you certainly aren't associating with 'moderate muslims', nothing about the niqab is moderate. You seem to want to physically display that you have more in common with extremists than you do with moderates. You may endorse their ideologies too, you may be a homophobe, or think apostates deserve death. But how would I know, I have nothing to go on except for the fact that you wish to fight for your right to look like the bad guys. Yep, I said that. 

It's true of niqab, and you may be able to fool the average Westerner who has little knowledge of Islam, but you certainly won't be able to fool me. The fact that you wear a niqab (as you say of your own choice) is alarming in itself. 

This item of 'clothing' is the very definition of extremism.... It would be a cause for concern to anyone rational who knew you or was around you. And yet you have the audacity to lie blatantly and claim you are NOT a fanatic? Your niqab and your fight for the right to niqab in courtrooms is only existent because of your fundamentalism, your extremism, your fanaticism. 

"I am the administrator for a private school. I'm completing a degree in foundations for teaching as well as classical Arabic. I am the mother of three children; two sons, age 11 and eight, and a 10-year-old daughter."

Hmm... I wonder what kind of *private* school you work for, and what your motivations for studying classical Arabic might be? Ohmigosh, could the answer to both those things be *religious* - could it possibly be that you work at a school that specializes in indoctrinating little minds, with the glory of say, um... Islam? 

I also wonder what kinds of messages you are sending to your children, with your advocacy and desire to wear this symbol of female oppression. Er... you are indeed telling your boys, that it is a woman's responsibility to keep men's lustful desires in check. It is what the woman wears, and not the unchecked entitlement men have and objectification of women that is the problem. You are telling your daughter that this is the right way to be.... You are leading her by example. 

To me, teaching a little girl about such levels of 'modesty' as protection from the male gaze, is objectifying her. Its not much better, and possibly worse, than telling her at a young age, that the right way to dress is in g-strings and t-shirts that say 'slut'. It is objectification to the max. How is this an ok message to send to your daughter? How can you as a woman justify this? How can you raise sons to be respectful towards women when you would rather hide your own face in public than explain to them what respectful boundaries towards women look like?

"My parents, though practicing Muslims, never enforced or imposed religion on us."

Well, if you're going to go about this by lying blatantly, then I guess I can also say that my parents can speak to Allah, and he has directly told them he doesn't want you to hate women so much, and he wants you to not endorse the niqab. It *might* have been useful in the 7th century, it certainly has no place now. You may be able to mislead people with no experience in the culture, by saying there is no force or imposition, but sorry, I call bullshit. 

If your parents are traditional practising Muslims, there is no way they would have given you a choice to become an apostate or explore other religions and pick one that suited you better....what you call not imposing, is maybe at best the fact that they didn't 'force' you to pray. I'm sure they taught you the Quran, and shared aayats and said Salam, they definitely told you about Muslim women being modest, likely about not dating, and not drinking...These are all impositions. And I'm not saying that parents don't have a right to raise their kids how they think is best (as long as they are not doing harm, psychological or physical) Your parents may have been wonderful, liberal Muslim parents. Mine are. But if they truly believe, there is imposition, 'guidance'.

So please Aysha, do not purposely misinform people in your defence of the niqab. The imposition is ingrained into every little thing, what hand we eat with, what direction our feet face when lying in bed. 

"I was shy, more reserved, voted most likely to disappear by my classmates."

And so this is what you decided to do? You *actively* decided that the best path in life for you was one where you actually disappeared? Where you'd be faceless in public? 

" I did lose most of my so-called friends when I began to observe the veil. "

Well you are wearing the uniform of extremism and pledging physical solidarity with them. Perhaps that made your less fundamentalist friends uncomfortable? Or maybe you felt it was your duty to 'guide' them towards the 'right' path, that can be offputting..... or maybe they just missed seeing your face at the mall? Maybe it was getting hard to go out for a slice of pizza with you? It's understandably difficult to be friends with someone who insists on being an anonymous silhouette in public. Non-verbal cues go out the window.

"I did gain a really great one though, my husband of 13 years, who is also my best friend and greatest support."

Oh your husband supported face veil?! What a shocker.... really. Imagine that, a Muslim man in favour of having his wife hidden away from the public eye, kept only for his sole enjoyment? Never have I ever heard such a thing. 

"My faith, I believe, was the reason for all this."

Yep. Your faith, the faith I was born into, my beloved family's faith. It is a reason for many things. It is also the reason why I have no choice but to express my views behind a pseudonym. It is the reason why I receive countless death threats, for my unpopular views. It is the reason why anyone questioning anything to do with *one* particular religion is afraid, walking on eggshells. It is why you can probably wear a niqab in court and kick and scream and get your way, but no other types of masks would be allowed. Heck I'd probably be thrown out If I tried to wear a Charlie Hebdo T-shirt next to a Muslim family in citizenship court. Because we must respect your religion, otherwise there will be blood, you see? 

"We dress in ways to reflect our choices, our beliefs, our attitudes and our mentality."

Precisely. So glad we agree on something Aysha, and you are reflecting an alarming, extremist mentality by what you choose to wear. What's next? Will you fight for your right to wear ISIS merchandise? 

"So, if covering myself makes me feel safe, comforted, spiritually elevated, and an equal in the eyes of those who see me, then what are you saying by asking me to take it off?

You know what makes me feel safe, comforted, spiritually elevated and an equal in the eyes of those who see me? Wearing a large strap on as a big F U to patriarchy, walking around with two rifles and a pitbull foaming at the mouth (well not really but hypothetically speaking) - would I be able to do this in court? Probably not. And maybe the white supremacist living down the street from me feels safer and more spiritually elevated in his KKK hood. But guess what, he isn't going to be granted that privilege in citizenship court either. Because this isn't about the state 'dictating' what you wear, as you and other apologists have tried to frame it. This is about treating everyone equally, not granting special privileges... and not allowing masks/face coverings in citizenship court. That is what he is saying by asking you to take it off. He is saying no masks in citizenship court. Not even for Muslims, and especially not masks which are solely for the purpose of degrading women. Because THAT is not a Canadian value. No matter how much hockey you play. 

So tired of repeating this...over and over...and over. 

"I'm not here to state a ruling on whether the veil is mandatory in my faith or not, I'm here simply to say it is mandatory for me"

Oh, I wonder why you are not here to make a comment about whether it is mandatory in your religion or not? Hint: because you can't make that claim, and so your freedom of religion defence goes out the window. It is absolutely not mandatory, and many clerics have gone as far as declaring fatwas against it, calling it unislamic. If its mandatory for you, you certainly aren't representing mainstream moderate Islam. You are representing extremism. This is a red flag in itself. 

"I find it oddly unsettling that your number one issue with the niqab is that it wasn't expressing a "Canadian" identity."

The irony here is that many people find a faceless silhouette pretty darn unsettling. Something that is rooted in inequality is absolutely not expressing a contemporary Canadian identity. I would support your right to wear the Hijab and even fight for that right along side of you Aysha, because that is a reasonable expectation, as is a turban, or kippah.... but to hide your *face* from others and have that advantage of anonymity over them is not a reasonable expectation. 

"You never mentioned security, feminist issues or even safety issues in wearing it."

You say that as if mentioning those things would have convinced you and the other niqab apologists somehow? 

 "I feel it's belittling of a politician of a high rank to play fashion police. Furthermore, I feel you stepped out of line when you mentioned it was an act deeply rooted in a culture that is "anti-woman." 

This has nothing to do with 'fashion', and you know that. As does anyone with half a brain.

How is stating fact 'out of line'? Please do not try to manipulate the conversation and play 'lets shut the white people up by using the shield of race/culture/religion'. There are absolutely times when many people are out of line, please do not take away from those incidents of real bigotry by trying to classify this as one. What is the sole purpose of the niqab? I think you know as well as I do that it is not exactly to empower women, unless you lie to yourself along with lying to the rest of the world.

"It has me a little furious that you would refer to my religion as a culture."

You know what has me a little furious? Is that you are trying to conflate the religion of my parents with this vile symbol of extremism. The niqab is not mandated by religion as you yourself couldn't clarify above. If it were interchangeable with 'religion' then all Muslims would wear it. And let me tell you, my openminded, progressive female Muslim relatives who have fought the system to get the freedoms they have today do not share your extreme beliefs, or your desires to hide their female existence from public. This is nothing but culture, which is why you see it's presence vary from region to region. Your untruths are honestly what have me 'a little furious'. 

"I have nothing to hide, and when asked to do so for security reasons, I unveil myself to prove it."

Great, then you should agree that the courtroom also has procedures and codes which EVERYONE is expected to abide by. No masks for me should mean no masks for you or anyone. If you've nothing to hide, then ten minutes in citizenship court shouldn't be turned into such a big deal, and in fact should show how flexible and willing to adapt, accommodate and mingle Muslims are. 

"So who am I to you Mr. Harper? You know I am a voter"

You know why you are a voter? Because women unlike yourself fought for your right to be equal to men. And here you are now, fighting for your 'right' to live in a seventh century bag, made to specifically hide women away. Could there be a more blatant double standard? Here you are celebrating your right to vote, while fighting for your right to go back in time in certain regards. It hurts the brain, your pretzel-like logic... it truly does. 

"You know I am a Muslim because I presented myself as one. You know I am a human because you observed me as one.

 But do you know who I am?"

Nope, and you can't really blame anyone for not knowing who you are because you are an unrelatable, unapproachable, faceless being in public. how is anyone supposed to know anything about you apart from the fact that you share views with extremists? 

"I am that 16-year-old girl who was facing a horrendous time fitting in, and belonging, until one day, she took the initiative to determine how she would be seen. My niqab gave me a voice, a place and a hope. It made me who I am."

I am truly sorry you had a hard time fitting in, I can relate. I have a hard time fitting into Pakistani culture, and I would probably feel more comfortable, if I was ever in a mosque - in a tank top. But they'd probably ask me to respect their norm and not wear one. We all have codes and customs, this is not out of the ordinary. If you can expect me to respect the custom in a mosque then I can ask you to respect the secular custom of masklessness in the citizenship court. 

Do you really think removing your face from the equation is going to help you fit in? And to position it as something empowering....sigh.

Whether you were pressured by your belief, hellfire, or whatever...this is not a true choice in my opinion, but you know.... we are a free country, feel free to exercise that 'choice' outside of the courtroom...but then also, don't complain that you feel isolated, because you are separating yourself from others. If this is the image you wish to project in public, then so be it. Please don't be upset when people call it extreme, or think you are an extremist. 

This is the 'voice' you have supposedly chosen for yourself. You think the niqab gives you a 'place', yes it sure does, a place below men. Because unlike men you are not allowed to be in public without your coverings. This made you who you are in the same way a prison uniform makes a prisoner who they are. I am sorry that that is such a huge part of your identity. And I am sorry if it sounds harsh to you, but to women like me who have grown up around morality police, in Islamic theocracies, who have seen what forced modesty can do to women.... it is obscene that you tout your privilege of 'choice' in this matter... regarding a garment that is MOSTLY, overwhelmingly used to oppress women. 

If you truly have this choice, why not use this privilege of yours to stop this from happening to your 'sisters' in Islam, who do *not* have this choice? Why not get on the right side of this yourself, and not fight to perpetuate this female facelessness? 


-An apostate


If you enjoyed this piece, you might also like my other pieces on niqab:

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  1. I love you so much...I want to pick you up and hug you and kiss your cheek... You say it all so well....

  2. Thanks for unpacking Ms Luqman-Pandor's essay Eiynah. i too am Canadian, but unlike most Canadians i've lived over 30 years in 7 different countries which self-codify as Islamic. i'm married to a Malaysian and i have Muslim relatives in my extended family. None of them cover their faces, only one covers her head sometimes. My nieces wear jeans and tee-shirts without headscarfs; their mother will now wear a tudong (headscarf) during Eid Al Fitri but never did until this year. i have noticed a move towards conservatism in muslim societies ever since, i think, the Iranian revolution with various male muslim elites trying to prove that they're more muslim than the chief Imam of Mecca. There is absolutely no question, in my mind, that Islam, as currently practiced and interpreted, is all about patriarchy.

  3. Great stuff. Cogent and passionate. The woman who is appealing against the niqab ban doesn't consider even Pakistan Islamic enough, for heaven's sake. She is an extremist, no two ways about it. In the papers she even admits she would be happy if there were segregation in Canada. Well done Canada for not accepting this nonsense. If only we in the UK could crack down on these fanatics more successfully. And pigs might fly.

  4. Another great one. I had read this piece in the Tyee, do you know it? Great little newspaper, usually full of common sense, entirely online. It made me feel really uncomfortable. As in, oh dear, am I a bigot after all? No, damnit, just a secular feminist. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for tearing this bit of self satisfied BS apart.

  5. You write:" It is so easy for extremists and fundamentalists... apologists for the awful that religion in general does, that Islam does, to shut down critique by screaming racist, or bigot. Those words or even the implication of those things will scare most reasonable, well intentioned people into silence." I have ceased being reasonable and well intentioned then. I wrote this a while back. " The sound bite mentality is ideal for demagogues. It encourages knee-jerk reactions to certain buzz words that bring a dialogue to a full stop. No political side has a monopoly on this.

    Words like 'terrorist' and 'natural security' are hauled out on the right, but the left has its own arsenal. An accusation of 'sexist', 'racist', or these days 'Islamophobe' can also bring a frank discussion to a halt." You're damned right I am an Islamophobe. This is an equal opportunity phobia: I am a theocracy-phobe in general.

  6. I greatly enjoyed reading this! Truth be told, I found your rebuttals to the points made by the author of "My Niqab Gave Me A Voice" highly enlightening.
    I live in a Muslim-majority country and as a postgraduate student, I am appalled to observe a steep rise in the number of niqab-wearing female Muslim students, even among the PhD candidates. Heck, I even had to prepare a power-point presentation with a niqabi as one of my group-mates for an ice-breaking session at finishing school during my undergraduate years, and I can confidently add that nobody in the lecture hall could hear a word she was saying! And yes, she was the only one who failed to thaw, if you get what I mean...to this day I'm still surprised that she scraped through finishing school just by making her presence felt, when the rest of us sort of toiled over it...
    I really admire the way you've exposed in your rebuttals the self-righteousness, hypocrisy and use of religion to justify a zeal for personal glorification that are rampant in individuals such as Zunera Ishaq. What you wrote is not only commendable, but brimming with truth, and for that, you have my utmost respect.
    I also wholeheartedly agree with one of the comments that highlighted a rise in the move towards conservatism among Muslims in countries like Malaysia. The way I see it, this not only reveals how Islam is all about patriarchy, but also how religion on the whole can be so easily abused as a tool to sustain one's ego and subsequently oppress others.
    I've always believed that one doesn't need religion to tell right from wrong; instead, what one needs is simple common sense, and on that note, allow me to share what I consider an immortal quote from one of my favourite authors:
    "Every man is his own god. In choosing to follow another god he denies himself and in doing so becomes blind and unjust." - Yasmina Khadra, "What the Day Owes the Night"
    Again, a big thank you for such a well-written piece! Am hoping to see more in future, and all the very best with that!!

    best regards,
    Anonymous 2nd-class Citizen

  7. I always love your eloquent writing. But Ohmagosh this very article is off the chart. Sharp, laser like precision, eloquent and superior sarcasism. Bottom line, I feel truly sorry for your boyfriend because he will never ever win any arguments no matter what.


    1. Hahaha I shared your comment with him ;)

  8. holds two thumbs up to the laptop screen

  9. the amount of hate in this blog post is unreal... get a reality check girl. live and let live. u aint any better than those who force women to wear the niqab, you are literally going to extreme. stop trying to oppress women that truly do wear the niqab as a choice. every person should be allowed to wear what they want. yes i agree that the woman should have removed her niqab during the citizenship ceremony, but everything else you have written is pure hate and quiet funny actually. life is so short i cannot believe someone could be filled with so much hate that they would invest so much time in writing such a worthless blog LMAO. i hope the best for u and hope u can start seeing the brighter side of life instead of worrying or caring about what other women choose to wear.

    1. The amount of logical flaws in this comment are sad....no someone opposing the mistreatment of women isn't the same as those who oppress women by forcing them to cover. Perhaps you'd have a case if i were roaming the streets ripping ppls veils off, or enforcing de-veiling by caning... but i don't think opposing via blogpost is quite the same. nice try tho. I don't see how opposing intolerance or misogynistic traditions is hate, but please go on believing whatever makes u feel better. "Live and let live" is a line that only makes sense as long as no one is being harmed or coerced... majority of burka/niqab wearers in the world do not have a choice, so every time a woman free to make this choice chooses to perpetuate this sick tradition, she carries the burden of all those who do not have that privilege... please , next time think things through before u comment. It'll save you from looking as foolish as u did this time.

      I wish u the best and hope you will see that wanting all sexist traditions to be gone *is* the brighter side of life, and worrying about how women are treated in my own community is of utmost importance, as i myself am a woman. Cheers.