Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lifting the veil of a bad argument

My latest blog post about the Niqab has sparked some controversy, so I hope to better refine my position here, and then if there is still controversy, well, controversy happens.

First of all, I am pro-identification. Absolutely. We pay too much in taxes to support our stellar health care system to allow just anyone to avail themselves of our services. Re-reading the article I realize I had not made that clear. The problem, I find, is that this bill  is requiring women to remove their headscarf for the duration of the service, whatever that may be.
The majority of Sharia Law interpretations do advocate removal of the niqab to permit identification, in the presence of an official or member of authority; the RCMP confirm that no-one, to their knowledge, has ever refused to remove their niqab for a mugshot, and there is a consistent line of people removing their niqab for passport photos and other such matters. But lifting it once for the purpose of identification is a whole degree of separation away from requiring it be removed for the entire time, when anyone could see the woman's face, a result she does not want.
The landmark case on the issue was a women immigrating from Egypt, who was taking a federally funded language course in French (the fact that it was federally funded puts less weight on the woman's position, however, the ban would also apply to universities, and those are not fully funded), as is mandatory for immigration into Quebec. The instructor was originally a women, so the Muslim woman in question would test her french privately at the back of the room where she would remove her veil. At one point she did complain that the men in the class could see her face still and when the class dynamic changed to be primarily men, she refused to remove it at all (although this coincided with the change of instructor who was now a man, so there is debate as to the motivating factor). The course stipulates that the student's mouth must be seen, since it is apparently essential to elocution for the mouth to be visible (This is the argument they gave). This aspect alone is debatable and I would argue that how you achieve the correct sound should  not matter so long as the correct sound is achieved. If they had learned it over the Internet, their mouths wouldn't be judged (it is noted she was offered the chance to study online; no mention of why this option was not acted on).

It is an interesting point, although not entirely relevant to the argument, that current estimates put the number of Quebec women who wear the niqab between 20-25, but after the story broke about the woman's human rights lawsuit,  another student was kicked out of class for refusing to remove her niqab, but there does not seem to be any precedent (IE. no difficulties in class) and she is alleged to have been doing well and cooperating fully otherwise.Herein lies the biggest risk with this ban, put best by this woman:

 "Shelina Merani, a spokesperson for Muslim Presence, a network promoting common values based on Islam, charged that the bill is discriminatory and reflects growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec.
“As a woman, you will have to choose between your education and our faith,” Merani said in an interview from Ottawa.
“If we want to emancipate women, I think this will do the opposite of what we claim to want to do – it will contribute to ghettoization,” she said." -Marian Scott, the Montreal Gazette, March 26, 2010

There is also the matter of security. It could certainly be anyone in a niqab, and the fact that the 2005 London bombers fled in burkas, makes the situation more tricky. But anyone who supports this measure must also support full body scans, since it is the same principle on a larger scale, and strip searches, although since these involve physical contact there is less precedent. On a confusing point of interest, the  lawyer who defended the rights of Sikh students to wear their ceremonial dagger, does not support the veil. Given the proportion of stabbings to bombings or anything that could be hidden under a niqab, I'm confused about this discrepancy. He does, however, emphasize that any further forays into legislation would begin to intrude on individual rights.

I also get very worried when these kinds of situations occur and people scream that this is "CANADA where we have our own customs and the arrogance of these ‘individuals’ that come over here and expect us to conform to their rights and religion is appalling" (Mikey35 on the national post website), but ignore what exactly Canada stands for, if not for freedom and tolerance.

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