Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wearing the niqab is the antithesis of openness in a secular democratic society

The issue of whether wearing the niqab during Canadian citizenship ceremonies is appropriate continues to generate controversy and media headlines. The latest flare-up comes from remarks made by the Conservative MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Larry Miller.

Mr. Miller is quoted as telling a call-in radio show on CFOS radio on Monday, “If you’re not willing to show your face in the ceremony that you’re joining the best country in the world, then frankly … if you don’t like that or don’t want to do that, then stay the hell where you came from.” And he added, “I think most Canadians feel the same. That’s maybe saying it a little harshly, but it’s the way I feel.”

And while Mr. Miller issued a short statement later saying the way he felt was inappropriate, he has made it clear he believes that niqabs should not be worn during the citizenship oath.

I agree with Mr. Miller. It offends me that someone would cover her face at the very moment she wants to become Canadian.

Amira Elghawaby, human rights co-coordinator for the National Council of Canadian Muslims is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying:

I think it’s actually very Canadian that at the moment of the oath, after the woman has identified herself and addressed those legitimate concerns, that if she chooses to wear her niqab that it would be a very Canadian thing to do, because our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does guarantee that Canadians have that right to practice their faith.”

A “very Canadian thing to do” indeed! It is just this sort of rub-their-noses-in-it attitude that breeds resentment against immigrants.

Why is this all about the rights of those who would thumb their noses at traditional Canadian values and traditions? What about the obligation of new comers to meet us halfway? Why is reasonable accommodation a one-way street? Why must those—who have helped build this society into one that is respected and sometimes envied in most parts of the world—give in to new cultural practices that newcomers bring with them, even when those practices are an affront to the majority of Canadians?

This latest round in the niqab controversy began with Zunera Ishaq’s successful Federal Court challenge of the government’s ban on wearing the niqab during the citizenship oath ceremony.

She and many of the opposition critics seem to want to turn this into a simple dress code issue. But, of course, it’s much more than that as are most Canadians only too aware. Don’t their views matter?

Apparently not. The quick rebuttal to any criticism of cultural practice is to charge racism. NDP multiculturalism critic Andrew Cash reportedly accused Tory leadership of promoting a culture of “trickle-down racism.”

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau conjured up images of the then Canadian government’s “none is too many” immigration policy toward Jews in the 1930s and 1940s—policies practiced by Liberal governments, I might add. I like David Frum’s rebuttal in the National Post of Mr. Trudeau’s muddled thinking, as follows:

The European Jews who sought refuge in Canada in the 1930s and 1940s were fleeing an ideology that defined them as inferior and demanded they wear special identifying badges of inferiority. Trudeau now urges Canada to enable and assist those who define women as inferior—and who require women to wear special identifying badges of their inferiority.”

Let me be clear: it is not racist for me to say I want someone to show her face when I’m interacting with her, its a matter of common courtesy on her part. Furthermore, tens of millions of devout Muslim women do not wear the niqab, so I don’t buy the fiction that it’s a mandated religious obligation.

The niqab in one of the many ways that show Muslim women lack equality under Islamic governments and cultural practices. Zunera Ishaq is obviously free to believe otherwise, but she should not expect the rest of us to ignore the overwhelming weight of evidence that supports my contention.

So, like I believe Mr. Miller was trying to say, if Muslim women believe hiding their faces from their fellow citizens is essential to their religious or cultural lives, them Canada is not the best place for them to move. Canada is an open pluralistic society, but we are also a society that values women as equals and are offended by any symbol that inherently represents women’s inferiority.


  1. Quite frankly I am getting sic and tired of people wanting to come to MY country and then tell me how intolerant I am because they want me to change things they do not agree with and accept it. You came here for a better life to prosper and live freely Please don't abuse this gift we Canadians are giving you. Live by our rules and enjoy...You are welcome.. Steve O

  2. While his comments were may be over the top, I do sympathize with what he said. Yes the Charter of rights may grant religious freedom and therefore except for security reasons, she may have the right to wear the niqab, but just because she can legally do it doesn't make it respectful or morally right. A western woman can wear shorts and tank tops legally in Dubai, but it would be very rude and inconsiderate to dress that way if the travelling there and I feel the same way for those coming here. Multiculturalism is supposed to be a two way street where we welcome immigrants from other countries and are tolerant of their difference, but at the same time immigrants try their best to assimilate; not a one way street where immigrants just act like it was their home country. So just because she has the legal right to wear the niqab doesn't make it morally right and in fact I think its quite disrespectful to her chosen country. The niqab is not an Islamic requirement and in fact is prohibited during the Hajj so as Tarek Fatah (who is Muslim himself) said, it's basically like giving the middle finger to Western values by wearing it.

    1. Well said and thanks for your relevant point regarding the niqab being "prohibited during the Hajj".