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Nick Day is a writer interested in international affairs, anti-militarism, human rights, and economic justice. This blog will investigate Canada's actions in international arenas under the Conservative Party of Canada.

Nick has been a grad student, a Trustee of Queen's University, a construction worker, a member of the NDP, and an intern at Amnesty International.

Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickAday

We hate the niqab: Minister Kenney and Barbara Kay protect 'Canadian values' from Muslim immigrants

| December 13, 2011
Canadian State Racism against Muslims

Since gaining a majority government, the Conservative Party of Canada has waged a rather reckless fight on Canada's democracy. At the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, Harper's delegation made Canada a pariah by promising to vote against Palestine -- along with only five other countries and against the wishes of the majority of Canadians. At the COP 17 global climate conference, Minister Peter Kent further shamed Canada on the issue of climate change.

Harper's administration has shamelessly supported the Keystone oil pipeline despite its direct infringement on indigenous and environmental rights and despite a healthy resistance including Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein, and the largest environmental protest in Canadian history. Finally, at the summit of the G20 in Toronto, Harper's goons spent a disgusting sum of money, violated thousands of people's civil liberties, and launched a kangaroo trial culminating in the political imprisonment of six young activists.

All I'm asking at this point is for one week to go by without another major gaffe of Conservative lunacy. Well, hopes be dashed! Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney announced today that "Muslim women" would henceforth be required to remove all face-covering garments before taking the citizenship oath. Kenney describes it as a "fairly common problem" for applicants to arrive to the citizenship test wearing such a garment, and he finds it "bizarre" that the rules up to now have allowed people to wear the niqab while taking the oath. The Globe and Mail article can be found here.

Kenney's explanation for the policy is that citizenship judges are concerned that "some Muslim women may not actually be reciting the oath" behind their face-covering garments. I'm going to go ahead and suggest that the fear of Muslim women faking the oath is probably not the real motivating force behind this new law.

It doesn't take much to figure out the real rationale behind the new policy. Hint: it's anti-Muslim racism. Some quotes from the comments section on the Globe and Mail kind of help make it clearer: "if you do not wish to accept Canadian values and standards, I'm sure these people would be happier elsewhere. Perhaps they might even remain in their countries of origin and help sort them out." Another reader writes, "This is a great step forward in preserving Canada." Finally, one person froths, "a good start, keep it going -- ban all face coverings, inside [the home] and out.  I know it gets cold in the winter and some like to wear a balaclava on those days… but you know that's not what I'm talking about."

Yes, we know what you're talking about. What you're talking about is an overwhelming urge to police, harass and interfere with the religion, culture and dress of Canadians who are Muslim. What you're talking about is a really narrow idea of what counts as "Canadian values," and a desire to abuse a certain group of people who you feel don't belong. What Minister Kenney has done with this policy, therefore, is stoked the already-glowing fires of a growing and violent racism in Canada. He has encouraged all Canadians to antagonize Canadians who are Muslim. And the proof is in the comment section on this article, 1200-strong and growing, all filled with vitriolic hatred for those who are perceived as "different" or "not truly Canadian."

The National Post puts the cherry on top of this sundae of bigotry and hatred. In a jaw-dropping article, the post actually provides the reader with a chart, containing four distinct images and bullet-points of key information beneath, entitled "Traditional Muslim Headgear." Check it out here. Thanks, National Post -- now I know what to be on the lookout for next time I'm at the citizenship office.

Why doesn't every Globe and Mail reader in Canada see that what we're doing here in Canada is systematically identifying, classifying, and attacking a minority group? Why don't they see that this is classic, straightforward, racial antagonism reminiscent of the Jim Crow south? National Post's Barbara Kay is, as always, the one to cut the crap and lay the cards on the table. She writes that this new policy has an added "symbolic value" in addition to its common sense. "Taking the oath of citizenship should be… a declaration that Canada's democratic values will henceforth be those of the new Citizen," Kay writes.

Finally, we understand. This new policy is not really about ensuring that everyone is dutifully reciting the citizenship oath, as Kenney claimed. It's about asserting "Canadian values" and making it clear that Muslims have no place within Canada. See, as Kay so aptly points out, these women must be symbolically harassed in public: not because they are potentially faking their way through the oath, but because they represent "a culture" that "real Canadians" hate. Their values (as if all Muslim Canadians shared the same values) are apparently not compatible with Canadian values. So, we finally get the motivation behind the anti-niqab policy: it satisfies a racist hatred and Kenney's need to shove it in the face of Muslim Canadians from abroad that they can come here, they can even become citizens, but they'd better know their place, dress how "we" tell them to, and accept abuse quietly.

#NotMyCanada.

Follow Nick Day on Twitter: @nickaday

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Comments

madazhel wrote:
When it comes to partaking in a solemn government proceeding take the funny red hat off for a few minutes.

How about we have a law banning the wearing of crucifixes around the neck while attending a "solemn government proceeding"? Would you be happy with such a law - blatantly directed against Catholics - disguised as a move to keep government affairs secular?

Should the wearing of yarmulkes be banned from state funerals? Should Sikhs be obliged to remove their turbans while taking the citizenship oath?

The racism lies not in disagreeing with religious practices, as you would have it, but in singling out particular ethnic or religious garb for prohibition, as an excuse to demonize a particular identifiable group.

Nick Day,

Racism is deplorable. Period.

Because one does not agree with the religious policies of a group does not make one racist. 

Ascribing "racism" to any opposing opinion has the effect of silencing the opposition. A recent example was the presidential election in the US where any criticism of the Democratic candidate was deemed "racist" by his supporters.  Any question of the candidate's experience or performance was quickly drwoned out by accusations of racism -- a convenient but frightening device for controlling political engagement.

I oppose any religious organization which demands special privileges in a secular government. This is not a racially motivated position.

I remain wary of whomever throws the "racist" epithet around.

 

OK, so listen what we're getting into here is a fundamental lack of understanding of the complexity of Race, power, privilege, whiteness, and discrimination, and I can't solve that for the last two commenters. I request that you read up on some of the links I posted in an above comment, because until you engage with some thought about how racialization works, you will not get it. 

some quotes from ppl who get it: 

"islam has been rendered into a racial category. the politics of that are complicated and i wont get into them here. more importantly, many of us who are muslim are also people of colour. so it is not very easy to separate into neat categories the islamophobia from the racism. both are at work here." - Professor, Simon Fraser University

"I'm glad you asked that. You are right to point out that on the surface this is merely anti-muslim which is bad enough. Yet "race" is a construct relating to groups of people, power, normalcy and privilege. In the context of Canadian society there seems to also be anti-arab sentiments and this is merely one manifestation. That being said, I am open to also saying that this is anti-muslim, xenophobic and generally wrong." - Master of Political Science, Queen's University

 

Nick,

An immigrant to Canada has traditionally been obliged to accept, and behave according to, Canadian public values: notions of what's right and wrong in Canada. That applies to everyone, including persons of any type who wish to cover their face in public. Otherwise, that changes the institutionalized behavioural nature of our country. These requirements of all people in Canada - no exceptions because of being new to the country or one's religion - are not racism. Racism pertains solely to race alone, and since, in the case of Muslim women wishing to wear the niquab, the niquab issue does not pertain to the type of body in which one has been born, this issue is not to be deemed racist  by any definition. Neither you, nor anyone else, is to be permitted to impose your own broad definition of race on Canada as a whole.

I personally find wearing a face covering in public by anyone, the niquab included, a security threat, since we'd be unable to identify an aggressor wearing it. While it would be unfair and unreasonable to judge a person by their bodily appearance, ie., race, over which they have no control, and which cannot be logically deemed to indicate negative behaviour, the wearing of the niquab is one's choice, and therefore, one can, and should, choose not to wear it in public, in consideration of the sensitivities of others in the area. When in Canada, one is obliged to not behave in such a way as to make anyone feel under threat.

 

I see Mr. Day has spent some time today defending his position...a position that paints those who disagree with his writing as harboring an "underlying disgust and hatred for muslims."

That's a pretty harsh brush Mr. Day is using to paint the Canadian canvas.

I don't support Conservatives. I'm a Socialist. I was raised a Catholic, but I don't believe in God and I think religion is, well, pretty much ridiculous.

I do, however, believe that religion of any sort gives way to government regulation...short of banning religion, of course.

I, for one, can't see that it's too much to ask of anyone, of any sex, in any religion to abide by the rules set out to achieve an official status (e.g. citizenship, driver's licence, etc.).

And, hey Nick, what happens with veils and banks?

Canadian citizenship is a privelage, not a 'right.' Immigrants to Canada have a duty to conform to the social norms and laws of their new country--or not come here. And--notwithstanding forty years of Turdeauist multiculturalism--mysogenistic cultural systems that force women to dress like walking burial shrouds, or allow fathers and brothers to kill girls for 'dishonouring' their families have no place in Canada. And progressives should realise that they can be either advocates for this sort of 'religious freedom,' or women's rights--not both.

My concern is not disproportionately about Islam. As I stated, I am intolerant of religious practices of all stripes holding sway over a society.  No quicksand there. ;-)

I am not reducing Islam to anything other than a religion of which as I mentioned I am intolerant of having trump the workings of a secular govenment.  Religious preference ought not grant special rights to an individual.

You write, "Do you choose to wear clothes? What if I decide that's a throwback to when religious groups were entwined in government? Shall I take it upon myself to interfere? "

Not sure that was a strong retort on your part. Was wearing clothes a throwback? No. 

Bras are not mandated by a religious hierarchy. (Well maybe there is some sect somewhere that forbids a woman to leave the house without a bra on because it would displease some god or other. Who knows?)

The influence of religious dogma in state affairs has a long history and not much of it is pretty. That is just the facts, not my opinion.

Follow my logic:

Wearing a veil is a religious practice. (Actually one could argue that veiling is a cultural practice absorbed into Islam but save that thought for another day.)

My view is that religion has no place in the proceedings of a secular government. (This government  affords equal treatment to all under its constitution -- no special treatment to religious groups.)

Veiling therefore has no place in the proceedings of a secular government.

Note I am not saying one cannot wear the veil. Hell, walk around in a Santa Claus outfit if it rocks your boat. When it comes to partaking in a solemn government proceeding take the funny red hat off for a few minutes.

 

I'm with Nick here. Certainly there are things about the niqab that make some people uncomfortable, but ultimately I don't think we get to force other people to abandon things that are important to them unless there's a really good reason. And I don't think that burden has been anything like met.

Fair enough. But what is dangerous about a woman choosing to wear a Niqab? Why do you assume that there's a menacing Imam/husband forcing women to wear Niqab, and therefore you have to step in and regulate what the women wear? See other comments, all over the place - lots of women choose to wear this. 

Do you choose to wear clothes? What if I decide that's a throwback to when religious groups were entwined in government? Shall I take it upon myself to interfere?

What about Bras. Bras are a throwback to oppressive sexual/gender norms, and come from some men's ideas about how they want women to look. But notice that we don't make bras illegal. 

You're arguing on logical quicksand, mate! And your insistence on the point indeed reflects and explicitly states a simplistic, reductive, bigoted view of what 'Islam' is ("Woman wearing masks over there faces in a free and secular society is peculiar.", etc). That's not an ad-hominem attack on you - it's an analytic point about your arguments, and a suggestion that you re-visit their foundations!

The disproportionate weight of your concern over Islam, as compared with your lack of concern over other forms/manifestations of patriarchy and islamophobia, is something we should all reflect on. It betrays something about Canadian culture, about culturally powerful modes of thinking about Islam.

Again, please don't take these as attacks on your character or intellect. we're dealing with arguments here, we're assessing them, and I think you are more willing to engage with the point that your arguments come from a place which is already, prejudicially willing to declare the cultural symbols of Islam as oppressive without first investigating or deconstructing your assumptions.  

My point is that I am not tolerant of religious practices trumping the workings of a secular society. Yes, I am not tolerant and I don't mind saying it. For example, I am not tolerant of cruelty to animals.

I am grateful that a country will defend itself against religious ideology.

Sure, a stance against veiling may be used as fuel for political partisanship or racism etc. but that does not make it the wrong stance to have. At the heart of the matter is resisting a throwback to when religious groups were entwined in government.

For the record, I do not think there should be religious holidays as national holidays ie Xmas. Churches, synagogues, mosques or whatever should not have special tax statuses. Cutting of children's genitalia should be against the law. Beating of children in faith schools should be against the law.

I count on a just society to refuse to be cowed by clergy of any creed.

 

I think your responses are reasoned and well-argued, I just think you're still missing the point - that the issues is more about the Canadian state, and a large portion of islamophobic Canadians, taking on the role of regulating Muslim Women. Sure, some muslims (e.g. the leadership of the Muslim Canadian Congress) don't believe in the Niqab, and other Muslims choose to wear it. The question is not which Muslims are "right" because in fact we are claiming to be a diverse, multicultural, tolerant society - let's have a diversity of views! No, instead, the question is 1) why we think we're allowed to police other people, 2) where the desire to police them comes from, and 3) what it results in. 

Answers, according to Barb Kay et-al:  
1) because we're the true Canadians, and we hold the keys to real canadian values
2) It comes from a response to Burkas and Niqabs that makes Kay and Kenney want to say "those damn barbarians, i'm so pissed that they think they can just walk around in Niqabs, I'm going to show them who is boss"
3) it results in inflammation of hateful comments and racist utterances - increasing frequency of attacks on Muslims - demonization, vilification and harassment of Muslims: 

http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/islamophobia-watch/2011/6/20/pat-conde...

http://nextyearcountrynews.blogspot.com/2010/05/islamophobia-in-canada.h...

MOST IMPORTANTLY: http://www.canadianislamiccongress.com/ar/Report_on_Macleans_Journalism.pdf 

from the Washington Post:

"But the Muslim Canadian Congress welcomed the new regulation, urging the Canadian government to go even further and ban the burqa and niqab from all public places in Canada."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/americas/burqa-ban-no-more-face-cove...

About the Muslim Canadian Congress: http://www.muslimcanadiancongress.org/mission.html

so it's not just "racist" white people who disapprove

_____

I wonder if self flagellation while walking through city centers was still a routinly occuring expression of religious piety would we "tolerate" it?

"So, short answer to "what's wrong with protecting women form their patriarchal religion?" is: you're not helping! If you want to see a more just society, don't protect women from themselves, protect us all from Jason Kenney!"

huh?  Speaking out against patriachy is always okay whether to the woman or men involved or to general socieity. Lining up on the side of religious oppression of women is never okay.

Woman wearing masks over there faces in a free and secular society is peculiar.

We wouldn't have a bandit stand in court with a kerchief over half his/her face.

We are not talking a "fashion" choice here.

I realise this is a touchy issue. My thoughts are simply a reasoned difference of opinion from Mr. Day's.

I do not like Mr. Kenney's politics but that doesn't mean that his stance on this issue is wrong.

All I have to say is thank you Nick! Finally something that actually has gotten to the root of the problem instead of spewing out hateful comments about Islam.

 I am a Muslim Canadian- yes I consider myself to be both. Althought I don't wear the niqab I do wear the headcovering. When I put myself in that position to be told to take off my headcovering it just makes me cringe! This is supposed to be a free country and yet our ministers and government officials are openly sending across the message that we (Muslims in Canada) don't belong. Well I'm sorry but I have the right to live in this country just as much as any other person and I'm not about to change that.

 As for a lot of the comments (that I should be used to by now) which ignorantly go on to slam Muslims and Islam and which state that Muslim women need saving from their patriarchal religion...let me tell you one thing nice and clear: I don't need anyone to save me from my religion. I choose to wear the headscarf for personal reasons as a fulfillment of religion which I believe to be important for MYSELF. It is a part of me and I don't need anyone to save me, I don't need people to do anything except let me live as I want. I don't tell anyone else what to do or what not to do although there are many things I might not agree with.

 Isn't that what our society is supposed to be based on- values of freedom? You don't judge me just as I don't judge you. Just for once it would be nice to be able to walk outside without someone looking down on me thinking "there goes a poor Muslim soul who needs saving".. well in actuality it's about time people stopped being so ignorant about others religions and personal beliefs and got on with their own lives!! We are achieving nothing with these petty debates, how about we actually look to all those issues which are actually important to the functioning of our society and for the betterment of society rather than worrying about women in niqab not moving their lips while taking their oath! Grow up Mr. Kenney.

Exactly what David said above. My understanding is that there are real issues of patriarchy in many 'muslim countries', just as there are issues of patriarchy in Canadian cultures, political systems, socio-economic structures, etc etc. But as David says, "if there is to be a struggle against [that patriarchy], it must come from the women concerned". To be an ally in struggles against patriarchy, we can't deign to take women's choices into our own hands; to do so is just to re-enforce patriarchy. 

Instead, we can see that Harper's government (as emkfeminist points out) does nothing to actually be an ally to women - they cut funding to shelters and services, they antagonize rape victims on the stand, etc. And we can see that the real motivation of this policy is not to 'protect' women, but to attack Islam, to create a racialized antagonism against new Canadians of colour who are muslim, and to create/re-invent a "real Canadian", to the exclusion of others. So we can see that, despite how ably Kenney uses the language of women's lib, this policy entrenches the oppression/exclusion of people of colour, and of women: it is double-speak. 

So, short answer to "what's wrong with protecting women form their patriarchal religion?" is: you're not helping! If you want to see a more just society, don't protect women from themselves, protect us all from Jason Kenney!

Nick,

Rather than attacking the character of the PC party (calling them racists) or lumping 5 completely different policy issues into your first two paragraphs, why don't you actually spend the time to explain one topic?

Maybe people would take you more seriously.

If I simply read your writing I would assume there is no real debate about this topic (buncha PC racists!!), when in fact this is a very serious Supreme Court issue. Take another Rabble.ca article (published today) which provides far more background regarding the topic you poorly cover, without getting into the policy decision (which would likely be overturned pending a court decision that favours your opinions):

http://rabble.ca/news/2011/12/niqab-wearing-accuser-vs-rights-defendants...

I understand you are here to cover policy as well, but once again, its hard to take an article like this seriously and it generally discredits your entire view point. 

What is problematic about protecting women from their patriarchal religion?

Good article Nick! As one legal observer has pointed out, Kenney's announcement seems carefully timed to coincide with the Supreme Court's impending decision on whether a rape victim must remove the niqab in order to testify before her attackers -- a double violation. As Nick says, neither ID nor "seeing" the oath are really at issue here (people unable to e.g. swear audibly are regularly granted citizenship).

The issue is not what we think of the niqab or any other religious or cultural practice, the issue is whether we think the state should be in the business of regulating what women wear or do not wear. If there is to be a struggle against the niqab (quite a separate issue), it must come from the women concerned, not from these paternalistic (patriarchal, racist) Harpercrats.

I agree with everything Nick Day said.  This is not about 'protecting' Muslim women from their own patriarchal religion (and even if it were, that's still a really problematic position); this is about racism, fear, and controlling women's bodies.  Many Muslim women actually CHOOSE to veil for religious, personal, and/or political reasons.  If the Cons actually cared about women and women's rights, they would stop cutting funding to shelters and services that help women, rather than making up flimsy excuses to tell Muslim women what to do with their own bodies. 

But why are you in a better position to decide what a woman should wear than she is herself? 

Another way to put it: if I were in charge of the passport office and I declared that from now on, all people applying for a passport would be required to strip naked and be photographed/inspected for tattoos and other identifying marks, would you feel violated, having your body inspected?

You have the right to participate in public life fully, even if you decide to conceal certain parts of your body. So does everyone else. 

Finally, there's one other thing: There's no real reason for this! As one edmonton journalist pointed out, in a citizenship test room, there are dozens of people and the Judge at the front can not see the faces of most of them. There is no need to see the lips of everyone who is in a citizenship room. So even if we agreed for argument's sake that, where necessary for identification purposes, niqabs must be removed (which I don't agree with, btw) This policy STILL wouldn't make sense.

 

it's not accomplishing anything - instead, it is addressing a made-up problem stemming from the imaginations of people who really have an underlying disgust and hatred for muslims.  

I disagree with Mr. Day. A refusal or reluctance to embrace an archaic, religiously indoctrinated habit does not equal racism.

I am progressive, educated, traveled and a "live and let live" kind of being except when I bump into the tyranny of religous dogma. Requiring that women live with bags over their heads IS bizarre. The federal government ought to refuse to give into backward practices. I do not consider it "enlightened" or "liberal" to embrace cultural mores which encourage treating women as inferiors.

I lament that many on the left feel compelled to rally to "protect" a religious groups "right" to institutionalize misogyny.

This item should be filed on Rabble's rubble heap.

What a load of trash!

Anti-Muslim. Mr. Day must be kidding.

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