Uzma Shakir's blog

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Uzma Shakir is a community-based researcher, advocate, activist. She is the past Executive Director of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). She has worked as a teacher, journalist and researcher.

George Orwell is alive: Niqabs banned in Quebec

| March 29, 2010

In the worst form of Orwellian logic, Jean Charest's government in Quebec has tabled a bill in parliament banning any form of facial covering when dealing with the Quebec government, whether in the form of employment or access to services. This has been done in the name of "...respecting the principles of equality of men and women, and religious neutrality of the state." Aimed specifically at Muslim women who don the "niqab," this legislation is defended as applying to "everyone" and meant to "stress the values that unite us..."

Three things come to mind:

One is scale. According to the Muslim Council of Montreal, there are presumed to be about 25 women in all of Quebec who actually wear the "niqab." Out of approx. 118,000 people who accessed Montreal's health board services in 2008 to 2009, only 10 asked for accommodation and out of approx. 28,000 who accessed City services not one asked for special treatment. Hence, the Quebec parliament's response is disproportionate overkill to say the least.

Second, it is ironic and disingenuous to use secularism as a reason for this action. Secularism is a state philosophy that says that everyone is free to pursue their religious belief because the state is "neutral" unlike a theocracy where the state religion is the dominant religion and trumps others' right to their faith. A) Quebec culture and identity is firmly grounded in Catholicism -- including the huge crucifix donning the parliament building -- so citing "our values" as neutral is highly dubious if not outright false. B) Secularism in Quebec has become the new dogma and a religious orthodoxy in its own right and is now being used to deny religious minorities their rights. Furthermore, state bureaucracy will now police who gets access to jobs and services in the government. Ironically, I have lived in a monarchical state based on theocratic principles (Saudi Arabia) and believe me this is no different from religious police there constantly telling women what to wear and how to behave. They just don't care to rationalize it and insult our intelligence in the process.

Three, as a woman, a Canadian and a feminist I am insulted and offended. This is the most medieval form of paternalistic infantilizing of women -- telling them what is good for them and what is not and if they do not listen, chastise them and penalize them. Well there goes our long history of feminism, Charter of Rights and Freedom and our famed multiculturalism. For Quebec feminists to support this in the name of women's rights is an insult to women across Canada and the globe and just shows how compromised a strain of Western feminism has become to the new imperial project which is based firmly in aggressively subjugating, invading and waging war against those deemed inferior to our "cultural values." What is it that Bush said: "they hate us for our freedom"? No -- you are quite capable of becoming hateful all by yourself and as for freedom -- it is after all merely a word -- as is amply exemplified in the double talk of neo-liberal gobbledegook parading as Western Liberalism.

Gone are the days when Quebec was cited as the beacon of progressive thought and action in Canada. The torch has gone off long time ago! I think it is Ontario that can now take up that challenge. We have a critical mass of diversity of people, cultures, ideas and political ideologies -- however, we have to make sure that the right wing ideological shift that is increasingly being led by the federal government in Canada does not infest our provincial politics and that we remain vigilant about our right to be "different"!

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Comments

Quote:

Why do we want to ban the niqab? It is at least partly because many consider it a symbol of patriarchy. Apparently we think we live in a post-feminist utopia where only the niqab and practices of "other" cultures are symbols of patriarchy. Marriage is a symbol of patriarchy. You know the part where the father gives away the bride, because she used to belong to her father, but now she belongs to the groom? It's a symbol of an ancient and current practice of what Gayle Rubin called the traffic in women. So, let's ban marriage! Any takers? No? Hmm.

Furthermore, feminism and women's liberation is about choice. Empowerment is about choice. Let's say it again, folks, CHOICE. It is her body, and her choice how to dress it. In no way is it legitimate for anyone to question her decisions. She should not have to explain her reasons.

Sheetal Pathak

M. Spector wrote:
Is he wrong?

Of course he's wrong. Have you read the legislation?

Quote:
6. Est d’application générale la pratique voulant qu’un membre du personnel de l’Administration gouvernementale ou d’un établissement et une personne à qui des services sont fournis par cette administration ou cet établissement aient le visage découvert lors de la prestation des services.


Lorsqu’un accommodement implique un aménagement à cette pratique, il doit être refusé si des motifs liés à la sécurité, à la communication ou à l’identification le justifient.

Under Bill 94 (which I don't support because it targets face veils for no pressing social reason and obviously reflects Charest's pandering to xenophobia), a "niqabi" requesting an income tax form can ask to keep her veil on, citing her religious belief. Such accommodation is barred by the act only if it is required to see the face for reasons of "security, identification, or communication". I can't fathom why any of those conditions would be present in the scenario MacPherson sets out.

But what would be the point of generating Islamophobia if you didn't have the other side of the coin - those who exaggerate trivial incidents to keep the flames going? That's what the little fascist Mario Dumont tried in 2007, with the support of the MacPhersons and their ilk, with well-known electoral results.

 

Don MacPherson writes in the Gazette:

Quote:

Bill 94 (http://www.snipurl.com/v2ztj) would apply to all bodies under the Quebec government, including health agencies such as Urgences-santé, schools, colleges and universities, and services from child care to nursing homes.

It would establish a "general practice" that during "the delivery of services" by a public employee to an individual, both would have to "show their face." This practice would apply even when it is not necessary for security reasons or identification purposes.

So a niqabi, as women wearing Muslim face veils are called, who requests an income-tax form at a government service counter could be turned away.

Is he wrong? 

afg wrote:

3.It’s an issue of INDIVIDUAL rights.

No it isn’t!

A woman can wear her niqab all day, but she has no exceptional veto power over any official’s demand that she uncover her face for security or identification purpose on the grounds that she belongs to a religious group.

EVERYBODY’s INDIVIDUAL right to cover their faces is limited sometimes. Membership in a given GROUP does not give anyone a COLLECTIVE PRIVILEGE to pick and choose what rules apply to you.

Individual rights are not unlimited.  In this case you are right on.  The state's right to see the face for security and identification purposes trumps any individual right.  There need not be any other justification for this, nor any reference to culture or religion, such things must be subordinate to the will of the state.

Anglo-Canadian arguments on this issue are nothing but a very shaky pile of intellectual fallacies.

1. Rarity fallacy: Very few women wear the niqab, hence it doesn’t matter.

Hey, very few people want to atend university lectures naked and almost no one demands all their contacts with governement be with white Christian men who own land and speak pitch perfect North American Vernacular French. Why not be tolerant and accommodate these people too?

2.The tradition fallacy: It’s their tradition, hence it’s OK.

Well, letting celibate priests fondle children has a long tradition in Québec and other Catholic countries.

3.It’s an issue of INDIVIDUAL rights.

No it isn’t!

A woman can wear her niqab all day, but she has no exceptional veto power over any official’s demand that she uncover her face for security or identification purpose on the grounds that she belongs to a religious group.

EVERYBODY’s INDIVIDUAL right to cover their faces is limited sometimes. Membership in a given GROUP does not give anyone a COLLECTIVE PRIVILEGE to pick and choose what rules apply to you.

4. Of course, the Slippery Slope fallacy.

The only thing Orwellian going on here is Toronto columnists and Ms. Shakir using the language of equality and rights to create this novel concept that self-apointed clerics and members of self-segregating communities can pick and choose what rules apply to them and their flock.

What an incredibly racist site. I suppose it's now clear who is being accommodated by laws like the one mentioned above: the racist bigotry of posters like Paisley.

Dear Common:

Good idea lets all get informed. It appears you think that only muslims can criticise Islam. Which according to Islam means nobody can.

http://islam-watch.org/IbnWarraq/Islam%27s-Shame-Veil-Tears.htm

This is the second time this week that I have seen a non-muslim state emphatically that the Quran doesn't mention the niqab or burka. And yet a simple google search of the terms niqab and Quran showed me that this appears to be simply untrue.  The Noble Qur'an, in Al Ahzab 33:59, does refer to the covering of a woman's body when going out in public, as do many other teachings in the Sunnah. It was prescribed as a way of recognising free women and that they not be brought to harm. Apparently it all began when the Prophet's wives had to go out at night to "answer the call of nature" and people feared for their safety.  Instead of spending so much time on the techniques of belligerant debate I would hope that people take the time to actually inform themselves in order to increase understanding on issues rather than trying to win points.

 

 

I'm still waiting for the Charest government to ban the wearing of nun's habits, miniskirts, and other sartorial symbols of women's oppression when dealing with the Quebec government.

Until that happens, I'm sticking with the theory that Charest is simply pandering to anti-Muslim prejudice.

Dear Fathiya:

I will accept that you are probably far more familiar with the Quran than I. Being that I am ever so hopeful of being provided more information to form a factual opinion on matters. I invite you to provide a quote pertaining to the use of the niquab from the Quran. I should expect this would be easily accomplished as I understand that true believers can recite the Quran from memory.

For your FYI statement the words "relate to" should rather be replaced by the word "tolerate". People that are intolerant are far more likely to be people of faith because their god gives them permission to do so. History proves this repeatedly.

I will however note that you have not yet disagreed with other opinions I offered. Please feel free, and this is your chance, to prove that I have no knowledge of the issue at hand other than you claim I do not.

Dear Paisley

What is your proof for claiming that the Niqab has no origin in the Quran but  is merly a tribal practice? Have you  read the Quran?

 

You state that 

"the use of the niqab is an obvious form of censorship which lends only to the subjugation of women, purely a form of religious or cultural control..." 

According to whom? 

 

FYI: People isolate themselves when they feel like they can not relate to others around them, by denying people their religious rights, do you honestly think they will feel included in the society obviously not.

 

The biggest problem in this country is people making comments and statements without any real knowledge of the issue at hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Uzma:

It appears that you claim that the wearing of the niqab is an expression of religious devotion, you may be unhappy to learn that it is not a requirement or even suggested in the Koran. It is a tribal practice. Considering that we humans communicate by using language, body language and facial expressions, the use of the niqab is an obvious form of censorship which lends only to the subjugation of women, purely a form of religious or cultural control, rendering a woman expressionless to others that are not of that faith. For you to claim that you are a feminist, you should be ashamed and any reader should be offended with your prattling.

The following of religious doctrine has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with faith( where facts and rational thought have to be cast away in order to believe).

Islamists claim that the only thing that one need know is the Koran and one can only truly know it in Arabic.

Should we also have it in Canada because of faith or culture that female children as young as nine years old be given to marriage? You throw out that western liberalism is medieval. Whom do you think you are kidding.

The biggest problem in this country is that we are multicultural and this in turn encourages that different cultures isolate themselves mostly if not entirely by way of religious values.

Ask any believer of any religion if they will not be disowned by their own families(violence and threats of are not uncommon to erupt) and associates should they chose to marry someone from other than their own faith. If this is not the most vicious form of discrimination practiced by the believers, I don’t know what is?

Western feminism is alive and well but it surely will not be if we accommodate the believers and the faithful to inflict their medieval tribalism upon anyone. When has any new idea come from the rhetoric of the faithful whom continue to beg to turn back the clock and embrace the old ways of which you dare call progressive.

"Quebec culture and identity is firmly grounded in Catholicism" - and your proof is the crucifix.

I'm sorry, but that's a very ignorant and racist statement. Québec culture and identity is grounded in a decades-long struggle to throw off the shackles of organized religion, emancipate women, fight national oppression, fight for workers' rights in the face of draconian right-wing Church-backed dictators...

We need no definitions of our identity from you, and we need no lectures on how to march backwards in the fight for the emancipation of women.

"Gone are the days when Quebec was cited as the beacon of progressive thought and action in Canada. The torch has gone off long time ago! I think it is Ontario that can now take up that challenge"

Excellent. Perhaps you can preach your cause in Ontario, where Catholic schools are fully financed by the state. Ontario may be more open to introducing misogynist obscurantism than Québec is. I don't think so, but you can always try.

 

Dear Uzma,

While I agree with you for the most part I think you miss two key points. First is the need to support a Muslim female led effort against the more extreme and sexist elements of Islam. Needless to say any reasonable person would agree that while we should condemn discrimination on the basis of faith or cultural practices, we must also speak out against fundamentalist and sexist elements in any religion, and at the top of this list is the oppression against women in radical Islam symbolized by the niqab and its cousin the burqua.

But I do agree that it is not the for a white-colonial government to spearhead this effort, as it will surely lead to (just as surely as it is derived from) islamophobic agitation.

The second point is that "our long history of feminism, Charter of Rights and Freedom and our famed multiculturalism" could largely be considered itself an Orwellian interpretation of History. Canada may have a long history of (unfinished) struggle in some areas, but government propaganda aside, it is still a white colonial country, where immigrant and indigenous cultures are given lip service while in fact a culture of "white" Canada, weather French or English, dominates the spheres of power, as it always has.

Let's not just focus on denouncing nuanced islamophobia from our pathetic white-led governments, but also support our Muslim sisters in their struggle against fundamentalist oppression in their religion.

 

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