It’s raining hats again. Damn those hats. Once again there’s a fuss over religious gear. Those full-body burqas with the little embroidered grilles in front of the eyes? They’re just black hats that didn’t know when to stop.

Today, veiled Muslim women will show up to vote in three Quebec byelections. That’s fine, says Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer. That’s not fine, say the leaders of Canada’s three political parties.

Actually, Stephen Harper was the first to say it wasn’t fine, and then, as has happened before, Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton had to follow his lead. I take it they were bowing to the idea that Quebecers don’t like people voting with their faces concealed, because it is not characteristic of the Liberals and the NDP to protest when matters of ethnicity or religion pop up their hatted little heads. But these two have wisely not taken Harper’s bait. All men are as one on the unveiling of women.

Ceteris paribus

I think everyone makes a good case. This is uncharacteristic of me; it is a given that I disagree on principle with almost everything anyone says. You say I’m disagreeable; I prefer to call myself “Whitmanesque.” I contain multitudes.

First, Mayrand’s job is to carry out the will of Parliament, and he has done so. He says Section 143 of the voting act passed last June says veiled voters who show photo identification don’t have to unveil, although they do have to provide another piece of name-and-address ID. And since 80,000 Canadians legally voted by mail in the last federal election, Mayrand says—correctly—that he can’t single out one group for a new rule.

First, what Mayrand didn’t say is that if Harper and the gang didn’t read the legislation closely enough, the chief electoral officer can hardly be expected to play along with the leaders’ personal interpretations just to please them. Mayrand can only change his path on a fundamental right protected by the Charter, and hats aren’t that. What a guy.

Second, the politicians are right, in that we may tolerate however anyone chooses to dress for reasons of religion, fashion (Crocs) or daftitude (eyebrow piercings), but your average Canadian finds it troubling to see a black-robed monolith, which is how a woman in a burqa or niqab appears, at a polling station in Outremont in this year of 2007.

Third, Muslim men may claim that women wear these horrible garments out of choice. In fact, Muslim women may claim this. How closely women clutch the chains that bind them! But would you be convinced in this era by a Chinese woman saying the same thing about foot binding? No, because foot-binding is barbaric and has fallen away, as will the veiling of women’s faces in this modern female-friendly country of Canada. I always say a bright “hi” to such women. It’s my liberal/feminist guilt at not approving of them.

Nevertheless, Muslim women have a right to wear this, no matter how much it constricts their lives and keeps them at home under the thumb of their insecure husbands and fathers.

We are at an impasse. Everyone is, on narrow grounds, correct. So I will follow the deep drag of my nature and come up with an argument that will annoy everyone.

Mad about hats

I despise hattery. There is nothing more degrading in the debates of modern life than to waste time, energy and column space on what people choose to perch on the ball that sits on their neck-pipes. Religion doesn’t change the fact that we are reduced to arguing about millinery.

Berets, turbans, skullcaps, nuns’ wimples, popes’ mitres, the Taliban pastry hat, face veils, the balaclavas and stocking masks of rapists, the kepis of the French Foreign Legion, the lobster hat worn by the late Isabella Blow, the fantastically dire and stupid quivering feathered ding-dongs worn by the English upper classes at Princess Diana’s memorial service, baseball caps worn backwards (or indeed forwards), and those winter leather helmets with earflaps worn by the type of feminist who hates my type of feminist. Forget hate crimes. What about hat crimes?

Think about this. At a time when the ice cap is melting so fast that our children may drown coming home from the hospital with our grandchildren in their arms, do we really want to waste our time arguing about head-lids? War, pestilence, the destruction of the North American forests by rampaging insects lured by an intense advancing heat, a drought that will bring Americans to Moose Factory with a convoy of empty water tankers, the fact that Mitt Romney might win the U.S. presidency, that The Simpsons will end, The Sopranos are gone, that Atwood and Munro will die, leaving us with Jackass: The Novel for entertainment, that we ourselves will die (!).

Is this not sufficient to drag us away from the endless tedious battle over headgear? Look at Turkey, where they are still traumatized by Kemal Ataturk’s decree against the fez. Years ago, I wrote an anti-hat column for the Globe and Mail. Matrons were most annoyed, but did anyone else heed my call? Apparently not. Years later, Canadians are still in a froth about hats. Or perhaps it is just the politicians.

It is too trivial.

Hats off

You just know that second-generation Muslim women in Canada are going to dump their veils at the first opportunity.

Hats. We shouldn’t even be discussing them. If you replaced every mention of hats in this column with &#0147underpants,” would that make my point clearer? Silliness froths and gurgles on this issue.

I wonder if it would be possible for women in St-Hyacinthe-Bagot and Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean not to show up veiled at their polling station. And if they choose otherwise, as is their right, I wonder if it would be possible for the un-hatted to remain polite and friendly, as is the Canadian way.

This week

If you read nothing else this year, read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. It will put in economic context every major event for decades, from Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973 to the Falklands War in 1982 to the continuing catastrophe in Iraq. Disasters aren’t disasters for everyone. Someone always benefits. I apologize for such a cursory summary of a beautifully argued overarching work of journalism and history, but I haven’t the space.

And then we get down to brass tacks. When you’re crushed by the coming recession, there’ll always be a job for you. Mercenary. After reading Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill, you will either see a job opportunity or a new way of looking at the U.S. government statistics on Iraq being obediently repeated to you by mainstream journalists. For almost every American soldier in Iraq—ranging from 120,000 to 160,000—there’s a high-priced mercenary indirectly in the pay of the American government.

These books are must-reads. If I meet you, I will quiz you.