2015-10-13 @ 13:00
A collection of observations about the current controversy surrounding the niqab, which recently received legal recognition in two Canadian federal court decisions. Wearing the niqab while taking the citizenship oath is now a “right.”
Sommaire en français
- Parler du niqab comme un vêtement “musulman” comme font constamment les médias anglophones Canadiens, c’est déplacer le centre de la diversité des musulmans vers l’extrémisme. C’est une insulte faite aux musulmans plus modérés.
- Il y plusieurs raisons (chacune étant suffisante) d’interdire le niqab dans les cérémonies officielles : (1) Le niqab entrave la communication. (2) Il symbolise l’asservisement de la femme. (3) Il compromet la liberté de conscience des autres participants de la cérémonie. (4) Il est une forme de militantisme politique fasciste, totalement déplacé dans le contexte. (5) Il nuit à l’identification de la personne et à la sécurité de tous.
- Le seul argument pour permettre le port du niqab dans les cérémonies est l’ensemble des lois fédérales canadiennes qui sont défectueuses car elles accordent une priorité indue à la religion. Il faut modifier ou abroger ces lois.
- Les autres pseudo-arguments pour permettre le niqab sont d’une nullité totale et souvent mensongers. On essaie de culpabiliser les gens qui s’opposent au niqab pour une opinion tout à fait raisonnable.
- Le « débat » sur le niqab—qui n’est pas un débat mais plutôt une campagne toxique de dénigrement de la laïcité—est une reprise de la controverse autour de la défunte Charte de la laïcité en 2013-2014, avec la différence qu’on ne peut comparer le Parti Québécois (qui a pris une position pro-laïcité) aux Conservateurs de Harper (qui n’ont rien de laïque).
- La reconnaissance légale du port du niqab en tout lieu et en toute cironstance est une grande victoire pour l’islamofascisme et une grande défaite pour la démocracie.
- Comble d’ironie, ce n’est pas Harper qui est en train de mettre le dernier clou dans le cercueil de la bonne réputation internationale qu’avait le Canada avant le début de son régime en 2006. Non, ce sont ses adversaires Mulcair et Trudeau qui s’opposent sottement à l’interdiction du niqab qui font maintenant du Canada la risée de la planète.
Moving the Muslim Mainstream Towards Islamism
By refering to the full veil—such as the niqab—as “Muslim” clothing, as the media repeatedly do, they effectively move the “centre” or mainstream of Muslims down the spectrum towards extremism. This is because the niqab is not just plain Muslim dress, rather it is a form of clothing imposed by a particular radical fundamentalist fringe of Islam, usually referred to as Islamism. If the niqab is now considered representative of Islam, then Islam is now centred around radical Islamism. This does a serious disservice to moderate Muslims, because it colours them with the same radical brush as the extremists.
The Arguments for Banning the Niqab During Official Ceremonies
Of course the wearing of face coverings during official ceremonies must be banned. It is utterly absurd to even consider allowing such accoutrements in the context of a solemn occasion such as a citizenship ceremony. There are several arguments to be made, any one of which is sufficient to justify a ban:
In human interaction, non-verbal communication via facial expression is a major component (about half) of the total communication. By hiding the face or most of it, the niqab-wearer refuses to communicate effectively. That individual is cut off from other humans by the virtual wall she or he is wearing, seriously undermining interactions with others. Human beings are social animals. A person who covers her/his face is a person not to be trusted.
- Rights of Women
The full Islamist veils such as the burka and the niqab are blatant symbols of the subjugation and inferiorization of women. It is a flag of gender inequality and transmits the message that women are the property of men.
- Freedom of Conscience of Participants
By allowing one particular group to display blatantly one of its sectarian symbols during an official ceremony, the freedom of conscience of all other participants is compromised by having a particular religious belief system imposed on them. Allowing such religious advertising in a context which is a state occasion totally unrelated to religion is similar to having large displays of commercial advertising in the classrooms of public schools.
- Political Activism in an Inappropriate Context
Islamist fundamentalism is not just a religious tendency. It is a major and very dangerous political ideology with an anti-democratic program. Wearing the full veil constitutes implicit promotion of this fascist ideology. While this may be tolerated, for reasons of freedom of expression, outside of public institutions, such promotion is unacceptable during an official ceremony (or, similarly, if the wearer is a public servant on duty).
- Identity and Security
Of course face-coverings make identification difficult and are thus a major security issue. No further explanation is required on this point.
There may be other arguments missing from the above list.
The Argument Against Banning the Niqab During Official Ceremonies
There is only one argument against banning the niqab, and it is not really an argument but rather a set of legal constraints. Canadian federal law is severely flawed and unjust because it grants many privileges to religions and to religious institutions. That is why judges have recently struck down the niqab ban, i.e. because Canadian law strongly supports such an interpretation. Freedom of religion is given a higher priority than other freedoms. The obvious solution is to change the law.
In the case of the niqab, the following modifications are required or highly recommended:
- Repeal 17.1.b of the Citizenship Regulations, part of the Citizenship Act, which stipulates that the oath must be administered with “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.”
- Repeal (or greatly revise) the Multiculturalism Act, and remove references to it from other legislation, because Canadian multiculturalism is basically equivalent to cultural relativism. As writer and secular activist Djemila Benhabib has pointed out (in a Facebook post, Oct. 10),
“Multiculturalism quite simply legitimizes, in the political, judicial and social spheres, inequalities which originate in the culture and religion of one’s birth. Given that it is founded on the recognition of religions and the assignment by default of each individual to his or her immutable birth identity, any constraint on religious expression is usually interpreted as a hindrance to freedom of religion per se, as discriminatory, or even as racist. From that perspective, the various fundamentalisms have found an ideal vehicle and an open road to advance their cause!” (Translation: D.R.)
- Revise the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to remove its pro-religious bias. For example, the Charter lists freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of belief as three of several fundamental freedoms. However, the last two are NOT fundamental; rather, both are part of freedom of conscience, which also includes freedom FROM religion and freedom of NON-belief. Thus, freedom of conscience should be listed as fundamental, while freedoms of religion, irreligion, belief and non-belief should all be listed as corollaries of it.
The last of these three modifications would be very difficult to achieve because it involves amending the Constitution. The first two would be less difficult, but not easy. Once again, the above list may need to be expanded. For example, the Criminal Code needs to be revised by removing both the blasphemy ban and the religious exception for hate propaganda. And of course the mention of “God” must be removed from the preamble to the Canadian Charter.
Some Pseudo-arguments Against Banning the Niqab During Official Ceremonies
The Binary fallacy
This fallacy, called the “either-or” fallacy and other names, describes the false notion that there are only two possibles responses to a situation. In this case, you must either oppose Harper (and support the niqab as a “right”) or oppose the niqab, but not both. We can succinctly summarize this fallacy using the following pseudo-syllogism:
- Harper is evil.
- Harper hates the niqab.
- Therefore, the niqab is good
That sums up rather well the intellectual acuity (i.e. vacuity) of those who claim that the wearing of the niqab is a “right.” It makes as much sense as opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen.
The court decisions striking down the niqab ban and the discourse of those who support those decisions are riddled with references to freedom of religion which elevate that freedom above other considerations. This privilege must be refused. But to do so will require modifying legislation as explained above.
Specious Accusations of “Intolerance” etc.
Accusations of “divisiveness”, “identity politics”, “intolerance”, “xenophobia” and even “racism” are regularly thrown at supporters of a niqab ban. These accusations are pure bullshit, a smokescreen to distract from the speciousness and vacuity of arguments against the ban. In response to the fact that polls have shown that a majority of Canadians, and an overwhelming majority in Quebec, support a niqab ban, opponents of a ban blather about a “lack of understanding” of other cultures and a “lack of exposure” to diverse cultures, as if this majority were motivated only by ignorance. Yet these accusations come from those who never mention the very dangerous aspects of some very prominent variants of Islam; it is the accusers who display ignorance. Furthermore, the niqab itself is a barrier to knowledge of and interaction with others.
The Politics of Guilt
Closely related to the previous point is the tactic of trying to silence secularists—and anyone else who would try to put reasonable constraints on the excesses of religion—by instilling feelings of guilt. This is often phrased as “the politics of fear” as if fear were irrational or even a horrible sin. In reality, to fear religion in general and Islam in particular is in no way irrational. On the contrary it is a matter of due diligence, a necessity. When that due diligence is performed, when we make the effort to examine various religious doctrines and movements objectively, we find many of which we should indeed be very afraid, and Islam is currently at the top of that list. A particularly disgusting example of this strategy can be found in the Toronto Star Editorial Can Stephen Harper stoop any lower on the niqab?. They even manage to slander Quebec.
The dangerous meme which states that wearing a full veil anywhere and everywhere is a “right” is related to an extreme version of the ideology of libertarianism or right-wing anarchism. This ideology holds that the only good government is basically no government, or the smallest and weakest possible. Consequently, it leads inevitably to the tyranny of the rich and powerful. For example, if a country has no legislation preventing foreign powers from financing religious institutions, then that country is a sitting duck for the Saudi Arabian government (which internally is certainly not libertarian!) and its very well financed campaign to use petro-dollars to establish mosques in many countries and use them to preach a Wahhabite version of Islam.
The Niqab “Debate” is a Repeat of Opposition to Quebec’s Charter of Secularism
There is a strong parallel between the currently proposed niqab ban and the Charter of Secularism proposed in 2013-2014 by the former PQ Quebec government. In both cases there is no real debate, but rather toxic hostilities and moralizing from those who oppose any dress code. Supporters of a dress code are vilified, accused of the usual plethora of imaginary crimes (“intolerance”, etc.) taken from the familiar arsenal of Canadian multiculturalists. In both cases opponents elevate “freedom of religion” to a status having priority over other freedoms and then call this privilege a “right.”
Of course there are also differences between the two situations. The separatism (or sovereignty or independence) promoted by the PQ is an innocuous political program compared to the anti-science, anti-environmentalist and anti-democratic policies pursued by the current federal government. Antipathy towards the PQ is largely just a matter of hatred of Quebecers, i.e. ethnic bigotry (which in other contexts many people would imprecisely call “racism”) against Francophone Quebecers, whereas antipathy towards Harper’s Conservatives has a much more rational basis. Voting for the Parti Québécois in the April 2014 provincial election was an eminently reasonable option for secularists, whereas in the current federal election the niqab issue does not justify voting for Harper, especially given that his government’s attempts to ban the niqab—although laudable and certainly preferable to the cowardly and retrograde position of the two opposition parties—have nothing to do with secularist goals.
Nevertheless, it must be recognized that these questions of secularism—i.e. the Charter in April 2014 and the proposed niqab ban currently—must be distinguished from other, unrelated issues and evaluated on their own merits. A good idea is a good idea, even one coming from the much hated (and for good reasons) Harper government. There are many good reasons to vote against Harper, but the niqab issue is NOT one of them.
Democracy 0, Islamofascism 1
The recent success of Zunera Ishaq in obtaining the “right,” as ruled by two federal courts this year, to be sworn in as a Canadian citizen while wearing the niqab, is a major victory for Islamofascism and a major defeat for secularism, and hence a defeat for democracy, because it enshrines in Canadian jurisprudence an important religious privilege. Indeed, the courts’ rulings imply that Ishaq’s religious affiliation is more important even than the citizenship she is obtaining. By elevating religious privileges, the rights of the non-religious are demeaned; indeed the rights of everyone not belonging to the particular religious sect enjoying the privilege is similarly demeaned.
The niqab, like the burka, is a sort of flag of international islamofascism and Ishaq, whether she realizes it or not, is in the vanguard of that movement. The niqab is of course a Muslim symbol, but promoted by the most fundamentalist, radical and extremist of Muslims. To trivialize the full veil, to make it commonplace, a mere choice of clothing, while simultaneously elevating it to the status of a “right” which must be protected in the name of freedom of religion—even in a solemn ceremony having nothing to do with religion—is a major victory for fundamentalists. It is a victory won without physical weapons, using only legalities, to destroy rights using “rights.” It is a victory made very easy by Canadian multiculturalism, which leaves the door wide open for abuse.
The Islamists must be laughing all the way to the mosque.
Canada’s Ruined International Reputation
After a decade of government by the Harper Conservatives, Canada’s formerly enviable reputation in the international community is almost destroyed. But, ironically, the final nail in the coffin of that reputation is being hammered not by Harper but by the fools who oppose his policy of attempting to ban the niqab. By supporting the ridiculous idea that a religious fanatic and political activist for an international fascist movement has the “right” to wear a symbol of her or his movement, anywhere and everywhere, even during a solemn state ceremony, Mulcair, Trudeau and other niqab-defenders have made sure that Canada is now the laughing stock of the planet.
- The Niqab Issue is Not a Distraction, David Rand.
- Non, non et non au niqab, Léon Ouaknine, Le Huffington Post, 2015-03-13.
- Rupture anthropologique, Christian Rioux, Le Devoir, 2015-10-09.