Saturday, October 3, 2015

Intolerant of Intolerance

I have had a long running discussion/argument with a twitter follower who was upset that I suggested that anyone who wants to legislate the behavior of a particular set of Muslims (those wearing niqabs) are xenophobes.  He argued that a majority of Canadians feel that niqab wearing is not in line with Canadian values.  I got peeved and asked him what religion should Canadians observe?

I am a liberal in the old fashioned sense of the term--people should be able to enjoy their freedom to do what they want as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.   Someone brought up government intervention when religion inhibits transfusions for kids.  And, yes, the government has a role in protecting the lives of its citizens.  Adults can choose not to have transfusions, but the state can say that they have no right to make their kids do something that is dangerous.

The niqab may be viewed by outsiders as whatever, but your interpretation is just that.  It does not actually have a significant effect on outsiders, so they should just stay out of it.  The assertion that the niqab or any other religious practice of a minority is in conflict with the values of the majority is problematic, as it says that the majority is right and the minority must suck it up.  Tyranny of the majority is a real problem here. 

What are Canadian values?  I believe as I studied for the Citizenship test that the consistent focus on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a better indicator than the strange language about barbaric cultural practices.  Yep, that phrase is in the guide, as we need to tell some people (all of the examples seem aimed at Muslims and perhaps South Asia [honor killings] not to do bad stuff. 

My assertion that one's rights should be infringed unless one's exercise infringes on others is now leading to accusations that I am a, gasp, libertarian.  Pretty sure those folks would not want to own me... that is, consider me part of their club.  Why? Because I do think regulation is often required since lots of conflicts of rights need to be adjudicated by something other than the market.  And there are lots of things that are not about rights, so again regulation is not a bad thing.

So, should I call anyone xenophobic for wanting to tell niqab wearers what to do?  Maybe not.  Maybe I should just call them arrogant?  In this political context, where one party is using this issue to distract from more important ones, focusing on the niqab is foolish in the extreme.  Focusing on a  non-problem rather than the real, substantial issues of the day is playing  into Harper's hands.  Oh, and also alienating a community that will see itself as the target of scapegoating.  That is bad for Canada's national security now and down the road.


L'il Steve said...

Not actually having much background here, I'm going to jump in anyway. I hate niqabs. Hate 'em. I hate niqabs because I hate ideologies of oppressive sexism. Does that make me a xenophobe? If so, then I'm a xenophobe. Sometimes the majority is right and the minority is an oppressive, incredibly sexist ideology. Of course I'm sensitive to concerns of tyranny of the majority, but I think there's an argument that we can go too far in respecting the views of the minority.

Steve Saideman said...

ah, Steve, you really going to tell other people how to observe their religion? You really going to tell other women what to wear? How is this too far to let folks who choose to wear niqabs to do so? How does it threaten you or any real public interest?

We have laws and policies to help those who are oppressed. We could do better to help women who are dominated by their men. But if women choose (and the women who have the subjects of these issues here have articulated that it is their choice), how is it our role to tell them what to do?

Also, if you are pro-choice when it comes to abortion, how can you not be pro-choice when it comes to what folks wear? Is that a bad analogy? You make the call.

L'il Steve said...

Well, yeah, I can certainly see telling other people how to observe their religion under certain circumstances (e.g., we regulate animal sacrifice due to health concerns).

I don't even know what the law at issue is here (my fault), but I would agree we should not ban the wearing of the niqab. That said, I've got no problem with a "nudge" from government suggesting that it is not a good thing. Regardless of what the women wearing it say (yes, I will judge!), it represents the ideological and systemic oppression of women. I would argue that is a value that is harmful to society and should not just be unthinkingly accepted because it is from a religion. And actually, there's a good argument to be made that this is more a cultural thing than a religious thing.

And, yes, really bad analogy.

L'il Steve said...

Okay, so I read this, and I get what's going on now.

That said, I still hate the niqab because I am a feminist, not because I am a xenophobe. Maybe I'm unusual in that, but I would imagine I'm not the only person who actually objects for feminist reasons. And maybe it's somewhat paternalist, but I'll also go out on a limb and say that women shouldn't take men back who have a history of abusing them. Even if that is their choice.