Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Maybe It Is Not Xenophobia

No, just Islamophobia?  That is, the niqab stuff may not be hating/fearing foreign folks but instead just hating/fearing Muslims.  Relieved, right?  Um, no.

Two things happened today that made me think about this. First, I got an ad from the local Conservative candidate who touted the 2.6 immigrants since 2006.  Which is strange for a party that might be said to fear foreigners.  Second,  I talked with a colleague who mentioned that one of the Conservatives taking a strong stand on banning the niqab is this guy:
Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal has introduced a bill banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.
Tim Uppal is a member of parliament and was Canada's Minister of Multiculturalism (may still be?)

He was the one who introduced the bill to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.  So, it is not just white anglo-saxon protestant males who are taking this stance.  Indeed, who is taking this stance?
  • white anglo-saxon protestant males (Harper, Kenney, etc.) who, um, see below ....
  • white anglo-saxon protestant females (former PM Kim Campbell with whom I had a running twitter argument) who feel that the niqab is an affront to feminism
  • Hindus and Sikhs who may not be fond of Muslims.  I am not saying Uppal is Islamophobic because of his Sikh background, just that he is a hypocrite given the role of the turban in past debates about how to accommodate religious minorities that are relatively new to Canada.  But the point remains: non-Christians can also be Islamophobic. 
So, this stance can appeal to white men who love to tell woman what to wear, to evangelical Christians who like to tell people what to believe, to feminists who are upset by the symbolism they feel is attached to the niqab, to minorities who may not be fond of Muslims, to Islamophobes of all stripes, to secularists who hate all religions (see Charter of Values coalition), and to politicians who simply seek to distract people from the flaws in their record...

Given the Conservatives' efforts to pander to all kinds of immigrant communities, maybe they calculated that offending one small one was fine since it would not offend other immigrant communities nor "old stock" Canadians. 

This reminds me of why I like language policy in the US: there is none.  The market provides incentives to learn English, the state facilitates voting and other legal stuff in whatever language is necessary.  I really do not want any government to tell people what they should believe or how they observe their religion.  Separation of church and state is a wonderful thing.  This discussion reminded me of something I studied this summer: how Islamophobic the "barbaric cultural practices" part of the Citizenship Guide was:
In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings,” female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.
While anyone can do such stuff, the only "barbaric cultural practice" that is not largely, if not exclusively, associated with Islam would be honor killings as Hindus have been known to do that as well.  Still, where are the references to foot-binding, dog-eating, and whatever other stereotypes we could dig up for other immigrant groups?

In the US, people eventually learn English not because the state requires it but because it is pretty handy for participating in the economy and enjoying the culture.  Canada should be secure enough to allow women to wear the niqab, knowing that those women will be living in a culture that has constant reminders of women's equality.  Canadians will not find the niqab to be attractive, but niqab wearers are likely to find, if not the first generation then subsequent ones, that they might want to go without.  And if we want them to not wear it, then we (society, not the government) can provide resources for women who face pressures from their families--homes and job training for those escaping repressive people.  But if they choose to live this way, then that is what liberty is about--to live in ways that others may not want to live. 

1 comment:

sao said...

I've long thought the focus for immigrant communities where the niqab is the norm should be on not harassing women on the street. Women wearing normal clothes often get harassed in areas where the bulk of the women are covered-up, inside, or otherwise protected from men, who are then free to harass any woman who walks by.

It's particularly shocking for me, since I am in my 50s and long past the age at which American men whistle, cat-call or otherwise harass.

I'd think if there were a requirement to be respectful, it would make the women and their male relatives more comfortable going without all the drapery.