As part of the Niqab series, we reproduce here an article by Haroon Siddiqui, the Editor Emeritus at the Canadian newspaper, Toronto Star. Haroon is an Indo-Canadian journalist who has been associated with Toronto Star for almost three decades. Toronto Star is widely regarded as a left leaning Canadian newspaper. Haroon is a member of the Order of Canada for advocating “fairness and equality of opportunity” at home and “a broader role for Canada in the global village”. Haroon has also come under criticism for being “Toronto Star’s resident Islamist”, and justifying Islamic extremist atrocities as nothing but a payback for US foreign policies.
Quebec, the French majority province in Canada, is the first North American battleground for the Niqab battle. After a woman refused to remove her Niqab in French learning class, she was removed and the Quebec Minister for Women Affairs called Niqab an “ambulatory prison”.
The new bill in the Quebec Provincial Assembly would disallow veiled women from dispensing or receiving public services. Women will not be allowed healthcare services or to attend universities if they do not show their faces. Jean Charest, the Quebec Premier (equivalent to Chief Minister of a province in Pakistan) summed up the proposed bill in two words: “Uncovered Face”.
There are almost 1 Million Muslims currently living in Canada. The Muslim society constitutes just about 3% of the Canadian population. Haroon points out that it is perfectly reasonable for a woman to show her face for identification purposes when accessing public services, applying for drivers license etc. Yet after women have shown their faces, and their identities are established, is it fair to expect them to stay unveiled against their wishes while they receive public services? Is this where state crosses the line of reasonableness and wanders into unchartered territory of imposing upon someone’s religious beliefs, no matter how radical these beliefs may appear? Particularly when Quebec Government’s own survey showed that less than a few hundred Muslim women prefer to don niqab. Questions are asked: Is the Quebec Government singling out Muslim women in the name of niqab legislation?
Over the next few days, we will run various articles that debate the arguments for and against the niqab legislation that is underway in European countries. Niqab, or full face and body covering introduces a conundrum in Western societies, and we suspect this issue will not be limited to only the Western societies in the near future. While religious considerations must be respected in secular democracies, there come instances when the religious argument runs afoul of the society safety and welfare of its members. We must remember that the argument is between extreme interpretations of religion that runs against the law of the land. There have been reports of Jehovah’s Witness members refusing modern medical treatment. The Western Governments took clear stand against the fact that extremely sick people were not treated in the name of religion. Canada has seen observant Sikhs demanding their religious and symbolic right to carry ceremonial sword, yet the state stood against this extreme interpretation of Sikh tenets.
Does the Niqab symbolize extreme Islamic values, or is it a cultural issue. Does it keep women sequestered in urban ghettos in societies that encourage women to participate? Do women that don burqa day in and out suffer from serious medical conditions due to the absence of Vitamin D? Is a sight of completely faceless person covered from head to toe a security concern for the hundreds of people walking in the same enclosed space with that same person? Niqab is indeed a complicated yet fascinating issue as an increasingly secular world seeks to accommodate free practice of religion in its diverse and multi-religious societies.
Beyond the Veil
Monday, April 5th, 2010
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
– American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald
By Fitzgerald’s standards, the wave of anti-veil rhetoric sweeping across Europe has probably catapulted the continent’s politicians into the intellectual equivalent of the Andromeda galaxy.
The Swiss have voted not against towers, but Muslims. Across Europe, we must stand up to the flame-fanning populists
By Tariq Ramadan guardian.co.uk, Sunday 29 November 2009
It wasn’t meant to go this way. For months we had been told that the efforts to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland were doomed. The last surveys suggested around 34% of the Swiss population would vote for this shocking initiative. Last Friday, in a meeting organised in Lausanne, more than 800 students, professors and citizens were in no doubt that the referendum would see the motion rejected, and instead were focused on how to turn this silly initiative into a more positive future. Continue reading