--NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (source)
I've been wrestling with this issue since it showed up in Québec a couple of years ago. I have the privilege of counting among my friends an extraordinary woman who has spent time in Saudi Arabia, where she was required to be veiled. Her views match quite well with those of women's rights activist author, and president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Raheel Raza. I would love to see Raza, or my friend, debate Mr. Mulcair.
Because both sides here have valid points. Both sides can legitimately claim to stand for women's rights.
It is true that the niqab--the burqa too, for that matter--is profoundly misogynistic. It's also true that neither is a requirement of Islam itself. That renders the religious accommodation rationale moot and takes quite a bit of the wind out of the sails I had been floating as a proud supporter of women being able to wear whatever the hell they want.
Not all of it, though. Because as Mulcair notes, punishing a woman who is already being oppressed is not exactly fair. Also because xenophobia hides so easily beneath the veil of concern for women's rights. I just unfriended a relative on Facebook the other day when a discussion on veiled women suddenly veered off into la-la land: "Forty-eight percent of people in this country weren't even born here," he informed me. "Soon we'll be a minority in our own country."
America is a melting pot and Canada is a cultural mosaic: we learned this in social studies class, and it's true. There are benefits and drawbacks to both models. I can't deny that occasionally I've felt a pang of what the hell are you doing in my country when I'm confronted with someone who's been here forty years and never bothered to learn a word of English. But I happen to think that many cultures mixing together enriches the larger culture. Provided that our laws are respected. There is no place for shari'a law in my Canada.
Let's continue to welcome women and men from all over the world. In view of the fact they have a right to wear what they want as Canadian citizens, depriving them of that right at the moment they're granted citizenship seems hypocritical in the extreme. And yes, if they are being forced into wearing a veil, let's go after the man who is forcing them to wear it.