Niqab Lighter

The Minister announces no more Niqab when taking the oath of citizenship. Wants to make sure that the oath is actually being made, particularly since citizenship oaths are generally made in groups. Issue seen as cultural, rather than religious. Supported by most, with Muslims pointing out that, once again, contrary to popular misconception, the niqab is not mandated by Islam. As Nazira Tareen, founder and past president of the Ottawa Muslim Women’s Organization points out in this article:

…she’s been pleading with Muslim women to remove their niqabs when in the mosque, calling it a “danger to women” in female-only sections. “I don’t know whether it’s a man or a woman who is under that covering.”

The Minister pointing out that in Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam, women are required to remove the niqab to participate in Hajj. Also in Saudi, women are required to remove the niqab to be photographed for identity and other public documents (though not, as a female Muslim friend points out, smiling, for a driver’s license).

In the last few years, I taught my first student who was wearing a niqab. I asked her as to when she removed it. Only at home, and when she had applied for an Ontario driver’s license. I asked her why they couldn’t use fingerprints or iris identification. She said she didn’t know. No big deal to remove it for the purpose of obtaining a driver’s license. No big deal for me, in terms of identification when she wrote her exams, despite wearing a niqab in the student card photo. Knew her voice and, though perhaps I am imagining it, saw a particular distinctiveness in her eyes.

Seems that one issue is how a prohibition like this, unless carefully moderated, ends up firing up all sorts of other emotions. The Minister can’t be responsible for every irrational jumpup. Still, the editorial in yesterday’s Ottawa Sun, “Show your face for citizenship” accompanying a story on the Minister’s announcement, was not where one would hope one would end up:

If you don’t want to accept the values that are cherished by Canadians, and that Canadians fought for and died to protect, then pack up and return to the hellhole from which you wanted to escape.

Travel agents are standing by.

…It is our hope, as well, that Kenney’s move will give provinces, as well as the clowns at Elections Canada who have no problem with voters hiding their faces, the courage to deal directly with the changing face of multiculturalism.

It you want a driver’s license, if you want social benefits, if you want your province’s version of medicare, then take off the mask and take up traditional Canadian values.

Otherwise, go home.

Which results in response comments to the editorial like this (all anonymous; call it “Slaughterhouse III“):

From “John_Q_Public22”:

Bravo for a member of the press, and to the Sun, for having the balls to put this opinion in print. I know so many Canadians that are absolutely sick of this muslim sh##. I am one of them. In this country, we have to be positively identified to get certain things. You want Canadian citizenship, show your damn face.

From “Canadiantourist”:

I have to show my face for everything I do in this country I was born in and love. Drivers License, Health Card and voting, why do we have two sets of rules? If we disagree the left calls us bigots or racists. What about our culture and religions that allow for a hearty Merry Christmas to all !!!

These are two of the milder comments. The Ottawa Sun does not have a “report abuse” function, to flag and delete comments that are racist rants, or otherwise more offensive than those quoted.

The Minister framed matters from the perspective of it being a necessary cultural accommodation. Reminding one of the limits of state-supported multiculturalism– which provides its own lighter? As my friend, Neil Remington Abramson reminded me, there are some shifitng sands in relation to general acceptance of difference. Maybe it never was…
Postscript, December 14, 2011: On December 13, I wrote to the Ottawa Sun, expressing my concerns as follows:

Subject: Please consider having a “report abuse” function on your website in relation to comments…

…since yesterday’s editorial, “Show you face for citizenship”, quite apart from being inflammatory itself, elicited some comments that are in the direction of hate speech—see the “Somali” comment, as an example. I didn’t see anywhere that I could flag such a comment for editorial reconsideration or excision. Keep in mind that these people are usually commenting under the cloak of anonymity; the “news commentary niqab”, if you will. I commented on this:

Checked the editorial today. Comments closed, and flag function present. I flagged one comment. Checked just now. It’s gone.

About brucelarochelle
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3 Responses to Niqab Lighter

  1. On December 13-14, 2011, Husam Azhar and I had the following Facebook message exchange (reproduced with permission):


    I just read “Niqab Lighter” in your blog. Many questions come to mind regarding immigration in Canada, especially when it comes to Muslims. What defines freedom? Religious freedom? Are there forces that are trying to remove from those immigrants their cultural/religious values? What would be the case if Muslims were originally Canadian “not immigrants”? What about the children and grandchildren of those immigrants, who have not seen any country, but Canada? Why did they invite them to immigrate in the first place? Is it economic reasons? Religious? Political? ……….. These are just my thoughts: I am not necessarily expecting details about it at the moment.

    Thanks for sharing this. It is interesting to see how things are perceived by different people.


    There appears to be a separation of religious and cultural values, in terms of respective treatments. Religious freedoms are constitutionally protected, unless other civil rights are considered to be paramount. Recent decisions in relation to polygamy would appear to illustrate this.

    The right to preserve one’s culture of origin is not explicitly subject to constitutional protection. This is why the Minister could act so uneqivocally in relation to the niqab decision, based on evidence that this was a cultural practice, not mandated religiously. Yet Canada is also formally a muliticultural country, where multiculturalism is encouraged by the state. There is much concern as to the loss of or rapid change to what is viewed as a “Canadian culture”, which then manifests itself in opposition to accommodating cultural practices viewed as “non-Canadian”.

  2. On December 13, 2011, Neil Remington Abramson commented as follows (e-mail correspondence reproduced with permission):

    The left tends to demand that we all “try harder” to accept immigrants’ cultural differences. The right tends to insist the immigrants become more like the rest of us. Lately, I see “us” having bent over backwards to have tried harder, but now there is a bit of a backlash. Perhaps it is because when immigrants see us backing up, it gives them the courage to advance. Eventually if we back up far enough, we will retreat to something we think important enough to defend – like everyone has the right to see those who confront them.

    It seems to me pretty basic in any society requiring identification of someone as specifically that person, that you should see his or her face. An identity card, or example, with a picture of a niqab is pretty useless. A niqab swearing allegiance could be a stand-in for someone applying for citizenship on the grounds of having sufficient residency when s/he hasn’t really been here at all. It is common enough here in Vancouver for a Chinese family to buy a house, and claim citizenship, having lived here the required time–except in reality, the husband (and maybe also the wife) was working in China the whole time, leaving their kids to run the house and take care of themselves.

    Sure, your suggestion that one could use fingerprints or irises could work, but why do we (our government for which we pay) have to pay for all this fancy security equipment, when lifting the niqab would be so much less complicated and cost efficient? Let the niqabists pay the costs if they want special treatment. But why should they receive special treatment that we “ordinary” are denied? Let them be treated like all of us, if they are joining us, to be us.

    I used to be an immigrant. I say “used to”, because after being in Canada for 53 of my 58 years, I expect much of my foreigness has worn off. I was an invisible immigrant, because I was caucasian and from the US. From my perspective, it was surprising (and still is, a bit) how anti-American some Canadians were/are. And the irony was/is, the most anti-American were/are the left wingers–also the ones most likely to argue that we would be discriminating against these poor niqabists by making them show their faces. I guess some immigrants are more beloved by left wing Canadians. They rush to defend those most different from themselves, while despising those most like themselves.

  3. Neil Remington Abramson further discusses his sentiments in “Permitted Inconsistency (?)“.

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