Why do I care about the niqab debate that has taken on such prominence in the current Canadian Federal election?

According to the to the Toronto Sun, along with the economy, the niqab is the issue that is going to win the election for Stephen Harper:

On top of all the promising economic news and accomplishments lifting the Conservatives during this campaign, Harper has taken a hard line in standing up for Canadian values.

He refuses to cower to the politically correct punditry who prefer we politely accommodate misogyny and barbaric cultural violence.


Which “Canadian values” are we talking about here? What kind of country do we want to be?

How much restriction on religious freedom are we willing to accept? Where do we want to draw the line? How many practices that cause no obvious harm will we ban simply because they do not seem to fit the dominant cultural framework of our society or because we do not understand the reasoning behind the practice?

I understand that there are places in the world where women – some women – are forced against their wills to wear a veil in public. There may even be women in Canada who wear the veil under coercion.

But, the Canadian women who have spoken publicly, speak of the veil as a personal choice that expresses their sense of faith and religious obligation. They insist they are not being coerced. Indeed, there are women who have apparently adopted the practice in spite of the objections of members, even male members, of their family. For these women the niqab is not a symbol of oppression or the devaluation of women. It is an expression of their independence and the value they place upon themselves as women.

Why does a rich western Christian white guy get to decide for a woman that she is the victim of misogyny?

I understand that the practice of veiling can carry unfortunate associations. The veil can be a symbol of female oppression. But most symbols carry more than one significance.The fact that the veil has been used in some contexts as a tool for the subjugation of women does not mean it must always carry such connotations. Guilt by association is never a good basis for public policy.

Heavy Metal CrossMaurading troops in the Crusades of the Middle Ages fought against the “infidels” under the banner of the Christian cross. The Nazi swastika is a modified cross and emblem of one of the most hateful and violent regimes to ever afflict this earth. In the United States of America, as recently as 1956, the Klu Klux Klan burned crosses as a sign of intimidation and threat. Enzifer, guitarist of Urgehal, the Norwegian “black metal band,” wears an inverted cross as a sign of rebellion against contemporary culture.

Do these unfortunate associations with violence, prejudice and rebellion mean that Christians should be banned from wearing crosses in public?

I understand that the niqab may seem offensive in our modern enlightened culture. But crosses worn by Christians may cause equal discomfort for people who find any religious symbol offensive. Should the public display of the Christian cross be banned in public because it might upset some people?

Where will this tendency stop? Who gets to decide when a cherished faith practice is in reality “barbaric cultural violence”?

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), in a speech in 1946 issued a stern warning to the world community in light of the atrocities of World War II saying,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Do we want to be a country that welcomes diversity? Or, do we want to be a country that demands conformity and dictates the harmless choices our citizens are free to make in practicing their faith? Are we willing to allow individual conscience within the bounds of civil behaviour? Or, are we determined that the dominant culture, simply because it is dominant, knows best how people whose beliefs may differ from the majority should be able to express their faith?

If no one speaks up for the niqab, how long will it be before no one speaks up for my cherished religious practice?