What’s in a Niqab?

zunera-ishaq

And to think, when this campaign started some 17 years ago, we thought it was going to be all about the economy, Duffy, and whether or not you’ll ever be able to get to vote without having to fight through an army political operatives. What a difference 60-plus days make. Now it seems that the race is all about whether or not the government should have the ability to tell a statistically nearly non-existent group of people what not to wear at citizenship ceremonies, and that’s just how the Conservatives like it.

How else can you describe focusing so much attention in an issue that has, to date, affected two people out of 35 million but a wedge issue, and one that has helped the fortunes of not just the Conservatives, but the Bloc Quebecois too. Scary when even people at the centre of the controversy call it an non-existent issue. In an op-ed in the Toronto Star, Zunera Ishaq, whose court case was the basis for this whole debate, said that she has no problems taking off her niqab for identification purposes.

“I have taken my niqab off for security and identity reasons in every case where that’s been required of me, such as when I have taken a driver’s license photo or gone through airport security. I will take my niqab off again before the oath ceremony without protest so I can be properly identified,” she explained. Problem solved, right?

Not according to Defense Minister Jason Kenney. “We’re an open and welcoming country and we should not apologize for asking those who join our country to do so openly, transparently and proudly,” he said Friday. “And we should stand in solidarity with women who are treated like property, not people.”

There it is. Lovin’ this wedge issue? Blame Lynton Crosby, the so-called “Wizard of Oz” whose specialty is “dead cat on the table” or “dog whistle politics.” Meaning, as the satirical Beaverton pointed out, not focusing on issues of primary importance that might unite an electorate, but rather focusing on some small issue that divides people. He did in Australia with, you guessed it, immigration. In Canada though, Crosby can put a unique spin on the theme, what some people call “creeping Islam.”

“Excuse me, according to the public opinion polling, something like 85 per cent of Canadians agree the public citizenship oath should be taken publicly without one’s face and identity obscured,” Kenney added in that same interview. “When well-intentioned liberals end up legitimizing the niqab, reflective of a misogynous oppressive treatment of women, this is very problematic.”

As the old saying goes, “charity begins at home.” Kenney’s comments come after a Press Progress article that reveals a total of 86 Conservative candidates have been endorsed by the Campaign Life Coalition – the same folks behind those horrid anti-abortion mailers that some members of Canada Post started to refuse to deliver this past spring. These candidates, like Winnipeg-South’s Gordon Giesbrecht who said that abortion was like “9/11 every day,” are all pledged to vote against reproductive rights for women. That’s one-quarter of the Conservative candidates running that want to make it so that women can’t get access to a legal medical procedure that only a woman would ever need, and I’m sure many of those women would agree that making abortion illegal is “reflective of a misogynous oppressive treatment of women,” using Kenney’s own words.

Perhaps people living in the ridings of Abbotsford (Ed Fast), Kitchener Centre (Stephen Woodworth) or even Calgary-Midnapore (Kenney himself), should call the new “barbaric practices tipline” that was announced Friday. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, obviously free to focus on other things having solved the Syrian refugee crisis, revealed with with Minister for the Status of Women Kellie Leitch a plan to create a tip line, spend $12 million more to fight for women’s rights abroad, and to create an integrated RCMP task force to step up enforcement of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Coincidentally, this was done in advanced of the second and final French-language debate.

“The Conservative government is not afraid to defend Canadian values,” said Leitch. “By contrast, Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are more worried about political correctness than tackling these difficult issues that impact women.”

The “difficult issues” that Leitch specifically refers to are things like forced marriages and honour killings, things that are against the law anyway outside of having legislation that specifically targets the draconian members of a singular religious/cultural group. As many have pointed out, “barbaric cultural practices” haven’t stopped the Conservative government from doing business in Saudi Arabia, where young Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was recently sentenced to be crucified and beheaded for participating in the Arab Spring protests in 2012. Did I mention he was 16 at the time?

“We need to stand up for our values,” Alexander reiterated. “We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices.”

Of course, there is one Muslim woman we know that isn’t asking for advanced government protections. “I am not looking for Mr. Harper to approve my life choices or dress. I am certainly not looking for him to speak on my behalf and ‘save’ me from oppression, without even ever having bothered to reach out to me and speak with me,” Ishaq said in her Star op-ed.

No one’s saying that there aren’t tragedies that have come out of Old World beliefs, especially those about a woman’s “place” in society. Think of the case of Mississauga teen Aqsa Parvez, who was strangled to death by her brother with the approval of her father when reportedly she refused to wear a hijab. She was so afraid of her family that she had moved in with a neighbour. Unequivocally, this was wrong, and this was barbaric no matter what the culture. A Calgary imam went on a two day hunger strike to protest the practice of honour killings, and the vice-president of the Canadian Council of Imams denounced Parvez’s murder “without any reservation.”

So apparently Canadians can decide for themselves what’s barbaric without the addition of tiplines, or more police powers. If anyone’s making you do anything you don’t want to do – be it marry an older man, or covering your face, or using violence to threaten you – you should call the police and social services. It’s your right. But in the end, the Conservatives want to make you think that the lives of two people making their own choices amount to a hill of beans in this election. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is 6.8 per cent and there’s a reasonable chance that 40 per cent of the electorate won’t vote at all on October 19. Let’s focus on those numbers instead.

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