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Symbolizing the Threat with Women's Clothes
March 30, 2010 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Recent troubles with Muslim women's clothes have lead to the Quebec Government to begin proposing legislation on the issue of face covering and access to public services. The niqab has become a central symbol in the anti-muslim rhetoric of nationalist parties in Europe (political poster examples: France, Switzerland, and Britain) about the threat Islam poses to tolerant secular societies.

It has been almost two years since the end of Quebec's Reasonable Accommodation Debates and the main result seems to be a great website with lots of information on the issue of religious diversity in Quebec, that the government is ignoring.

At the time, back before the Final Report came out [abridged - 99 pages], the local anti-racism group, No one is Illegal - Montreal expressed its concerns about the general approach to the topic of Canadian Muslim women's clothing was being discussed. Their concerns seem just as valid today.

Gerard Bouchard, one of the co-chairs of the Reasonable Accommodation commission, responded to recent discussion on the niqab with this:
"The host society has a duty to make all efforts for those immigrants to (accommodate) them, but not at any price," Veiled threat: Niqab new flashpoint in tolerance debate - Montreal Gazette
posted by ServSci (153 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
...the threat Islam poses to tolerant secular societies...

Irony alert.
posted by delmoi at 12:22 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women. Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be harassed by horny dudes. Live and let live, people.
posted by Mister_A at 12:25 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women. Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be harassed by horny dudes. Live and let live, people.

Listen, I'm white so I know what I'm talking about: these women are being forced into it against their will.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:27 PM on March 30, 2010 [18 favorites]


It seems reasonable to remove one's veil or anything else that covers the face (in the presence of an official of the same sex) when voting or getting a drivers license, but this seems unreasonable:

Legislation introduced in the Quebec national assembly Wednesday, would require both public servants dispensing government services and citizens receiving those services to have their faces uncovered.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2010


I am giving you a telepathic high-five, typo. You will probably mess it up because you're white but that's part of the charm of the thing.
posted by Mister_A at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2010


ugh, can we just learn something from turkey already?
posted by nathancaswell at 12:31 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The current issue with the niqab, as far as I know, is the unique problem it represents when what our face looks like is important for government services -- drivers licenses, medicare, etc. If we can't see your face, how are we to verify your eligibility? Relatively recently, Ontario moved to a picture ID for the provincial health insurance system; apparently, there were instances of people loaning their ID cards to relatives, needy Americans, etc. For better or for worse, we've landed on using the face as the standard for ID.

So what's the alternative? If you wear a niqab, you don't drive a car or go to the doctor? Is there a system of ID that will work for everyone? Fingerprints, maybe?
posted by the dief at 12:32 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


This post is all over the map. Is the issue the proposed Quebec Legislation, or the Anti-Islamic rhetoric in Europe? They're very different, and juxtaposing them above the fold is treading very close to editorializing an FPP.
posted by rocket88 at 12:36 PM on March 30, 2010


...the threat Islam poses to tolerant secular societies...
delmoi: Irony alert.
Would you care to elaborate?
posted by Anything at 12:37 PM on March 30, 2010


This is less one-sided than it appears. The Muslim Canadian Congress also wants to ban the burka and the niquab as "political symbols of Saudi inspired Islamic extremism".

There's a fight going on within Islam as well as without. I know several Muslims and Arab immigrants who think that face-covering is a medieval practice that should be stopped. Note that this isn't about the hijab head coverings, just the face veils.
posted by bonehead at 12:38 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is there a system of ID that will work for everyone? Fingerprints, maybe?

A better question: why should a country bend over backwards to satisfy someone's religious demands? Should the infrastructure be changed again when some cult that promotes burning off fingerprints makes it to the big leagues?
posted by Behemoth at 12:39 PM on March 30, 2010 [23 favorites]


Facial photographs are probably the easiest way to verify identity. The problem with fingerprints and other biometrics is that the data has to be stored. You need an entirely new infrastructure to deal with this information.

Too bad the Quebec government is hell-bent on turning this into a human rights debate, instead of negotiating a solution that works for everyone.

Then again, is Quebec even covered under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:41 PM on March 30, 2010


Sure, exept notwithstanding when they aren't.
posted by bonehead at 12:42 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women.
This isn't about long sleeves, loose long skirts, or scarves over their hair, this is about face-hiding masks. Nobody cares when people dress modestly.
posted by dabitch at 12:42 PM on March 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


I am so disappointed that this is even being discussed in Canada. When identity must be shown, it must be shown; this is completely unrelated to the niqab or any other clothing choice, religious or otherwise.

The rest of the time the government should stay the hell out of our clothing choices.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:43 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


So what's the alternative? If you wear a niqab, you don't drive a car or go to the doctor? Is there a system of ID that will work for everyone? Fingerprints, maybe?

As I've heard it explained by women who wear niqab, there isn't any problem revealing their face for official purposes like verifying identity, or emergency purposes like medical care.

This entire debate is political posturing.
posted by Chuckles at 12:43 PM on March 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


This language teacher claims he needs to see the student's mouth? That is somehow necessary to learn Quebecois French? Sorry that's just BS.

I agree that for identification purposes, occasionally it will be necessary to show one's face to officials. But the rest might as well be asking "show us your tits".
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2010


But Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, slammed the decision to expel the woman as discriminatory.

"To deny a person the chance of integration just because they follow what they believe is correct for them is wrong," he said.


Yeah, she's really intending to integrate with society at large by walking around with her face covered. The Elephant Man tried that, and look where it got him.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would you care to elaborate?

I'd assume that delmoi was observing that a tolerant secular society should, by definition, let people practice their own religions as they wish? Lots of other religions have clothing restrictions: Jews, Amish, Mormons, etc and we seem to be able to deal with that. Why pick on Islam?
posted by octothorpe at 12:47 PM on March 30, 2010


What I want to know is why that woman's father/husband is allowing her to attend classes in the first place?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Not all Muslim women wear a niqab. Some don't wear any specifically religious clothing at all yet are just as devoutly religious. It's my understanding that the niqab is not required by the Qur'an.
So is this really a case of accommodation for religious diversity or is it accommodation for personal choice?
posted by rocket88 at 12:50 PM on March 30, 2010


I don't think payos are in the Torah but Hasidim still wear 'em.
posted by Mister_A at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2010


Listen, I'm white so I know what I'm talking about: these women are being forced into it against their will.
Uh what?
MONTREAL -- As a devout Muslim who wore a hijab, or head scarf, Miriam Abushaban was used to having strangers tell her: "Go back to your own country."
But when she started wearing a face-covering niqab a year ago, the insulting remarks escalated into aggressive confrontations.

"One person said I look like I'm going to slit someone's throat," says the 22-year-old Concordia University student, who comes from New Jersey, where she was raised in a Muslim home by a Palestinian-American father and a Hispanic-American mother who converted to Islam when Miriam was two.
Who exactly is forcing her to do it and why did they step it from a hijab a year ago?
Would you care to elaborate?
The irony is people claiming to be tolerant while freaking out about someone's fashion choices.
A better question: why should a country bend over backwards to satisfy someone's religious demands? Should the infrastructure be changed again when some cult that promotes burning off fingerprints makes it to the big leagues?
It's not illegal to take off your fingerprints. I fact I'm a little confused at what point you're trying to make; finger prints are used to identify criminals, not ordinary citizens. And also, what does wearing an outfit have to do with ID? I mean, it's pretty rare for anyone to ID me while I drive, why would they? If you don't break any traffic laws, you shouldn't be pulled over. As far as the doctor goes, you are probably going to have to take that thing off to get care anyway.
posted by delmoi at 12:55 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


So is this really a case of accommodation for religious diversity or is it accommodation for personal choice?

I hate accommodating people by letting them walk around without berating their life choices! Just the other day I was walking down the street and someone was wearing a Pearl Jam t-shirt and my friend says to me, "Please Typo, not again," but I was already gone, telling that person just how shitty a band Pearl Jam is and how much I'd like to kick Eddie Vedder's ass.

I can't imagine what I would've done if I couldn't have been such an asshole.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:56 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Uh what?

Sorry, I thought the sarcasm was obvious: recent remarks in French politics (among millions of other places) have suggested that no one would wear the niqab or burka without being coerced into doing so.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:58 PM on March 30, 2010


"The best way to assure women's freedom is to have a different set of men telling them what they can't wear!"

So far, it sounds like the only accommodation people are having trouble with is having people around dressed differently than themselves.
posted by yeloson at 1:01 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


delmoi, I think the fingerprinting came up as a suggestion of how to ID people instead, so that the niqab ladies don't have to show their faces. And while it may not be illegal to take off your fingerprints it actually is illegal to cover your face in Denmark (during public demonstrations), for example, except for women wearing niqab's.
posted by dabitch at 1:02 PM on March 30, 2010


I hate accommodating people by letting them walk around without berating their life choices!
I said the same when we allowed our police officers to wear turbans if they so desired: it's the sign of a Sikh society.
posted by Abiezer at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women.

...and all western women would be horrified at the thought of wearing a niqab. The niqab is akin to a woman wearing a dog's leash. Because of the suppressive extremism it represents, it should not be allowed in Canadian schools and the women who choose to wear one should be required to remove it when presenting ID anywhere in Canada. Why should a free society be forced to perpetuate such oppression?
posted by weezy at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not a fan of the niqab, but I am even less a fan of telling people they can't wear a certain thing because it doesn't jibe with my personal or even national philosophy.
posted by Mister_A at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


IANAL, so take all this with a few grains of salt.

KokuRyu:

Quebec is covered, but they've used the Notwithstanding clause to allow french only sign laws.

They probably wouldn't need to invoke the Notwithstanding clause to get the law requiring photo ID and an uncovered face to receive services, since article one of the charter says that the rights are "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.". And this does seem like a reasonable limit to religious expression, since it has a purpose other than limiting the expression of religion, and is fairly limited in scope.

Behemoth: The standard in Canada at least is that religious displays must be accommodated unless there is a compelling reason not too, usually public safety rules. It's why a Canadian Sikh can take a secured kirpan to school, but not one that can be easily drawn, and can not carry one on a plane for example.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I don't think it is as clear-cut as you make it out to be. If you are forced to wear the thing it is oppressive; if not, who cares?
posted by Mister_A at 1:12 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The niqab is akin to a woman wearing a dog's leash.

People can choose to wear a dog leash. Some women chose to wear a niqab. Seriously, they actually do.

Why should a free society be forced to perpetuate such oppression?

Isn't allowing individual choice what makes a society free?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:12 PM on March 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


Canada's longstanding cultural homogeneity must be preserved at all cost!
posted by Kirk Grim at 1:16 PM on March 30, 2010


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women.

Note that this isn't about the hijab head coverings, just the face veils.


These two separate comments have inspired a derail; There a trend where younger women continue to wear the hijab and yet sport high cut shorts, low cut tops, and other assorted revealing/ sexy items of clothing.

Is the hijab here just a fashion item with no religious import, or are these ladies just having fun with pushing way past the boundaries.

I enjoy seeing it, but it always leaves me with a bit of a "WTF is happening? I'm so confused." vibe.

posted by quin at 1:21 PM on March 30, 2010


Some people would argue that the way the prevailing culture in the United States and other western nations subjects young women to ridicule for failing to meet idealized standards of beauty is every bit as oppressive as cultures that force, pressure, or encourage women to wear the niqab or other garb of varying austerity.
posted by Mister_A at 1:22 PM on March 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


when what our face looks like is important for government services -- drivers licenses, medicare, etc.

For the record, both my BC & my NL health cards have never had photo ID. Ontario does it, but there's no consensus that it's needed.

There's some questions and comments here that could use some answers. Not that I'm an expert or anything, but I have some knowledge.

Then again, is Quebec even covered under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Sure. The Quebec government used to pass all of their laws using s.33 of the Charter, the 'notwithstanding clause', which says that the law holds regardless of the Charter, as a political protest over details relating to the passing of the Charter, but they don't do that anymore. Further, if you look at the case of Chaouilli, which dealt with access to private insurance in Quebec, it was decided by some judges using the Charter, and some using Quebec's constitution (which has similar or even better provisions for some things).

Not all Muslim women wear a niqab. Some don't wear any specifically religious clothing at all yet are just as devoutly religious. It's my understanding that the niqab is not required by the Qur'an.
So is this really a case of accommodation for religious diversity or is it accommodation for personal choice?


The court system, not surprisingly, doesn't really like to get into issues of what is and isn't a religious requirement. What they care about is if the person with those beliefs holds them sincerely, and sincerity of a witness is something the courts are used to.
From Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem [about religious Jews putting up Succahs in their condo balconies]:
[52] ...[T]he courtʼs role in assessing sincerity is intended only to ensure that a presently asserted religious belief is in good faith, neither fictitious nor capricious, and that it is not an artifice. Otherwise, nothing short of a religious inquisition would be required to decipher the innermost beliefs of human beings.
[53] Assessment of sincerity is a question of fact that can be based on several non-exhaustive criteria, including the credibility of a claimantʼs testimony ..., as well as an analysis of whether the alleged belief is consistent with his or her other current religious practices ...,
[54]A claimant may choose to adduce expert evidence to demonstrate that his or her belief is consistent with the practices and beliefs of other adherents of the faith. While such evidence may be relevant to a demonstration of sincerity, it is not necessary.
and all western women would be horrified at the thought of wearing a niqab

Are you really saying that all women who wear a niqab don't do so by choice?
What about the Mennonites/Amish who dress modestly, is that representing suppressive extremism? Or is it just the niqab and Muslims? How immodestly should they be dressing, by law? Just the midriff showing? No skirts past the knee?
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:22 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


"This post is all over the map. Is the issue the proposed Quebec Legislation, or the Anti-Islamic rhetoric in Europe? They're very different, and juxtaposing them above the fold is treading very close to editorializing an FPP."

Sorry that this wasn't clear in the OP, the post is about the Quebec legislation and the general discourse about religious accommodation, immigration, and Quebec's national identity. There are so few women who wear a niqab here, and none of them have, to my knowledge, ever objected to identifying themselves to authorities. It's interesting to me that this non-issue, in a practical sense, has become a huge symbolic issue about accommodating difference.

The European examples of the use of the covered woman as a symbol of a threat, seemed relevant to me, considering the justifications the government provides in the linked articles.

In retrospect, I regret not making the "No one is Illegal" link more prominent. I really think it is pretty great, and it might have improved the focus of the thing.

I wasn't intentionally editorializing, but I do have a bias, here, that is not worth hiding, imo.
posted by ServSci at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2010


I hate accommodating people by letting them walk around without berating their life choices! Just the other day I was walking down the street and someone was wearing a Pearl Jam t-shirt and my friend says to me, "Please Typo, not again," but I was already gone, telling that person just how shitty a band Pearl Jam is and how much I'd like to kick Eddie Vedder's ass.

That part made no sense to me.

I can't imagine what I would've done if I couldn't have been such an asshole.

That part did.

Look, this isn't as simple as respecting someone's fashion choices. What is being requested is allowing and accommodating behavior for religious reasons that wouldn't be allowed or accommodated otherwise. Anyone can wear a kippah, whether they're Jewish or not, and nobody will care much, but not everyone can walk around with their faces covered. Maybe that sucks, but bank tellers tend to freak out when they see ski masks, so we make laws and rules about face coverings. Similarly, we've developed a system where we verify identity with facial photo ID. It works well.
So this isn't as simple as picking on people because they're different. There are real issues to be worked out here, and they aren't black and white simple.
posted by rocket88 at 1:27 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Anyone controlling a woman's body is an affront to that woman and to "tolerant" Western societies. For purposes of identifying yourself and public safety, we all have to show our faces, but outside of that context, it's no one's business if someone wears a burqa, a niqab, a hijab, or no covering on her head or face at all.

Just becuase Western society is uncomfortable with this choice doesn't make it an invalid choice. And yes, some women are compelled to wear these things, but it's better to make it okay and easy for these women to escape the domestic situation they are in (doing something about an actual problem) than it is to legislate whether these things can be worn at all.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm way late in here. but I listened to "As It Happes" while they were discussing this. One of the things brought up on this show is that like all of 20 women want to wear this thing. Also those women have no issues taking their veil off when required for identification purposes even if in front of a man (if no women were available).

So you have some people passing a fuck you law, just so they can say fuck you to a minority of a minority.

I'm fine with doing that, but be clear that's what's going on here.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:33 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe that sucks, but bank tellers tend to freak out when they see ski masks, so we make laws and rules about face coverings.

Exactly. Thank you. Having the niqab exempt from these laws does nobody any good.
posted by dabitch at 1:35 PM on March 30, 2010


They probably wouldn't need to invoke the Notwithstanding clause to get the law requiring photo ID and an uncovered face to receive services, since article one of the charter says that the rights are "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.". And this does seem like a reasonable limit to religious expression, since it has a purpose other than limiting the expression of religion, and is fairly limited in scope.

IAALS(tudent), take entire shakers of salt with my disagreement.

First of all, your since is just wrong. While it does have a purpose other than limiting religious expression, the effect does limit it. A law is unconstitutional if either the purpose is or the effects. It's rare that the purpose will be problematic at all, but effects-based striking down isn't even questioned. That's as it should be, because otherwise you can draft laws that look like they're about one thing but do another ("colourability" is the jargon

As for limited in scope, I would disagree there. This would fail the Oakes test [link to my explanation of it in AskMe, or google it] on a few grounds. First, parts of it aren't meant to protect anyone, really: the prohibition on public servants wearing the niqab does not seem to be based on any perceived harm (such as loaning health cards, bad voting, language instruction, whatever), but entirely based on promoting laïcité, or a secular society [secular in the strict sense, not in the laissez-faire sense]. So that part should be struck out.

Second, as for the reception of services, it really depends on how the bill is structured. If it's a requirement to show the face on application for cards, with an implementation scheme to allow them to only show it to a female public servant, then it'd probably be fine.

But if it were such that they had to uncover their face when, for example, they went to a clinic? There are less intrusive ways to solve the problems [of identity theft/sharing, I assume], so it fails the minimally impairing.

Plus, considering the numbers, I'm not sure this would be a proportional response.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:36 PM on March 30, 2010


Among 146,000 applications for health-care photo ID in 2008-09, there were just 10 from clients who asked for special accommodations because they wore a face-covering niqab or burka.
This really is about paranoia and xenophobia. Anything else is a remote hypothetical.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:38 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Completely hypothetical and without reference to Canadian laws and customs:

To the (apparently tiny) extent that wearing a face covering actually creates problems in various contexts, women should be able to wear the face covering - but shouldn't expect accomodation by government agencies in situations where a face is central to a particular aim. For instance, some security screenings might require that your face be exposed; if you choose not to expose your face, you've also chosen not to pass through that checkpoint. Everyone faces that rule. Similarly, you shouldn't be allowed to sue for any private conduct that bars you from a particular service or location unless you uncover your face. If I own a retail establishment, I want to be able to distinguish one customer from another, and I particularly want to be able to report crimes to the police to the best of my ability. I have no say, nor should I, about your religious practices, but you don't have the right to have the government compel me to adhere to them and compromise my own preferences. You can spend your money where people cater to your whims.

The other side of this situation, of course, is that government agencies should be aware of what face-covering may represent and therefore should be particularly careful to take domestic violence, kidnapping, etc. complaints very seriously and with extreme skepticism the moment anybody says something about a cultural misunderstanding.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:41 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


08 Feb 2010: "Two burka-wearing bank robbers have pulled off a heist near Paris using a handgun concealed beneath their full Islamic veil. Employees let the pair through the security double doors of the banking branch of a post office, believing them to be Muslim women. But once inside, the men flipped back their head coverings and pulled out a gun, officials said. (...)
The unusual bank heist, carried out on Saturday, will provide ammunition to supporters of a blanket ban due to security concerns. (...)
According to the interior ministry, only around 1,900 women wear the burka in France, which is home to around six million Muslims."

So: how many Muslim women in Canada wear the burka or the niquab? I'm sure most don't.

Also:
I hate accommodating people by letting them walk around without berating their life choices! Just the other day I was walking down the street and someone was wearing a Pearl Jam t-shirt and my friend says to me, "Please Typo, not again," but I was already gone, telling that person just how shitty a band Pearl Jam is and how much I'd like to kick Eddie Vedder's ass.

Eddie Vedder is not God. Pearl Jam is not a religion. Seattle is not Mecca.
posted by iviken at 1:42 PM on March 30, 2010


Ahem. "and investigate with extreme skepticism the moment anybody says something about a cultural misunderstanding.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:42 PM on March 30, 2010


Maybe that sucks, but bank tellers tend to freak out when they see ski masks, so we make laws and rules about face coverings.

Will we be banning the use of surgical masks as well? Because it freaks me out when Asians get colds.
posted by shii at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]



cjorgensen, are you referring to this episode of The Current? I can't find that episode of As It Happens...
posted by ServSci at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2010


not everyone can walk around with their faces covered

Yes they can. They just have to uncover it on occasion to be identified. Is anyone here asking for a law to be passed that exempts the niqab in this respect? Has anyone implied this law has been violated somewhere?

The only example I found in this post about someone refusing to uncover their face was in a language class, which I have difficulty believing requires students expose their faces for identification or any other reason. And yes, I have taught ESL.
posted by Kirk Grim at 1:47 PM on March 30, 2010


Eddie Vedder is not God. Pearl Jam is not a religion. Seattle is not Mecca.

WHO ARE YOU AND WHY DO YOU REFUTE THE POETRY OF MY TEENAGE SELF
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


This language teacher claims he needs to see the student's mouth? That is somehow necessary to learn Quebecois French? Sorry that's just BS

Uh, no, it's not BS at all. Teaching intelligible pronunciation requires a student to use sounds that are not typical in their native language or are used in different ways. You teach these sounds by telling the student how to form them with their mouths. Seeing the student's mouth move is important.

Sure, a French teacher who is blind can adapt, but most language teachers are accustomed to using both their eyes and ears when students speak.
posted by desuetude at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


A quick read on the situation from an insider's perspective (are there other Quebecers in this thread?): the strong "second-place" provincial party, the separatist PQ, has been aggressively courting the "angry, frightened bigot" vote for the last few years under the guise of protecting Quebec's culture, up to and including proposing laws that would allow non-Francophones fewer rights than other citizens (can't stand for public office, among other things) until they pass a French test.

The Liberals are trying to keep a segment of the (significantly large, especially in the regions) angry frightened bigot vote through dumbass "see those minorities can't push us around either" posturing.

There's a huge, huge topic around the "reasonable accommodation" stuff, and the bizarre crossover between left-leaning ideologues and xenophobic racists that combine, Voltron-like, to form the Quebec separatist movement.

The Liberals have done a lot of things in response to the Reasonable Accommodation stuff that I'm actually quite proud of, most notably a mandatory religion and ethics course in schools that they've taken a lot of heat from, especially from (not surprisingly) old-school Roman Catholics, whose Venn diagram happens to cross over with the xenophobic/separatist bloc mentioned above.

So the Liberals are taking a lot of flak, sprayed 'cross the newspapers and other media, as angry religious types try to get their kids out of this Godless heathen "ethics" course, fearing that they'll be contaminated with secularism and foreign-type thinking.

Enough that the Liberals are freaking out a bit at this public drubbing, and feel the need to make a public display of intolerance to show that they're not pushovers and can stand up to these not-pur-laine rascals too.

So I suspect the main drive here is that the Liberals don't want to seem "soft on foreign-type behaviour," in order to retain enough of the crazy xenophobe voting bloc to remain in power. Whether that vote is worth having is open to debate, but it does, alas, seem to hold the balance of power.

As said above: useless stupid political posturing, just not happening in a vacuum.

[Data point: both driver and healthcare IDs here are photo IDs. They use the same photo, taken at the same time. Not that this justifies this ridiculousness, but it happens to be the case.]
posted by Shepherd at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


People may be interested in a case that was decided last year at the Supreme Court, Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony [wiki, full-text].

In essence, the question was whether the government of Alberta's requirement for a photo ID for a driver's license was an infringement of the Hutterian's freedom of religion.

The Hutterians believe that they may not be photographed, which would fall under the 'graven images' commandment of the Bible (I think). They live in kind of rural west Alberta. They have some connections to the Mennonites in the area, and I believe live a similar lifestyle.

Previously, Alberta had allowed them to get a license under a religious exemption, but to prevent fraud had started a big database of ids, to ensure 1) That nobody who already had a license was getting a fake one (one-to-many security) and 2) That the person renewing a license was actually that person (one-to-one).

A 4-3 majority found that it wasn't an infringement (or rather, that it was justified, it's clearly an infringement under Canadian constitutional parlance). Part of the majority's holding was due to the fact that although this would impose some hardship on the Hutterians [since they would have to hire drivers when they wanted to leave the community, as they're not quite monastic], there is no free-standing right to 'drive'. And the government had a legitimate need to maintain the database integrity.

However, you can see the contrast. Unlike driving, there is a right to public services such as health care. So they'll look at it more harshly. Furthermore, in the Hutterian case the facts showed that the Government had proposed some alternative solutions [no picture on the id but in the database is the one I remember, I think there were more], but the Hutterians rejected all of them and wouldn't settle for any pictures being taken. Here, the women in question have been the ones willing to meet halfway, it seems.

It'll be interesting.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:00 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry for coming in and shitting a bunch of constitutional law over the place. My prof gets realllly worked up over the Hutterian case, his main focus is on Human Rights law, and has a habit of taking exam questions from the news. For the past week I've been prepping for having this exact case as our 100% final.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:01 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the head scarf has become a veru visible symbol of what host countries see as a nonconformity of muslim immigrants, most of which come from the backward regions (Eastern Anatolia, not Istanbul). head scarfs stand as a symbol for things like: not bothering to learn the language (the men forbid the women to take language lessons), refusing to let male ambulance workers treat bleeding women, refusing to mingle, bringing entire huge families over and overwhelming "our" social security system, deferring to the sharia rather than local law etc. It is worth noting that a discussion about head scarfs is never just about head scarfs. It is a very visible symbol.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:03 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


You teach these sounds by telling the student how to form them with their mouths.

I note there are no pictures of mouths to illustrate this point in your linked-to teachers' guide, and instead diagrams are used. It is certainly something that can be worked around.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:05 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most of us here, myself included, are Americans. As such, the prevailing opinion here reflects our values. While I myself would be against restricting women from wearing these kinds of outfits, I can entirely understand why a society would have different values that this attire conflicts with. It doesn't hurt that these kinds of clothes give me a queasy feeling.

Some people would argue that the way the prevailing culture in the United States and other western nations subjects young women to ridicule for failing to meet idealized standards of beauty is every bit as oppressive as cultures that force, pressure, or encourage women to wear the niqab or other garb of varying austerity.

Some people? Are you a newscaster? What about you? I'd like to think that you depersonalized this opinion because you recognized how absurd it is. It's interesting how peoples' values can loop around in almost contradictory directions by following them well past their logical conclusions. All I can say is, that by all accounts, there's simply no comparison between Western social pressure to look beautiful and Islamic very-explicit-pressure to wear giant tents. Some, perhaps many or even most, women in Islamic societies voluntarily wear the hijab and niqab. But they have zero choice in the matter. If a Saudi woman wore jeans and a tank top on the street, the best thing that could happen to her would be a government-sanctioned beating. Please, some perspective.

It's interesting the way that tolerance, taken far enough, would have one tolerate intolerance. I believe that the line must be drawn before one arrives at this position. In the US, where we don't have club-wielding morality police, I default to freedom to wear whatever you want. But I can definitely sympathize with the other side on this one.
posted by Edgewise at 2:09 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not a fan of the niqab, but I am even less a fan of telling people they can't wear a certain thing because it doesn't jibe with my personal or even national philosophy.

How about wearing a T-shirt denouncing the prophet Mohammed as a child molester? Is that OK in your opinion?
posted by sour cream at 2:09 PM on March 30, 2010


In Canada all citizens have the right to personal freedom as long as it does not infringe on another's right. However when it comes to a Muslim woman, we have convinced ourselves that she is a victim of her husband's dominance and so we do not believe her when she says "this is my choice."

What a cunning, circular web we weave. First we discredit her as an intellectual being, ridicule her claim to be a free-thinking woman, demonize her for practising her faith, and then smugly claim to be emancipating her.


Shahina Siddiqui is president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association Inc. - Canada.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quebec Authorities: Busting Kneecaps Niqabs Since 2010

But seriously folks. I think the one valid argument for the niqab ban is the security risk, but I honestly don't believe banning them outright from public places will heighten our safety--criminals will cover their faces with or without the permittance of niqabs no matter what kind of legislation is passed. So, can we not strike some equilibrium here and ask -- even legally -- that niqabs to be removed if requested for security purposes, like for photo ID or security checkpoints? I think a zero-tolerance policy sends the message of religious intolerance, which reminds me more of the Shah-era Iran my parents experienced, not the tolerant multicultural Canadian environment I was fortunate enough to be raised in. C'mon guys, we're better than that.
posted by Menomena at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about wearing a T-shirt denouncing the prophet Mohammed as a child molester? Is that OK in your opinion?

Your comment is an example of bullying.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


I prefer the U.S. take on this: maximum freedom of expression. If you want to wear a burka, go knock yourself out. If you want to claim that the Holocaust didn't happen - ditto. If you want to say, for example, that all Swedes should be exterminated, because they are the devil's children - fine.

Otherwise you get a situation like in Canada or some European countries. You can wear a burka, but not a t-shirt that depicts, for example, the prophet as a domestic animal, because the latter might be taken to incite religious hatred. Or you can wear a burka, but not a Nazi uniform on the street.
posted by VikingSword at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


...on the issue of face covering and access to public services.

So, no more full-face helmets for motorcycle riders on public roads and no more Balaclava for Skidoo riders on public trails?
posted by CitoyenK at 2:28 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Afganistan, women are beaten, disfigured and set on fire for daring to not wear a burka. Many of the recent immigrants to Canada, to Montreal, are from Afganistan/Pakistan. How are we to gauge if this is a real choice or the illusion of choice masking real fear of reprisal?

Honour killings are happening in Canada (innocent until proven guilty, etc...) for exactly these same reasons. One of the comments made by a neighbour of the accused was that the father argued with his daughters about wearing modesty coverings.

Are such women better served by anti-niqab laws? Do they make things worse? I don't know.
posted by bonehead at 2:29 PM on March 30, 2010


You can wear a burka, but not a t-shirt that depicts, for example, the prophet as a domestic animal, because the latter might be taken to incite religious hatred

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the Danish Mohammed cartoons were banned in Canada. Our hate speech laws are interpreted in many ways by many people, but generally when they are applied it is for inciting hatred or genocide against an identifiable group, by the letter of the law. Making a human rights/hate speech complaint does not always end in the claimant winning their case.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2010


Not sure where you're getting the idea that you can't wear a Nazi uniform in Canada (you may be thinking of German) or a t-shirt depicting the prophet Mohammed, so basically your argument has no bearing on informed reality and is just noise.

Hate speech in Canada is regulated - you cannot promote genocide, or deny that the Holocaust happened.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2010


Why should a free society be forced to perpetuate such oppression?

Because the concept of freedom of religion includes the freedom to belong to religions others might consider backwards and repressive.

Eastern Anatolia, not Istanbul

Actually, I think it's "Istanbul (Not Constaninople)."
posted by kirkaracha at 2:33 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


One day we'll id people by the DNA in their saliva, and we'll spit on each other to confirm our identities.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not sure where you're getting the idea that you can't wear a Nazi uniform in Canada (you may be thinking of German)

Yes, of course I meant Germany - I said "in Canada OR some European countries" - meaning in all countries where there is less freedom of expression than the U.S., though what is specifically forbidden may vary from country to country.

or a t-shirt depicting the prophet Mohammed, so basically your argument has no bearing on informed reality and is just noise.

Hate speech in Canada is regulated - you cannot promote genocide, or deny that the Holocaust happened.

What if the hate speech is promoted on a t-shirt? Banned, I'd guess. Of course that's Canada's choice. Just as it would be to ban the burka. Another choice.

Point being, once you go down the road of restricting expression, you run into all sorts of inconsistencies. Which is why I personally prefer to let the burka and nasty speech I disagree with to still be free - I'd rather know who it is who denies the holocaust or wears a Nazi and/or disgusting t-shirt. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Let the bigots expose themselves. To suppress this not only hides the bigotry but gives the bigots a sense of persecution/victimization and a false sense of "well there must be something to it if they're so against it". Just an observation.

Also, about the "noise" remark - make sure you read things correctly first, because in this case you were simply wrong. It's not helpful - try to concentrate on the substance, thanks.
posted by VikingSword at 2:45 PM on March 30, 2010


There are significantly more than twenty mothers at my daughter's school who wear a face veil. They seem unapproachable, I suppose, but certainly not threatening. I've overheard other Muslim mums speaking dismissively of them and I wonder, if I were religious, would I be irritated by those who were more obviously, more ostentatiously religious? But I suspect my question, and the hostility of the more relaxed Muslim mothers might be based on a misunderstanding. Perhaps the veil doesn't symbolise religious conviction or modesty at all. But it's clearly not simply a fashion choice. You don't put on your favourite Argyle sweater every time you leave the house. What I'd really like to do is ask, but the veil prevents me, and that makes me a little sad. But I'd love to ask "Why do you cover your face?" "Will you expect your daughter (my daughter's friend) to cover her face?" "How old will she be when she begins to cover her face?" "Don't you want the world to admire the beauty of your child as she grows into a woman?" I think that part of our responsibility in a live-and-let-live society is to ensure that other people are being allowed to live, and to make choices freely. The veil might problematise this. I don't know.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:45 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if the hate speech is promoted on a t-shirt? Banned, I'd guess

Probably, it's no different than saying it out loud, is it? But I don't think there's a law specifically banning a swastika on a T-shirt, for example. And I'm sure even in the USA there are limits on what you can put on a T-shirt. Child porn images, for example.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:53 PM on March 30, 2010


It is worth noting that a discussion about head scarfs is never just about head scarfs. It is a very visible symbol.

Ban symbols!
posted by stammer at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2010


I may be naive, but why not just go with the middle ground that many have suggested: if facial identification is required (i.e. for security issues) than take the woman in question into a private room with female staff to verify identity. I believe that's what's done at the border, but don't quote me on that.

But for all public services? That's rubbish. If we don't absolutely require facial identification (e.g. for health care) than we don't and it shouldn't be a problem for a woman to wear a niqab. If I can go somewhere to get services in mid-January bundled up to my eyeballs in a scarf and a toque and not be asked to remove those, than women wearing a niqab shouldn't have to either. And further along the continuum, I see no good being done from an outright ban altogether.

I have to ask, again, as others have, if this is really an issue. Here in Ottawa there is quite a sizable Muslim population, and in the 12 years I've lived here I think I've seen one burka and one niqab. Tons of headscarves, yes, but those are not a part of this case.
posted by aclevername at 3:00 PM on March 30, 2010


What I'd really like to do is ask, but the veil prevents me, and that makes me a little sad.

I think you should ask. I don't think her veil prevents you from being politely curious about it.
posted by ServSci at 3:00 PM on March 30, 2010


Probably, it's no different than saying it out loud, is it? But I don't think there's a law specifically banning a swastika on a T-shirt, for example. And I'm sure even in the USA there are limits on what you can put on a T-shirt. Child porn images, for example.

Absolutely - but so what? That's still clothing you can't wear. What if it's a religion that has an inscription? Kill the infidel? Or a new religion with objectionable hate speech that has to be displayed on clothing? And child-porn images are also a problem - there are always borderline cases. For example there was a case in the U.S. about some collector of pornographic animation who imported highly objectionable material from Japan - it remains a contentious case. Of course speech is limited in the U.S. as well - the famous "fire in a theater", or simply classified material, or even just issues of libel. Limitations exist everywhere. And the more of them, the more problems you get, so in general it's better, from a practical point of view, to draw the line as far toward freedom as is feasible. Seems to me, Canada and certain European countries expose themselves to a lot of problems by trying to draw the line too far (btw. France is contemplating something pretty drastic wrt. burkas as well).
posted by VikingSword at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2010


I should be very reluctant to pass unnecessary laws about what clothes people wear, but I do think all-concealing female Muslim garb makes special demands on Western society's patience.

First, it seems to insult me as a man, implying far more strongly than any radical feminist that all men are automatic rapists. Second, it seems a very emphatic rejection of my Anglo-Saxon Christian culture, and appears to make a claim to moral superiority, which would be at least a little discourteous. Muslim countries, we know, do not always allow the duty of hospitality to strangers to inhibit them from insisting that female visitors respect their culture in this respect. Third, it symbolises to me the atrocious oppression of women which, surely undeniably, does go on in some Islamic countries; so it does not fill my heart with joy to see that symbol touted around unchallenged. Yes, some women adopt these dress codes voluntarily (perhaps easy to do in the West where you can drop it for a while any time you like), but then there never was an oppressive regime that didn't have its supporters among the oppressed, was there? If it's a barrier against lustful men, shouldn't it be the men who wear blindfolds?

The face is a particular difficulty, partly because in my culture, covering the face is strongly associated with deceit, immorality and criminality. Beyond that we know that facial expressions are a universal human language, and one which we have evolved to use. To smile or to frown is essentially human: to cover the face, in that context, seems a denial of society, to a degree of the personality of the wearer, perhaps even of their humanity.

In short I remain convinced that the principle of religious freedom must be upheld, but if others waver I find it understandable.
posted by Phanx at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


Lemurrhea: Good point, I was thinking mostly about the services part of it not the prohibition on public servants wearing veils. And I allways enjoy Canadian constitutional law, in small doses at least.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2010


And all of this about women loaning ID to family members: have you even looked at a government ID? As long as you look approximately like the person in question (like most family members look like each other), it'll be all good. In fact, you probably could make it with the ID as long as you're within a moderate age range and the same sex.

This is a non-issue. It's being used to scare people. A woman in a burqa does not frighten me. Before you go "liberating" women from outside your culture, make sure it's not because you fear them or what they represent.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:02 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


If anything, continuing to make laws against the clothing of women in this way only makes it more likely that an actual oppressed and abused woman will be more likely to be confined to her house and isolated from her community because she can't leave her house and cover herself in the required manner. It's certainly not going to release any abused woman from the shackles of a terrible marriage (and does nothing to help those who don't wear such clothing and are still in the same situation).

Is it really that much of an inconvenience that one or two female staff members (in a bank, in airports, in other establishments that require facial ID to be checked) pull a woman with a covered face aside and confirm her identification separately? I mean seriously? This is yet another discussion about controlling women, and I'd rather a better solution was found to accommodate, rather than punish us yet again.
posted by saturnine at 3:04 PM on March 30, 2010


If anything, continuing to make laws against the clothing of women in this way only makes it more likely that an actual oppressed and abused woman will be more likely to be confined to her house and isolated from her community because she can't leave her house and cover herself in the required manner. It's certainly not going to release any abused woman from the shackles of a terrible marriage (and does nothing to help those who don't wear such clothing and are still in the same situation).

This. But the same goes for holocaust deniers and hate speech, IMHO - if you ban their expression, what happens is that they can then point to it as evidence of a "conspiracy". I'd much rather that they be debated vigorously and exposed for the fools and bigots that they are. Banning rarely solves such problems, more speech and more freedom is the proper way to go about it. Soon we'll see extra nastiness come up in France wrt. the face covering, seems to me.
posted by VikingSword at 3:09 PM on March 30, 2010


Bah, all clothing is a product of religious oppression. Seriously - it's 70 degrees outside, I shouldn't be wearing anything other than shoes. But I clothe my filthy, immoral body every single day because ours is a religious culture. Atheists arguing that headscarves are a product of religious oppression while they sit there in their atheist... jogging suits... is high irony. To really escape out from under the thumb of the clergy you must eschew all clothing, unless it's cold outside or you're doing some gardening in the rosebushes or something. Then I'll take seriously your moral indignation over religious clothing restrictions. that's right. all of you. nekkid.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:10 PM on March 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Phrased that wrong. It's me not the veil, or it's a bit of both. I think the conversation would define awkward. Firstly, the niqab mums tend to gather in circles and talk only to each other, so, not to the other women, and not even to most of the Muslim mums. So I'd feel a bit intrusive, being male, and non-muslim, and really big and socially inept. But it's a pity, because the playground is a window into other people's world's I think, particularly in the afternoon, when you get there early, and no-one has to rush off to work.
posted by tigrefacile at 3:11 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


In short I remain convinced that the principle of religious freedom must be upheld, but if others waver I find it understandable

I understand it, too, when people are afraid. I think there's a pretty big difference between feeling personally concerned or offended and government involvement & legislation. That's the part that worries me. I don't expect my entire society to do an about-face and suddenly embrace cultural or religious diversity (I wish it would but i don't expect it), but criminalizing religious expression seems so obviously bad that I barely believe it's being seriously considered.
posted by ServSci at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2010


Point being, once you go down the road of restricting expression, you run into all sorts of inconsistencies.

Agreed. Everyone restricts expression to some degree, however. I'd find it an odd coincidence if you only started running into inconsistences after you surpassed the USA's own restrictions.
posted by ODiV at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2010


A woman in a burqa does not frighten me.

When I come to your class in my Klan outfit, you'll all be cool about it...right? We are tuned to fear what we can not see, its intimidating.

I'd rather a better solution was found to accommodate, rather than punish us yet again.

From the article:
She initially agreed to remove her niqab when meeting with a female student adviser and when posing for her school ID card. She also agreed to receive some instruction without the niqab from a female teacher in an isolated area of the school.

The teacher allowed her to give an oral presentation at the back of the classroom, facing away from other students. However, the student complained that some male students could see her face and asked that they be moved to a different part of the classroom.


It would appear Immigration Department did accommodate but after a certain point had enough.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2010


First, it seems to insult me as a man, implying far more strongly than any radical feminist that all men are automatic rapists.

I'm pretty sure that they're not wearing it to specifically prevent you from automatically raping them. I may be mistaken.
posted by tigrefacile at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2010


Phanx, I have an awful, awful feeling that your post is actually genuine, and I don't even know how to respond to such incredible misunderstandings of... everything.

I mean, did you really just come out and say that women who wear the burka aren't people?
posted by TypographicalError at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2010


Tolerance and equality in Quebec are along different lines, a bit, than in the US. Though there is also racism based on what you look like, it's much more xenophobic about how you *act*, and if you do things that are too different that have an effect on other people. Over the past decade it seems like effect is more and more nebulous, but perhaps it's just being made into news more often.

The particular woman whose veil set this off -- her story seems unclear. She initially had some agreement with the teacher, she may or may not have made further requests, she may or may not have been odd with the men in the class, this may or may not be about the next class in the series. I can't imagine why the teacher needed to see her mouth so very much and all the time, honestly: a slight accent is not the end of the world. But her story is also irrelevant, because by now it's bigger than her.

Initially, I have read, women could wait a little longer for the next available woman at government agencies, and this is one of the things they want to restrict. And I am conflicted. On the one hand, I do not care if people want to wait longer for their religious convictions. On the other hand, well, if you want to live and get by in a secularish society, you need to play by its rules, and one of those rules is that the sexes are equal. If a man came in, insisting on being served by a man because women are inferior, would we want to enable that?

Quebec wants, at some level, to prioritize other things over freedom of religion, but the problem seems to me the dishonest way in which it does that. It wants, occasionally, to prohibit any religious symbols anywhere public -- except those which are its "cultural heritage", which means that crosses and crucifixes are fine, but nothing else. It then wants to call this secular, which it isn't, of course.

(I am calling Quebec a bloc, when they're clearly not: many people, including some ultraleft separatists, feel that it should be secular and get rid of crosses everywhere (except maybe on Mount Royal), and many others want a more moderate secularism, where, for instance, you wouldn't have a crucifix in the National Assembly, but members and other government employees could wear their choice of personal religious symbols.)
posted by jeather at 3:17 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd find it an odd coincidence if you only started running into inconsistences after you surpassed the USA's own restrictions.

Even the restrictions such as in the U.S. can be harmful - for example, the requirement not to release confidential information has been abused to the point where major malfeasance and policy failure is effectively hidden from the public. Bad.

Perhaps it's like a steering control problem - a bit of inconsistency is a nuisance, but you keep adding more, and at some point you end up in a ditch. So I'd advocate as little as is practical.
posted by VikingSword at 3:20 PM on March 30, 2010


Phanx "First, it seems to insult me as a man, implying far more strongly than any radical feminist that all men are automatic rapists."

This attitude when it comes to women is so bloody exhausting. Obviously it's all about insulting men, and nothing to do with how women are treated by men that necessitate a simple defence mechanism. Or that some women maybe want to get through their day being valued for their weight as a person, not the weight of how they appear to others.
posted by saturnine at 3:25 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Vikingsword, I think I actually agree with what you're saying and was only trying to clear up Canada's hate speech laws a little-- I don't think there'd be an issue with depicting the prophet as an animal on a T-shirt in Canada.

Religion is not the point here. People are projecting their fears and biases about Islam onto these women and seeing all women who wear the niqab as necessarily being forced to do so as victims of male oppression.

People should have a choice about whether they want to cover their face in public. "It creeps me out" is not a valid reason to legislate away someone's right to wear a face covering.

That said, we also legislate what has to be covered in the West, too. Ever literally tried to rock out with your cock out?
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:28 PM on March 30, 2010


All I can say is, that by all accounts, there's simply no comparison between Western social pressure to look beautiful and Islamic very-explicit-pressure to wear giant tents. Some, perhaps many or even most, women in Islamic societies voluntarily wear the hijab and niqab. But they have zero choice in the matter. If a Saudi woman wore jeans and a tank top on the street, the best thing that could happen to her would be a government-sanctioned beating. Please, some perspective.

In Bosnia, before the war, women didn't cover themselves. Now, there are young women who do so. They're not under pressure, and are in many cases looked at quite strangely - especially by men - for doing so. I have a friend with some facial scars from some shrapnel. Her scars aren't much to speak of, but they disturb her greatly (about on the same level of the scar Tina Fey has, of which she too is very sensitive.) I can't say if it's embarrassment of the diminution of her looks (though slight - she's still beautiful) or because of the memories her scars rekindle, but she's chosen to wear a veil. Her husband, a wonderful guy, thinks its crazy, but doesn't try to stop her from doing so, except in a very gentle and kind way. It wouldn't be for me, but she feels that covering herself brings her peace of mind and helps her stay "spiritual." Aside from this habit of dress, she's funny and opinionated, intelligent and actually pretty mod. She likes techno and Romani music and has big dinner parties with alcohol and dancing and funny attempts to cook foreign cuisines she can't really manage to do correctly. The strength of her charm would put most other women anywhere to shame.

Another young woman from Herzegovina, living in America, is the sister of a friend of mine. She covers herself too. It drives her parents (she lives at home still; she's 23) crazy, drives her sister (my friend) crazy, and pretty much drives everyone else around her crazy too. Her attitude is that since people's reactions were so negative when she mentioned she was Muslim (though in truth she's not especially religious), she thought she might as well go whole hog (to use a Muslim-inappropriate metaphor.) I'd consider it a fad like a punk rock phase or something, but she's got other Bosnian Muslim girlfriends doing it now, too, and they've been at it for five or six years. They're like a gang almost, and you'd probably be scared to meet you in an alley. They sort of remind me of the image the Slits once had, only with veils instead of mud.

These are not oppressed, frightened women forced to do anything. They just feel comfortable or happy covering themselves. I think - and all the women who cover themselves would agree (I've discussed it with most of them) - that they should be allowed to have their faces photographed for the purposes of identification. No problem with that at all. But for a government to ban coverings is discriminatory, paranoid and embarrassing for that country. It saddens me that many Muslims in the West actually have a better understanding of freedom and tolerance than many people of European Christian origin. How did you fall down so far?

Anyway, most women in Muslim society *do* have a choice in the matter. Saudi Arabia has less than 2% of the world's Muslims and was a brutal, oppressive place before Islam - it's not representative of the sort of place where most Muslim women live. In fact, most Muslims are not Arabs and most Muslims don't live in the Middle East at all. A country not generally though of as Muslim - Indonesia - has about seven times as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia and is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Turkey has roughly double the number of Muslims as Saudi Arabia. India has roughly five times as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia. Even China has more than twenty million Muslims.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:30 PM on March 30, 2010 [23 favorites]


This entire argument about what's allowed on t-shirts and what is not is totally irrelevant - you can wear anything you want in Canada and Quebec, except (in the near future) a veil. Either you agree with the law, or you don't.

The proposed ban on veils in Quebec is the real issue, not some hypothetical problem.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2010


Phanx "First, it seems to insult me as a man, implying far more strongly than any radical feminist that all men are automatic rapists."

I don't think I'd ever cover myself, but about the only reason I'd even consider it is simply so self-obsessed cry-baby narcissists like Phanx wouldn't get to check out my hot self. I suppose I would make accommodations, though, for well-adjusted men with actual character.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:33 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Kirk Grim, I think we're more or less on the same wavelength here, though I think that trying to divine what's behind the veil (so to speak) is a doomed enterprise - it can be anything from a genuine free religious choice to coercion and anything in between. Which is why I prefer not to speculate, and just let it be - let everyone wear what they wish.

Interesting about the public nudity thing - there's been quite a bit of back and forth in special places like nude beeches, with restrictions waxing and waning. There's a huge cultural component here, not just religious. And if you hold with the Naturalists, we're daft to restrict anyway. Of course, there's the inevitable "what about the children".
posted by VikingSword at 3:35 PM on March 30, 2010


The law doesn't say you cannot wear a veil, it says that while you are receiving (non-emergency) government-provided services, you must show your face. This says nothing about walking down the street with a veil. It's not a good law as it is, there's no need to describe it as worse than it is.
posted by jeather at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2010


Just to set the stage, this is the same province where signs on private businesses are considered part of the cultural fabric and are very strictly regulated. As in, you can't have a sign in (only) Chinese for a Chinese restaurant. Also, you can't turn right on a red light.

Quebec has a different notion of what's considered appropriate government regulation versus the rest of North America.
posted by GuyZero at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2010


Well, since I mentioned it several times now, I may as well link to it:

"France's top administrative body has advised the government that any total ban on face-covering Islamic veils could be unconstitutional. The State Council also said a ban could be justified in some public places. Prime Minster Francois Fillon had asked the council for a legal opinion before drawing up a law on the subject. However, an MP from President Nicolas Sarkozy's party was quoted as saying that those drafting the legislation might ignore Tuesday's ruling."
posted by VikingSword at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2010


jeather's right, it was the French law that proposes a total public ban, they were recently advised against it and seeming towards something more like quebec's proposed bill:

"It appears to the State council that a general and absolute ban on the full veil as such can have no uncontestable judicial basis," the body said, in a report to Prime Minister Francois Fillon. "That said, for reasons of security and to combat fraud and furthermore because of the requirements of some public services, it would be justified to require that faces be uncovered in some places or for some procedures." - Top French Council Opposes Total Ban - Today
posted by ServSci at 3:42 PM on March 30, 2010


ugh too slow.
posted by ServSci at 3:44 PM on March 30, 2010


There are significantly more than twenty mothers at my daughter's school who wear a face veil. They seem unapproachable, I suppose, but certainly not threatening. I've overheard other Muslim mums speaking dismissively of them and I wonder, if I were religious, would I be irritated by those who were more obviously, more ostentatiously religious? But I suspect my question, and the hostility of the more relaxed Muslim mothers might be based on a misunderstanding. Perhaps the veil doesn't symbolise religious conviction or modesty at all. But it's clearly not simply a fashion choice. You don't put on your favourite Argyle sweater every time you leave the house. What I'd really like to do is ask, but the veil prevents me, and that makes me a little sad. But I'd love to ask "Why do you cover your face?"

The veil's not preventing you, you are preventing you. When I encounter women with veils in vaguely unusual places, I always ask: "Sister, may I ask why you cover yourself? I'm curious to learn." I've had a couple of negative responses to the question (due as much to language difficulties as to anything else, I suspect), but I've heard wonderful stories, been enlightened, and even made friends with delightful people. I had one woman cry because she said she knew people wondered, but she couldn't understand why they thought so little of her to not even ask. When you do it with an open heart and an open mind, it almost never hurts to ask. And while you're at it, you'd probably get some interesting responses if you asked the non-veiled Muslim mothers what they think of the women who do veil themselves or why they, as Muslims, *don't* wear veils. The veil may be all about modesty or personal choice. It may be about religious conviction. It may be forced on them by cultural traditions, nasty husbands or interfering mothers-in-law. One woman told me she thought it was a bit of a hassle, but she wore it to honor her mother, who wore a veil - her dream was to be "exactly" like the woman she most admired.

"Will you expect your daughter (my daughter's friend) to cover her face?" "How old will she be when she begins to cover her face?" "Don't you want the world to admire the beauty of your child as she grows into a woman?" I think that part of our responsibility in a live-and-let-live society is to ensure that other people are being allowed to live, and to make choices freely. The veil might problematise this. I don't know.

These questions can be a wee bit intrusive if not asked carefully. I might ask, "Your daughter lives in a society where most women do not wear a veil. How will you feel about this as she grows up?" That's a good, neutral way to ask something which will probably lead to the answers you want. Despite all the bullshit assumptions and distortions about Islam offered through media (Metafilter included), most Muslims in the West want engagement with others and welcome sincere interest in their lives and a chance to be part of a community which isn't entirely composed of Muslims. They may have questions for you, too . . . but sadly, events have made them somewhat guarded and now harder for them to open the door to non-Muslims than the other way around. (I'm tall and thin and probably more Russian-looking than anything else. In other words, you wouldn't guess I'm Muslim. I speak many languages and can converse intelligently about Romanian cinema, reggae and Ethiopian food and all sorts of things which don't shout out "jihadi." But often - and it's rarely predictable - I've told someone I'm Muslim, and soon been on the receiving end of such racist and hateful bashing you can't imagine. So, I can only imagine how hard it is to be so plainly Muslim.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:50 PM on March 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


Another way societies have dealt with such challenges is the Japanese way: restrict immigration. That way, their culture is not challenged in ways they feel they cannot control. End result may be a culturally homogenous society but a rapidly aging and insular one. Actually I wonder how the Japanese deal with the veil issue... anyone know? I imagine they look smugly at the problems Europeans are having and congratulate themselves. "You don't want to fit in on our terms, we won't let you in." Only later do they discover the downsides of monoculture.
posted by VikingSword at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2010


This is the only source i have on Islam in Japan.

It seems like a small coomunity of immigrants with some small amount of japanese converts. I can't find anything about dress, but food seems to be a challenge:

"The potential direct agents of da'wah represented by the Muslim community in Japan with its estimated one hundred thousand believers is itself extremely small compared with the total population of more than one hundred and twenty million citizens. Students together with various kinds of workers in precarious conditions constitute a large segment of the community. They are concentrated in big urban cities such as Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo but are seldom organised into established units in order to conduct effective programs of da'wah. In fact, the Muslim students association as well as some local societies organise periodical camps and gatherings in an effort to improve the understanding of Islamic teachings and for the sake of strengthening brotherhood relations among Muslims.

There is a continuous need for Muslims to withstand pressures to conform to the prevailing modern lifestyle which appeals to the passionate element of the soul. Further difficulties are faced by Muslims with respect to communication, housing, child education or the availability of halal food and Islamic literature, and these constitute additional factors hindering the course of da'wah in this country."

posted by ServSci at 4:05 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that link ServSci. Just looking around I don't recall seeing any veils in Japan, but things change. Who knows how Japan would respond to serious immigration from Muslim countries - so far it seems there just aren't that many such immigrants, though I could be wrong, of course.
posted by VikingSword at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2010


I remember seeing a documentary online about Muslims in Japan. There is indeed a small population of native-born Japanese folks who have converted to Islam, and until I left in 2004 there was also a (relatively) large population of foreign trainees from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh who practiced Islam.

Where I was, the local engineering university hosted students from Malaysia. All of the women wore the sort of headscarf I suppose is common in Malaysia - it tightly covered the head so no hair whatsoever could be seen, and also covered the arms.

There was no significant racial tension where I lived (all of these folks spoke native-level Japanese, which always helps tremendously with assimilation in Japan), and this could have been a factor of where I lived - a conservative but laid-back and friendly part of rural Japan - or the fact there were few immigrants there.

However, there was a significant population of Brazilians who worked construction projects and even had their own restaurants and shops, plus Russians and Philippinos, German and American power plant workers, Vietnamese folks...

On the negative side, Japan has never tried to assimilate minorities. Many of the children of Brazilian factory workers are not encouraged to attend Japanese school, and so you had an entire generation who could function neither in Japanese or Portuguese. And then starting in 2007 the Japanese told them to fuck off and go home.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:18 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hm. Again, since we're talking about Quebec and not some theoretical country, you could just look at what they actually do, which is to unilaterally dictate how immigrants will live their lives:

"Since French is the official language of Québec, children of immigrants, regardless of their mother tongue, are usually required to attend a local establishment of the French school board until the end of secondary studies."

Essentially, if you immigrate to Quebec from, say, England, your children must attend school in French although your Quebec Anglo neighbours get to send their kids to school in English. Quebec puts the rights of the French-speaking population as a whole above individual rights in many cases. Quebec isn't bound by the Constitution the same way the rest of Canada is. It's a nice place and all, but they run it their own way. That they want veiled women to show their faces is really a pretty minor issue in the pantheon of issues facing immigrants to Quebec.
posted by GuyZero at 4:20 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu, as I understand it (not at all a lawyer in any country) Canada does make some speech illegal, including that which would "advocate genocide or inciting hatred against any 'identifiable group'". In the US, unless you shout at someone with a gun to shoot someone, all violence inspiring speech is legal; the threat of violence must be imminent.

I wish Canada was the awesome liberal haven it's often cast as in the US.
posted by fontophilic at 4:20 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu, as I understand it (not at all a lawyer in any country) Canada does make some speech illegal, including that which would "advocate genocide or inciting hatred against any 'identifiable group'".

I did say upthread that hate speech is illegal in Canada. And why not? Preventing another event like the Holocaust seems like a small price to pay. I'm pretty sure the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 would have appreciated some law against hate speech.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:25 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, the Reasonable Accommodation commission harped on the difference between Canada's "Multiculturalism" and Quebec's policy of "Interculturalism". So Guyzero is absolutely correct that we are discussing a particular beast.
"The reason why people use the prefix 'inter-' as against 'multi-' is that they want to accentuate the exchanges between different cultural groups ... (using) the French language, within which we all exchange," Taylor replied.

"It's a set of policy goals, essential in this society, that has no relevance in Toronto or Vancouver. And that's why it's a different policy."

Speaking in English, co-chairman Gérard Bouchard added:

"A minority culture like Quebec is naturally more concerned with integration and more fearful of fragmentation. So in interculturalism you have this focus on interaction and integration."
- from Quebec's diversity is different, Taylor says - Gazette, May 23, 2008
posted by ServSci at 4:29 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I note there are no pictures of mouths to illustrate this point in your linked-to teachers' guide, and instead diagrams are used. It is certainly something that can be worked around.

Diagrams are used on that guide to show the interior anatomy of the mouth. The teachers don't actually inspect the inside of their students' mouths, they watch the shapes being made on the outside. I didn't realize I needed to spell that out.

Yes, accommodations can be made. But given the political issues surrounding assimilation and language proficiency, amplified by the particular focus of Quebecois on language, I find it neither unsurprising nor unsympathetic that a teacher would be frustrated at barriers to effective learning for these students.
posted by desuetude at 4:30 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


ack that link should be this.
posted by ServSci at 4:31 PM on March 30, 2010


I wish Canada was the awesome liberal haven it's often cast as in the US.

Canada is not some sort of state of mind or utopia; it's a real place. It's just a screwed up as the United States, sometimes in the same ways, sometimes in different ways. You are more critical of the US because you know it's flaws much closer and the bonuses are something you kind of blend out because you're so used to them.

I know that you were just being wistful, but sadly there are many people that denigrate the United States and praise a foreign country so that they appear self-critical and enlightened. In all reality, they're just criticizing other people and aspects in their country, not them, so they really aren't being introspective at all.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:34 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


And while Quebec has its own government organization for immigrants versus the federal department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (shared by every other Canadian province) they're still bound by the same high-level rules for approving immigrants as the rest of Canada (to my limited knowledge). So any immigrant to Quebec could have settled in Ontario or Alberta instead where this isn't an issue (again, to my knowledge - I haven't seen it in the news elsewhere).

Quebec wants to cherry-pick immigrants that fit into its existing culture and within the current structure of Quebec-Canada relations they have every right to do so via a host of inconveniences put upon new immigrants.

You may find it odd or offensive even, but that's pretty much how it is in Quebec. It's pretty much the cost for Canada's very existence.
posted by GuyZero at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2010


Diagrams are used on that guide to show the interior anatomy of the mouth. The teachers don't actually inspect the inside of their students' mouths, they watch the shapes being made on the outside. I didn't realize I needed to spell that out.

Exactly. And the diagrams can also be used to explain to a student the same information, as can words. It is simply not necessary to see the student's face in my experience when teaching ESL. Sure it can be helpful sometimes, but what shape on the mouth of a Japanese person would display to you what they're doing wrong when they pronounce an "L" as an "R"? It's basically indistinguishable from outside but you know what's happening inside the mouth just by listening.

Of course, this may be one of those "losing your accent" courses where this may be more of an issue. If that's the case, all apologies. I have no experience in accent-reduction.
posted by Kirk Grim at 4:42 PM on March 30, 2010


Whatever. I doubt the legislation was drafted in order to make language instruction easier. The legislation was drafted to score political points. I don't know what to think about language laws and other cultural regulations in Quebec. On one had, it seems like a good idea to be proactive in protecting a minority (Quebecois) culture in North America, on the other hand it politicians in Quebec exploit these fears of cultural assimilation to gain and maintain power.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


"C'est vrai, c'est vrai qu'on a été battus, au fond, par quoi? Par l'argent puis des votes ethniques, essentiellement."
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


ServSci, Thanks for the correction. I could have sworn the voice was Barbara Budd.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:53 PM on March 30, 2010


In France something else is happening, a kind of abusive reworking of republicanism. The old French ideal of egalitarian republicanism with no distinctions, no compromise with religion or localism, with everyone having the same opportunities, speaking the same language, living in the same France – an ideal that was invented in the late 18th century as a way to make a radical break with the Ancien Régime – is now used to paper over the disadvantages of young people, particularly if they are black or brown, from the suburbs or North Africa. The old egalitarian language has been transfigured into saying we all have the same opportunities, we are all equal, we will not talk about the fact that you are female and brown, or allow you to dress differently, because that would not be republican. This subterfuge enables very illiberal behaviour in the name of a ‘liberal ideal’.
- link

Something of that is happening here, I think.
posted by Leon at 6:14 PM on March 30, 2010


Quebec isn't bound by the Constitution the same way the rest of Canada is. It's a nice place and all, but they run it their own way.
They are bound by the Constitution, both the 1982 & the 1867 one, just like everywhere else. You might be speaking of the notwithstanding clause:
Quebec modified all of their laws to have the notwithstanding after the Charter came in, as a political protest. This didn't actually change anything. They also used it to allow the language laws to override the Charter, but that use died in 1993.

Alberta also used the notwithstanding clause, to define marriage as man-woman only, back in 2000. But that definition is in the hands of the Federal government, so it didn't matter.

KokuRyu, as I understand it (not at all a lawyer in any country) Canada does make some speech illegal, including that which would "advocate genocide or inciting hatred against any 'identifiable group'". In the US, unless you shout at someone with a gun to shoot someone, all violence inspiring speech is legal; the threat of violence must be imminent.

I wish Canada was the awesome liberal haven it's often cast as in the US.


One could argue:
Canada just has a mature view of communication than the US. The US only looks at the most immediate cause. Nobody told him to shoot? They're clean. Here in Canada we understand that words have power. By spending years dehumanizing a group of people, claiming that they're "cockroaches" or "dogs" and not really people, by claiming that they're out to get "us" and not worthy of protection, you can indoctrinate a person into committing an act that they wouldn't have done if you hadn't built them up.

Hate speech laws like Canada's means that you can't rev somebody up to the boiling point, get them all set, say that "something must be done" but not what, and then walk away cleanly when some regrettable incident happens. The marketplace of ideas is great, and a fundamental concept to democracy, and shouldn't lightly be tampered with.

But if someone tries to ruin that market, tries to poison the water that runs through it, we don't have to let them sell their wares.

I'm not sure what I agree with. The HCRs have problems, no doubt about it. But I'm not convinced that an absolutist free speech position is better

I've always found it interesting that until 60 years ago, Quebec was by far the most religious and conservative of the provinces. Now it's hardcore secular, and I don't really understand why.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:20 PM on March 30, 2010


Now it's hardcore secular, and I don't really understand why.

Uh, because the priests were a bunch of parochial bastards. The rest of the world slowly awakening to that fact.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:25 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, sorry, Charter, my mistake.
posted by GuyZero at 6:26 PM on March 30, 2010


Also:

They also used it to allow the language laws to override the Charter, but that use died in 1993.

Yes, but the educational clauses of Bill 101 stand and I guess Bill 86 has a less severe version of signage laws (I'm really no legal expert obviously) but it seems like the salient parts of Bill 101 remain.
posted by GuyZero at 6:33 PM on March 30, 2010


Quebec Authorities: Busting Kneecaps Niqabs Since 2010

OUUUUCCCCHHH!!!!
I've busted a kneecap (and that's a story to tell sometime) and I'm telling you that they could take my veil off if they needed to help me with that.

Now it's hardcore secular, and I don't really understand why.
I live in a pretty conservative "bible belt" kind of Mennonite (not Hutterite, although there are Hutterites in the area) area of southern Manitoba. Around here I note the curious phenomenon of what I'll call "ideological u-turn". This happens when the boozing, girl-hound, twenty-something finally finds that special someone, who goes to a conservative evangelical church. He starts going. He has a Damascus road moment. They have kids. He volunteers at the evangelical youth centre. He spreads the good word about abstinence from everything.

I think this happens in the other direction as well, as a kind of radical deconversion, and Quebec is relatively fresh from rejecting the church and Duplessis, and so is still quite high on "secular stateism." That, and look at the example set by France. That's all a pretty powerful mix of social change. I though Shepherd's explanation (higher up in the thread) about Charest and the Liberals trying to keep a hold of government out of this was interesting too. Over time all of this will probably look pretty insignificant, and a feature of the times. Meanwhile, I really hope that the young woman at the centre of this is able to live at peace and get a good night's rest. That is, I hope she has some (complete) control over her situation.
posted by kneecapped at 6:40 PM on March 30, 2010


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women. Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be harassed by horny dudes. Live and let live, people.

Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women. Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be stoned to death by their husbands and brothers. Support the oppression of women, people.

FTFY.
posted by nathanlindstrom at 7:36 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


what?!?!
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:01 PM on March 30, 2010


I think Mister_A's point about beauty standards would be more applicable to cultural norms if applied to clothing. Yes, women have been wearing pants for the past century or so but... Still. Think about it. Think about the many clothing decisions we make and how deeply rooted they are in gender norms. If you're a guy, can you really get away with wearing a dress? Or heels? How "normal" is it for a woman to cut her hair as short as a guy's? Cross-dressers are bound to get just as much discrimination as niqab-wearing Muslim women in Western society, if not more. This is not to equate Western society with Islamic countries with legalized dress codes or even more-lax states where wearing modest clothing is not mandatory, but culturally expected. But I do believe there is a misunderstanding here about the culturally-rooted reasons underlying mandated modest dress in Islamic countries. It actually has very little to do with the Koran. Really. What does "modest clothing" even mean? Both men and women are supposed to follow this "rule" which, as far as I understand, is articulated pretty damn vaguely in the Koran. In a perfect world, Muslims should be able to decide for themselves what "modest" implies, but they would never get that option because their culture dictates to them what is acceptable and what isn't. In some countries, it's up to the individual to decide. In others, it's a hijab, or a burqa, or a niqab... The culture dictates the norms. Not the religion. Here in the West, we can wear whatever want and be free to do so. There are no state laws that dictate what we can and cannot wear, so long as our genitals are covered. But many of the clothes we do wear are also dictated by cultural norms. It's just a different set of rules in Western society, one that is still heavily tied to gender norms but if you really think about it, still oppressing nonetheless. Just because we aren't forced to cover our entire bodies does not mean we won't be criticized or discriminated against for subverting cultural and gender norms. For this reason, it's a bit hypocritical for a Western society like Quebec to outlaw a form of dress that, while foregrounded in religious roots, is also very much embedded in the actual culture the niqab-adorned woman grew up in. I'm not trying to be a niqab apologist here. I strongly believe that these kinds of rules truly do oppress women, and in a much more brutal fashion. At the same time, I can't be responsible for their supposed freedom. I'm going to let them figure it out on their own. They do now live in a country where they are free to do so and not be looked down upon -- sure, maybe by their family, but I'm sorry that's something they'll have to work out on their own. All I'm suggesting here is that the kneejerk reaction to Islamic conduct by Westerners can sometimes come off as a bit naive and misguided if we take a second to think about our own more subtle forms of oppression.
posted by Menomena at 8:29 PM on March 30, 2010


It actually has very little to do with the Koran

Doesn't it have a lot to do with Hadith though? The Koran isn't Islam's only source. I think you're making a fair point though.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:42 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


What about men who want to wear a complete niqab? I.E. transvestites or transexuals? Do they get equal treatment under the law or not?

What if I decide that because of security cameras, facebook, flickr, etc, that I will wear a ski-mask everywhere because I am completely and utterly opposed to pictures of my face being made public? What if I decide that my career is in modeling, and so I cover my face at all times because no one should be seeing my face without paying me royalties. What about my control over the distribution of my image?

Does the law apply to everybody, or just some people? Can I keep my face covered, or is this 'right' restricted to people who believe in a particular unverifiable sky-monster?
posted by fuq at 8:45 PM on March 30, 2010


Someone should make up some unisex face covering clothes for the Pastafarians
posted by Iax at 11:16 PM on March 30, 2010


did you really just come out and say that women who wear the burka aren't people

I'm sorry if I made it too complex, but you'll be pleased (or possibly disappointed) to hear that I didn't.

Obviously it's all about insulting men

I believe it's about men because I've been told it's about men. As I understand it veils are not normally worn when only women or children are present. Is that wrong? As for it being insulting, I'm reporting my own feelings, not claiming to know what's intended or how God sees it.

self-obsessed cry-baby narcissists like Phanx

I think people's emotional reactions are relevant, and I reserve the right to describe my own. I'm explicitly denying that they should be decisive.
posted by Phanx at 11:43 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Showing your face is an important part of our culture. If you emmigrate to a place, they should adapt to you, but you should also adapt to them.
posted by jb at 4:34 AM on March 31, 2010


Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be stoned to death by their husbands and brothers.

Yes, some do, just as a western woman in a rural, conservative community may be ostracised for dressing immodestly, the same goes for the islamic world. In other, more cosmopolitan parts of the Islamic world the local tribal rules (which most of these varying styles of headdress are) are not so strictly enforced.

I recall one eye-opening experience I had in Damascus seeing three young women walking hand in hand down the street, one in the full black sack with nothing showing; one in regular, modest westernish dress with a loose, colorful head scarf; and the third made up like Brittany Spears in a Lebanese brothel. My friend, their neighbor told me they were sisters.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:35 AM on March 31, 2010


When I come to your class in my Klan outfit, you'll all be cool about it...right? We are tuned to fear what we can not see, its intimidating.

I welcome the chance to converse with you in your Klan outfit. I will be all cool indeed. I will even prevent the students from killing you, if I am able.
posted by Mister_A at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Showing your face is an important part of our culture. If you emmigrate to a place, they should adapt to you, but you should also adapt to them.

It's the default, sure, but I hardly think it's a particularly important part of our culture or steeped in our cultural history or anything. To be honest, I'm not even sure what Canadian culture is supposed to be and I've spent most of my life here. Covering your face is seen as weird by some people in Canada, and to those people I would say: don't worry, regardless of any legislation you can continue to make fun of people wearing the niqab, be offended by it, and talk about how wrong they are. The question is whether it needs to be mandated that they need to show their faces to dispense public services. I really can't see why that's necessary.

What about men who want to wear a complete niqab? I.E. transvestites or transexuals? Do they get equal treatment under the law or not?


You're right, it would be terrible to live in a place where there was ambiguity towards how transsexuals and transvestites should be treated by society. Again, there is no law I am aware of stopping any man or woman from covering their face in public. The niqab has an explanation and history, whereas when someone stops Mr Ski-Mask McParanoid on the street to tell him he "looks like he's gonna slit someone's throat", the explanation might seem kind of random. You're gonna get weird looks and ignorant comments about it, that's your answer. Just like people wearing the do niqab now, and like Michael Jackson did when he wore that mask all the time.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:22 AM on March 31, 2010


Belgium now looks set to become the first European country to ban Islamic veils covering the face in a public space, moving this law through relatively quickly, with talk of women's liberation, public safety, and a "very clear sign to Islamists".
posted by creeky at 9:09 AM on March 31, 2010


The comment I was typing for the Belgium thread before it got deleted:

I'm reminded of the recent thread about the Lutheran church that forbade women from speaking in one of its meetings. Some of the discussion revolved around how, even if the women agreed with the decree, it was because they were indoctrinated (nay, brainwashed) to believe that way. And isn't it the moral thing for us enlightened folks to swoop into that situation and rescue them against their antiquated wills with great heaping doses of women's liberation?

I believe it's a major tenet of the concept of freedom that people must be allowed to believe however they wish, and act on those beliefs as long as they don't hurt anyone. Even if those beliefs are unpopular, or backwards, or demonstrably wrong. Intervening in someone's life by demanding that they do (or don't do) something contradictory to their beliefs is the polar opposite of freedom. Say what you will about progress and social equity, but if you call that "freedom" you are the pinnacle of hypocrisy.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:28 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women. Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be stoned to death by their husbands and brothers. Support the oppression of women, people.

Has there been an uptick of Muslim stonings in Quebec or Belgium that the media has been lax in reporting? Neither state is an oppressive theocracy, intent on subjugating women.

Also, tattoos were once used solely to mark criminals and slaves. But if a woman gets a tattoo nowadays, that doesn't automatically mean they're someone's property. The burka is clearly being worn by some Muslim women voluntarily, and in a manner that they feel is not oppressive. Are you suggesting that it is therefore appropriate to impose a different standard on them for their own good?
posted by zarq at 9:31 AM on March 31, 2010


nathanlindstrom wrote: Many muslim women would be horrified at the thought of dressing like "western" women. Many muslim women prefer to dress modestly because they don't want to be stoned to death by their husbands and brothers. Support the oppression of women, people.

Poliomacho wrote: I recall one eye-opening experience I had in Damascus seeing three young women walking hand in hand down the street, one in the full black sack with nothing showing; one in regular, modest westernish dress with a loose, colorful head scarf; and the third made up like Brittany Spears in a Lebanese brothel. My friend, their neighbor told me they were sisters.

The latter may be somewhat colorful example of things, but across the entirety of the Muslim world, it's a more accurate picture than the stereotypical (and essentially racist) example bit of nothing provided by Mr Lindstrom. (And thanks for it.) I'm Muslim, from a predominately Muslim country and know hundreds of Muslim women, at least one or two from nearly every mostly Muslim country, with only a couple of exceptions. None of them ever feared being stoned by a father or brother (not discounting the fact that this does happen in some places; it's just not anything like the norm in most Muslim societies. Women are viciously beaten and assaulted thousands of times a week in America for not adhering to the desires of their husbands, too.)

I once asked a Pakistani friend, "What would you do if your brother (she is quite close to him) disapproved of a guy you were interested in and asked you not to see him?" She replied, "I would beat his ass." Pakistan isn't the most woman-friendly place in the world, but that's still the sort of thing I hear all the time from women like her, despite what the media might portray. In the rest of the world, Christians (the majority religious affiliation for the West) aren't judged by the actions of their exorcisin', tongues-speakin', snake-handlin' hillbillies or the "many" believers who are also wife-beaters. Presumably Mr Lindstrom understands why this would be; I can only assume that his limited knowledge, indifference and/or simple prejudice prevents him from understanding the corollary.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:34 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe it's about men because I've been told it's about men. As I understand it veils are not normally worn when only women or children are present. Is that wrong? As for it being insulting, I'm reporting my own feelings, not claiming to know what's intended or how God sees it.

Your definition is incomplete. Wearing the hijab is supposed to be first and foremost an expression of faith, modesty, righteousness and humility under Allah. More.

It is also worn to prevent a woman's beauty from inspiring sinful thoughts in the men around her, and vice versa.
posted by zarq at 9:39 AM on March 31, 2010


I've noticed that in discussions about these sorts of issues many people speculate -- or outright claim -- that dressing in the "modest" style dictated by their religion and/or culture frees women from objectification and harassment. But there's evidence, provided by some women in the Arab/Islamic parts of the world, that this is not so: Harassment Across Arab World Drives Women Inside.

Of note: The harassment, including groping and verbal abuse, is a daily experience women in the region face and makes them wary of going into public spaces, whether it's the streets or jobs, the participants said. It happens regardless of what women are wearing. So, in my understanding of the issue, there's little to no difference from what women in the West have reported.

I hate, hate, hate the entire suite of restrictions of which the 'modest" dress is but a part. But I will passionately defend people's right to choose to dress as they wish, even as I criticize what I think it represents.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:01 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I will passionately defend people's right to choose to dress as they wish, even as I criticize what I think it represents.

This is about Quebec as much as it is about Islam. And they simply don't believe what you just said in Quebec.
posted by GuyZero at 10:28 AM on March 31, 2010


I believe it's about men because I've been told it's about men. As I understand it veils are not normally worn when only women or children are present. Is that wrong? As for it being insulting, I'm reporting my own feelings, not claiming to know what's intended or how God sees it.

In addition to zarq's comments, the practical reality is really that it's considered . . . well, I don't want to say an "outer" garment, but essentially it's something one wears outside. One could make the point that expressions of "faith, modesty, righteousness and humility under Allah" have a lot more to do with the outside (non-family) world than the inside (family) world, where, presumably, external expressions of these things are unnecessary, because your family knows you. And they are less practical inside for a lot of reasons. So they don't tend to be worn inside, which is where women and children tend to gather anyway. But this brings up the whole point of the relationship of women anyhow, which is quite different and much nicer than that in the non-Muslim world. I would - simply because it's the common thing - refer to any other Muslim woman as "sister." And there is a real feeling of kinship there immediately - one that would generally take quite a long time to develop between women in America (for example.) Anything asked of a sister, no matter how much a stranger she is to you, is nearly always immediately granted. (Of course, women take this seriously enough and have enough pride not to as for things which aren't actually needed.)

While on a general level, the relationships between men and women in the non-Muslim world are more open and better, the relationships between women in the Muslim world are much, much better as a whole than in the non-Muslim world. The non-Muslim world, to many people, is weirdly obsessed with the relationships between men and women, despite the fact that, ultimately, women and men tend to befriend members of their own sex and to marry or be with (at least in an idealized sense) with one special person of the opposite sex (for heterosexuals, anyhow.) For many Muslims, "their" system offers comforts and securities that the non-Muslim one doesn't come close to. For the record, my place of origin falls pretty squarely between the two. I live in what is effectively a non-Muslim world - quite happily - and I'm not religious - but the sisterhood of Islam offers a lot that I've never found an equivalent to in the non-Muslim world. Neither system seems ideal to me, but both have pluses and minuses that make the choice to live in either equally valid, in as much as you have a choice of the world into which you were born. But you never much hear about this sort of thing from a media set out to report only the most sensationalistic aspects of either system.

But to get back to the question, it has something to do with men, but that's a small part of it. (The non-Muslim world's drive to fashion and beauty have something to do with men, but other things as well. Most guys, I've found, don't really care about the shoes we wear, but female friends and I spend hours thinking about them and shopping for them in order to fit some idealized notion of ourselves.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:34 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is about Quebec as much as it is about Islam. And they simply don't believe what you just said in Quebec.

I've agreed with most of the things you've said here about Quebec, Guyzero, but this last one was a little bit too broad for me. There's no monolith here in Quebec, no "they" an outsider can easily point to.

The constant arguing and debate over everything here should be a sign of that; language, identity, food, religion, clothing... It all gets wrangled over.

I think there are many of us who don't believe at all in these types of laws.
posted by ServSci at 12:02 PM on March 31, 2010


What I'd really like to do is ask, but the veil prevents me, and that makes me a little sad. But I'd love to ask "Why do you cover your face?" "Will you expect your daughter (my daughter's friend) to cover her face?" "How old will she be when she begins to cover her face?" "Don't you want the world to admire the beauty of your child as she grows into a woman?"

Tigrefacile, if you are genuinely interested in the diverse reasonse why Islamic women veil, but too shy to ask the other mothers directly, I can recommend some reading:

Leila Ahmed (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press.
and
Hoodfar, Homa. “More than Clothing: Veiling as an Adaptive Strategy.” in The Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates. Toronto, ON: Women's Press, 2003. pp. 3-40.

Both are available on Amazon.
posted by Jules Marlowe at 12:20 PM on March 31, 2010


Thank you, Jules.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:02 PM on March 31, 2010


Interesting relevant TED talk from Sam Harris, who eloquently brought up ideas some were trying to articulate here. Often moral debates are believed to have many correct answers, and especially in the west we like to try to avoid the appearance of cultural imperialism and say that some religious or cultural practices are permissible. He argues, that while there may be multiple correct answers, there are also identifiably and objectively bad answers to moral arguments. Just as some may debate what is a healthy food and come up with apples or spinach, we can all agree on what is poison, and stating that fact should not be contentious or anything but a dispassionate statement of truth.

Sam Harris, would like to apply an evidence based rubric to "moral" questions, and have values thought of as facts which can be proven or disproven scientifically.

At around 10:30 in the video, he claims that the practice of fully veiled women is "obviously" objectively detrimental to society and the women, and though these women may claim to do this voluntarily, you need to look realistically at the consequences of not wearing the veil has for them, which he would argue, doesn't leave them much choice.

His talk isn't about western or Canadian women who choose to do so, but I still thought this argument and video may be of interest to this thread.
posted by fontophilic at 1:06 PM on March 31, 2010


Harris makes the same mistake that is often repeated by juxtaposing what is exceptionally extreme tribal behavior with what is a generally accepted standard in the West. "Any newsstand" as he calls it is not the same as what happens in certain tribal communities in selected parts of what is labled as the Islamic world. It would have been more accurate if to use images of, say, the Amsterdam red light district, and extreme that happens in a specific spot, but not necessarily reflective of the whole.

Let me be clear about this in case you still think that these horrors are actually "Muslim" in nature - honor killings are not "Islamic" behavior. Those are local customs that, in fact, stray from the quite radical for its time, more egalitarian teachings of the koran. The Taliban and their ilk are running on tribal moral codes and not an overarching Islamic code.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:34 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've agreed with most of the things you've said here about Quebec, Guyzero, but this last one was a little bit too broad for me. There's no monolith here in Quebec, no "they" an outsider can easily point to.

Well, yes and no. So, literally, yes and I agree it's a pretty broad statement. And don't get me wrong - my statements are not meant to judge or disparage Quebec. My opinion is that Quebec operates differently from other provinces on a bunch of level and it's neither right nor wrong but it does need to be recognized. It's almost as if they're a... distinct... society.

Certainly Quebec is no more pure-laine Francophone xenophobes any more than Alberta is full of cowboys and David Frum-wannabes but I think people should understand that Quebec is not Ontario and it's definitely not the United States and that you need to figure that in to this discussion. There was that news article a few years back about Muslims and pork in baked beans at a cabane à sucre although I can't find a reference online now - at any rate, it's hardly the first sign of conflict although my world standards these incidents are pretty minor.

The Government of Quebec is more interested in preserving the French language and Quebecois culture than they are in preserving individual choice. I'm sure a lot of Quebecers don't care/are opposed to mandatory French-language education as well. But in terms of public policy the path is clear and it is only a question of how far it goes, not in what direction it's going. Is dictating what you wear any more egregious than dictating what language you must speak?

So I don't mean to paint every resident of Quebec with the same brush. My apologies. But in terms of public policy there's definitely something outsiders can point to as being Quebecois and that's a policy of doing it "their" way. Not that every Quebecker agrees with it necessarily, but it is there.
posted by GuyZero at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Without knowing exactly he means by "objectively detrimental to society" and "the consequences of not wearing the veil", I would say that there are existing laws in Canada that ensure the types of consequences people are worried about here are illegal and have consequences of their own. "Stonings" and "honor killings" don't go unpunished here, if an when they occur. Outside of that, spousal abuse is not exclusive to Islam.

Something about this whole debate doesn't sit well with me. Allowing someone to wear a veil isn't the same as decreeing all women in Canada must wear a veil. Where is the obvious objective detriment to Canada in allowing people to cover their faces if they so choose? Other than making a single FSL teacher have to come up with a creative solution for a "problem" that has surely been dealt with by thousands worldwide already, I don't see it.
posted by Kirk Grim at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2010


Is dictating what you wear any more egregious than dictating what language you must speak?

I know this is a rhetorical question (and actually part of a pretty good description of Quebec), but I would say yes--in the sense that they're not actually dictating what language you must speak.

They are arguably forcing you or your children to learn the official language, true. An official language is an official language, and in my experience most governments can only guarantee their services are available in their official language for obvious reasons. It's not meant to dictate what people can speak at home or on the street, however.

The law proposed doesn't appear to restrict people from wearing a niqab at home or on the street, either--just when dealing with the government of Quebec and their services. Pretty much everyone here agrees that showing your face is just a necessity for security and identification purposes in some situations.

But a lot of people in this thread seem to be talking about wearing a niqab anywhere in public. That is dictating what you are allowed to wear regardless of any practical concerns or obvious harm caused, and in my mind it's more egregious than having a policy of having immigrants learn the official language. It's just fucked up.

Lucky for us that's not on the table and we're not having a referendum on the issue.
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:09 PM on March 31, 2010


This is a democratic and secular society. I believe this multicultural stuff is just too much, its historical in origin - a british policy to profitably and smoothly adminidter colonies. In Canada's case, the french and native populations. I honeslty believe that if people feel so strongly about their religion, than they should perhaps go back to where their interests and beliefs are best served. Religion and Nationalism are the measles and mumps of mankind.
posted by inlimbow at 10:57 PM on April 25, 2010


inlimbow, did you seriously come into a thread three weeks late, not read any of the preceding thoughtful, nuanced, and detailed discussion, and decide your greatest contribution to this conversation would be to basically yell "love it or leave it!"?

Welcome to MetaFilter. Please try harder.
posted by Shepherd at 8:55 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


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