IN CANADA WOMEN ARE AFFORDED THE SAME EQUAL RIGHTS AS MEN, HERE WOMEN CAN VOTE, DRIVE, LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT A MALE RELATIVE, WALK IN PUBLIC WITHOUT COVERING OUR FACES, IT IS AGAINST THE LAW TO BEAT US, IT IS AGAINST THE LAW TO STONE US, IN CANADA WE DON’T PROSECUTE RAPE VICTIMS, WE JAIL THE RAPIST. OUR LAWS PROTECT OUR RIGHTS AS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS, WHICH INCLUDES PROTECTION FROM IDEOLOGIES THAT SPREAD THE VICIOUS LIE THAT WOMEN ARE INTELLECTUALLY INFERIOR TO MEN. ANY WOMAN WHO COMES TO CANADA WHO DISAGREES WITH THESE IDEALS, NEEDS TO LEAVE, TAKING THEIR MENFOLK WITH THEM.
Gender equality trumps apparel
I keep pinching myself, but it’s no mere nightmare. I am living with the traumatizing truth that, for the moment, I am on the same side as ultra-Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney and the rightest of right-wing columnists.
Following Immigration Minister Kenney’s announcement that veiled faces will be banned at citizenship ceremonies, pundits have been weighing in all over the place. And, with a few sporadic exceptions, the response has been neatly divided: the ban is an outrage (the left), and the ban is good (the right).
Personally, I’m all for it.
There is not a single positive thing to be said for the niqab, burka or any other visible sign of one gender’s submission to another. Notwithstanding liberal hand-wringing about diversity and tolerance, it should have no place — none — on any official Canadian stage, especially one that formally and solemnly admits its wearer to full Canadian citizenship.
This is not mere clothing we’re talking about, some colourful expression of ethnic background. No, the face veil is a powerful symbol of subjugation or, at best, second-class status. It is an aggressive, overt denial of full personhood.
It really doesn’t matter how its wearers feel about it. Some Muslim women, including Canadian-born converts and young women who have grown up here, have adopted the niqab in an earnest embrace of traditionalism. They like how they feel in it, they say.
So what? Their misguided attachment doesn’t redeem what is essentially irredeemable: a tangible public statement that women are less than men. Which is why the resignedly complacent acceptance of it by Canadian feminists and liberals is so dismaying. Especially to those of us who identify as both.
In their rush to defend women’s right to wear whatever the heck they want, including niqabs and burkas, some feminists are suggesting that apparel choices trump gender equality. Some liberals, meanwhile, have piously spouted the religious-tolerance line in defending the face veil. Mutual respect, apparently, demands the unconditional tolerance of … well, anything.
The trouble is, the veiling of women is not even true Islam, strict or otherwise. As Tarek Fatah, liberal Muslim commentator, noted this week, it is really nothing more than tribal statement.
And if it were religious, it would still be indefensible. Even religious observance has to play by the rules of law and democratic equality. If your creed happens to involve rituals of bloodletting and human sacrifice, even the most liberal of western liberals won’t be telling you, “Go right ahead. Just don’t leave a mess.”
Canada doesn’t (knowingly) permit the barbarism that is female genital mutilation. We try not to turn a blind eye when fathers and brothers invoke the “honour” of the family — with a complete absence of irony — to abuse, beat and sometimes kill daughters and sisters.
And no Canadian, Muslim or otherwise, should be defending the potent public symbolism that promulgates a belief in the inferiority of women.
Yes, principles are routinely denied, especially by pragmatists in office. In 2005, there were some memorable pictures of George W. Bush holding hands with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, country of origin for nearly all the 9/11 hijackers. There was the president, who had speechified repeatedly about America’s love of freedom, holding hands (one can only imagine his discomfort) with a man who represented so much of what the United States was fighting. Shocking, isn’t it, the price of oil?
Nor is it just the conservative right that conveniently forgets its principles when politics demand. With an Obama-led U.S. still holding hands with Saudi Arabia, we have not exactly been deafened by outcries from the left, either. This is the friend and ally, incidentally, that maintains an appalling human-rights record, bans women from driving, forbids religious freedom, and this week beheaded a woman for “witchcraft and sorcery.”
And yet we have no difficulty throwing our beliefs overboard as needed. The problem is, that doesn’t change the nature of those beliefs — or the discomforting prickle we feel when we find ourselves alone in front of the mirror.
That’s the trouble with core principles: they remain core. Stubborn and unyielding, they don’t bend with prevailing cultural winds to become relative and therefore meaningless. So if we toss these values aside, we pay a heavy price — spiritually, psychologically, socially.
When Canadian feminists and liberals (for whom an absolute belief in human equality should be a core principle) tolerate the intolerable, they encourage the notion that this society doesn’t really believe in its own values. Their effective message to newcomers? Bring along all your old habits of oppression and injustice. Fine and dandy.
In so doing, they foster toxic growth. They also betray the heartbeat of their own convictions.
Janice Kennedy writes here Saturdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org