3.12.2010

therapists needed to treat quebecers' fear of headscarves



The Montreal Gazette calls the debate over whether Quebecers and Canadians should tolerate a woman wearing a niqab "the new flashpoint".
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.

Another time, a woman cursed and shoved her, accusing her of being an "underdeveloped monkey."

Men and women alike have accused her of promoting oppression.

"French Québécois women come up to me and say, 'We really worked hard to get our women's rights and now you're going to take them away from us,' " says Abushaban, a third-year student in early-childhood education.

Of course that attitude doesn't stop at the Québec border. The usually-sensible Heather Mallick says, "Women in niqabs look like scary black crows as they flutter along a Canadian sidewalk." She fights urges to "hustle over to women in niqabs and whisper, 'You don't have to wear that here.'"

What revolting condescension - what myopic assumptions. Our own choices - forged by family, culture, worldview, personality - are not universal. Mallick's secret niqab-busting urge reminds me of people who assume I was unable to have children, or that all single women are lonely spinsters. Chances are high that the niqab-wearing woman knows she doesn't have to wear her veil in Canada. But she didn't think she had to give up her freedom of religion to live here!

Recently a friend told me about a convention she attended in Egypt, where many of the participants wore niqabs. Some were university students, some published authors, engineers, scientists. This doesn't exactly square with Mallick's evocation of Handmaid's Tale and self-injury with scissors.

France, where the hijab is banned in schools, is considering making publicly wearing a niqab illegal. The full-face headscarf is already illegal in Belgium. Switzerland has banned the building of new minarets; the Netherlands may follow. And all over Europe, Muslims are being harassed, threatened and attacked on the streets, in their schools and workplaces. It's not a coincidence.

Has Europe forgotten its own history? Where does intolerance of religion lead?

Does Quebec want to go there?

I understand requiring the face to be exposed for a driver's license or to vote. But for French class? The "pedagogical objectives" of French immersion is a pretty lame excuse for violating freedom of religion.

Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James says "the majority supports these values" and the media can always find Muslims that agree.

So?

Is an individual's religious choice to be subject to majority approval? Shall we convene a panel to vote - thumbs-up, thumbs-down - on what our neighbours' place in their trays in the spiritual cafeteria?

To the oft-mentioned excuse about French culture being eroded by such religious displays, I ask, is your culture so fragile that it cannot withstand a woman covering her face?

For shame.

37 comments:

Cat said...

I don't see it as a "freedom of religion" issue, actually. If a woman wants to wear a niqab, I may not like it, but I don't have to like her clothing choice. The only times when it becomes an issue are when there are legitimate reasons to need to identify someone - passports, confirming identity legally, etc - and in lots of muslim countries women have to unveil in order to confirm their identities, then re-veil. (I don't approve of being able to vote while veiled, just as I wouldn't approve of being able to vote while wearing a Nixon mask - you need to confirm identity). A hijab of course is a non-issue in terms of identity confirmation - it doesn't cover the face. School classrooms could arguably be included in this, as not just anyone can be sitting in them normally - you have to be a student: so like at the post office in egypt - flash your face at the teacher once, then re-veil for the duration of the class. Not sure about the language class thing - I don't think you really need to see someone's face to teach them a language; people learn languages from audio tapes for heaven's sake. And on the street? That's absurd to try to ban a niqab. Half the year you can't see people's faces on the street in Montreal anyway, except for the bit around their eyes - because of the tuques and scarves.

L-girl said...

Whoaboy, I think everyone's favourite OCD troll has officially lost his mind. He thinks he saw me interviewed on Mark Kelley Connect.

I guess I'm not his only obsession and he gets us all confused!

skdadl said...

Well said, Laura, and I agree with you every step of the way. But I've been arguing this position with others this past week or so, and I am exhausted by the arguments and the hostilities they raise.

To me, this is freedom of conscience, the first substantive of section 2 of the Charter, much bigger than religion or expression, and no one has shown me a good reason to tread on it.

The condescension of Westerners, including Western women, who think that robed women must somehow be oppressed and in need of liberation by us is really quite breathtaking.

I don't know what it takes to cure that, but I'm heartily sick of it.

redsock said...

who was actually on the show?

L-girl said...

Thanks, Cat and skdadl.

"Freedom of conscience" is a better frame for this than "freedom of religion" - good point.

As you know, the focus of my activism and my greatest passion right now is about freedom of conscience. That's the heart of war resistance.

The condescension of Westerners, including Western women, who think that robed women must somehow be oppressed and in need of liberation by us is really quite breathtaking.

Truly.

L-girl said...

who was actually on the show?

No idea.

impudent strumpet said...

I think the religion thing is a bit of a red herring. I think the essential is that a person wants to cover a part of her body so she doesn't have to expose it to everyone. It doesn't matter why.

My great-grandmother never wore shorts or short skirts because she was born in 1999 and grew up in a world where ladies never exposed their legs so she never felt comfortable doing so (similar to why I cover my breasts even though it's perfectly legal not to). A woman I once worked with never wears shorts or short skirts because she's Orthodox Jewish and that's a violation of the standards of modesty in her religion/culture. I never wear shorts or short skirts because my kneecaps look funny.

It doesn't matter how valid you think any of those reasons are, it would be equally inappropriate to try to force any of us to show more leg.

L-girl said...

Imp Strump, I agree with you completely. But I think the opposition to this is based on hatred of these women's religion, so religious freedom is at stake. I don't think the same people would have any problem with your other examples - although you're right, they're all related.

Your great-grandmother is very young. :)

deBeauxOs said...

I'm not a Québecoise - I'm Franco-Ontarian - and yet the title of your post strikes me as an unfair incorrect generalization of thousands of Quebecers who do not "fear" this form of religious and/or cultural dressing. As well, you use the term head-scarves when it is the niqab that you are writing about.

I generally agree with your perspective and I like reading your posts but this one seems badly researched and badly informed.

L-girl said...

It is a form of headscarf. And there's been trouble over hijabs, too. I think the word headscarf as a general term applies to all the various coverings.

I understand you dislike the post title as over-generalizing, the way I dislike it when Canadian bloggers refer to Americans as believing this or that, as if all Americans beleive one thing. It's a shorthand for a title. Hopefully the post makes things more clear.

But what about the actual post do you find badly researched? I always want to do good research, so I'd appreciate the feedback.

impudent strumpet said...

Yeah, we're a race of Merlins, we all age backwards.

Or maybe I just can't type and meant 1899.

L-girl said...

Wiki: headscarf:

Headscarves may have specific religious significance. Observant married Orthodox Jewish women, for example, are required to cover their hair, often employing scarves (or sometimes wigs) for the purpose. Headscarves were also worn by married Christian women in Medieval Europe, and even among some of the unmarried. This headcovering habit is better known as a wimple in English.

Headscarves and veils used for Muslim religious dress include:

* burqa
* chador
* niqab
* dupatta
* See also List of types of sartorial hijab ....


Hence my use of "headscarf" as a general term.

L-girl said...

Yeah, we're a race of Merlins, we all age backwards.

Cool. Viva diversity.

deBeauxOs said...

One rather important bit of information that your piece does not mention is that many of the vociferous responses that the niqab provokes come from Muslim women - and sometimes men - who are secular or whose religious leaders do not oblige women to wear it.

They left their country of origin to escape the tyranny of shariah and this is a reminder that there are Muslim immigrants in Canada who uphold these beliefs.

CK said...

@impudent strumpet: there is a big difference between wanting to hide your legs and boobs and wanting to hide your face. Apples and oranges really.

Fact: most of these facially covered women are married to extreme misogynists who control every single little facet of their lives. They are extremist. Extremism of ANY KIND be it Christian,Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, etc must be discouraged as they have proven dangerous to the rest of the collective.

Unless it's a Halloween or masquerade party fun or God forbid, a burn victim whose burnt face requires to be covered by bandages to prevent infection (NOt sure how they're accommodated), no one's face should be covered. There's no excuse for it.

I don't support an all out ban on niqabs on the streets, as it just legitimizes these extremists in their minds. Gives them more attention than they deserve, really.

However, I do think that a school or workplace should be allowed to not allow facial coverings if they so choose; much the same way they may have dress codes: Ie: a uniform or not allowed to wear jeans.

Someone said something like if it is men who make women cover up so they can't see them, it is more up to the men to walk around blindfolded. However if a woman chooses not to be seen by men then she should make her choices accordingly.

In the case of that woman kicked out of her French class for her niquab, she had other antics guaranteed for her not to stay in that class. She insisted on having her male classmates moved away from her. She knew there were going to be men in the class, in that case it is up to her decide to not register for the course if co-ed classes are an issue rather than put everyone through this trouble.

Dharma Seeker said...

I agree with your post, but I think some people with reservations have good intentions and aren't necessarily bigots. The Taliban regime is famous for forcing women to wear the niqab and equally famous for oppressing women in general. I think it's possible that some people have made an unfortunate association and need to think in broader terms. I've seen documentaries in which Afghan women criticize other Afghan women for wearing the niqab after the Taliban was overthrown so idea that the niqab represents something oppressive isn't strictly a North American point of view.

L-girl said...

The association with the Taliban goes to my point exactly. Since the Taliban has nothing to do with this, the association is made from prejudice - lumping all Muslims in one category, especially with a group that's been labelled "the enemy". Concern for women and women's rights is a smokescreen.

I'm aware it's not only a North American POV, hence my references to several European countries, and the fact that there are Muslims who agree with the anti-niqab POV.

I do believe that people who would ban a type of garment, or say that a woman wearing this garment cannot fully participate in society (eg, take a French language class), are motivated by bigotry.

They may think they have good intentions - I'm sure Heather Mallick thinks her intentions are excellent. But they are still imposing their values and choices on others, because they firmly belief that theirs are better. That's bigotry.

L-girl said...

One rather important bit of information that your piece does not mention is that many of the vociferous responses that the niqab provokes come from Muslim women - and sometimes men - who are secular or whose religious leaders do not oblige women to wear it.

I do mention that some Muslims do support the anti-niqab stance.

In general, though, this blog - like yours and almost everyone else's - reflects my opinion. This post wasn't intended to be a news story that seeks to reflect all points of view.

They left their country of origin to escape the tyranny of shariah and this is a reminder that there are Muslim immigrants in Canada who uphold these beliefs.

Wearing a niqab does not mean that the wearer upholds shariah. That's another assumption. That the assumption is made by Muslims doesn't make it any more correct.

Re those who escaped tyranny to come to Canada, one of the values they should find in Canada is mutual respect for diversity - true multiculturalism. Not a different brand of tyranny that forces people to conform.

L-girl said...

@impudent strumpet: there is a big difference between wanting to hide your legs and boobs and wanting to hide your face. Apples and oranges really.

Why?

Other than because it's different, because you say so, or because your culture only does it for Halloween.

Why?

Fact: most of these facially covered women are married to extreme misogynists who control every single little facet of their lives. They are extremist.

Not fact. Assumption. Based on what?

However, I do think that a school or workplace should be allowed to not allow facial coverings if they so choose; much the same way they may have dress codes: Ie: a uniform or not allowed to wear jeans.

Readers, please note. This point of view has now been represented in comments, and comments that merely repeat this and add nothing else will not be put through.

L-girl said...

Oh my lord, he's insisting I was on Mark Kelley! All this anger and this guy doesn't even know who I am!

And yes, you poor schmuck, sometimes I read your comments, sometimes I don't.

redsock said...

Not only does he read every single word of this blog -- his comments during our last vacation make it obvious that he has a compulsion to read everything -- now he is starting to hallucinate seeing you on his TV!

(In a related theme, a recent comment stated "following you is like watching one of my favourite television programs".)

L-girl said...

Also...

many of the vociferous responses that the niqab provokes come from Muslim women - and sometimes men - who are secular or whose religious leaders do not oblige women to wear it

...why should this matter? Why should this impinge on this individual woman's human rights of conscience and expression?

She may be in the minority, but what does that "prove", except that she's in the minority?

L-girl said...

Unless it's a Halloween or masquerade party fun or God forbid, a burn victim whose burnt face requires to be covered by bandages to prevent infection (NOt sure how they're accommodated), no one's face should be covered. There's no excuse for it.

Cold Canadian winter?

As Cat pointed out - and she is a native of Montreal:

Half the year you can't see people's faces on the street in Montreal anyway, except for the bit around their eyes - because of the tuques and scarves.

I also wonder why one needs an excuse to cover one's face?

impudent strumpet said...

most of these facially covered women are married to extreme misogynists who control every single little facet of their lives.

If this is true, it sounds like an excellent reason to avoid trying to control every little face of their lives, to show them that the real world just doesn't work that way.

However, I do think that a school or workplace should be allowed to not allow facial coverings if they so choose; much the same way they may have dress codes: Ie: a uniform or not allowed to wear jeans.

Insofar as uniforms and dress codes are reasonable (I think they're overdone and not subject to nearly enough critical thinking, but that's neither here nor there), there's an enormous difference between asking someone to wear a certain piece of clothing and asking someone to expose a certain part of their body.

I once had a job where we wore a uniform. The uniform shirt happened to be short-sleeved, presumably because it could get very hot in there in the summer. One my co-workers had duties that required him to often step outside for a few seconds, so in the winter he would wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath his short-sleeved uniform shirt to keep warm. My Orthodox Jewish colleague whom I mentioned in my previous comment wasn't from this job, but she had worked there she probably would have done the same thing, since she never exposed her arms.

The purpose of the uniform was to identify us to the public as people who worked there, and it served that purpose. However, just because it didn't provide us with a way to cover our arms doesn't mean that we shouldn't have been allowed to cover our arms; that would have served no purpose.

impudent strumpet said...

If L will allow self-linking (and if not just mod this comment out, no biggie), I have a relevant story about dress codes here.

AtB B and B said...

Fear makes stupid people stupider (I think FDR phrased it more eloquently...).

There have been communities in England that have tried to ban the hoodie (hooded sweatshirt) because some hoodlums wear them.

As an atheist I find it sad that someone makes their fashion decisions based on nonsense - but I fully support their choice to wear what they want. What I find ironic about the burqa/niqab etc. is, as I understand it, they are worn to express modesty, and make one blend in - but when that are taken out of their original culture and transplanted into our modern, western society, they have the opposite effect: they draw attention to the wearer.

Anyway, time to don my Koteka and tootle around town. IT'S MY NEW CULTURAL IDENTITY - YOU CAN'T STOP ME!! ;-)

L-girl said...

Thanks, Imp Strump, great stuff re difference between dress codes and un-dress codes, so to speak.

(You're always welcome to post relevant links, including self-linking. Only random, off-topic, traffic re-direction links are not allowed.)

L-girl said...

Hi Eric, nice to see you here!

I know what you're saying, as I'm also an atheist, but I don't think modesty in this context has anything to do with blending in. That's reading another meaning into the dress codes.

Certainly Orthodox Jewish women and observant Muslim women know their dress choices make them stand out. I don't think it's ironic in any sense.

L-girl said...

And please keep your koteka to yourself! :)

Stephanie said...

Meanwhile, there is a resurgence amongst some young catholic women to join a religeous order and with it there is some discussion about the wearing of the habit .

While there are plenty of distinctions that people are likely to make (doesn't cover the face, reflects membership in a particular order blah blah blah), it is unlikely that (WARNING: this link may evoke an unpleasant reaction) a move in support of Nun's wearing the habit would spark a similarly vociferous and agressive reaction?

In fact, some (like the author of the blog linked above) are bound to applaud such a move.

Difference? Fear of what we don't understand?

redsock said...

I also wonder why one needs an excuse to cover one's face?

This blog post says it is illegal to wear a mask in public in West Virginia, but a commenter says the intrepretation of similar laws (none of which are federal) is pretty narrow.

This post quotes some neat NYC history:

"In 1845, the State of New York passed a law which forbade the wearing of masks. It authorized the pursuit and arrest of anyone who "having his face painted, discolored, covered or concealed, or being otherwise disguised, in a manner calculated to prevent him from being identified, shall appear in any road or public highway, or in any field, lot, wood, or enclosure."

Then he/she adds:
It was originally adopted to thwart armed insurrections by Hudson Valley tenant farmers who dressed and painted themselves as Native Americans to attack law enforcement officers over rent issues. The law was then shelved for most of the 20th Century until 1965, when it was used to criminalize transvestites and drag queens who wore too much make-up for the authorities to bear.
More recently, the law has resurfaced in two contexts: At a KKK rally in 2001 and during the large-scale protests of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in January 2002 ...
it's called "selective enforcement". if it's for a social/political protest, the mask law becomes a good pretext to go after protesters. if you are wearing masks for a halloween party, then the police won’t do anything.

****

L-girl said...

Stephanie and Allan's posts both point to the selectivity of all these objections, rules, and conventions. When it's -30 outside it's perfectly ok to cover your entire face except for your eyes. No one is afraid of you then.

The connection between the nun's habit and the hijab are obvious - but seldom made!

Mike said...

Ah but we're avoiding the question now of why L-Girl hates those who wear kotekas, this bigotry must be addressed we must rise up and... er stand up... er get on our feet and fight against this anti-koteka movement. No rising while wearing the koteka though...

Mike said...

Seriously as much as I think religion is an outdated, antiquated and somewhat dangerous habit that should be done away with, the choice as to follow the customs of any particular one should be up to the individual. Can I write a run on sentence or can I write a run on sentence?

L-girl said...

But can you write a run-on or run a write-on running with a koteka on?

David Heap said...

most of these facially covered women are married to extreme misogynists who control every single little facet of their lives.

This wild speculation is not borne out by my experience of conversations with either married hijabi friends, or Muslim men who profess to want to marry a woman who wears the hijab: they simply speak of shared spirituality, which is somewhat foreign to me (as an atheist) but not something to be feared or reviled. Don't know a lot of niqab-wearers but I can't see why it would be different. The selectivity of so many reactions is what is telling for me.

However, I do think that a school or workplaced should be allowed to not allow

Within reasonable limits of demonstrable safety concerns and respect for others' rights, schools and other workplaces should not be in the business of not allowing -- by default, it should be forbidden to forbid or interdit d'interdire. to hark back to Paris 1968 -- whether I like your choices or not.

As a sometime language teacher, I can depend on my training in phonetics to tell whether someone is pronouncing a front rounded vowel without the correlated visual cue from seeing their face, just as I should be able tell whether you are "rolling" your uvular [R] without staring down your throat (try listening to an Edith Piaf recording if want confirmation).

David Heap said...

Oh, and "wearing a disguise" is also in the Canadian criminal code, but only "with intent to commit an offense." Very selectively used, typically to add charges against protesters when cops can't think of what else to throw at them.