Banning the niqab is bigoted and sexist. Or is it?

Source: The Globe and Mail

If you’re a liberal thinker, you probably know where you stand on Quebec’s controversial religious neutrality bill. You hate it. Banning women in face veils from receiving public services (such as, potentially, riding the bus) is cruel, intolerant, unworkable, discriminatory, sexist, divisive, and an attack on religious freedom. The bill has been denounced by Rachel Notley, Kathleen Wynne, human-rights lawyers, Muslim groups, and nearly every opinion writer in English-speaking Canada. “Quebec’s niqab ban is a shameful sop to nativist voters,” thundered the Toronto Star. (The Globe’s editorialists oppose it, too.)

At least a dozen countries have passed similar laws. Some of them might surprise you. Take Norway – widely hailed as one of the most tolerant nations on Earth. The Norwegian government wants to ban face veils in all schools and universities, for students and instructors alike. “Face-covering garments such as the niqab or burka do not belong in Norwegian schools,” said the acting minister of immigration and integration. “The ability to communicate is a basic value.”

Then there’s Germany, whose leader, Angela Merkel, put out the welcome mat for more than a million immigrants and refugees. But that welcome is conditional. Germany should ban face veils “wherever legally possible,” she said last year. Why? “We do not want any parallel societies, and where they exist we have to tackle them.” France has banned face coverings in public spaces since 2011. In other words, not all countries with these bans are sinkholes of bigotry and oppression.

Can you be a progressive and also favour banning the niqab? Plenty of Quebeckers think so. A whopping 87 per cent of them support the bill, and many say it doesn’t go far enough. Despite the views of the Toronto Star, not all are knuckle-dragging xenophobes from Hérouxville. Yet the English-language commentary has been downright hysterical. According to the critics, women wearing veils will be kicked off buses in the dead of winter, denied life-saving medical treatment, and essentially cut off from life. As Warda Naili told CTV, “I will be a prisoner in my own house.” (Like some of the most ardent champions of the veil, Ms. Naili is a Western convert to Islam.)

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