Quebec’s niqab ban is a chance for women to embrace Western freedom
A woman wears a niqab as she walks in Montreal Sept. 9, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)
By Farzana Hassan Shahid, Toronto Sun
Bill 62 was passed last week, in effect denying public services to people in face masks.
While the ban includes all face coverings, this has predictably turned into an Islam versus the West issue. The familiar rivalries have resurfaced. Politicians have condemned the “burka ban”, saying it marginalizes Muslim women.
I see this as an opportunity for those women, whether they are oppressed by their husbands or have themselves chosen to cover up entirely, to embrace the equality the West offers.
The victim narrative assumes that niqabi women will continue to wear face coverings and therefore when they board the bus, or when they go for a hospital checkup, they will insist on staying hidden and consequently be denied service.
Granted, we tend to resist a law we find oppressive. In France, where such laws have been implemented, some women chose to act defiantly and be fined rather than remove face coverings.
However, many have embraced the law, in fact relishing the freedoms often denied at home. In fact, when concerns about religious divisions caused France to ban the hijab in schools years ago, many among the Muslim community expressed relief.
The women’s organization Ni Putes Ni Soumises surveyed niqab-wearing women after their 2011 ban. Its research revealed some high-profile acts of defiance, but other women anxiously waited for the law to free them of their husband’s pressures.
The situation in Quebec may be similar. There have already been protests, though the law is yet to be implemented.
Once again, the universal assumption is that Muslim women who wear the niqab will decline to remove it when accessing public services. Yet the niqab is not a religious requirement and they have every reason to embrace this attempt to deliver them Western-style freedom.
The niqab is a vestige of a tribal and pre-Islamic culture defined by men. It was instituted when women were considered chattel owned by men. The concept of sexual consent by women is of course a recent development even in the West, but in patriarchal cultures it is taking much longer.
The niqab is a primitive society’s primitive attempt to proclaim ownership rights. Naturally, it is aggressively marketed by those with a vested interest in prolonging such a dehumanizing value system.
And their Western supporters also endorse this mindset rather than promote progressive values. They deny any government’s right to tell a woman what she should and should not wear and claim that in doing so they are standing up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “It is what Canadians expect of me,” says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But Canadians also expect him to support the rights of those forced by husbands, in-laws or even parents to cover up. What about the Charter rights of Aqsa Parvez and the Shafia girls?
Niqabi women believe the niqab protects them, and even gives them back their humanity. Seriously? By becoming anonymous and invisible? Their best chance to attain the respect they deserve as people lies not in rejecting the open garb of other women, but in emulating it.
Here is a chance for them to abandon a mode of dress that is rooted in oppressive patriarchy. When there are laws and bills to discourage short dresses at restaurants and high heels in work places, it is fitting that rules of public expectation are applied to face coverings as well.