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Archive for the ‘Muslim Women’ Category

The Canadian government has (finally) decided to lay to rest its plans to introduce legislation that would force women who wear niqab (fabric that covers their faces) to show their faces when voting.

This comes as a relief, not so much because of the actual legislation, but because of the amazing amount of misinformation that has surrounded the discussions – both in the media and in political spheres – about this issue for the past couple years.  Chris Selley’s recent National Post blog article about this topic does a good job of exploring some of the misconceptions that arose in these discussions.

Proposing two main reasons for why the legislation was dropped, Selley first emphasises that “there is very little of a problem here to solve,” and tells us that  “According to Elections Canada, not a single elector attempted to vote with her face covered in the last federal election.”  Although, of course, the potential for someone to attempt to vote with their face covered in the future still exists on a hypothetical level, I think this point, as well as the fact that only a very tiny proportion of Canada’s population wears niqab, makes it pretty clear how much the panic around this issue has been totally blown out of proportion.

Selley’s second point is that:

either our government never had any intention of actually banning veiled voting, or it is so spectacularly inept that it couldn’t figure out how to do it. Indeed, it is very important to realize that at no point in this saga has legislation ever been proposed or enacted that would, in fact, force every voter’s unveiled face to be matched with a piece of photo identification.

Although the current legislation regarding voter identification was apparently supposed to make the requirements more stringent, one thing that it did not do was to require photo identification.  Voters must present either one piece of photo identification with their home address, or two pieces of identification that list the voter’s name, including one that also includes the voting address, or the voter can have another registered voter from the same riding vouch for them.  Note that only the first option necessitates a visual identification.  Moreover, thousands of voters vote by mail every election; none of them are asked for any photographic verification of their identity.  If Canada’s politicians are truly concerned about voter fraud (which is usually the main stated reason for wanting voters to show their faces), surely there are more effective ways to address this issue than to go after voters whose faces are covered.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said publicly in 2007 that, according to existing legislation, there would be no point in forcing voters to show their faces, since visual identification was not a requirement; however, as Selley points out, the lack of photo requirement seemed to go right over the heads of some of Canada’s politicians:

“We just adopted this spring… a law designed to have the visual identification of voters,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper fumed. “That’s the purpose of the law,” he added, astonishingly.

Not satisfied with his boss’s gaffe, Tory MP Joe Preston—a real live member of the committee that OKed the legislation, apparently without having read it—then upped the ante. “I’d love for [Mayrand] to come here and try to explain to us what he doesn’t understand,” he said, causing numerous heads to explode in the few Canadian newsrooms that actually noticed what was going on.

(Having felt like my own head was going to explode at a few points while researching this issue for both blogging and academic purposes, part of me feels a little bit gratified that at least I’m not alone.)

Selley writes that even the proposed new legislation would not have actually changed the documentation required to prove a voter’s identity:

It would simply have required that voters show their faces whilst presenting the ID, photo or otherwise.

As I said at the time, the concern was that a veiled woman could provide photo ID but not have to show her face, rendering the photo ID pointless. And the proposed remedy was to allow a veiled woman to provide non-photo ID but force her to show her face, rendering the unveiling pointless. Pointless, that is, if the goal was actually to ensure Canadians’ unveiled faces are matched with photo ID before they vote. Unfortunately for all of us, the goal was nothing more than to capitalize on a hot-button issue.

The last sentence of this quote – that the panic around this topic was less about actual worries about voter fraud than it was about “capitaliz[ing] on a hot-button issue” – highlights, for me, the most disturbing part of this whole thing.  I followed a lot of the media hype around it in the fall, and much of it seemed to be from people worried that Muslims were taking over Canada’s political systems and forcing Elections Canada to allow them to vote with faces covered, despite a total lack of evidence that any of this was coming from Muslims, as well as the fact that the absence of a requirement of photo identification was part of the existing laws and not some concession being made to Muslim communities (who, again, had not even asked for any such concession.)  The comments on some of the news articles were even worse; women in niqab were portrayed as dangerous and untrustworthy, and as a foreign threat, despite the fact that, as voters, the women in question are necessarily Canadian citizens.

To be honest, if photo ID was required for all voters, I probably would not have a problem with everyone being required to actually show their faces in order to confirm their identities (although I would hope that this would be done in conditions that everyone would be comfortable with.)  However, considering that this is not the case, and that the hype around this issue has only served to paint Muslim Canadians as threatening and as non-Canadians, I am, like Chris Selley, “thrilled to see this ugly chapter in Canadian politics closed.”

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A Toronto private school is being sued by a Muslim student for defamation, as a result of the school’s response to a fight in which racial slurs were made against the student:

A private French school run by a former Liberal MP defamed a 15-year-old student during an assembly and did not treat alleged racial slurs made against him seriously because he is Muslim, a lawsuit alleges.

Omar Elgammal is suing the Toronto French School, headmaster John Godfrey – who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 – and principal Heidi Gollert over alleged remarks at a school assembly denouncing the teen after a fight apparently sparked by racial slurs.

In the defamation lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court, Elgammal alleges that on Oct. 23, 2008, a student from another private school was at Toronto French School and insulted Elgammal.

The student “seized” upon Elgammal’s Muslim heritage, calling his father “bin Laden,” calling them terrorists and saying, “What are you guys going to do, call out, `Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah?” Elgammal alleges. (Read more)

The Canadian government has decided not to pursue legislation that would have forced niqab-wearing women to show their faces when voting in Canadian elections:

The federal government has no plans to move forward with proposed legislation to force veiled women to show their faces when voting, the minister of state for democratic reform said Thursday.

“We have other priorities as far as increasing voter participation and with the expanded voting opportunities legislation,” Steven Fletcher said in an interview.

“And that is our focus. That obviously will affect a lot more people.”

Dmitri Soudas, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, confirmed the government still supports the idea of forcing voters to reveal their faces, but said the bill doesn’t have opposition support.

“The bottom line is even if we were to proceed with legislation, it would be voted down immediately,” Soudas said. (Read more)

More on Adil Charkaoui’s cross-Canada speaking tour, this time from Vancouver:

“The purpose of this Canadian tour is simple,” said Charkaoui at a news conference this morning. “I want to talk directly to Canadians, to show them that I was treated unfairly by their government, by our government.”

Charkaoui arrived in Canada from Morocco as a permanent resident with his mother, father and sister in 1995. On May 21, 2003, he was arrested after the federal government signed a security certificate against him, and later accused him of being a threat to national security. Charkaoui was jailed for 21 months and released under the strict conditions of a security certificate in 2005. Today, he wears a GPS tracking device and must alert the Canadian Border Services Agency 48 hours before leaving the island of Montreal. As well, he is not allowed to associate with anyone with a criminal record or use the Internet outside of his home.

“Never has the federal government been able to prove the so called ‘reasonable character’ of the security certificate issued against him,” said Fernand Dechamps, who travelled to Vancouver with Charkaoui. (Read more)

The Ottawa Citizen reflects on a Canadian magazine’s portrayal of Jordan’s Queen Rania:

As it happens, Queen Rania does have very strong ideas about Jordan and its place in the world, although you’d never know it from that Hello Canada article. On her dedicated YouTube channel, you can hear her speak in a intelligent way about the education of girls, for example.

She’s at her most inspiring when she’s talking about the need to eliminate the suspicion and mistrust between the West and the Arab world.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, her personality is her most powerful tool in that project. She’s a high-profile Muslim woman who wears jeans and lets her long hair hang loose and uncovered because that’s her choice. She talks about her relationship with her husband as an equal partnership. She is Queen, and she calls that a “mandate” and takes it seriously, especially given the state of the Middle East. “We live in a tough neighbourhood,” she told Hello Canada. (Read more)

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Reading through Licia Corbella’s  Calgary Herald article “Obama’s Speech filled with dangerous equivocations”, I was filled with a sense of disgust and awe. Disgust because of the assumptions and generalisations she makes and awed because, considering her experience, one would not expect such a shallow analysis of Obama’s speech addressing the Muslim people. Early on in her article she divides the world into a Muslim and a Western world, with the no possibility of overlap between the two. Clearly from her article one is backwards, and primitive, and the other civilised and progressive.
She presents the Western world as being the ideal of humanity and the Muslim world being primitive, ruled by “medieval-minded men” and with human rights “rare to non-existent in these countries”. The amount of generalisation and over-exaggeration in the article is incredible. She repeatedly implies the practise of certain Muslim countries as the practices and laws of all Muslim countries through the use of “Islamic world” and “Muslim world” as a whole, practising certain laws. She states

that women in Islamic world should not be forced to wear a hijab or niqab…

She ignores the fact that only two countries in the “Islamic world” (Iran and Saudi Arabia) enforce a head cover. Similarly she states that the Muslim world is ruled by “brutal dictators” suggesting every Muslim country is a dictatorship. Clearly this is not the case. Although dictatorships may exist in some countries of West Asia, the majority of Muslim-majority countries, are not dictatorships. (Some examples include Pakistan and Turkey, which are democracies; Malaysia, which is a constitutional monarchy; and the UAE, which is a federation.) Before the war, Iraq would have been a dictatorship, though it should be noted that it was supported by the US at some point.

Additionally, all Muslim men in this article are represented as extremely backward people with no individuality and with no hope for progression.

One stunning accusation she makes, without giving any substantial proof, is

…in all of Muslim world beating one’s wife is not just condoned but even encouraged and taught in the mosques.

Such an accusation assumes that all Muslim men beat their wives regularly and their society not only encourages such an act but also teaches them how to perform this act. This implies Muslim women have no freedom whatsoever and all Muslim men at some point in their life will be abusive towards their wife. This accusation is hard to absorb, considering that I belong to a Muslim family and have never once witnessed encouragement of wife battering in any mosque in the west or in the east. As a matter of fact, wife beating and domestic abuse are extremely discouraged and looked down upon by societies and mosques themselves. Domestic violence is part of every society regardless, of whether it is in the west or east, and it can’t be generalized to just one society.

Her constant attempt to not regard Muslim women’s struggle for rights as equal to problems faced by women in the West is quite bleak. She repeatedly suggests that problems faced by western women are minor to the problems faced by Muslim women because western laws protect them and they are literate and aware of those laws. In contrast to them, Muslim women living in the whole of “Muslim world” are supposedly illiterate, unaware of their rights or even unaware of being victimised. Hence the struggle is greater and harder for Muslim women. It is quite astonishing that she fails to recognise, being a Canadian writer, the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act introduced by Stephen Harper in parliament that revokes the right of Canadian women to demand equitable pay. If revoking a right of a western woman is this easy (and, according to Corbella, minor) then how are Muslim women’s struggles greater than Western women, if even some Western women are illiterate with regards to their own rights?

In addition, she also fails to recognize the continuing plight of non-white women trying to achieve equality in the Western World. By assuming that Western women’s plight is minor to that of Muslim women’s struggle, she undermines the struggle of Native women and women of colour in trying to achieve equality. Native women’s struggle for equality is a continuing and by no means minor struggle. They have to face racism in every aspect of Western law. Hence, they are not even recognized as equal in Western law, contrary to Corbella’s belief that “before the law, all western women are equal citizens.” Western women in this article seem to be only white women who supposedly do not have to struggle anymore for their equality and rights. Maybe Corbella needs to talk to a few Western feminists. I’m sure they would clear up this misconception in a second.

By generalizing and exaggerating, Corbella creates a perception of only a misogynistic Muslim society without acknowledging the reality that Muslims come from a wide variety of cultures and countries practising their own laws. If one were to read this article without having any prior knowledge of diversity of Muslim people, one would probably believe Muslim men as patriarchal, and animalistic, Muslim women as being brutalised at the hands of their male counterparts, without having the ability to think and decide for themselves, and Muslim society as the most primitive of societies in the modern progressive world of today.

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This post was originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last week, Canadian Governor-General Michaëlle Jean caused a huge storm in the media by eating a piece of seal heart while on a visit to an Inuit community in Nunavut, northern Canada.  In the context of increasing international (and domestic) outrage against the seal hunt in Canada, Jean had this to say about her act (all quotes from this article):

“These are ancient practices that are part of a way of life,” Jean said, framing her gutsy gesture as an act of solidarity with the Inuit. “If you can’t understand that, you’re completely missing the reality of life here.”

(For those of you wondering what on earth this has to do with Muslim women, don’t worry, I’ll get to it.)

Michaëlle Jean. Source: Canadian Press, via Toronto Star website

Michaëlle Jean. Source: Canadian Press, via Toronto Star website

Enter PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)  Let me be clear that I am a strong advocate that animals should be treated ethically, and that I don’t oppose the objectives of an organisation like PETA.  Their methods, on the other hand, are horribly problematic, and PETA has come under criticism time and time again for campaigns involving offensive representations of slavery, the Holocaust, the KKK, non-status immigrants, and women (several times over.) (Warning that some of the linked articles contain partial nudity and/or images of torture of humans and animals.)

PETA’s response to Jean eating the seal meat was predictable:

“It amazes us that a Canadian official would indulge such blood lust. It sounds like she’s trying to give Canadians an even more Neanderthal image around the world than they already have,” said Dan Mathews, vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

After essentially labelling traditional Inuit hunting practices as “blood lust” and Neanderthalic, the PETA spokesperson claimed that the indigenous people’s hunt was not the main target of their anti-seal-hunting campaign.  However, as the article then tells us,

That doesn’t mean animal-rights activists approve of Inuit seal-hunting traditions. PETA yesterday likened Jean’s sampling of seal heart to “taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice.” (emphasis mine)

Yeah.  So what we can learn from PETA is that:

1. The Middle East is the only place where beating of women happens.

2. Beating of women is an integral part of Middle Eastern cultural practices.  (You know, they’ve probably got it on all their travel brochures.  “Come visit the Middle East, and celebrate our cultural pride by taking part in the time-honoured tradition of woman-beating!”)

Do I even have to go into all the ways that that’s wrong and offensive?  It’s as if people have these images of oppressed Middle Eastern women (usually interchangeable with Muslim women, of course) just waiting around in their heads so that they can be expressed in metaphors that are completely out of context. Sigh…

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I’ll put up a real post soon, but wanted to highlight the photo from this article on Zaynab Khadr and her husband (we referred to it in the Monday links), because I just never thought I’d see this combination of hijab, niqab, long-haired hippie-looking man, and dandelions all in one picture in a major newspaper.

Women in niqab can do fun things like pick flowers??  Who knew?

Zaynab Khadr with her husband and daughter. Image via globeandmail.com.

Zaynab Khadr with her husband and daughter. Image via globeandmail.com.

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Originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

The Fédération des femmes du Québec (Federation of Quebec Women; abbreviated as FFQ) recently had a special assembly in order to clarify its position on whether headscarves should be permitted for people working in the public service.  (The question of “reasonable accommodation” for minority groups has been the subject of intense debate in Quebec for the past few years; see here for one overview of a major report that was produced on the subject.)

This assembly was held after the organization expressed last fall that the debate about headscarves was a challenging one for the FFQ, with its commitments to both integration and secularism.  That statement can be found in the appendix of this document (in PDF, and in French), which articulates the reflections and proposals of the FFQ’s board of directors regarding the issue.

In brief, the FFQ’s board considered the issue from three angles: secularism, discrimination against immigrant women, and a feminist analysis.  From the secularism point of view, they argued that a ban on wearing visible religious symbols is not a neutral ban, since not all religions involve symbols that religious practitioners view as obligatory, while many Muslim women wear it for precisely that reason.  While they firmly support the idea of the state itself being religiously neutral (although a place where all are free to practice their own religions), they also argued that the neutrality of the State is not guaranteed simply because religious symbols may be absent.

On the topic of discrimination against immigrant women, they talk about the high level of unemployment among immigrant women (especially, for example, among women of North Africa), about the importance of the State as a major employer, and about fears of a headscarf ban causing further alienation and unemployment for immigrant women.  (I do wish they had talked about Muslim women who aren’t immigrants…)

Last, they acknowledge feminist principles as ones that*

are based, among other things, on the necessity of respecting the rhythm, the choices, the values and the needs of the women involved while avoiding applying principles rigidly, through our own frame of reference and our own desire for autonomy and change.

The list of reflections ends with an affirmation that the organization is categorically opposed to any imposition of religious practice, including the imposition of the headscarf.

The special assembly on the issue, held May 9, supported the recommended position, and issued a press release affirming that the headscarf should neither be imposed by the religious community, nor denied by the state.  For those who speak French, FFQ’s Michèle Asselin sums up the decision nicely in this video:

So, to recap, the organization’s board of directors publishes recommendations based on series of reflections that they have had, taking into consideration issues of secularism, discrimination against immigrant women, and feminist frameworks.  At a general assembly, members of the FFQ vote to endorse the perspective taken by the board of directors, again based on those three bases of analysis.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Ha.  Not a chance.  Molehill, meet Kilimanjaro.

The mountain, in this case, is based in the claims being made throughout the media that the FFQ has been infiltrated by Islamists (yes, that is the actual kind of language being used.)  These claims come out of a message that Samira Laouni (a community activist and former NDP candidate whom I’ve discussed before) posted on a Muslim discussion board, related to the upcoming FFQ meeting (quoted from this article):

Hello to everyone,

I send you this information that, in my opinion, is of crucial importance.

It appears that the Federation of Quebec Women will hold, on May 9, an extraordinary assembly on the wearing of the veil in the public service.  If we are not well enough represented, it is possible that the opinion of the FFQ will join that of the Council of the Status of Women (which has said it is AGAINST the wearing of the veil in the public service), and we will see ourselves obliged to take off our scarves before entering the doors of public buildings.

What we should do?  Simply, first, become member of the FFQ (cost: five dollars, you can do it at the organisation’s headquarters.)  Second, attend this assembly to make our votes count.

Dear friends, our mobilization for this cause is very urgent and important.  If you have other questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

The ethics of joining an organization in order to influence its decisions are a different discussion, although this is not exactly the first time that such a move has been proposed–the idea of joining an organization that is about to make a decision that could potentially affect your access to jobs and services might be just a bit more understandable. Moreover, if the FFQ’s policies did allow someone to join and then be able to vote right away, the move is entirely legal.  According to this article, however, the FFQ requires someone to be a member for at least 45 days before they are able to vote, and they have only received seven new memberships in the past six weeks: hardly enough for an infiltration.  Laouni’s message was apparently posted March 18, 51 days before the meeting, so anyone who didn’t move on it within the first six days would have been ineligible to vote anyway.

Furthermore, the ultimate decision to oppose the prohibition of headscarves had already been recommended by the FFQ’s board of directors.  Even if the “Islamists” had attempted some kind of takeover, the opposition to a headscarf ban was already planned, and the ultimate decision appears to have little to do with any “Islamist” influence.  In fact, had the “Islamists” actually infiltrated the FFQ, it is unlikely that the final statement would have included such an emphatic commitment to the organization’s strong stance in favor of secularism and against religious fundamentalism.  In other words, I just really cannot understand how or why this ever became an issue.

But there are some good mountain-builders out there.  Djemila Benhabib, who seems like a Québécoise version of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, describes the FFQ decision as a result of being “strongly supported by representatives of the Canadian Islamic Congress and Muslim Presence.”  She further condemns the FFQ for “sacrificing millions of women who are fighting for their lives” for the sake of “a handful of Islamist militants.”  Her (melodramatic) statements have been quoted in many of the other articles about this issue, prompting the the FFQ to issue a response, in which they clarify that they have no connections with either of the organizations that she mentioned, and continue to stand firmly against fundamentalism and extremism.  (Just for the record, Quebec doesn’t even HAVE millions of Muslim women, let alone millions who are supposedly “fighting for their lives” against the imposition of the headscarf. *rolling eyes*)

Another article portrays one Muslim woman’s hesitation to join the FFQ (based on her unwillingness to be endorsing some of the other FFQ’s positions, as well as a feeling that a group of new Muslim members might stick out) as an example of her wanting to be more discreet in her takeover attempts, rather than a legitimate counterargument to the strategy suggested by Laouni.  The author also takes some of the most inflammatory comments posted by other Muslims on the same site as a way of indicating how scary and intolerant Muslims can be (although I would argue that any site with discussion groups on any topic runs a high risk of being taken over by people with the most offensive and extreme viewpoints, and non-Muslims sure have their share of these too.  See the comment section of any newspaper site for examples.)

Even the articles that seem more sympathetic to the FFQ’s decision are often problematic.  One journalist writes that “I would say that the Federation of Quebec Women is right, even though I don’t ignore that it was infiltrated by several Islamist apostles.”  She goes on to say that

I don’t like the veil either.  I also understand the emotions of the Muslim women who have fought against radical Islam in their own countries and who feel betrayed by the principle of tolerance.

This focus on the veil as oppressive and necessarily a sign of “radical Islam” – as something that women should be fighting against – is a common theme in many of the articles.  Whether or not they agree with the FFQ decision, most of the journalists seem to at least agree on hating headscarves.  In fact, even the FFQ decision said little about the potential that the headscarf could be a positive thing, and their repeated emphasis on rejecting the imposition of religious clothing suggested that, although they weren’t going to come out and say it directly, they remained uneasy with the idea that someone could choose to wear hijab for her own reasons.

While it seems to give a nod to other reasons for wearing hijab, and while it supports the FFQ decision, this article (in English) finishes by emphasizing the stereotype of the oppressed women who are forced to wear the scarf:

Some Muslim women say they choose to wear the hijab. During its hearings, the Bouchard-Taylor commission heard from at least one who did, and who described herself as a feminist.

Prohibiting religious symbols in the workplace would force such women to choose between giving up their religious freedom and giving up their jobs.

And what of those who, as Benhabib says, are forced to wear the hijab by their fathers or somebody else? A ban on religious symbols in the workplace might force them to give up jobs in which they come into regular contact with other Quebec women with different, “liberated” values.

How would isolating these oppressed women help them?

There’s a whole lot more out there on this issue, but you get the picture.  Women in hijab are oppressed, and any attempts to argue otherwise are a result of infiltration by Islamist forces.

Obviously.

*All documents and news articles quoted in this article were originally written in French.  All quotes are my own translations.

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I wrote a little while ago about the media coverage of the Toronto sexual assault case in which the female complainant was ordered by the presiding judge, Justice Norris Weisman, to remove her niqab while testifying.  At the time that I posted my earlier article, hearings were underway in Ontario’s Superior Court to appeal the judge’s decision requiring her to testify with her face visible.

Last week, the decision of this latest hearing was released, and made its way through Canadian media.

The ruling is far from clear-cut, and will likely result in even more hearings.  In short, as I understand it, the Superior Court Justice, Frank Marrocco, ruled that it is indeed within Weisman’s jurisdiction to ask the complainant to remove her niqab.  However, he also dismissed Weisman’s original decision, ruling that it was made without sufficient consideration of the issues involved, regarding both the complainant’s religious beliefs and the implications of her face covering for the court case.  In other words, although he does have the hypothetical authority to force her to remove her face covering, if need be, the decision that the removal of the niqab in this case was necessary may not have been the right one, and needs to be re-examined.

From my not-a-legal-scholar perspective, this decision seems to make sense.  It allows for the trial judge to step in if they truly feel that justice will be obstructed, but also emphasises the rigourous scrutiny that needs to be exercised in order to make that call.  It will be interesting to see what kinds of precedents this might set, and whether appropriate attention is actually given in practice to religious and cultural concerns, but the decision seems to respond (at least in theory) to some of the issues raised by both sides, in terms of religious freedoms as well as due process.

Not surprisingly, the articles reflect a range of perspectives.  The National Post, which has been the most anti-niqab throughout this whole story, uses the headline “Wearing veil on stand not a right: ruling,” emphasising that certain forms of religious expression through clothing do not have to be respected in all circumstances.  Others are more sympathetic towards the complainant, such as a CTV piece whose headline refers to the “Partial court victory for Muslim woman over niqab.”

The article that most disturbed me was the one published in the Globe and Mail, which starts off with:

Should a devout Muslim be allowed to testify in a Canadian criminal trial with her face concealed?

Perhaps, a court ruling has suggested.

But much hinges on how devout she really is.

It would be easy to take from this article that devoutness can be measured by someone’s commitment to covering their faces, which is somewhat off-putting for the majority of devout Muslim women, who do not niqab.  Moreover, the idea of measuring a person’s religious devotion at all is rather alarming.  Later in the article, we are told that

the judge ordered that the preliminary inquiry – on hold since the issue surfaced – convene two hearings to determine whether the woman’s beliefs are sincere, and if they are, whether testimony from a veiled witness would be admissible as evidence.

Again, allowing a court to decide the sincerity of a person’s religious beliefs – particularly, although not only, in a case where those conducting the hearings likely do not share this person’s beliefs – is hugely problematic.  Moreover, it is not simply the depth of her devotion that should be considered, but also the reason for that belief and the potential impact of forcing her to remove the niqab, among other things.  It is difficult to tell whether the language around judging the complainant’s beliefs came from the verdict itself or whether it was the journalist’s interpretation of the judgement, but the idea is disturbing either way.

Interestingly, the Globe article identified the woman as “a Canadian-born mother in her early 30s,” which is more biographical detail than has been provided up to this point.  The phrase “Canadian-born” (rather than simply “Canadian”) is fairly often used to indicate a perception that someone is not a “real” Canadian; whether or not the journalist used it intentionally in this case, there is definitely a difference between the phrase that was used and “a Canadian mother in her early 30s.”  At the same time, the idea that she is Canadian may come as a surprise to those who, upon reading of this case, have repeatedly expressed fears that Muslims (whom they assume to be immigrants) are coming here for the purposes of challenging Canada’s laws and political systems and should all be sent home.  The people reacting in those ways almost certainly do not consider that “home” could be Canada itself, as appears to be the situation for the complainant here.

It seems this case will continue to develop, and will continue to make the news as further decisions are made.  We’ll keep you posted, inshallah.

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