Friday, April 16, 2010

Veil ban in Quebec mostly about scoring political points

The following is a thought-provoking piece written by Janet Epp Buckingham, Director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre in Ottawa, about a law introduced by the government of Quebec that bans women from wearing the niqab when working in a public office or receiving services from a public office. As Janet writes in the article, this is an issue that Christians may have a particular interest in.     

Veil ban mostly about scoring political points

By Janet Epp Buckingham

The government of Quebec caused a furor when it introduced Bill 94 on March 24. This law bans women from wearing the niqab when working in a public office or receiving services from a public office in Quebec. The niqab is a full face veil, usually leaving just the eyes visible.

According to news reports, only about 25 women in Quebec wear the niqab. This is not really about good public policy but about scoring political points.

Quebec's rationale for this bill is gender equality. The government sees the niqab as evidence of oppression of women. Premier Jean Charest made the intent clear in his press conference: "Two words: uncover face."

But if it passes, this bill could have a very serious impact on Muslim women who currently wear the niqab. It will limit their ability to obtain a wide variety of public services, including medical services and even attending school and university.

I confess I have always found myself unnerved by women wearing the niqab. I think it is the resemblance to a mask that makes me uncomfortable. I know some women wear the niqab to protect their modesty. But being confronted by a black scarf where a face should be always startles me.

Aside from the National Post's Barbara Kay, the English press has been opposed to this new law. It violates our most cherished principles as Canadians: tolerance and choice. But Barbara Kay says that this is not a choice about what women wear. She rightly points out there are many places where we do not have choice about what we wear. Men would not be permitted to wear masks on a children's playground, for example.

The first question we should ask is if this is a religious requirement. If it is, it is not only a human rights issue, but one that Christians have a particular interest in. Clearly, we do not want to see anyone's religious practices inhibited unless they cause actual harm. And even though the Quebec government promotes this as an equality issue, Christian practices are not always gender equal. Catholics and many Protestants do not have female clergy, for example.

But while Tarek Fatah, a Muslim commentator in the National Post, is adamant that the niqab and burka are not requirements of Islam, other Muslims argue that they are, or could be.

We have had some of these discussions even within Christianity. I attended Bible college with a woman who always wore a head covering. She argued to the rest of us that this was a religious requirement.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required by law to wear the niqab outside their homes. Salafi Muslim women in other countries will also wear it. Some Muslim women regard it as a symbol of devotion to Allah in the same way the hijab is. But no doubt, some women are coerced by their husbands or fathers to cover their faces.

If women are used to wearing the niqab and immigrate to Canada, they will feel strange going bare faced. They may even regard it as shameful.

If Canada is to welcome immigrants, how much should we accommodate their cultural practices? It does seem rather intolerant to force a woman to remove an item of clothing that is perfectly normal and even required in another country.

Is there any rationale, other than requiring conformity with our Canadian cultural expectations, to require women to bare their faces?

Many Islamic states have clothing police that require men and women to dress with a certain level of modesty. There is a certain irony that when they come to Canada they are forced to take things off, rather than put them on.

Since Quebecers live with language police who order them to have signs in French, they may be willing to live with a government that tells them how to dress. Or perhaps they are only comfortable with a government that tells other people how to dress.

7 comments:

  1. I can see two sides to this.

    Yes when a government decides to get involved in a religion to ban what we may consider unharmful activities, that could potentially be a slippery slope into other faiths and their practices.

    However I see much fear in this article about the power a government can hold over our daily lives and even our faith. as Christians, why should we fear our governments? Is God not sovereign? The very fact that there are ministries such as Voice of the Martyrs should tell us hat government itself is a worldly entity and we should not rely on it to protect faith. In fact I think the reality of the world and Scripture itself tells us we cannot. I'm by no means talking against the authority God has placed over us (Romans 13), I'm simply saying Christians, especially those of us in the western world, need to stop politicizing our faith. The only end result such an action could have is to turn our focus from Christ and the gospel to the world and worldly concerns. Let us worry about what Christ commissioned us to do and our walks with the Lord. Let God be sovereign about everything else, even if it means seeing the government eventually banning our very faith. God is in control either way.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with Shari about the problems with politicizing our faith. Yes, that is a big issue. And yet this should be a concern that we have, encouraging the people (and governments) of Canada to support religious freedom. I believe preventing persecution is valuable, along with supporting those who are persecuted. This law is religious persecution because the law in Quebec is saying that it is illegal for these women to practice their faith. No, not all Islam requires it. But not all "Christians" believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Does that mean we should allow the Bible to be banned? Freedom to practice their Islamic faith means we have the freedom to pratice our Christian faith. A region in Canada now officially opposes religious freedom. Should we not oppose that?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Religions are a very private thing. Nobody should wear anything religion-related at work or public places.That´s why you have churches and moskes and your homes to do whatever you want.People must not boast about their respective religions. It is a matter of faith .Is it not?
    On the other hand , why you call yourselves Martyrs? It sound strange .Christians believers should use this word. Not even Jesus was a martyr .
    Are you Islamic disguised as Christians?
    The world is not longer stupid pals.
    We know that Canada en Europe are flooded with Arabs .
    Tourists cannot get a Canadian visa.Muslims do.Give me a break please.You cannot be serious.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Jim,

    what is freedom? The truth shall set us free, what is the truth if not the gospel and Christ? Christians already have true freedom that no government can do away with. If the government does decide to ban Bibles, does that mean you or I will throw away our Bibles and refuse to be Christians any longer? Nope. They cannot ban our faith, because our faith is an intrinsic part of who we are as people.

    Do I agree with the government taking away religious rights? Actually for some I do. I don't believe Sharia Law should be practiced, as it is cruel. I don't believe Scientologists should be allowed to bully people who disagree with them with their Fair Game policy, as it has ruined so many lives to date. And I do believe the niqab could possibly be seen as an abuse of women, since the purpose is to hide women entirely.

    Do I think this law could be a slippery slope. Of course its possible. But why should I fear? I serve the God of the universe. If the Canadian government (this is hypothetical since don't forget we're just talking about one provincial government who has a history of unique laws to themselves) decided tomorrow to ban Christianity and to impose the death penalty on any who rebel - well all they can do is kill my body, right? They can't take my faith. Only I can choose to renounce my faith.

    ReplyDelete
  5. If you're interested in more info about this law, check out the link below for an article from National Post:

    http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2936471

    ReplyDelete
  6. The theological points related to "fear" and "freedom" that Shari brings up are valuable affirmations and reminders to us all. However, that does not preclude the value of attempting to maintain the ability to openly practice our faith in our nation. Government cannot mandate faith -- just ask the governments around the world who haven't learned that lesson yet. China has millions of Christians despite the continued efforts to prevent the spread of Christianity. But I know Christians in China would want the ability to openly practice their faith without persecution if that opportunity was given to them.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well, this is an interesting discussion to say the least.
    Anonymous, the very nature of most religions is that beliefs are not private. I would assume that you would put priests (Christian, Buddhist, or any other), nuns, Sikhs, Hutterites, etc. in prison (or at least in isolated communes) for expressing in their attire what is their highest priority in life; their religious beliefs. And the word, "martyr"? No, Jesus likely didn't use it, although some would assert that He was one in that He died because of the masses' disapproval of Him and His standpoint. That being what it may, I see a working definition on VOMC's site at http://www.persecution.net/faq.htm (first question). As far as their doctrinal standpoint, you'll find that at http://www.persecution.net/doctrine.htm, which clearly states doctrines to which no Muslim would adhere.
    Shari, let's define some words. I’ll only address one word, “free”. Theologically, yes, our true freedom is in Christ. Politically, the government, which is a secular agency, is given the task of determining what is fair and right for their country. That sounds like a wide open door for situational ethics. Unfortunately, democracy is just that (based on what the majority finds "right"). For all of its flaws, however, it appears to be the best system out there as far as I can tell. Political freedom exists in the context of a secular society (however much each religious group attempts to change that). Theologically, you're correct. Politically, if we limit what a person can or cannot wear, taken to its logical end, will result in a society that "Anonymous" proposes; a society that a rather small minority would find attractive.

    ReplyDelete