Canadian Federal elections are scheduled for Monday, October 19, and rhetoric is being flung around like it’s going out of style. Yesterday, the hashtag #BarbaricCulturalPractices began trending on Twitter and Facebook in Canada, with regard to recent comments by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his party’s promise to open a new RCMP tip line for Canadians to call should they become aware of neighbors who are being victimized or victimizing others in the name of their faith.
To understand the issues at hand, what must be first understood is the difference between the hijab and the niqab. Many Muslim scholars agree that wearing a hijab is mandatory for women who have reached the age of sexual maturity, as reported by the International Business Times. A hijab covers all of the head except the face. A majority of Muslim women would choose to wear the hijab. The niqab, by contrast, covers the entire head including the face, concealing a woman’s identity, so that only their eyes are visible.
“Do not conflate the niqab with hijab either,” writes Canadian blogger and Muslim convert Eiynah, who conceals her identity online because she has received death threats for speaking out on the niqab and other issues, “that is not the issue at hand. We are speaking about allowing women to be identifiable.”
The blogger, who is a champion of women’s rights and self-identifies as a liberal, is mystified by the number of Canadian feminists who have jumped on the #BarbaricCulturalPractices and #DressCodePM hashtags rallying around Muslim women’s “right” to wear the niqab.
“It [the niqab] is a blatant reminder of how some men view women as a possession,” Eiynah writes, “something to be hidden away from public gaze and ‘kept’ for their sole enjoyment. That is the niqab’s only purpose.”
Eiynah goes on to describe women in Saudi Arabia being caned for a single strand of hair falling out of their niqabs. What must be made clear is that, for many women who wear the niqab, noting the difference from the hijab, they have zero choice about what they wear. The choice was made for them by parents and husbands. According to Eiynah, some women are threatened with torture for failing to completely cover their face and asks how any western woman who considers herself a feminist could somehow twist the niqab practice into one that is actually about a woman’s choice. Even if a woman wearing the niqab states that she wears one out of choice — how can this be true if there is a threat of physical torture for not wearing it? What else could a woman, or any person, in such a situation say?
By contrast, Zunera Ishaq felt so strongly about wearing the niqab during her Canadian citizenship oath-taking ceremony that she went to court to uphold what she feels is her religious right, as reported by the CBC. Is it possible that she is somehow marginalizing herself? While Zunera Ishaq at least appears to have a public voice, Eiynah is certain that many Muslin women do not, and a great deal of evidence would seem to back her up.
“Now I am going to be the Canadian citizen,” Zunera Ishaq stated after the court ruled in her favor, “and I will be enjoying the full rights in Canada as well, so very lucky for me.”
Eiynah takes particular issue with western woman and men taking to social media and making comparisons between the niqab and their fashions, surgical masks, or any other garment worn for any other reason than what she sees as the niqab’s sole purpose — to “hide women away.”
On this issue, though she does not support him or the Conservative government in general, Eiynah fully supports Prime Minster Harper’s conviction that the niqab should be removed at the public portion of citizenship ceremonies, finding herself, infuriatingly for her, at odds with feminists who don’t seem to fully understand the issue.
Can’t Muslim women who disagree with what some Muslims appear to feel are the basic tenets of Islam simply convert to Christianity or agnostism? While some may have that freedom, there is definitely a group who do not. The “honor killing” of 30-year-old Texan Gelareh Bagherzadeh is just one example out of many that would seem to illustrate this. And while some Muslims, one would hope a majority, would find this outcome abhorrent, there is obviously a subset who do not.
On September 15, the Canadian federal government lost its appeal on a ruling that struck down the ban wearing the niqab during citizenship oath-taking, with Zunera Ishaq seemingly benefiting. Prime Minister Harper declared that he and the Conservative government would fight the ruling with every avenue available, reports the CBC.
What is interesting about Harper’s move is that while he believes that Muslim women’s faces should be seen at citizenship oath-taking ceremonies, he does not appear to believe that this extension of women’s rights should continue so far as to encouraging woman, such as Canadian Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May, to take part in national debates, of which she has been excluded, as reported by the Inquisitir. By contrast, Canadian Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, has lamented the exclusion of Elizabeth May from the national debates, as reported by the CBC.
This has led to the current situation, where the Canadian Conservative Party, perhaps feeling like it has egg on its face, is making moves to start a #BarbaricCulturalPractices tip line, as reported by CTV. What this tip line will accomplish above regular emergency lines is unclear. One would hope that any Canadian who was witness to a criminal act against anyone would call 911. Wearing the niqab is not illegal, and likely never will be. Other than wearing the niqab, what cultural practices could be described as so barbaric that a special tip line with the RCMP is called-for?
Further, seemingly guided by hatred, bigotry, misunderstanding, or possibly a combination of all three, incidents of Canadians lashing-out against Muslims, in outright criminal acts, continue to make headlines and are reportedly on the rise. Earlier this week a hijab-wearing, pregnant Muslim woman was knocked to the ground by a group of teens in Montreal, who then tore the garment from her head, reports the Globe and Mail. Perhaps this is this sort of “barbaric cultural practice” to which the Conservatives refer.
The niqab issue, and those seemingly associated with it, such as “honor killings,” are challenging to understand. Many Westerners don’t appear to the have the time or the willingness to examine the situation with the rigor it deserves. Lashing-out at an innocent woman for wearing a hijab, niqab, or any other garment would seem moronic — just as much as caning an innocent women for a strand of hair falling out place or killing an innocent woman for a desire to convert to another religion, would appear to be.
Perhaps the most tragic part of this situation is that Muslim women are the ones who are taking it on the chin, to perhaps understate the issue, while Westerners jump on the issue in seemingly shallow moves to advance their own agendas.
[Niqab Photo by Michele Mossop / Getty Images — Hijab Photo by Robertus Pudyanto / Getty Images — Niqab Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images — Stephen Harper Meme Courtesy Conservative Party of Canada / Facebook]