It’s an extremely controversial topic, in fact, it’s so controversial I wasn’t even sure I should write about it. Nonetheless, when separated from symbolism, this topic, which is so controversial, is literally about a piece of cloth. How is it possible that any fabric could carry so much weight that it causes inflamed international, political and social dispute? Apparently it is completely possible when this fabric is named burqa or niqab.
The issue of the niqab and the burqa has made its way up to the top political realms in Canada, apparently becoming a pivotal point in Canada’s very recent election. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Canadian politics because I’m busy trying to figure out US politics. However, their national debate about the burqa seeped into international news, onto the front page of my Flipboard magazine.
The controversy flourished when some conservatives openly expressed their support for banning the niqab and/or burqa during one’s citizenship ceremony. Those opposed to the ban perceive it as a violation of religious freedom. Those in favor of the ban describe the burqa or niqab as a violation of Canadian culture. It seems that the overall rhetorical presentation of the ban rooted in cultural clashing rather than logic. Pollster, Curtis Brown states in an article by Holly Caruk in CBC News, But I think [support for the ban] ended up coming back to bite them [the supporters], because a lot of people didn’t like what they did and [didn’t] like the tone that the campaign was going in.
Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association explains the tone, It was small in the sense that it was just two women we were talking about, but it was large in the sense because it was symbolic. Pointing to Islamophobia, pointing to the extent divisive politics was going (Caruk, CBC).
She seems to be right on track when you hear what the recently turned ex-prime minister, Stephen Harper said, When we join the Canadian family, we should not hide our identity. Never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she’s a woman (Joshi, Huff Post). I definitely sense a tone of cultural exclusivity in his statement.
And it doesn’t help when newly elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau, tells a sentimental story in his victory speech, [A Muslim mother] said she’s voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and that her government will protect those rights (Joshi, Huff Post).
If I were a Canadian hearing all the rhetoric being associated with this particular fabric, rhetoric like “Islamophobia,” “protect those rights” or “violation of religious freedoms,” I would vote for Trudeau too. All the same, I am not a citizen of Canada; I’m an outsider looking in, disconnected from any cultural or patriotic emotions. When I came across the news of this debate online, I found that I was for the ban. But how can I be in favor of such a policy? I’m for religious freedom; I am not an Islamophobe, and I definitely don’t want to make any woman’s life harder than it already is.
Regardless of what I want, logic should take center stage. However, this political controversy drips with emotion from the perspectives of both parties. While Trudeau claims that Harper exploits fear as a strategy and that Harper demonizes those different than the majority (which Harper did actually sort of seem to do), Trudeau fails to see that he also employs the use of fear just as strategically as his opponent, Harper.
Trudeau himself revealed his propagation of fear during a speech he made in March, One of the fears I have is that we have a government that is stoking fears and fomenting anxiety around Muslim Canadians by conflating fears about terrorism with fears about people who look different or sound different…Fear is a dangerous thing. Once it is sanctioned by the state there is no telling where it might lead… (Cole, vice). Trudeau paints a scary picture–who knows where this ban could take Canada? They could lose their religious rights. Or, worse, all their rights?
I’ll place a spotlight on Trudeau’s fear mongering language, “One of the fears I have is…a government that is stoking fear…” So, Trudeau is scared that Harper is scaring people, yet Trudeau himself is also scaring people.
As far as I can read, what they both have to say scares the hell out of me anyway.
I haven’t read anything about the burqa’s conflict with fingerprinting. Many burqas require wearing gloves. Are fingerprints taken with the burqa gloves on? The question seems absurd. Without subjectivity, the process of fingerprinting with gloves on parallels in logic to the process of clearly witnessing (aka seeing and hearing) a new citizen make a sworn promise of her identity as well as her allegiance with her face covered and her voice slightly muffled.
When the burqa is separated from the promotional tactic of fear, it once again sits quietly, a powerless piece of cloth laid delicately over a hidden face. And once I choose to ignore my personal feelings about a niqab or a burqa (after all, should personal emotions like fear influence policy-making?), it seems most logical that any cloak of identity be removed during a process of citizenship, for the purposes of cataloguing an individual’s sworn oath/testimony.
Perhaps if Canada’s politicians had taken a more objective approach to the issue (one that separates religion from the state’s dictum), the opportunity to carefully ensure not only accurate records of its citizens but also a streamlined and uniform process for citizenship would not have been missed. Additionally, Canada’s voters could have been spared the drama and stress affiliated with irrelevant “what ifs.”
Where do you think the burqa or the niqab stand in the course of policy-making? Should religions, emotions and hypotheticals be involved? Please comment below!
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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