Saturday, October 03, 2015
Reluctant Religious Freedom
I don't like the niqab. In fact, it gives me the creeps. To me it represents the oppression of women, and it goes against everything I believe about equality between men and women. In one congregation I supported a woman who married a Muslim man and was required to wear the niqab. The experience of her marriage was unhappy, violent, and resulted in divorce. I would be appalled if either of our daughters announced that she was going to wear one.
All that said, I can't claim to know a lot about the niqab, although I have listened to articulate Muslim women argue that this is a cultural practice rather than religious, and that they oppose it. Some women are convinced that this is an aspect of their religious life, just the same.
And I am uncomfortable that wearing the niqab for citizenship ceremonies has become a political issue in this Canadian federal election and may sway voters. I wonder whether this is a "veiled" anti-Islamic debate rather than a serious concern about what happens in the ceremonies. I mean, really, would there be more than a handful of instances in the course of the year? Why has this taken on such significance? And it seems that every nasty racist internet troll is gleefully using this as an opportunity to vilify Muslims.
A recent 31-page ruling by a federal judge says that any effort to ban the niqab is a non-starter under the rule of law. Here is the way the CBC reports the ruling:
Justice Keith M. Boswell crisply summarizes the complaint by Zunera Ishaq, the Pakistani-born woman who challenged the prohibition, and the counter-arguments of federal lawyers (who at one point rather haplessly tried to argue the ministerial directive wasn't really a ban, just a suggestion.) Boswell then ruled that wearing a niqab does not interfere in any substantive way with taking the oath, and that the minister of immigration does not, in any event, have the authority to summarily forbid wearing one.
As you would expect from a judge at Boswell's level, his ruling was antiseptic, almost surgical. He is uninterested in why Ishaq interprets her religion as an obligation to keep her face covered in public; it is enough that she does, in the same way that ultra-Orthodox Jews feel obliged to wear black hats and side curls, or some Roman Catholics feel compelled to walk around with crosses daubed on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
Religious freedom is protected by law in Canada. I might not like aspects of that protection, and have fundamental disagreements with the practices of other religions and cultures, but as a Canadian Christian I sure want my religious practices to be respected and upheld. Enough already. The party leaders need to address more substantive issues. Wouldn't it have been meaningful if they had declared together that they would not debate this, despite their differences, because of the potential for racist and anti-religious rhetoric?