Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Niqab: Quebec/Canada's "Two Solitudes" and "medieval kingdoms like Saudi Arabia"

Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

Hugh MacLennan's novel Two Solitudes (1945) is a landmark description of the divide--linguistic, cultural, social, and political--between Canada's two founding national heritages, English and French. A Montreal novelist, and Professor of  English Literature at McGill University, MacLennan captured well the di-cultural community relations of his time, in an allegory that holds somewhat true at all times in our bi-national state.

In a March 13, 2010 article in Canada's largest daily Anglophone paper The Globe and Mail, controversial, conservative, and American born Margaret Wente reprises the metaphor to describe the responses to Naema Ahmed's niqab problems in a Quebec/Canadian government run French as a Second Language (FSL) course for new immigrants: "Two solitudes and the niqab: There's a French version and an English version to this story – and they're completely different". Wente accurately describes the divide on the issue as portrayed in the French language press, and in the English language one, which is now just catching up.

As if to prove the point about Anglophone vs Francophone, rather than Quebec vs Canada,  the major Quebec English daily The Montreal Gazette sarcastically headlines their take on the topic Just What Quebec Needs: A Dress Code

The article continues with analogies to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan :
Dress codes for women are something we associate with medieval kingdoms like Saudi Arabia, and throwing women out of school because their behaviour violates fuzzy societal values sounds like something that happens in the wilder reaches of Kandahar.
In fact, the case concerns a 29-year-old Egyptian pharmacist and married mother of 3, who is a new immigrant  to Quebec/Canada (Quebec is the only province which supervises and administers its own immigration program). Naima/Naema Ahmed normally wears a niqab, and wore it to her Quebec and Canadian government sponsored FSL classes at a CEGEP (a school that normally offers a combination last 2 years of high school and first year of  college/university). She was asked repeatedly to remove the niqab so that the instructor could see her mouth to correct her French language  pronunciation (this type of correction often involves observing where the student places tongue, teeth, and the shapes made by the lips to give alternatives that will result in the appropriate sounds coming out).  She was reluctant, initially agreed to do so in the presence of a female teacher only, then was allowed to give her obligatory class presentation while facing away from the class. However, she then requested that the men in the class face away as she did. There was a sense that her complaints and requests for accommodation created undue stress in the learning environment. Apparently immigration officials were called by a teacher (not hers) who saw her with her niqab on  in the hallways of  the GEGEP, and had her removed from a classroom for wearing it. She has launched a human rights complaint.  She is particularly concerned as she needs adequate French to be licensed as a pharmacist in Canada, and feels she was not offered reasonable accommodation for what is for her a religious requirement. She also denies that she was the problem in the situation.

A review of the Canadian English language press on this case reveals a microcosm of Canadian regional politics. Over all, the nation is dismayed and unwilling to follow Quebec on this (at least officially), according to the Canadian Press--"Other provinces leery about withholding public services due to religious garb":
In the struggle to integrate newcomers to Canada, Quebec has distanced itself from other provinces with its hardline stand against religious face coverings, which is likely to earn it a reputation as either a far-sighted pioneer or intolerant loner.
Provincial governments in the rest of the country appear leery about setting rules imiting access to public services for people who wear certain forms of religious attire, as Quebec did earlier this week.
Immigration Department officials in the province expelled a Muslim woman from government-sponsored language classes after she refused to remove her niqab, a Muslim face covering that reveals only the eyes.
The Toronto Star repeats the superiority of all things Toronto, "A Muslim veil roils Quebec":
A baby born in Toronto or its suburbs today will attend grade school in a region where the white population is in the minority, Statistics Canada reports. We are fast becoming a global community that glories in its diversity, vibrancy and cultural riches. The world is us.

That makes it all the more painful to watch the fuss that is playing out in Quebec over Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa that veil their faces and bodies. While a tiny minority dresses this way, those who do draw a disproportionate – and unjustifiable – share of intolerant attention.

In a Keystone Kops spectacle that should make Canadians cringe, a Quebec "francization" official chased down Naema Ahmed as she wrote a French exam in a Montreal immigrant centre on Tuesday and told her to remove her veil or leave. She left, in tears.
The Winnipeg Free Press, the newspaper of one of Canada's most historically activist cities, opines in  Competing Rights:
THERE are many explanations being offered up in the controversy over the banning of a Muslim woman wearing her religious headgear from a Quebec government language classroom. The one that can be dismissed outright is that Naema Ahmed was kicked out of class because she refused to remove her full veil, preventing her teacher from watching her pronounce words.
The ban on "pedagogical" principles is laughable; the Montrealer was told that now she can follow lessons online. Perfecting pronunciation in the cyber-world happens magically, it seems.
The only reason Ms. Ahmed was set upon by provincial officials -- a teacher noticed her, cloaked in her niqab, in the hallway and made the call -- is because there is an ardent campaign among some groups in that province to rid public life of face veils -- "ambulatory prisons," as Quebec's minister for the status of women, Christine St-Pierre, said. In Canada, immigrants have to look more Canadian, is the demand.
In this heady brew of immigrants, it would be difficult to define precisely what a Canadian looks like. Quebec has no law banning the niqab or burqa, but many in Quebec have agitated for one. Many and maybe most people raised in a liberal-democratic society understandably regard a religious or cultural precept for women to cover up as offensive to the ideal of equality. But if a woman cannot have the freedom to choose what she wears, the protections for individual rights within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ring hollow, indeed.
Calgary Herald: A child waves a flag at Quebec's Fete Nationale
--photo accompanying the article linked below

In Alberta, a conservative and Conservative province, where it seems that, at least unofficially, the preference is to attack Quebec for everything and hope they separate, Naomi Likritz of  The Calgary Herald waxes indignant, "Lakritz: La belle province shows ugly side to minorities":
What part of the word "freedom" does Quebec not understand? Two news stories this week should leave the rest of Canada scratching its head over just how clear la belle province is on the concept.
In the first incident, an Egyptian immigrant named Naema Ahmed was tossed out of a French class for newcomers to the province because she was wearing a niqab, a veil that leaves only the eyes exposed. One of the recommendations that came out of the Bouchard-Taylor commission in 2008 on religious and minority accommodation was that judges, Crown attorneys, police and jail guards not be allowed to wear religious symbols. Ahmed is none of those. She was a student at Montreal's Cegep St-Laurent. In fact, the commission recommended that students be permitted to wear hijabs, kippahs, turbans, etc. in class if they want to, something that is already happening because in Canada, one is free to dress as one pleases. Regardless, none of these taboos are enshrined in law -- yet.
The niqab is not a religious symbol, but a tribal one, and to western cultures it represents the subsuming of a woman's identity to patriarchal dictates. Here in Canada, we don't think women should cover their faces. And we think immigrant women need to realize this. [...]
Where Quebec errs in its obsession about minorities is in thinking it has a right to tell people what to wear. [...]
Westernization can't be forced on an immigrant from the outside. It has to take root and grow, like new tendrils appearing on a vine and reaching out in different directions; it's an evolutionary process, not a sudden metamorphosis. Ahmed was initiating it herself by learning French.
In another bizarre spasm of minority-phobia, the Quebec government announced that 20 government-subsidized day-care centres will be banned from offering religious instruction. One is an Islamic-run centre in Laval, and another is Montreal's Beth Rivkah day care, where, according to its website, the children's "activities are driven by the spirit of Torah and the Jewish tradition." [...]
In the late 19th century, brochures were circulated in Europe advertising for immigrants to Canada and extolling the beauties and prosperity of this country. Maybe new brochures should be circulated -- warning people to stay away from Quebec, which is fast becoming the most hostile province in Canada for anyone of a minority culture or religion.

Always eager to draw attention from their big neighbour the United States, this time Canadians have been gratified in style, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,"Muslim woman expelled from school in veil dispute", which was picked up by the Huffington Post:
A Muslim woman has filed a human rights complaint after she was expelled from a Canadian college for refusing to remove her face veil.
The Egyptian-born woman, who is a permanent resident of Canada, was enrolled in a government-sponsored French language class for new immigrants in Montreal, Quebec.
The school, CGEP St. Laurent, expelled her last November after she refused to remove her niqab, a veil that covers the face with only a slit for the eyes.
The school argued that the niqab interfered with the language teaching, since part of the class involves proper elocution and seeing how a person pronounces words in French.
"For the teacher, it was more difficult to hear her, and it was more difficult for all the people to understand what she had to say," said the school's director, Paul-mile Bourque.
School officials said they had tried different ways of accommodating the woman between February and November 2009. She had previously asked that male students in the class not face her, so school officials allowed her to give an oral presentation at the far end of the classroom with her back turned to the other students.
The order to remove her niqab came after officials from Quebec's immigration ministry visited the class. She was told she could take the class on the Internet.
The woman, identified only as Naema, told Canada's CBC News that she wants to learn French so that she can work as a pharmacist. She has filed a complaint with Quebec's Human Rights Commission, saying that her freedom of religion was violated.
Elsewhere in Canada, an Ontario court in 2009 ordered an alleged sexual assault victim to remove her niqab to testify in court against two men accused of assaulting her. The woman appealed the order and is awaiting a new hearing into the matter.
AFP photo accompanying Journal de Montréal article giving Naima Ahmed her say

While much was being said about her, Ms Ahmed was finally given a chance to express her own view of the situation, by reporter Omar El Akkad of  The Globe and Mail, "Woman shocked by portrayal as hard-line Islamist":
When Naima Ahmed went to college in Egypt to study pharmacy, she took courses alongside men and women. When she dispensed medication, she dealt with men and women.
So it came as a shock to the 29-year-old immigrant to find herself portrayed this week as a hard-line Islamist who forces men to look away when she gives presentations.
"I'm just like any other person," Ms. Ahmed said in an interview with The Globe and Mail yesterday, speaking in her native Arabic tongue. "The only difference is that I wear a veil over my face. It doesn't mean I'm wearing a veil over my mind." [...]
The incident began when school officials demanded Ms. Ahmed remove her niqab - the full veil some Muslim women wear. According to school officials, it's impossible to critique French pronunciation correctly without viewing a person's mouth.
But what Ms. Ahmed initially thought would be a confidential human-rights complaint quickly became the subject of a media firestorm that gave voice to accusations she refused to work with men and gave presentations with her back to the rest of the classroom.
Ms. Ahmed said that is simply not true.
"This is the first time I felt racism [in Canada]," she said of her experience at the CEGEP, adding that she believes school officials were out to remove her from the beginning. "I went to many places previously where there were no issues - when I went for my driving test nobody told me you can't drive with a niqab."
She added that in her part-time French course prior to the CEGEP class - and in a subsequent class elsewhere - she encountered no issues. [...]
"[The teacher] said either you take off the niqab, or I'll make the two men face the wall," Ms. Ahmed said.
As a compromise, she raised her niqab but turned away from the edge of the U-shaped classroom seating arrangement, where the two men sat.
Ms. Ahmed said she had no issue taking off her veil when being photographed for her school ID by a female staff member, nor did she have any problem working in groups with the men or participating in other class projects.
"As long as I had the niqab on it made no difference to me," she said.
"If I didn't want to interact, I would have stayed at home."

Mais, qu'est-ce que l'on dit chez l'autre solitude? In the other solitude, the Francophone press, the story is indeed somewhat (beaucoup) different. One major daily Le Journal de Montréal featured the story at each phase of the student being expelled from class: "MONTRÉAL Expulsée d'une classe à cause de son voile"; "COURS DE FRANCISATION L'étudiante au niqab de nouveau expulsée". It emphasized the absolute interdiction of wearing the niqab in the classroom, and yet signaled that this was a highly unusual circumstance, in fact it had never occurred before. The same daily did give her a chance to present her side of the story, "EXPULSÉE À CAUSE DE SON NIQAB La jeune femme donne sa version des faits", which reiterates essentially the same viewpoint as the English language article. However it adds that the founder of the intercultural mediation group Al-Arabiya, Souad Bounakhla, insists Naima Ahmed cannot be forced to remove the niqab in the class room, while the president of the Quebec teachers' union, Luc Perron, insists the niqab should not be allowed, and is happy the Quebec government will be forced to rule on it.

Le Journal de Montréal, photo of Naima Ahmed accompanying the final article on her being evicted from the classroom

The major daily La Presse had a number of articles on Quebec values and the niqab, "Voile et valeurs", an interview with Quebec immigration and cultural communities minister, African-Quebecker Yolande James, "Entrevue avec Yolande James: en quête de balises", and in French except for the title: "«The Globe», reporting from Mars!" about The Globe and Mail's coverage of the story.

Many are angry at The Globe and Mail for its Taliban analogy in its main editorial, Intolerant Intrusion,  including the prestigious Le Devoir, "Le Québec et le niqab--Comme des talibans?" which also cites the unanimous approval of the Quebec government actions by the French language press, and the far right  National Post's break with the rest of the Anglophone press in its approval of the Quebec government, "A tale of  two burkas". It goes further to support the National Post's argument that some religious accommodations are illegal, like genital excision and honour killings, and so should be asking men in a class to turn the other way when a woman removes her niqab at the request of the instructor.

The story also made the French newspapers, including Le Figaro (right wing), without overt commentary, "Canada: en niqab, elle est renvoyée". However, Le Monde (centre left wing) ends with the Quebec teachers' union's call for a France-style law enforcing  la laïcité, essentially the ban on religion and religious symbols in public institutions, including schools: "Canada : une musulmane portant le niqab expulsée d'un cours de français".

Returning to the Canadian media, this 5 minute CBC television interview, with a Canadian journalist and self-described feminist, manages to offend, in my opinion, on many fronts: feminism, ethnicity, acculturation by immigrants, accomodation of immigrants, and of course ever so politely justified Islamophobia. It repeats the projected impression that people have that someone wearing a niqab is essentially telling others they are immodest, just by the fact of wearing the niqab.


The National Post-- which is the far right of centre major Canadian Anglophone newspaper which supports the Quebec government against Naima Ahmed's request to study with her niqab on--has published an article on another move by the Quebec government to reduce accommodations for women wearing a niqab or a burqa, "Muslims seeking female clerk can ‘line up again’". This one affects the ability to obtain the provincial government health care insurance card providing free care to all legal residents of Quebec. It makes it harder to be photographed by a woman, and has an element of "shunning", by requiring that the Muslimah's who wish to wait for that to be arranged, return to the back of the line. The article also summarizes well the issues in Quebec with accommodation of Muslims over the last few years, while acknowledging in passing that only a very small minority of Quebec's Muslims wear a face veil, and there have been very few incidents of demands of accommodation beyond what is routinely in place. There is however a movement among Quebec intellectuals and academics to support a secularization of the province which is similar to the French law of laicity, and attempts to "ban the burqa". The full article, and the linked ones in the side bar address these. Some excerpts of the main article follow:
"If you want to integrate into Quebec society, here are our values," Immigration Minister Yolande James told reporters last week. "We want to see your face." Ms. Ahmed has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
After the health-insurance board sought its expertise on the niqab issue, the rights commission published its opinion on Monday that requiring a veiled woman to briefly expose her face to a male employee is not a significant breach of her rights.
In 2008-09, 10 people out of the 118,000 using the health-insurance board's Montreal service centre had, for religious reasons, requested to be served by a woman. No such requests were made in its other centre in Quebec City. The centres process applications for new health cards, which require a photograph.
The commission reasoned that a woman would only have to remove her veil briefly for purposes of identification. It drew a distinction with people who for religious reasons ask that a driving test be given by a member of the same sex. In an earlier opinion, the commission said the province should accommodate such requests because the person is in a confined space with a member of the opposite sex for nearly an hour.
The new Quebec policy is at odds with practices for health-card applications in Ontario, where women are served by female employees if their religious beliefs require. The Ontario government has also established procedures to allow identity photos to be taken in private, if requested.[...]
Three years ago, Quebec media were filled with reports of perceived threats to mainstream Quebec values -- for example, a sugar shack that prepared a pork-free menu for Muslims and a gym that frosted its windows so young Hasidic men in a school next door would not be distracted by exercising women. In 2007, Premier Jean Charest appointed two respected thinkers -- Charles Taylor and Gérard Bouchard -- to study the question.
The Bouchard-Taylor commission's hearings and 2008 final report calmed things down for a time, but Mr. Charest's government failed to act on most of the commission's key recommendations.
An example of the government's skittishness on the question came last week when Family Minister Tony Tomassi said he had no objection to allowing religious instruction in government-subsidized daycares operated by Islamic and Jewish groups. The next day, faced with loud opposition, he reversed his position and said religious teaching would not be tolerated.

What is your opinion?
Is is possible to learn a foreign language correctly while wearing a niqab?
Is this much ado about nothing, or a serious test of the Canadian Charter pf Rights and Freedoms?
Is this about language learning, Quebec or Canadian identity, religion, or playing politics?
Do the Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan analogies hold true for women wearing the niqab in the West, or the governments trying to stop them from doing so?
Is wearing a niqab or requesting men to avert their gaze on par with female genital excision, honour killings, or child marriages, all of which are illegal in Canada?
If you are Canadian, or have Canadian connections of any sort, what do you make of regional differences on such issues?
What associations do each of the 2 pictures of Naima Ahmed with a niqab evoke? What do you make of the contrast between pictures (each were in the same newspaper on different days accompanying different articles)?
What differences do you see between the reported version of the case, and the reports of Ms Ahmed's version? Which do you find more plausible?
What is your impression of  the video?
What is your impression of the new issue of photographs for health care cards? Of the other accommodation issues addressed in the recent article in the Addendum above?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Countrygirl said...

IMHO they were right to expell her...I mean how the teacher can correct if she/he can't see your mouth? Why the teacher should make exeptions for her (changing the classroom arrangement or requesting a female teacher)

When a woman wear a Nijab/Burka in western countries she is more don't jump on women only because they don't wear a veil.

I totally agree with what is said in the video....A nijab/burka is a barrier to integration and I'm wondering the Egyptina woman want to become a farmacist in Canada but which drug store would employ her if she wear a nijab?

I'm totally for the banning of nijab/burka for seveal reason. Security, health for the women (it's a known fact that women who wear nijab lacks of vitamin D), integration: how can you integrate if you put a barrier between yuou and the others (here in the west we are used to speak face to face and not to a "ghost").

If the daughters of those nijab wearing women won't want to wear the veil will be able to?

If she wants to wear the nijab why didm't she emigrate to another muslim country?

ellen557 said...

I honestly think that any country/institution who bans niqab or hijab is at the same level as KSA. It's the same as forcing someone to wear it.

I know that for me, trying to learn spoken Arabic wasn't hindered by niqab when I wore it overseas. But it does seem to me that if the student offered to remove it and made do with it in her own way then by going further the school obviously had some agenda.

As for whether niqab is on par with FGM or honour killings... wow lol. I don't believe it is, no. Niqab is a piece of material and *if* it is being worn by choice then what is the issue with a woman expressing her freedom of choice?

This is a great post, though. I always love the questions you ask.

Susanne said...

What an interesting story! The video brought several things to mind. It seems the lady interviewed dislikes the niqab mostly for what it symbolizes to her. It's a prison for women, it keeps her separated and back in the "old country" instead of moving forward and integrating. It means she ("feminist" lady) is immodestly dressed, it means men cannot control themselves if they see niqabi's face. Her children will be embarrassed one day and so forth.

It's true that when I'm around a group that is more modestly dressed than I that I feel a bit self-conscious at times. I've caught myself more than once trying to make my shorts a little longer and in Syria I caught myself wearing longer shirts when I noticed most women covered their rear ends. But at the same time, a niqabi is so exceptionally modest especially by our standards that I wouldn't feel I had to live up to her standards of modesty at all. I'd be respectful to her and wish for a chance to speak with her, but I don't think I'd feel I am naked compared to her. :)

For the sake of personal freedoms, I don't think the government should dictate dress codes, however, I know public schools often do have dress codes and I've not minded that. I know there are certain things that are offensive to many so schools ban them (e.g. clothes with Confederate flags). Also certain colors and items of clothing are banned since gangs are associated with those particular things. Some schools have even gone to uniforms or a narrow selection of appropriate clothes from which students must wear (e.g., collared shirts, tan and navy slacks only). So I can see where a school could have a dress code banning the niqab. I'm not so bothered by that, however, as I am by the reported (IF they are true) demands this woman made -- asking the men to turn their heads? having to give her report while standing backward? requiring a female teacher? I'm sorry, but you don't go to another country and start making demands on how they can accommodate YOU. If she really wanted to learn French on HER terms, she should have hired a female tutor.

I would hope I'd never go live in a foreign land that welcomed me and then start demanding things they could do for me and change for my sake.

So for me the niqab isn't so much the issue as the woman coming to Canada and expecting everyone to cater to her wishes. I feel people who do this only create hard feelings and they put up walls between themselves and most of society. I understand and respect that for her this is religious and she feels it's necessary to please Allah, but she doesn't give a good impression of herself and what she represents when she starts making demands. (Again only IF she truly did this. I didn't read the newspaper articles. Only your post and I did see the short video.)

I want her to have good experiences and be welcomed in her new country. I don't know if this is the right way to go about creating that. But maybe she is fine always being on the outside of Canadian culture (whatever that is). I know one blogger I read says when she sees women with their faces covered, she assumes they don't want to talk so she doesn't bother striking up conversations with them. Hopefully this Egyptian lady has friends in her life so she won't be lonely in a new country.

coolred38 said...

She has the right to wear her niqab for sure...but not the right to disrupt the class in anyway to accomodate her "differences" unless that was a physical disability etc.

Im not sure how easy it would be to learn a foreign language if the teacher cant see to correct your mistakes etc but if the woman clearly didnt see it as a hindrance...or accepted the fact that she might not learn as well that way...then why worry whether she is learning properly or not? She accepts her "physical limitation" wearing the niqab might present so let her get on with it.

As far as asking men to turn away or turning herself away...I find that insulting to the men and worthy of a lower score on her part. A presentation is something you do in front of the class in full view of everyone so your skills etc can be critiqued. Not turned away in the corner or whatever. Thats just my opinion tho.

Jay Kactuz said...

1. Can one learn a foreign language wearing a niqab? Yes! of course
2. Is this a issue? Yes, and it transcends the CCRF.
3. It is about language, identity, religion, or politics? It is religion mixed with politics.
4. Do the Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan analogies hold? That is an asinine statement.
5. Is wearing a niqab on a par with fgm, killings, or child marriages. Yes, it is a form of servitude. It is an expression of inferiority.
6. What do you make of regional differences? Quebec always wants to make a “we are different“ statement.
7. What do the pictures of the niqab evoke? They are a statement that the lady does not respect Western culture. It tells me that her values are not those of the Enlightenment, that she does not believe in free speech or freedom of religion or in equality. It tells me that she believes some actions are immoral for others but just fine for Muslims.
8. What do you make of the contrast between pictures? Absolutely nothing.
9. What differences do you see between the 2 versions? A mere matter of interpretation. The facts are not too far apart.
10. What is your impression of the video? Didn’t watch it.
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?
a. This is a typical example of a Muslim that wants others to respect her, but sees deference as a one-way street. Her clothes are a statement that she rejects Canadians and their values. This is what we get when Muslims come to live among those evil infidels.
b. More importantly, there are certainly some women forced to wear Islamic dress against their will. If we cede to Naema’s paroxysms then we would be complacent in the suffering and servitude of others who have no choice. We would be endorsing the discrimination and degradation of women.

So she yells racism, even when race is not an issue. Perhaps someone who cannot tell the difference between race and religion can’t be trusted to know the difference between acetaminophen and methootrexate.

It is obvious that this poor, saintly persecuted woman has no place among those evil infidels. If she wants to wear a blanket and feel good about Islam, she should go back to Egypt (not that they allow this either) or some other Muslim country where they really respect women and human rights.

ellen557 said...

Countrygirl - I don't see how it creates a barrier for communication. I assume you would have no problem making a conversation with someone who was still wearing a motorcycle helmet? Or even wearing a medical mask? I don't see the difference between a niqab and these objects. Why don't you try to have a chat with a niqab wearing woman and see for yourself? I know that sounds rude and forgive me if it does to you but many people say these things and yet have never spoken with a niqabi in their life!

I don't think you can make sweeping generalisations about "the west" either. I live in the West too and in my area, niqab does not mean a woman is a "ghost" and most people have no issue with it.

Also, the vitamin D argument has nothing to do with niqab. Here in my country we are advised that 10 mins of sunlight a day is sufficient for vitamin D - that doesn't even mean walking around your neighbourhood to get it. One can stand in front of a window or go into their backyard. I don't think the "health" issues of niqab are valid at all and as such they shouldn't be a part of anyone's argument.

And she shouldn't have to move to a Muslim country to wear niqab, just as a woman from a Muslim country shouldn't have to move to a different country so she can wear what she likes.

I guess my point is that if she offered to make her *own* adjustments and put herself out there to make the teacher comfortable with teaching her the language, then what on earth is the issue? If it's to do with clothing - then, ok. Surely then one also agrees then with the Saudi system where all women must wear abayas outside? Because that's following the same thing - forcing women to wear something is exactly the same as forcing a woman NOT to wear something. Both are paternalistic and destroy freedom of choice.

Qusay said...

This is a very touchy subject in any country in the world, and you already know what I think about it from my post last year about sarkozy and burkas.

Having said that, I think the woman that reported her, was projecting her hate and was prejudice, had the class showed its dismay, which I think that they did not, they were all learning French for immigrants I think, so I assume they were from all around the world, and they came to Canada for a different life and a better future… the same as the European settlers did, and now many people around the world do.

Contrary to popular belief, leaving ones home country to better their economic status, is not the same as leaving everything behind and melting within the host society, imagine how boring that would be just trying to go out and have something to eat (no Italian food, no Chinese food, no Indian food, no Middle Eastern food) and that is just the epicurean side of it : What about no different kinds of music and art?!

Back to the woman, I personally do not think burkas are necessary, but who am I, and who is anyone to tell anybody how to dress, and what to think? Unless of course one thinks he/she are superior, otherwise everyone in North America should’ve lived like the native Americans, and South America should’ve assimilated into the Mayan and Aztec cultures… it was their land and culture after all.

oby said...

Part 1.

I have a multiple of feelings on this issue and sometimes it is very hard to separate it out.

There is the argument it is just a piece of cloth and should not be a barrier to other people when they live among groups that don't wear it. I personally find it AS distracting as someone wearing sunglasses inside a place there is no sun, a person wearing a motorcycle helmet when they are walking down the halls of a place once they have finished riding their motorcycle or a medical doctor in the grocery store with a medical mask on. Although all of those examples would be normal under certain circumstances they are not normal in society outside of the norm in which they are used. Similarly someone who might wear a banadana over their nose and mouth while working in a dusty area...if they went to the store or walked around like that outside of the context in which it was used they would certainly attract alot of attention and might actually be considered a threat because in the majority of societies it is not normal to walk around with your face covered. Would it not apply in the reverse? Someone who walked around naked would attract a lot of attention even though they might embrace the nudist lifestyle as their creed. They would be perfectly welcome in a nudist colony but running around outside of that is not OK. Society has to set some norms on what is OK dress and what is not. In our world, as a rule, people can't run around naked or with the seat of their pants cut out or in other ways that society deems over the top.(and thre should be a law against some of those and the way they dress in
Wal Mart LOL!) MOST, not all people, would find the niqabi outfit over the top and uncomfortable to them to see or worse interact with. On the other hand, if I were in Saudi Arabia I would NOT feel uncomfortable about it or my discomfort would be far less because that is the norm there...everyone wears it and it is fully accepted. Without it I would look weird and be stared at most likely.

One can say that people accept it but that is not the case. One might not SAY anything to a niqabi because they might not want to hurt them or offend, but they most likely are not OK with it. They find it offputting and I think even the most liberal of people would feel that way. IMO it is human nature to want to see who we are talking with and covering the face is associated with feelings of dishonesty, sneakiness, treachery etc. Before anyone jump and say that this is horrible, think about countries that do wear the niqab and how they feel about an unveiled woman. That conjures up feelings of sexual availability and looseness whether the woman is or not.

oby said...

Part 2.

I think it is wrong and foolhardy to look at either situation... wearing a niqab in a non niqab society and not wearing one in a society that racist or prejudice. One MUST take the norms of society into consideration when talking about these things. Religion can't be the banner under which all things are accepted nor can a "free" society be expected to accept everything under the banner of freedom...if we did, all the nudists of the world would be running round freely naked. But they don't...they adapt when they are among others who do not share their love of skin. If I were in a niqabi society I would have to adapt. When in Rome...

I think if the woman was making the demands of special treatment and that is a big IF...she should have hired a private tutor. Or found a class of Niqabi's who would be able to take class together. It is not right that she should make those demands and impose herself on the others in the classroom. It is not right to make the many adapt for the few. If everyone else was able to adapt to the requirements of a class she should too. How in the world is she going to expect to work among people in Quebec when she won't even manage herself in a French class. Most likely she will have to be someone's boss...she has to be able to communicate with men and women effectively. She needs to speak with the public...the fact she is not a native speaker is going to be difficult enough especially when you are dealing with things that are very specific such as medication. If her face is covered as well how well will she be able to be understood in a nonnative language? Hopefully, she will learn well enough so it isn't an issue.

Coolred is right that part of public speaking and presentation is the ability to hear your presentation and be critiqued.

countrygirl said...

@ Ellen I have a shop and one month ago a customer of mine entered with wearing a bike elment and even though i knew him I was ill at ease because i couln't see his face.

@Qusay granted if you emigrate in a foreign country you don't have to wipe out you entire culture/cousin whatever but YOU have to accomodate to the country and not the way around....this woman asked more rights compared to the other women in his class (SHE pretended a female teacher, SHE prentended that desks were rearranged), if I go to the hospital for an emergency I don't pretentend a female doctor but I'm pretty sure she would prentend a female one.

I still see a nijab as a barrier...that the women wearing it are saying I don't want to speak to an infidel. I still see a nijab as a security risk (I don't know who is under it) and it's creating problems...I mean the nijab wearing women wear it doesn't want to show her face to an unrelated man but what about if she stopped by a police MAN for whatever reason? she would pretend a police WOMAN so they could check her identity.

@ Ellen you said that "live in the West too and in my area, niqab does not mean a woman is a "ghost" and most people have no issue with it. " I'm wondering the "most people" are you talking about are muslim or whatever. I can assure you that here in Europe the majority part of the people want a banning of nijab/burka

Anonymous said...

An excellent post!

There was recently an uproar in France about the First Lady, Carla Bruni, wearing an 'immodest' dress. I'm speaking generally over here (and not about the specific scenario above), but what right does anyone have, to tell another person what they can and can't wear? If a woman decides to dress 'immodestly' (what does that mean anyway?) or wear a headscarf or a Niqaab, that is ultimately the decision of the person who's wearing it - no-one else's.

Having said that, the above example is more specific. It gets down to the question, is it necessary for a person to have their face uncovered, in order to effectively learn French? Maybe someone else can answer that question for me, but I wouldn't have thought so.

If the answer is yes, then the college is unjustified, but if the answer is no, then the woman should be allowed to wear the veil - simple!

Candice said...

I don't think it's unreasonable at all to ask her to remove the face veil or leave the class. Especially seeing as this is a full time French class paid 100% by the government (with them paying the students a certain amount in some cases)!
It's also an integration class, and niqab is not something we want as part of our society.

I think though, that it wouldn't be right to ban niqab from the province/country. Just like it's an institution's right to request someone dressed provocatively to put on something different, it is their right to ask someone with niqab to remove the face veil (because it is provocative in its own way) but it's not our place to tell her what to wear on the street.

Jay Kactuz said...


There are many more issues here - the language class is a minor one. This is about a person demanding special privileges.

The real questions are 1. what values do we want for our country, and 2. what does the niqab represent?

Any discussion about islamic coverings all boils down to those questions. I have made my position on this clear, so I won't bore you with the usual stuff.

She talks about discrimination and racism yet notice that she has no problem in wanting men to turn away as if they are evil or something and by their mere presence she is defiled.

Let me put it this way, the same arguments that are made for letting this woman cover up can be made for many other things related to islam: sharia law, polygamy, etc. Giving in only mean new demands tomorrow as we see in all places where Muslims have immigrated. For 350 years Canada has received immigrants; until recently none expected the people to bend backwards to accommodate them, their customs and beliefs.

Let me ask a simple question. Let us take two women: one, the above, who wears the covering because she wants to and another because she is forced to by her family. Do you agree that by letting this woman wear her covering you are cumplicit in the servitude of the other who has no choice?

Maybe such things are of no concern to you because this is about Islam - and Islam, by its own definition, requires a different set of values.

Chiara said...

These are all excellent comments and a very good dialogue. Please keep it going and I will comment more tomorrow.

Please note that there is an Addendum about another situation regarding photos for government provided health insurance.

I also found it interesting, yet others seem not to have remarked on it particularly, the way Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan were tossed into the reporting as if the analogies would hold true for Quebec or Canada. Also they were just barely accurately represented but with a negative and inaccurate tone. eg Saudi is a kingdom but not medieval, Kandahar is where Canadian troops have been fighting but is not all of Afghanistan.

Quebec because of its history of evolving from New France--conquered by the British, who guaranteed French language, Catholicism, and control over education ie French Catholic schools in the treaty, yet attempted deliberately to drown out the French people with British immigration (Lord Durham's report)--has particular issues regarding identity and religion.

Keep commenting!

Anonymous said...


Since when did asking to wear whatever you like, become a privilege? Photos for passports, driving licenses etc. are a different matter. Is it justified that Saudi Arabia tells Western tourists to cover up when they're in the country? They are two sides of the same coin.

The Niqab represents a lot of things. Just because you think it represents servitude doesn't make it so, nor does it mean everyone in the world agrees with you. Again, since when does asking for the right to wear whatever you want equal 'bending over backwards'?

The immigration issue also forgets an important fact - that many Niqaabi wearers in Western countries are actually native citizens of those countries. You'd have thought we were over the idea that everyone should look and dress within a certain social norm.

And no, I don't think woman one is culpable in the oppression of woman two. I'd say that denying woman one the right to wear a niqab is itself a form of oppression. Would it be justified if the government were to ban wife-beaters because they look 'thuggish'?

countrygirl said...

@Shafiq when someone wearing a njqab is asked a photo ID she must unveil to check is identity and she asked for a woman because she can't show herself to an unrelated men you are granting her more rights...the same happened with the woman of the article...the teacher granted her more rights compared to the other students (she PRETENDED a different arrangement of the classroom). When you emigrate to a foreign country you must understand that it's not the host country that must change its own rules for you.

Regarding the converted women that wears the nijab i've read some of their blogs and it seems that they gave completely forgotten that they were born in a western country with a western background, they hope a sharia country here in west, it seems that they can't use they head anymore (eg they ask in forum with which foot i must entere in an house, can I visit the tomb of a friend of mine).

You can't compare wife beaters with nijab they are like orange and apple. As a western woman i think that nijab is a form of oppression and I'm still wondering how many of the women that wears the nijab are wearing it freewilling or they were brainwashed in wearing it

Jay Kactuz said...

Yes, but the fact is that native-born Niqaabi wearers in Western countries are also making a statement that they too reject the traditional values of their societies and have opted to follow the values of Islam. They are often worse (more demanding) than immigrants.

This is not about dress, this is about the ideology that justifies the use of certain customs and the effect of those customs on others. That is the issue, not a silly piece of cloth.

It is strange that you, a Muslim, use words like "You'd have thought we were over the idea that everyone should look and dress within a certain social norm" when Muslim societies are the ones that make this norm a big "moral" issue. Note that I emphasize the word ‘moral’ because what a woman wears is a marginal aspect of integrity and must be considered when other factors that more than negate any morality associated with a covering. I say that knowing that I can easily make those words stick, at least in the case of Muslimahs.

As I have said, right behind the veil, only 10 feet behind, come demands for sharia law, halal foods, respect for Muslims' 'feelings' and 1000 other demands that impose an inconvenience and limitation on non-Muslims (this is called proto-dhimmitude, a concept I just made up!). Muslims cannot live among non-Muslims in numbers and not impose changes, for the worst, always.

Once again you have posted a very good response, Shafiq. I took the time to look at your comments on the student blog (consider that a compliment) even if your motto is not quite appropriate. Of course I am familiar with Islam in Leeds and its university. Hey, what happened to the calligraphy link on your profile? I have to admit that nobody can do handwriting like Arabs.

One final thought. I would advise you not to use the word “wife-beaters” (as if it were a bad thing, ha) around old guys that have serious problems with your religion, that know the Quran, and maybe can from memory pull about 6 references to it from the ahadeeth, none of which you would like, even if you could actually read and understand the words. Note that I added the last 10 words so I could reference a report in Crossroads Arabia blog about blasphemy charges being brought against a man for comments on a hadith, when the news items and judge refuse to even tell us what tradition he referenced, much less explain how the charges are justified. This, in a nutshell, is Islam at its best. Here is the link:

Got to go. My sister-in-law just knocked on the door and told me that somebody stole a fern plant from her front yard. As I said, it is just one crisis after the other - health care reform and a stolen fern all in the same weekend. Good grief.

Anonymous said...

I have had to go to doctors wearing niqab. Since their accent is different from mine and I have a tiny bit of hearing loss, I often cannot tell what they are saying or must ask multiple times for repeats. Seeing a person's lips really does help communication and hearing the voice through a cloth can hinder communication. I am a female. I wonder if I had told the doctor that I thought I would understand her speech better if she removed her niqab in the privacy of the examination room, if she would have? I understand the student wanting to wear her niqab. I also understand the teacher needing her to remove it in order to teach and evaluate her properly. I would also understand the male students being offended by her infringing on their full participation in the classroom. This was not the right situation for her and the accommodations she requested were detrimental to the class. A private tutor would better meet her needs.

Anonymous said...

Asking to be photo-ID'd by a woman is hardly asking someone to bend over backwards to help you. The idea that this is alien to Western Culture shows a lack of understanding of what culture is, of Western history and of the history of immigration to Europe.

I agree, asking the men in the room to look away is unreasonable, but so is banning the Niqaab completely. The idea that a woman is a brainwashed into wearing a Niqaab is just the cultural snobbery I resent so much.

What exactly are traditional values? In Victorian England, showing one's legs was seen to be so immoral that even table legs had to be covered. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought modern Western culture was all about freedom to do and wear whatever you want (within the constraints of the law), without judgement from other people.

I know what most Muslim societies are like, and I am as opposed to the narrow-mindedness there as I am to the narrow-mindedness here. I admire both the woman who against societal opposition, decides to not wear a headscarf and the woman who against societal opposition, decides to wear a veil. The reasons for either are irrelevant in my opinion.

Proto-Dhimmitude would only occur if attempts are made by Muslims to enforce these customs and laws on people who don't want to live under them. As to whether Muslims can live with others, we'll just have to wait and see :)

Thanks for taking time to look at my humble blog and I will change my motto once I think of something wittier. The Calligraphy one is affiliated with my other e-mail address (one of the problems with having multiple e-mail addresses). The link is here if you'd like to visit. I hope your views of Leeds Uni are (mostly) positive. My experience with Arabs' handwriting is pretty negative, the Turks are way better (it seems as if I'm disagreeing with you just for the sake of disagreeing, but I assure you I'm not).

As for your references from the Qur'an, just go for it - I'm pretty thick-skinned when it comes to religion. I had a look at your link, and it's disappointing news, which doesn't help people like you, change their opinions of Muslims.

I have to say, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I realised a long time ago, nothing I say is going to change your perceptions of Islam, but I do hope you reconsider your opinion of Muslims.

Chiara said...

Countrygirl--thank you for all your comments, and for given examples of what concerns you personally as well as a certain portion of the Italian public. I am curious about your thoughts on the later writings of Oriana Fallaci, and whether you or many others share her views on the causes of resentment of Muslims in Italy; and whether you think there are North-South regional differences especially given the history of the Muslim presence in the South centuries ago, and in very specific areas of the North.

Also I wonder if you are using the
English word "pretend" as a translation of "pretendere", which is more like "claim" as in "claims the right to" or "demands"?

Regarding your own questions, if she were to be licensed as a pharmacist in Canada, she could work in a setting where her niqab is accepted, eg employed by a Muslim-owned pharmacy (there is a famous family of Moroccan pharmacists who are now also based in Montreal); or employed in a setting where she has no contact with the public and her employers and co-workers accept the niqab, etc.

I am not convinced that the niqab is usually a barrier to communication, or not as much as it is perceived to be. Practice makes it easier, as I learned when communicating with women wearing a niqab in Iran, or more precisely covering their face with a chador. The need to hold it with one hand over their face, especially while giving a lecture at a podium to an amphitheatre and needing to use a mike I did find challenging to watch (the simultaneous interpretation took care of the listening for me), and even more so to do, though they were practiced and skilled at it.

Thanks again for contributing to the discussion here in such a well-stated manner.

Chiara said...

Ellen--thank you for your comments, and I am glad you like the questions for dialogue starters.

I agree that the Vit D issue is exaggerated in general and that the required exposure to sunlight is less than most people think. Where there is a genuine deficiency it must be addressed of course, and there are other benefits to getting outside and enjoying physical activity outdoors.

Also almost all milk here in the weak sun north is fortified with Vit D, and Vit D supplementation is possible where for whatever reason there is a deficiency.

I tend to agree that beyond common notions of minimal decency forcing clothing requirements on people outside specific uniform requirements, identification needs, or private functions is inappropriate. The fact that so few Muslims in Canada wear a niqab, and so few incidents of a failure of accommodation ie where both sides cannot come to a privately agreed upon compromise, makes the media attention to this type of case, and the fact that it becomes a case at all, more questionable.

Claiming that wearing a niqab is on par with female genital excision, honour killings, or child marriage is in my opinion a dangerous form of argumentation as well as being false.

Thanks again for your comments.

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you for your very thoughtful and insightful comment.

I agree that the feminist speaking in the video seems not to be aware of how personalized, and narrow her sense of feminism in. Unfortunately she is representative of a certain type of liberal white feminism which has been criticized for neglecting the needs of non-white, non-Anglo, non-WASP, non-middle class, non-Western women.

I find it more misplaced when some, with whom I have had discussions, feel free to opine on the women in countries they cannot find on a map, and to assume that their values would or should be shared by women there, and that those countries don't have their own feminists who are highly competent interpreters of their own culture and the ways of changing it.

Somewhere I read about this case that the arguments tend to replace feminist ones with racist ones. This feminist speaker seems to be treading a fine line. Also, as I mentioned above, Quebeckers--given their own history as a conquered people (their term) within an Anglophone majority country, who had to fight for their own survival, and who in the 60's had a "Quiet Revolution" which overthrew the stronghold that Jansenist Catholicism (like a Catholic version of Calvinism, and very conservative, more so than Catholicism in Europe or Latin America for example) had on the province, to become very liberal and secular--are more sensitive it seems than other Canadians about national identity, religious symbolism (or what passes as such), language, and women's rights North American style.

Because Quebec favours immigration from Francophone countries, and French-speakers they have received many North African, Caribbean, and Vietnamese immigrants and are at times struggling to adjust to the new face of Quebec--no longer the Quebecker "pure laine" or "de souche" ie not a descendant of the original settlers from the North East corner of France (Poitu, Brittany, Normandy, mainly).

I agree that accommodation is a 2-way process, and somehow this woman took previous government-run FSL classes without her niqab becoming such an issue. Obviously then, one solution here would have been to change language centres (there are many in Montreal) but perhaps that was impossible for other reasons.

Thanks again for your comment.

Chiara said...

Jay--thank your for your comments and your restraint. I do hope you saved the stolen fern, but I would assume we are on opposite sides of the health care debate. A busy weekend indeed!

We agree (*gasp*) on the asininity of the false comparisons to a medieval KSA or a Taliban-controlled Kandahar/Afghanistan.

I disagree however that this particular situation can be generalized to all Muslims' demands or even typical ones, since they are rare but make good news. In some cases, like the one I have mentioned before, about the danger of women voting in the Federal election with their niqab on, are fabricated--no woman ever asked to do so, and no voter is required to show their face to vote.

Whether wearing a niqab is the tip of a full bore ideological attack on a society's values depends on how you define those values. In Canada they are generally defined as acceptance of difference, multiculturalism (mosaic not melting pot), and protection of human rights and minority rights. In that sense her niqab is not spelling doom for Canadian culture as we know it (and define it despite our own identity complexes).

Shafiq is holding his own and you are both being very respectful to one another--despite your backhander to introduce the post on John's blog--so I leave you 2 to your discussion which has benefited the rest of us.

Thanks again!

countrygirl said...

Chiara I started to read Oriana with her latest books and I liked them...Oriana (and her late works )is well liked by conservative/Lega nord voters and of course the lefty elite/p.c. people doesn't.

You got it right regarding the difference between north and south cultural difference eg in the south family honor is a big issue and till few years ago if a girl wanted to marry a boy they simply run away together by doing so the girl was "ruined" and have to marry the boy.

I wanted to say demand :-P

Lately here in Italy muslim immigration is creating a controveristy...a couple of days ago a group of muslim stopped and kneel to pray in the middle of "Galleria" in Milan, galleria is next to the main church (Duomo) and few months ago a demonstration for palestine stopped in the front of Duomo and started to pray (in You tube you can find the video).

The majority part of the Italians want the banning of the nijab.

What piss me off is that more and more during Xmas time you can't find nativities, or hear Xmas songs in elementary school only because the teacher is afraid to "offend" children of other religion (code word for muslim).

Shafiq by granting a woman wearing the nijab the right to show her face to a police woman you are giving her more right...if he stop her far from the police station he should radio it and ask for a police woman. Several years ago a saw a woman wearing a full nijab, gloves with her daughte...the kid was no older than 5 but she was wearing a black hijab how will be able the kid choose when she will be considered an adult?

Chiara said...

Qusay--thank you for your interesting comment which raised some unique points.

You are correct in assuming that those immigrating to Quebec and Canada come from all over the world, and particularly in Quebec from all over the Francophone world which includes North Africa, the Levant, Indochina, Oceania, and the Caribbean--a diverse lot.

Most come in the hopes of improving their economic status, and some in the expectation of a more liberal society than the one they left. None expect to abandon all of their cultural ties, even the ones who want to adopt a more North American lifestyle. They pick and choose their way through the acculturation process and at different times, including after a long period of immigration they may become more invested in their culture of origin than previously.

Yes this is enriching for Quebec and Canadian culture, and true that other cultures have imposed themselves before, and many argue that American culture continues to impose itself.

Hopefully this woman will find her place within Quebec society. Like many professionals she will likely retain professional and personal ties to Egypt, without compromising Canada or Quebec in any way.

Thanks again for your insightful comment.

Chiara said...

Oby--thank you for giving this post such thought and consideration. Your well balanced approach highlighted for me the irony that this woman should have accommodation problems in a government supported (ie Federal and provincial governments)language and citizenship class aimed at improving the French language skills of immigrants to facilitate the acculturation and employability, and to transmit Canadian values and culture in preparation for citizenship as well.

One could argue that this should have been the place where she was accommodated best, and that she and the other international newly arrived classmates (these classes are not open to Canadians, or to immigrants after a certain period of time) should have been learning about positive accommodations and adapting to living and working in a multi-cultural setting, and most Canadian cities are, including the larger ones in Quebec.

Like Qusay, I found myself wondering if the teacher who reported her didn't have some personal agenda, or whether that particular learning setting did. As is clear from the article in the Addendum, and what I have said in comments, Quebec has had a more "melting pot" attitude to immigrants than the rest of Canada has. Few immigrants think they are really immigrating to Quebec when they are in fact immigrating to Canada and expecting to be able to retain core aspects of their culture. Of course, those who wish to carry on certain traditions come into direct conflict with Canadian law and are not accommodated for those crimes,eg honour killing is a straight murder charge, and the only issues are degree of intent, mental capacity etc. not a justifiable homicide on honour grounds nor reduced sentencing because of it.

Generally though, most expect to be able to continue their cultural and religious ways while adapting enough to earn more money that "at home" and to benefit from public education for their children and public health care for all. Many are seeking freedom from prejudice or social strife in their own country, and do not wish to find it hear. Most are unsympathetic to Quebec's "adolescent identity issues" (as they have been called) and don't want to have ethnic, linguistic, or religious division in their new homeland.For that reason most immigrants in Quebec vote for federalist rather than separatist parties, and most in Canada vote the centre left party, Liberal (though this is evolving).

That said, I agree with you that everyone must acclimate to social and cultural norms within a country, and within specific spheres of life. Still, in other parts of Canada, women wear their niqab freely including to university classes, and all over campus. So, something was rotten in that particular language centre is one conclusion I draw from the story presented.

Others are hoping Quebec will legislate against the niqab or burqa has France has done in educational settings in accord with its longer standing law on laicity. Quebec will have a harder time without the legal precedent and in the face of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and federal funding for certain programs, and federal tax transfers.

Thanks again for your thoughtful and stimulating comment.

Chiara said...

Shafiq--thank you for your multiple, and well-reasoned arguments. You rightfully can expect not to convince Jay about Islam, but at least he seems to hold you in high regard.

Thank you for your compliment on the post. I am glad you found it inspiring. I missed the most recent Carla Bruni dress scandal, but somehow I think it pales in comparison to all the nude photos of her from her pre-Mrs Sarkozy days. As Mrs Sarkozy at state functions she seems impeccable, stylish and understated, which doesn't stop her from more trendy wear in her music videos.

I agree with you that Muslim demands for accommodation have been few and "modest", with the exception of the most extreme who are a rarity by definition. In Ontario, where one of the most dramatic and public demands was made, some Muslims were asking for the right to incorporate Sharia family law only at the same level as Judaic and Catholic laws were already in place. This, however, created an uproar, and resulted in the elimination of all parallel family law systems (all of which were in compliance with provincial family law but provided religious guidance within that). Since most of the uproar came from Muslim women here because of repressive regimes in their home countries (Iranians in particular) and fearful with justification that the particular interpretation or fiqh of Sharia family law being proposed was an very conservative one, the uproar seemed more justified than simply Islamophobic though there were elements of that in the reporting (but not in the provincial government's recommendations).

It is also true, as you say, that no attempt has been made to impose these laws on anyone else in the west, or these cultural norms. Most often Muslims in Canada and Quebec are in educational, work, and recreational settings that are integrated with everyone else and everyone is fine with it.

I would suggest that everyone read your blog, which is called The Student View, and is in the blog roll as well as linked to your name, and particularly now with the wonderful series of videos you are posting from the BBC exploration of current life as reflected in 4 Damascus schools, including one which is a girls' school for Palestinian refugees (3rd generation) from a UN run Palestinian refugee "camp" in Damascus. It is an eyeopener for those unfamiliar with "camp" life.

Thanks again for your excellent comments, and I especially liked your responses about the Quran and Hadith. :)

Chiara said...

Candice--Welcome to my blog, and thank you for sharing your views.

As a Muslim convert and Quebecker your perspective is perhaps the closer in some ways to this particular instance. I am surprised that you aren't in favour of allowing the niqab in class, even if you don't wear one but do wear hijab (judging from a brief look at your website and please correct me if I am wrong); and despite believing that the right to wear one in public generally should be upheld. Perhaps you adhere closely, deliberately or not, to France's ethos of laicity, which had long restricted religious symbols in government-run settings, including public schools.

Thank you for sharing your views here, and contributing to this discussion. I hope you will comment on other posts, older and newer, of interest to you.

I would also advise that readers click through your name to your blog, and check it out. The banner is worth it alone, and the content is excellent, particularly for those interested in negotiating life as a Muslim convert in the West.

Chiara said...

ktcolorabian--Welcome to my blog and thank you for sharing your experiences as an expat in KSA. That scenario of having difficulty with understanding a physician for whatever reason is a frightening one. I would hope that the woman would have removed her niqab or made some other accommodation like repeating especially clearly, allowing time for clarifications, and providing a written summary of the key points. That would be good medical practice anywhere with difficulties communicating of whatever origin.

As a teacher you are probably extra sensitive to the classroom dynamics of the situation described. It does seem that for what ever reason or combination of factors this particular learning environment was not a good one for Naema Ahmed, and either a different language school or a private class of all women with a female tutor or even one-on-one tutoring would be alternatives. These would not necessarily provide the same introduction to Quebec life that the government sponsored classes would.

Thank you again for your comment, and contributing your experience and perspective to the dialogue. I hope you will comment on newer and older posts that you find interesting.

I would also recommend readers check out your blog with its wonderful photos of your family's travel and descriptions of life as expats in the EP since the summer of 2008.

Chiara said...

All are welcome to comment, and to add to their ongoing dialogues here. So many palm trees otherwise!

You may wish to explore some of the other themes now raised or go back to the questions on the post and give your (further) thoughts! :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I'm astonished that we've had two controversial topics on this blog and neither has descended into the ugliness and farcical name-calling I find so common on other comment threads.

I liked your comment about Christmas. It is one complaint I hear very often and one I can confidently say, is not the fault of Muslims. Not once have Muslims complained about the traditional celebration of Christmas and other religious holidays. Yet it seems they bear the brunt of the rage when it is decided that the religious nature of these festivals should be toned down for fear of 'offending other people'.

About the police issue, I don't know how common in Continental Europe it is for a Policeman to randomly stop a person on the street and request to see some ID. From what I see, the policeman can escort the woman to the station where her ID can be checked, if she doesn't want her face to be seen by a man. If she hasn't committed a crime, then it shouldn't be a problem.

Your comment regarding the controversy about praying next to a church is an unfamiliar one. I live in an area with lots of multi-faith prayer rooms, where a group of people of one religion praying in another religious building, is commonplace.

Chiara said...

Shafiq--thank you for your compliment on my blog, and I am happy to say that I haven't had to reject any comments submitted. I think that says a lot that is positive about the community of regular commentators here and those who like to join us.

I hope that all will continue to share their ideas on this post and older ones, and also enjoy the spring scenery on the new Vernal Equinox post. A few flowers with our debate! LOL :)

Thanks again!

Candice said...

Chiara: Thank you for your reply to my comment. :) I actually do not wear hijab but wish to with time and have blogged about that recently so that might be where you got the idea that I wear it! I am against the ban of niqab in universities and colleges (I think women should be free to get educated and wear their niqab at the same time). I am for the ban of the niqab for government employees though, and for the ban in 100% government-funded programs like this French course.

I am definitely close to the Quebecker point of view, being one myself, and one who does not wish to forget my identity. I think that the reasonable accomodation debate has become ridiculous and plain annoying. I hate to see minorities hated on because one of them asked for something outrageous that was granted by an idiotic Quebecker who should have just said no. Sometimes the request is quite reasonable and because of the other crap that happened, it is written about as unreasonable by the media. It's frustrating. I am Quebecker, but it has become embarassing.

About laicity, I don't think religion should be taught in public school as fact. But I support the idea of teaching *about* religions in schools, to better know others and be able to accept them. Immigration is so important to us, and we need to welcome them and accept them. Because of this, I support religious symbols in schools and government workplaces like cross chain, the kirpan, the hijab, the yarmaka, or anything that doesn't interfere with the work/activity.

I don't want to decide against something just because it's a religious symbol. Like the properly tucked in and velcroed hijab in a soccer match. They might say it's for safety, but seriously, there's nothing dangerous about a velcro hijab properly tucked in!

Anyway, I will stop going on and on...

Candice said...

Shafiq: No, it wouldn't be "bending over backwards" to have a woman take a photo ID instead of a man, but neither would be asking a White to serve you instead of a Black person. It's equal rights for both sexes, and to not be able to serve someone because you are a male is discrimination. The niqabi who wants a woman needs to go back in line and wait until she gets someone she accepts being served by.

Chiara said...

Coolred-- (way up there) thanks for your comment. You make an excellent point about her choice of being corrected within the limitations of her wearing a niqab. In fact, a lot of language teaching and learning is done without this type of focused on the mouth correction except perhaps at the very basic levels which don't apply here. Also it is easy to know that a non-native speaker of French is not making the proper mouth shape and emitting the proper sound to create the French "u" for example, and easy to correct with demonstration by the instructor, and a verbal explanation "form a tight o shape and say eee", which is necessary anyway (mouth shape only would result in an oo sound as in smooth.

It is true that accommodations by definition should not be disruptive or hampering the rest of the class. Accommodations of religious and cultural practices are mandated and expected in both Quebec and Canada, though where the line of "reasonable" is drawn is debatable. In this situation each side of course claims they were willing to accommodate, and there is some doubt about whether she demanded the men turn away or the teacher suggested she turn her back to the class from the back of the room. Hmmmm...asked to face the wall like a misbehaving student?

It is also true that a class presentation includes public speaking skills, and that the comparison with the task of the other students would be unequal unless she were doing it facing the class as they do, and in her normal apparel.

Thanks again for your comment.

Anonymous said...


Your analogy did make me really think about what a Niqaabi requesting a woman photo-ID her meant.

Having thought about it, I don't think the analogy fits perfectly seeing as it's the woman who's being asked to remove her face veil. I think a slightly more apt analogy would be asking to be served by someone who understood your language.

Having said that, I don't think it's not unreasonable to make a Niqaabi wait a little until a woman is available to photo-ID her. Remember, we are talking about a woman randomly being stopped by the police here - for most circumstances, it's not necessary to see your customer's face when serving them.

Chiara said...

Candice--thank you for clarifying your views further. It seems that the governmental role in these FSL courses is what makes you support denying the request or right to wear the niqab, as opposed to your support of religious symbols in non-governmental settings. That is a different interpretation than I had obviously, and may relate more to the rights of provincial governments in education over those of the federal one. Since, in Canada, education is a provincial matter, each province would have the right to determine its own policy in this matter, as seems to be happening. Thank you for helping me see this from a different angle.

Shafiq--I agree that it is easy in most situations to accommodate a request to be dealt with by a female police officer when face to face identification is required, given that those situations would most likely be rare as women who wear the niqab are in a minority, as are criminals, women criminals, and women criminals wearing a niqab caught in flagrante delicto.

Candice said...

Shafiq: You're right that it's not a perfect analogy, but neither is the language one you used. An officer who can't speak the native language of a person he needs to deal with has no choice but to get help. He is lacking a skill necessary to do his job. It's less about the customer requesting someone who speaks his language and more about the employee simply needing help. If the customer spoke English but requested a Spanish officer because it's his preferred language, it would be unreasonable.

So I think something between your's and mine is right.

Wendy said...

Chiara, I did not know you had a blog and now I've found it. :-)

I would like Canada to put into legislation something like Quebec's proposed Bill 94. I don't care what women wear as long as their face is not covered. As a Canadian I have the right to see the faces around me. Do you think a person could walk into a bank here with a balaclava on? Of course not!!!
I know that in Sudan and Saudi thefts are being carried out by people wearing niqabs so what a wonderful 'disguise' for some male or female criminal.
Canada is pretty accommodating to people immigrating here but I think we have to draw a line and to me it is face covering. End of story. It's not a feminist issue to me, it's simply one of a Canadian's personal right to see who's passing on the street. If a person can't comply with that very simple request (and I won't get into the Islamic issue) then perhaps Canada is not the country for you.

Chiara said...

Wendy--Welcome to my blog! I am so glad you found it! I hope you will continue to comment here as I enjoy your comments elsewhere.

Quebec's proposed Bill 94 only bans the niqab in government offices for both employees and visitors. It doesn't extend to schools the way the French ban on the headscarf does, nor is it a blanket banning of the burka/niqab as the proposed French one is.

I don't have a problem with the niqab as long as it is a choice, and it is not a security risk which it hasn't been in Canada.

I am more worried that this is a step towards increased intolerance generally, or a resurgence of a very narrow nationalism in Quebec where unless your ancestors came over with Champlain you are subject to being second class.

Thanks again for your comment, and I look forward to more of your comments on older and newer posts.

Wendy said...

Hi Chiara,
I don't see it as intolerance. If it was intolerance it would have shown up before.
I agree that we have not had security issues ... yet!!! Why not stop face covering before it becomes an issue and I believe it will. As I said earlier - what would happen if I walked into a bank wearing a balaclava - or better yet what if a man walked into a bank wearing a balaclava??
The Quebec bill covers public buildings I believe and that would include hospitals.
You must know that I'm not against things Islamic. That is not the issue. Face covering is!!!

Chiara said...

Wendy--thanks for the follow-up comment. Of course I appreciate that you are not against all things Islamic, but I think we understand intolerance a little differently. My concern about heading off any security threat related to the niqab is that I think it is,if done as the kind of pre-emptive strike proposed in Quebec, making a loud statement about adhering to Quebec norms, rather narrowly defined, in addition to other currents and precursors there. Judging by the response of some of the rest of Canada, Quebec is not totally alone in this.

I understand that balaclava analogy but it is premised on inappropriate wearing of a balaclava, eg in summer, rather than in winter when it would be normal to walk in wearing one and take it off. A niqab is appropriate year round for those who choose to wear it, and wouldn't normally be removed in such a setting. I think bank monitoring of everyone should be sufficiently high to distinguish the inappropriate appearance (eg a man in niqab and cover) and moreso the inappropriate behaviour of a given bank "client".

So I am hoping the proposed law in Quebec doesn't go through, and the rest of Canada doesn't follow on.

Thanks again for joining the discussion, and following up.

Wendy said...

Chiara, even in the dead of winter a person would not be welcome in a bank wearing a balaclava. We will agree to disagree on this I guess but as a Canadian I want to see open faces.

Chiara said...

Wendy--If I remember correctly we live in different parts of the country and like the media responses that may be impacting on our individual differences. I do most of my research in a library with a high number of women wearing the niqab compared to the Canadian average with is very low (2% of Canadian Muslimahs).

To me it just looks very normal and non-threatening whether at a computer terminal, in the stacks, or in the cafeteria and common study areas. Mostly they are either working hard, or socializing, or some have their kids with them and are trying to get in and out of the library quickly.

I don't even think it is a particularly good disguise for the nefarious (it didn't even work for Michael Jackson in Dubai) since in Western countries it draws a lot of attention especially in public places like shopping malls (watch them enter a lingerie shop!); on public transit; and for newbies on campus. Also most men have trouble passing themselves off as women no matter what they are wearing.

Anyway I am happy to agree to disagree on this, and thank you for discussing it so well.

We shall see what Quebec does, and how the rest of Canada (and France, watching eagerly!) react.

Wendy said...

BTW, I've just returned from Saudi Arabia. :-) Perhaps this is why I'm so adamant on the issue.

Chiara said...

Wendy--interesting! What relationship do you see between the 2? Security issues or conservatism issues?

Wendy said...

I was visiting my Saudi in-laws with my husband.

I have heard about the security issues regarding theft.

I listened to family and friends who really don't want to cover their faces but have no choice in the matter. I know that the majority of the women I met would have absolutely no problem leaving the hijab and abaya locked in the cupboard forever. One or two I spoke with who believed it was correct to wear the niqab looked at me in horror when I asked if they would like to visit Canada. They said they'd be happier in Islamic countries!!!

When going on an outing and having teen nieces in the back seat I did not like to have to ask who we had riding with us because I couldn't see who they were. My husband certainly didn't like that either.

I also have strong feeling about the 'conservative' side of the issue but as a Christian I feel I should keep most of those thoughts to myself.

Chiara, what is your interest in Saudi Arabia? You write about it so often.

Wendy said...

I've just read a column in the Vancouver Sun by Janice Kennedy that sums up the way I'm thinking/standing on this issue! Here's the link to the article.

Chiara said...

Wendy--thanks for both your comments and the link. The link does help understand further what you articulating well already. Namely that there are limits to tolerance even within Canada's multiculturalism and that the face veil is fundamentally a concern both for security reasons, and for what it represents as a symbol of gender discrimination in the countries where it is imposed legally or societally.

I do disagree with its imposition, but I doubt that will happen societally in Canada where the number of niqabis is so few--2% of the total female muslim population which is about 1% of the total population of Canada (since all Muslims make up only 2% of the total population of Canada, and women are probably about half).

I faced my own limits of acceptably multicultural with the issue of female genital mutilation which has been brought to Canada with immigrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa where the prevalence is high. And later with honour killing which is primarily amongst South Asians of whatever religion.

I don't see the niqab as in that category. I also don't really see it as a security risk, as I discussed above.

I do think that unless the eyes are completely covered it is easy to recognize the person, and read their facial expressions, moods, etc. Also the niqab does not impede articulation or comprehension of speech. So I remain somewhat perplexed at the hoopla except for the political and media interest.

Right now I am trying to find a way to do a relevant post on Hillary's 3 challenges to the Harper government. The Arctic, Afghanistan, and Abortion--oh my! LOL :)

Thanks again for enriching this discussion!

Wendy said...

I await your post about Hillary's challenges.
More on face covering - Belgium is in the process of banning the niqab. I trust more countries will follow suit.

A friend of mine in Costa Rica was told to remove her sunhat in a bank. No hats, sunglasses or any such covering can be worn in a bank there. It's law. No big deal.

2% now and how many later?? It is far easier to put a law in place now than later when even more people will take issue with it.

Chiara said...

Wendy--LOL :) Stay tuned!

I certainly agree that countries should set their own laws, and that banks need high security. I think that the French, Spanish, and Italian systems of locking one individually in a glass security entrance is effective, no matter what one is wearing or asked to take off (little to remove in some Mediterranean locations--LOL :) )

Much <2% and no problems to date with security issues. The history of a lack of problems is one of the reasons Sikhs won a court case to allow boys to wear a kirpan on the schoolyard (after some overanxious mother reported one), and men in other places. One Sikh scholar in my neighbourhood goes everywhere in his "dress whites" with a substantial sized kirpan visible on his belt. No problems.

Thanks for your comment and your nudge!

Wendy said...

I am bad but I can't help myself so I have to say "at least you can see the Sikh's face". :-)

Chiara said...

Wendy--Yes, you are! LOL :)
I always prefer to see the face of a man wearing a dagger too. Unless it is in that Bertolucci film The Sheltering Sky, and the it doesn't much matter! :)

Thanks for the comment!


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