Monday, April 19, 2010

Quebec's Proposed Law to Ban the Niqab: "You are as stupid as the ones who wear that rag on their face"

I wrote previously--The Niqab: Quebec/Canada's "Two Solitudes" and "medieval kingdoms like Saudi Arabia"--on the current issue in Quebec about whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab, or face veil, which was sparked by an Egyptian immigrant to Canada, pharmacist Naema Ahmed, who had been suspended from a government sponsored French language course because she insisted on wearing a face veil, and who had filed a human rights complaint in response.

Quebec has proposed Bill 94, a law which states that women are not allowed to wear a niqab or a burka in government offices--whether employees, or seeking government services. Unlike the French ban on ostensible signs of religious affiliation in any government building (including schools), the Quebec ban affects only the niqab and the burka, not hijab (a head scarf) or a pendant in the form of the Star of David, or the Crucifix, or a kippah (Jewish skull cap), or a Sikh turban--only the niqab and only in the name of defending Quebec values, including preventing the oppression of women.

The response to this proposal has been one of both acceptance and rejection, including within the Muslim community, which is diverse in Canada in terms of ethnicity, country of origin, degree of integration into Canadian society (primarily related to time in Canada, and generational), cultural beliefs, religious fiqh, and degree of conservatism. Irshad Manji is not the only Canadian Muslim with a very liberal view of  Islam, and not the only GLBTQ Muslim either. Tarek Fatah, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, is a South Asian Muslim who argues for rejecting the supremacy of Arab culture and language in Islam, and against the extremism he sees coming out of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Mohamed Elmasry is the considerably more conservative President of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

Somewhere in between, usually, is the Canadian Arab Federation which in fact aims to represent all Arabs in Canada regardless of religion, yet at times is more involved in Muslim issues than others. Post 9/11 and with new laws allowing special detention without the normal rights to legal protection for suspected terrorists is one of those times. Current President Khaled Mouammar, and Vice-President Ali Mallah have both objected to the current government's policies on immigration, extraordinary detentions, and failure to protect Canadian Muslims overseas. They are also involved in a war of words with Tarek Fatah.

As one journalist points out the proposed ban is about persecution and bullying; another suggests that where Quebec previously had problems with the integration of immigrants because of its own religious rigidity (Jansenist Roman Catholicism) it now has difficulty because of its overzealous secularism with religious immigrants. The expulsion of women students from language classes is spreading to students who were well accepted in their French classes previously. There is also a spreading protest campaign against the proposed Bill 94. The Anglican Church is supporting the freedom to wear the niqab, as is the de Beauvoir Institute of Women's Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, both described here.

Wendy, a Canadian commentator who has been very civil in her disagreements with me on the Quebec niqab issue in the previous post, kindly sent by email this excellent, and short, report from Montreal for Aljazeera on the proposed Quebec law banning the niqab:

This weekend the niqab became a more personal issue for me, and in a very unpleasant way. I thought I was going out to dinner with a friend who is also a psychiatrist, and who lost her mother a month ago--a girls' night out of  errands then dinner, with a lot of conversation along the way. We had talked on the phone and agreed it would be good to spend the evening together, catching up and sharing our grief. Unfortunately, as she often does without telling me, she invited her friend along--a male friend with whom her relationship status is "complicated", and one with whom it has been difficult in the past to have a friendly 3-way evening.

We went to one of the Middle Eastern areas of the city so that my friend could buy pastries and groceries for the reception she was holding after a memorial mass for her mother the next day. He made a number of comments about stores where I could buy myself a niqab, which I laughed off. Unfortunately, he and I were alone in the car for a few minutes while she went to take money from a bank machine. He asked what I thought of the Quebec proposal to ban the niqab, knowing full well the general idea of what my reply would be.

I trust I didn't disappoint when I said I thought it was much ado about nothing and a political ploy to win the favour of a certain type of Quebec nationalist and social conservative. Needless to say he had other ideas, and for some reason, no matter how calm I stayed, got very angry and kept escalating. He was saying that women who wear the niqab should not be allowed in the country, and those who decide to wear it while here should be deported. His arguments were that it is unCanadian, and that the niqab represents an extremist religion which should not be allowed here. He did pride himself on his beneficence toward the hijab though.

I suggested that wearing a niqab harms no one and does not pose a risk to Canadians. However, this inspired him to flights of fancy about bombings overseas. When I pointed out civilian casualties, as in Pakistan from US drones, he shouted "I don't care, good for them, that is war!" When I mentioned again the low statistics on women in Canada who wear the hijab, he told me I was in the same infinitesimal minority with my beliefs, and then said "You are as stupid as the ones who wear that rag on their face!".

My friend heard the last 2 comments and his shouting, was displeased with his attitude, and let's just say the evening went downhill from there, even though we all did manage somehow to have dinner after more "hostilities" between the 2 of them, and some harsh words by all (mine were limited to suggesting the need for a police officer if things didn't settle--yes it was a really relaxing, fun evening!)

In my opinion, my male dinner companion said 2 particularly hideous things about women who wear the niqab: that he felt like running over the one (!) we had seen in the Middle Eastern grocery store; and, when I said "What about her 2 adorable sons with her? [about ages 5 and 7]", he replied "They don't even know what her face looks like anyway". My protestation that of course they do, the niqab is not worn in the privacy of their home fell on belligerent, rather than deaf, ears. So, to conclude, maybe a visual is better:

How should a society handle immigrants with obviously different customs?
On what grounds should anyone be deported?
Given that each successive immigrant group meets with similar suspicions and calumnies, is the current attitude toward Muslims any different? Why/why not? How/how not?
Why might one religious groups support the rights of another?
In what way is wearing a niqab, or the right to wear one a feminist issue?
Why would the niqab spark such rage where the hijab doesn't?
Should any man have the right to tell Muslim women how to dress? See also Jehanzeb's new post on Muslim Reverie--Stop Telling Muslim Women How To Dress
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Qusay said...

Don't you just love people who are right, and you are wrong, no matter what!

Not sure if he was doing that to rile u up, or if he was just like that all the time and with every one, but I've met my share of those with that mentality, and I am sure I will meet many more.

C'est la vie de mon ami, C'est la vie...

Angel said...

I want to say that the government and that man need to open their eyes to the real world, I live in Austrlaia and i am a revert to Islam i also cover my face by choice, and many people here in Australia wear niqab and we dont seem to have a problem, the whole thing is riddculous

Loga'Abdullah said...

Very interesting.

Do you find that the undertones of this whole things (anti-immigration and racism) are coming out more than the actual "safety" issue.

I find the bottom line is, women should be allowed to dress as they wish. And, banning things selectively isn't going to help with integration and will certainly increase discrimination.

All the best.

Susanne said...

How should a society handle immigrants with obviously different customs?
Many customs are harmless and enrich a host country, and I rather like them. However, if a person is wanting to move to another country, s/he should realize that not everything practiced back home will be acceptable in the new country and be willing to put aside any cultural practices that do not go along with the values and norms of the new home.

On what grounds should anyone be deported?
only if they work against their new country

Given that each successive immigrant group meets with similar suspicions and calumnies, is the current attitude toward Muslims any different? Why/why not? How/how not?
It's probably similar in a lot of ways, however, there is extra suspicion at times because of extremists being in the news.

Why might one religious groups support the rights of another?
because they realize if society is picking on Muslims today, it could be Christians tomorrow

In what way is wearing a niqab, or the right to wear one a feminist issue?
Women should be free to wear whatever they choose.

Why would the niqab spark such rage where the hijab doesn't?
Niqab covers the face and sometimes the eyes -- that is just weird to most western societies that rely on facial expression and being able to look at a person in the eyes; it's distracting, draws attention to you and makes some suspicious that you either have something to hide or don't want to be friends/fit in with the rest of society.

With hijab (scarf on hair), you can at least see a person's face - her smile or frown - to judge her mood at the time and how your words are affecting her -- I tend to like nonverbal cues and find reading faces/expressions important

Should any man have the right to tell Muslim women how to dress?
men shouldn't have the right to tell ANY woman how to dress; "society" can pass laws mandating dress to a certain extent (e.g. no nudity around town), but men shouldn't dictate to women what they can and cannot wear

Chiara, so sorry to read of your friend's boyfriend contributing to a less-than-pleasant evening! It's interesting that a male could have such strong opinions about women not covering their faces, but then it seems he just has major problems with Islam now that I reread that section again. Thanks for sharing your personal story on this topic. Interesting post!

countrygirl said...

Kudos to the Quebec for the ban of the niqab!

You can't tell whoever is under a niqab and if for whatever reason she must prove her identity she would request a police woman/ female clerk and by doing so you are granting her more rights compared to an average citizen I mean let's say that you are asking something urgent (and the njab weaver have to prove her identity )in a municipal office, and there are no female clerks avaible what is going to happen? would she demand a female clerk that maybe right now is doing other stuffs?

The attitude here in Europe toward the muslim immigrants is negative for many reasons:

Some of them are asking for more rights: re njab, in uk some of them are asking to the police to not use police dogs when they are searching their houses, only halal food in some places.

Honor killings

Terrorism...when there was the last time that a Philipino blew himself up?

The silent majority isn't heard at all...when there were them when the danish cartonists received death treats.

I can say I'm fed up that you can't mock Islam/Mohamed because you fear the muslim reaction...why it's possible to mock christianity, buddism, Jews whatever but when you draw a Mohamed spoof the author will receive death treats?

Here in the western countries we are used to speak facing each others and wearing a nijab makes impossible conversation.

Nijab is an obstacle to the integration, IMHO the weavers will interact with her sisters and not with the "infidels" . There are also the converted who "chose" to wear the nijab but I'm wondering if it's their free choice or their husband's and some of them when they convert they seems to forgot that they are Italians, French, British by refusing to mingle with their former friend and meet only muslims

Imperfect Stepford Wife said...

Wow, I am so sorry that you experienced that.
My thoughts on nigab are another story.

Wendy said...

Chiara I'm sorry you had to listen to such an obviously ignorant man. I'm surprised you could continue the evening with him. I have not changed my mind on the niqab. I would support to the fullest any Canadian bill to ensure Canadians have the right to see faces of others. People can wear what they like - be naked if that turns their crank but please do not cover the face. I believe it is my free right to see the faces of people in my environment. A woman with a covered face indicates a somewhat 'superior' attitude to me and it is concealment of identity.

"How should a society handle immigrants with obviously different customs?"
I think Canada does a good job in welcoming people with obviously different customs and religions. The country changed the RCMP uniform to accommodate Sikhs which was a very major step.

"On what grounds should anyone be deported?"
When our laws are broken deportation should be considered. For major crimes such as murder deportation should be automatic. Immigrating to Canada is a privilege. :)

"Given that each successive immigrant group meets with similar suspicions and calumnies, is the current attitude toward Muslims any different? Why/why not? How/how not?"
Yes, it's different because of 911. The US has done a good job of instilling fear and keeping it constantly on the radar screen. Our media contributes. Also I believe there has been an increase of immigrants from Islamic countries, many of who wear a hijab or some other identifier. Muslims have been in Canada for a very long time with no bad or fearful feelings towards them up until 911. We have Muslims in all walks of life here and have for a very long time.

"Why might one religious groups support the rights of another?"
Maybe they have been watching "Little Mosque on the Prairie". :)

"In what way is wearing a niqab, or the right to wear one a feminist issue?"
In my opinion it is not a feminist issue and should never have been presented as one. It was the wrong way to approach the issue. In fact some niqab wearers I know feel more powerful wearing the niqab and certainly not subservient to men.

"Why would the niqab spark such rage where the hijab doesn't?"
Because the face is covered. As I've already said, many people feel they should have the right and freedom to see people in their environment. I do not see it an attack on Islam.

"Should any man have the right to tell Muslim women how to dress? See also Jehanzeb's new post on Muslim Reverie--Stop Telling Muslim Women How To Dress"
No man should tell a woman how to dress.
"Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?"
I do have security issues. Case in point - one of the latest suicide bombings was carried out by two men wearing burqas. Other than First Nations we have all descended from immigrants. I love this about Canada! I think Canadians want to feel safe and secure that our secular way of government and life will not change.

single4now said...

Wow, even Canada? This is just sad. I haven't been able to read the entire post but I can't believe how anti-Muslim the world has gotten.

Chiara said...

Qusay--eh oui, la vie est ainsi...

I think he was originally baiting me, but then wanted to have a debate/discussion. If he intended to rile me he failed, and soon lost his own temper very badly.

True, he seemed to find himself an expert on this topic, where he actually knows so little. One would think a PhD in physics would be more cautious about his proofs! LOL :)

Merci, mon ami!

Angel--Welcome! Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience. I do find it unfortunate that some people refuse to believe that sane women make legitimate choices to cover. It undermines any real understanding of another's decisions. Thanks again! I hope you will comment on older and newer posts as well.

Chiara said...

Loga'Abdullah--Welcome! Thank you for your comment. Yes I agree that in this instance the issue was who should be allowed to immigrate and how they should behave once here, rather than security. The irony is that he is an adult immigrant (Irish Catholic) and so is my friend, who is not Arab but looks like one, ie is the same look as all those "brown" people who were attacked in North America post-9/11 as Arab Muslims. Also he has an obvious physical handicap. What if Canada decides that immigrants with handicaps are too costly to the health care system and should be deported? Of course, I don't think this, and wouldn't say it but it is rather ironic that both these immigrants should be so callous about others. However, according to sociology studies the most prejudiced against the recently arrived are the penultimate group to have arrived.

I agree that banning fosters discrimination, and re-entrenches positions, rather that letting acceptance and adaptation on both sides create greater harmony.

Thanks again for your comment and I hope you will also comment on older and newer posts of interest.

oby said...

I think as a society we must draw the line somewhere in our acceptance of “other “ styles of expression. We do not allow nudity except in specified areas…as a society we have decided that we accept that nudity is something we are not OK with in public.

I think the niqab is somewhat the same…it makes people in Western societies uncomfortable for several reasons.

The niqab is an Arab (Saudi ) artifact. It has no basis in the Qur’an from what I understand. Makes sense in KSA...not so much in the West or other non Niqabi wearing cultures.

It represents a very strict form of Islam exported out of Saudi Arabia that is not exactly friendly to others even other Muslims who are not followers of the Wahabbi form of Islam. As the gentleman on the video said, even Muslims themselves are disturbed by the face veil. I don’t think we can discount that. My concern is that the tendency to veiling which is low now will grow and start to become the norm. Consider 30 years ago a lot of Muslims did not wear Hijab. They did not consider themselves as bad Muslims. Now it is seen as compulsory and if one does not wear it she feels as if she is not Muslim enough. Something that once was a choice is now thought to be a must for most Muslim women.

it puts a barrier between the niqabi and society at large.Regrettably, right now we don’t have enough mixing of Muslims and non Muslims as it is which has caused a lot of misunderstandings. I believe it goes both ways, but the niqab is not going to make it easier for people in the West to approach a Muslim nor is it going to make them feel warm and fuzzy toward them because it feels like a rejection of the host culture.It feels to me that the niqabi has their arms out and is saying “I don’t want to be approached” Figuratively speaking of course. No different than the person who looks down and makes no eye contact or someone who sends a very clear body signal that they don’t want to be approached.

Humans the world over have a need to see other people’s faces. Even hundreds of years ago when woman in Europe covered their faces it was the higher status women who veiled. The average person did not. With the exception of perhaps a few tribes or cultures, people do not cover their faces. One must ask themselves why not? We are visual animals; we are most comfortable seeing the people around us. On some level we are always assessing others meaning and intentions with our non verbal communication through the eyes and the rest of the face. By covering that you are taking that away. You are in a sense making them a non person; our face is our calling card, our identity.

I agree with Wendy about the safety points she mentioned. Niqab should not be worn in government (passports, driver’s license, voting) situations-absolutely no exceptions. I think businesses have the right to say how they would like to be represented and that includes not allowing somone wearing a niqab if they don’t want. Hooters isn’t likely to hire an old and overweight woman because it goes against their image.

There is nothing wrong with saying, “these are our values, and we are not able to accept that level of covering in our society." While banning can foster discrimination, there is no society where anything and everything goes. All societies have limitations of some sort. We as a society have banned too little covering(nudity)except in specific areas..the privacy of one’s home, certain beaches, clubs dedicated to nudists, etc. why can't we ban too much covering? I personally, don't have a huge issue with even seeing women in an abaya although
Qur'anically speaking it is not required. And Hajib is a non issue. There is something about covering the face that makes people feel very uncomfortable and what makes the whole thing worse is that it is tied to religion which makes it a REALLY hot button issue.

oby said...

r another perspective from a Muslim woman who is a lawyer and earned a graduate degree in Islamic law please read this: You might have to copy and paste)

For those of my fellow bloggers who have already read this from me on another post please excuse me for boring you with it.

Chiara said...

Susanne-thank you for your thoughtful and comprehensive comment. I agree with much of what you have said. I guess I draw the line of adaptation to a new country somewhat differently. That is more about issues of female genital cutting as a cultural practice; and honour killings, both of which have become issues in Canada as a direct result of newer patterns of immigration including refugees.

I don't know why, but I never assume a woman wearing a niqab would be any less likely to talk to me than any other woman I don't know personally. Perhaps because that used to be a common assumption about women in hijab which I haven't found to be true, or because my first up close and personal experiences of women in niqab were in a public hammam in Morocco. That is, after being in the hammam itself some women who had been interacting with everyone just like anyone else put on the niqab just before the scarf holding baby on the back and going out to the street. So...aside from the marvels of how they put it on, and how good even very young toddlers were at "getting a ride" safely, no biggie...

Initially when I was in Iran, it was a little disconcerting to be discussing medical ethics with Irani colleagues wearing a niqab, as the topics are usually sensitive, and all social cues to understanding are appreciated. However, one soon learns to rely more on voice, body language, and facial expression in and around the eyes.

I should say that living in a cold climate, it also is common in winter to talk to people whose face you can barely see for scarves, hats, hoods, balaclavas, sunglasses against snow glare, ski masks (on the slopes only!) etc. So again, it doesn't necessarily seem so foreign to me not to see someones face in its entirety.

I do think the media makes the niqab more spooky and alienating that it necessarily is--just like a balaclava.

Your answer about why defend someone else's religion, reminds me of Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem about the need for the German intelligentsia to speak up:

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Thanks again for your inspiring comment.

Susanne said...

Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem is what inspired what I said about that particular question from you! :)

I live in the South where it's generally not overly-cold for long periods of time so I am not as used to talking to people in full winter gear. And I've not had as much expose to niqabis as you so I'm only going on what I *think* it would be like and my own personal experiences. I'm glad to know talking with them is not as difficult as I presumed. :)

Chiara said...

Country Girl--thank you for your comment. You will be pleased that apparently Sarkozy is also pushing ahead with his plan to ban the burka in "all public places".

I understand your point of view, while not sharing it. My biggest concern is conflating apparel with ever increasing demands, or the face veil with honour killings. At least in Canada, most of these killings are by non-Muslim South Asian immigrants. In any case they are not religious, but are cultural, and sadly cross-cultural.

The issue of the niqab as an obstacle to integration for its wearers is an important one, and will come up again! :)

Thank you again for sharing your ideas, and doing so civilly!

Chiara said...

Imperfect Stepford Wife--thanks for your comment and your kind words. Please share your views on the niqab!

Wendy-thank you for your comment, and for persisting against your own special commenting jinn! :)

It seems we disagree on 2 aspects primarily: I don't see the niqab as a particular security risk, and I don't think all niqabis wish to isolate themselves from conversation with others.

Little Mosque on the Prairie is great--or at least the first few seasons were. I watched it online after a friend kept telling me I would like it, in that "you know, because... " way! LOL :)

Thanks again for your comment. Though we disagree I appreciate your views and how you express them. And thanks again for the video used in the post!

oby said...

OK I hesitate to ask this question because I am sure you must be speaking tongue in cheek and i don't want to sound silly, but is there a "Little Mosque" series that mirrors the "little house" series?

oby said...

to anyone who is interested...

Tomorrow on the Dr. Phil show they are dealing with bullying and people/kids who are subjects of that. Some of the guests will be Muslims wearing Hijab who speak about some of the difficulties that they face due to ignorance. I don't know if anyone else is on...I just saw the commercial and they are showing only the Muslims. Thought it might be eye opening to hear it from their perspective since we don't often have the chance to hear about the pain and hurt from the other side. I will be watching!

Chiara said...

Single4now--Thanks for your comment. Yes, alas, here too. Read and comment further!

Oby--Thanks for the comments and the link. For those who want to click only here it is.

As a friend pointed out, a discussion of niqab laws hits all the social conversational taboos: sex, politics, and religion.

I disagree that covering the face is primarily Arab or especially Saudi, and is a cultural custom rather than religious, as you know. Covering in different degrees, at different times, and in different places is part of many cultures. Mainly it is part of a traditional patriarchal culture no matter where in the world it is found, and is, as you said, often related to social class, in one direction or the other.

As I stated above, I disagree that there are particular security risks, especially in North America where wearing a niqab draws more rather than less attention, and makes one stick out even among Muslim women in traditional dress, and hijab. In my experience of Europe the same is true there as well.

So few Muslim women wear the niqab that I don't see it as a particularly slippery slope, and most don't wear hijab either. I do think that media representations give both these pieces of clothing a more sinister tone than they warrant.

I do think that one has many other non-verbal cues when talking to or observing a woman in niqab. Ir really only takes more familiarity to feel more comfortable doing so, but the perceived effrontery and rejection becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, and a vicious circle, in my opinion.

Before 9/11 the niqab, like the headscarf, wasn't politicized the way they both are now. Seeing a woman in non-Western clothes was a curiousity not a security issue.

As I pointed out to my friend that night, other immigrant groups have been criticized for their "odd" appearance, whether dark, "greasy" haired, or "old fashioned" clothes, and for personal attributes like who shaves what; sometimes the prejudice led to egregious errors of justice, like the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, essentially for being Italian. I don't think we should forget those lessons, nor those obviously of the internment of the Japanese during WWII (a shared US-Canada shame, even during war).

Thanks for sharing your views, and in your usual thoughtful and careful manner. I will check out your link now! Thanks for that too!

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you for your further comment. We must arrange a niqabi skiing party for you to get acculturated! :)

Oby--Yes Little Mosque on the Prairie is a CBC television show which was created by a South Asian Muslim who moved from the big city (Toronto, I think) to the Canadian prairies (?Saskatchewan) to a small town, and went from having a large cohort to being a rarity.

The show has been heralded internationally for displaying the diversity within the Muslim community (race, dress, degree of practice, mixed marriages, generational), and dealing humorously with topics like hijab, terrorism, interfaith relations (the Christian pastor is a major and sympathetic character, who rents part of the Church to serve as the mosque and community centre).

The episodes are available online. I have seen the first 3 seasons which were very good.

Good watching!

Thanks for the Dr Phil show tip. I will have my Dr Phil watcher coffee buddy do a rundown for me! :)

countrygirl said...

Yes I've read this news from France and I'm hoping that soon Italy will make a similar law (even though we a law that forbid go around with the face concealed).

There's one thing that scares me some of those wearing the nijab are converted it seems that when they became muslim they formatted their brain and simply forgot what they were before the conversion (I went in one of their blog and I asked if she would let marry her 9 years old daughter to an old man and she replied yeah )

Sorry Chiara but so far the honor killings I've heard about was a muslim who killed their daughters/wives because they were too western, in Canada a father and his son killed several members of their family (6 women and girls), in the US a muslim father (along with his son) killed his 2 daughters because their were too american and I continue with more examples.

Here in Italy one girl was murdered by her father few months ago only because she had a gasp! christian boyfriend, morever muslim man who converted to christianity was murdered for this reason.

As a reader before there is a huge increase of veiled women in the last years...I saw different photos from an egyptian university snapped in different years...the one from the 50es non veiled woman appear but in the last one the majority part of the women are veiled

You said that in cold climate people tend to wear scarves, hats and so on but usually (and I'm living in a cold climate of Italy) when I enter in any building (bank, post office to name a few) for whatever reason i take it off a veiled woman doesn't, why someone who is wearing an helmet can't enter in a bank/post office wearing it but a veiled woman will scream racism if is she asked to show her face when entering in the same place, why grant her more rights?

oby said...

"Before 9/11 the niqab, like the headscarf, wasn't politicized the way they both are now. Seeing a woman in non-Western clothes was a curiosity not a security issue."

To be honest, I was only somewhat aware of the niqab before 9/11 and in truth have only become much more acquainted with it in the last year or so via the blogs. I do feel that at least in my experience no one gives a person wearing a hijab any grief. I am not saying it doesn't happen I am saying that it is accepted as part of a muslim woman's accoutrement from people I know and not an issue. I have yet to see anyone being hassled because of it. The Dr. Phil show tomorrow of which I sent you an email, will address what you have spoken about in terms of being politicized.

I feel the hajib is no big deal nor the abaya as there are some who wear it where I live...generally (because they don't wear niqab) they appear to be Somali. Lots of people wear African clothes or Indian clothes etc. Generally I feel that women should wear what they like…an abaya, African clothes, a hijab. It is the covering of the face that feels really weird not the unusualness of the clothes necessarily.

"Most don't wear hijab either" I find that very interesting and if true all the more distressing that a big deal is made of it. I am wondering if that is particular to those cultures in the world that are more Westernized or if it is equally spread out to the MENA countries as well. Maybe you have given me a link in the past but finding it would be next to impossible. Do you have any links to that as I would like to read more about it.

If, as you said above it is a cultural custom rather than religious, then why do people who convert and are native born members of the society (Canadian, American, European)chose to wear it in the name of Islam? It is only those or mostly those who convert to Islam who wear it. People converting to other religions don’t wear it. If it is cultural and not tied to religion then there should be no reason to wear it in a culture that doesn’t veil and even less reason to be upset if the culture says no to it. It seems more understandable in someone who came from a culture of veiling regardless of their religion: for them that is normal. But for a person born into a culture that does not veil, to wear it feels like they are saying that they reject their own culture. Certainly it causes distress in the family unit, draws a great deal of attention to the niqabi (which is the opposite of what the Quran says to do in terms of being modest and not drawing attention to oneself). If there is no religious mandate for it then why wear it and why particularly Islam?

wendy said...

Little Mosque on the Prairie was a fairly good series until last year. The premise was about a 'Mosque' being in the basement of an Anglican Church because they had no other place to have one. It was a good series to show how Canadians and Muslims interact, both in good and not so good ways. Even the bad ways were okay. Nobody wore a niqab on the show but certainly there was a wide range of attire. The series was purchased by France and I'm not sure how many other countries.

Chiara, not many wear the niqab now so now is the time to make rules against it. My friend who was recently in Costa Rica had to remove her sunhat before entering a bank. Her face wasn't hidden but she had to remove her hat. Why? Because the banks insist on really SEEING who is in the bank. Seeing a face or requiring to see a face is not a strange request and it should not require hiring special people to look at the face in private. Canada is a very open country - some say too open and especially in light of the recent Sikh parade where some politicians received threats for there personal safety if they attended and where a float honouring Sikh terrorists was permitted. Anyway I digress from the point. The niqab is a little thing both literally and figuratively. If a woman feels she can't do without it then perhaps a more Islamic country would be a better choice for immigration. Nobody is stopping the building of mosques or religious schools here. Pray in your own way. Nobody is saying you can't celebrate your holidays or or have halal restaurants (France). All I want is to see your face. Is that really too much to ask?

oby said...

Little Mosque on the Prairie...watched 3 parts...very cute. Wish I had better reception tho. will watch more. Thanks!

Usman said...

I do not consider the veil / niqab as necessary part of Islam. Neither it is supported by Quran nor it was commonly practiced in Arabia at the time of Prophet. Women are subject to cover themselves form shoulders to toes. If women is not groomed and dressed up, she can even uncover her hairs. But it is better if she keeps the Hijab all the time when out. For older women the restrictions are even more loosened. Modern day burqa & abbayas came very late in the history of Islam and is totally an unnecessary invention.This is my understanding as a conservative Pakistani Muslim.

On the other, If you are living in a free society then what you want to wear is the right of individuals to decide. Government or anybody else is not suppose to tell you what you should or should not wear. Only on the workplace where you have some dress codes, Govt. should make laws to ban niqab. For example in Police, military etc.

So, in short, I see two levels of extremism and bigotry here. One practiced by those who claimed that veil is necessary. And other is practiced by those who goes to extent to make laws in "free society" to dictate people what to wear or not to wear.

Usman said...

Chiara, Susanne,

I agree with your views and appreciate the way you have addressed this issue.

Wendy, don't worry! we won't change the make up of this country. This will remain democratic and Secular as most Canadians want it to be.

On a side note, I feel there is some serious problem with francophone society. We don't see such hostility in Anglophones, but every other day we see some anti Muslim discomfort coming from French. Why?

Countrygirl said...

Maybe because in the US there is a different kind of immigration (more educated) while in France, Belgium you have some part of cities where a "native" can't go....UK on the other and is a lost cause....

But if you ask to an average american (not muslim) what do they think about the banning of nijab I reckon that the majority will be for the banning, but of course the PC crowd (newpapers, accademic and so on) will say that we shouldn't ban the nijab. In all the western world there is the average Joe/Jane that doesn't want the nijab around. Just look the comments in the news section of Yahoo about the banning of the nijab the majority part will support also in any newspaper who is running similar articles...the majority part of the comments are for a nijab ban in the US or UK

oby said...

Usman...This is only a guess on my part but I have had many French friends in the USA who came for studies. They are very proud of their culture...their food,language and even the fact that they don't like to change their language in any way...years ago there was a big fuss about using the word "weekend" the English word rather than the French which at this moment escapes me. anyway, it might be their desire to remain very homogeneous and French. It has been a long time since I have been in contact with these friends, long before this debate came on the scene, so as I said I am not sure what the reason is. But they were very resistant to anything American culture wise too (even though they lived here) and told me that they were proud of their heritage. Chiara might be able to give a better French Canadian view. I am sure there is a political reason as well of which I am not familiar.

oby said...


"Little Mosque on the Prairie was a fairly good series until last year" What happened? Was it discontinued? Can it be seen anywhere other than you tube?

Wendy said...

If you ask the general public they are in favour of banning the niqab. Our government bends over backwards to be politically correct most of the time so the 'official' view becomes one of 'hide the head in the sand and don't tackle it' with the exception of Quebec. The French are not known for keeping their views 'politically correct' and this is why they view things from a different perspective. This is my opinion anyway.

Usman said...


If given a chance, American public will vote in favor of kicking the Muslims out form USA. You don't have to inform me the reaction of Americans toward Muslims. I know it very well!

Maha Noor Elahi said...

The issue of banning niqab in Canada and France has many aspects; it's not just about who has the right to ban or allow, or who has the right to wear niqab or go out half-naked. The issue from my point of view is a country's policy and an awareness issue.

If any country opens different job opportunites and opens the door for immigrants, it should devise its policies accordingly. Opening the door for people from all over the world to be part of a country means allowing different cultures and religions to be part of that country. This should be the ABC of any immigration laws.Hence, the people of such countries must have enough awareness on the immigrants' backgrounds.

And let's be frank about something. Countries that welcome immigrants are not doing this for the sake of those people; they are doing it for money, so if they need the money (and they do), they should accept what comes with it.

Otherwise, any country has the rigth to set the rules that fit its cultural norms and that do not contradict or endanger its religious beliefs. Such countris who want to preserve their cultures and religons must not allow immigration, but unfortunately, some coutnries want it all..they want the immigration that boosts their economy and they want to keep their cultural identity and religion safe, which is impossible and that's what is creating probelms.

There is no midway here; it's either to be open to all cultures and accept all differences or remain a closed country to preserve your religion and culture.

When western countries adopt the glorious concept of freedom and equality and then fight the freedom of other people just because they don't belong to their culture, this means that these free countries have double standards of freedom; freedom works when it is in my works when it serves me and when it agrees with my beliefs, but when I don't like something "different", I am free to ban it! What kind of freedom is this?


Maha Noor Elahi said...


Your girlfriend's male friend is not just being intolerable, he is so prejudiced.

However, I don't blame him. He is like many men in Saudi Arabia and the Arab World...they resent and loathe niqab and sometimes hijab...they have the same arguments as your friend's friend, but the real reason is this: those men want to see women everywhere..they can't stand being deprived of gazing at women or enjoying their beauty..they seem very open-minded, liberal, and educated, but their only concern is to enjoy the presence of women...women to them are just for pleasure...of course, they claim to be women's saviors and advocates, but they are only advocates of their own desires...

On the other hand, women who claim to be very religious and insist on wearing niqab in Western countries are not really doing a favor to Islam. Well..if I am a very religious Muslim and I want to stick to my Islmaic practices and perfect them, I wouldn't choose to live and raise my children in a coutnry where Islam is not the ruling religion. I would definately choose to live in Makkah or Madinah..or any country that practices Islam freely....Those women don't know (or probably know) that niqab is not a must in all cases and that Islam is based on a very flexible principle "If you have a choice, choose the easiest and most convenient one as long as it doesn't affect your creed"

Choosing to wear hijab only won't affect a woman's religiosity ...she has the freedom to wear what ever she wants, but she also has to consider the cultural differences where she is going to live. Those women defy the West on purpose..they think they are defending their rights as Muslims, but they are doing more harm to Islam.

I am not against niqab as I wear niqab myself, but not when I go to America or any other Western country...I wear hijab , which is an option given to me by Islam, so why choose the most complicated option?

It really irritates me to see women insisting on wearing niqab and go the beaches of Cannes and Nice with their it of Islam to gaze at naked women? Visitng those places is most of the time the women's choice!

Are they really following the Islamic practices when they go willingly to see nude people (men and women)? It is not allowed for both men and women in Islam to gaze at naked bodies of both sexes, so what is the point here?

If a Muslim woman wears hijab and goes to live with people who hate her religion and people whose daily practices are against her religion, is she really in a suitable Islamic environment?

Muslims in the past were ordered to immigrate from places that don't allow them to practice their religion freely and safely. By choosing to live in a country that is not ruled by Islam, Muslims should put in mind that they have to make a lot of sacrifices and they have to be very tolerant, calm, and patient. Not all Muslims are fit and qualified to preach for Islam, so when Muslims go to study in the West, they should avoid creating arguments and controversy. If they want to preach for Islam, they should do this by example (only). Being a good Muslim has proved to be the best way of making non-Muslims convert to Islam. But defying a whole nation? a whole culture? This is just insane.


Maha Noor Elahi said...


We, Saudis for instance, wouldn't accept seeing a Canadian woman in shorts in a mall at Jeddah, and most Western women who come to Jeddah know this very well and respect the restrictions of our culture, so why can't we understand others' point of view?

I am trying to look at the issue from all aspects...Wearing niqab might not be harmful to us Muslims, but wearing shorts is also not harmful to a Western woman...

Many American and British women I know understand the rules of Saudi Arabia and abide by them, and the ones who can't understand them don't stay long in Saudi's a culture...either adapt to it or leave it to another culture where you feel more comfortable

I know my view will offend many Muslims, but if they are really concerned about practicing their religion perfectly and safely, they shouldn't go to countries where they are prevented to practice their religion....It's easier to control yourself and be a good Muslim ---rather than trying to change Canada or France:)

If some Muslims are not willing to accept other cultures and live in peace with people from other religions, they should stay in their countries...they will serve Islam and thier countries better this way.

Muslims in the past used to set amazing examples in the countries they used to travel to, but now they are only creating problems...why? because they don't really understand Islam nor they understand their mission as Muslims.

To end my long reply, I have to say again and again, I am not against niqab as I wear it ...I know many women Saudis and non Saudis who wear the niqab willingly and who are outspoken and intellectual, but defying a whole nation is another story.

freedom has limits...wearing the niqab harms others because they are afraid of the spread of them protect their cultures and religions...Islam will spread whether some like it or not...the question; how good are the new Muslims going to be? Do we just need to spread Islam and multiply the number of Muslims or do we want "quality Muslims"?

Thanks Chiara for a very thought-provoking post!

Usman said...

The French are also known for their xenophobia and inferiority complex over English world. This is my opinion anyway!

Chiara said...

Oby--depending on where you are in the US, you could watch it on CBC Mondays at 8:30pm or on CBS which has a guide to find it here.

Ratings have declined in the 4th season but it is still on.

Past seasons are available on DVD (check the first link for LMOTP above).

It is international syndication in both French and English and is seen throughout francophone Africa. The UAE and Finland also picked it up, and Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Turkey have been in discussions.

It seems that Fox will make a separate American version. Uh...hmmm...

Great comments everyone!

I will be back, just wanted to give a quick LMOTP fix! :)

oby said...

Country girl...

"But if you ask to an average american (not muslim) what do they think about the banning of nijab I reckon that the majority will be for the banning"

I think most non veiling societies will vote for non veiling if given a choice for various reasons, not the least of which is because it is odd for us to cover the face and we prefer to see those people around us. They wouldn't vote to allow any covering on the face 24/7, not just niqab. By the same token I can't wear sunglasses/helmet/ski mask etc while inside a bank for instance.Why? Because it hides identity.

However, in the USA there would be many who believe in freedom of choice and would not vote against it. There is a strong feeling as Chiara pointed out above, that people feel if we ban this now what will we ban next.That if we steal one groups freedoms what it to prevent our own from being taken away.

Probably as in your country we see many different types of people of many different
faiths/cultures/customs/dress etc. It is not uncommon to us and we don't think much about it as a rule. Some things however, just feel like a little too much. I tend to agree with Maha Noor Elahi that one must respect the culture one is in...if I were in Saudi I would most certainly dress in a respectful manner, one, because it is law but also because I think it is the correct thing to do to try to be as respectful to the culture as possible. When I am in India I am not forced by law to wear a Salwar Kameez(the Indian pants outfit)but I do as a way to show solidarity with the host culture and be respectful. I think it goes both ways...those coming here should do the same within reason.

Another blog had this report from the Pew Center on their blog once. If you look you will see that of all the countries listed Muslims in the USA are the most mainstream and well accepted.

"The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world."

I think that might be why this issue has not been raised in the USA yet or maybe not at all. I personally don't hear about many Muslim/nonMuslim issues in the USA. Of course it happens, but I think maybe one of the reasons that they are content is that by and large we don't hassle them that much. At least in my world and the ones I know it is a live and let live attitude.

Usman said...

From oby;

"If you look you will see that of all the countries listed Muslims in the USA are the most mainstream and well accepted."

This is in fact true.But US is not alone, Canada and England are also more or less in same place.

I do agree that American at large have great heart when it comes to accepting different cultures after all it is land of immigrants. But there are a couple of other contributing factors:

1) Percentage of Muslims in America is very small. Less than 1%

2)There is strong belief in America that intervention of Govt in the private life of citizens should be minimum.

Hence, it is more to these two factors that Muslims are not facing this issue in US, rather than simply saying that Americans are better than European in their personal attitude.

Anyway, I should not take anything away from Americans. USA is really my favorite country, it is always. Don't let my disagreement in last post get you impression that I am "anti American"

Countrygirl said...

@oby I think the word is assimilate, a pretty large part of the muslim in the US are assimilated while IMHO a njab wearing doesn't want to assimilate.

Where the freedom of choice contrast security? I mean why a woman who wear nijab demand to enter in a bank fully veiled while anyone else take off their helmet/cap/scarves?

I don't know but i have the feeling that most of the Americans would ban the nijab.....

I reckon that the main reason that in the US the muslim/non muslim isn't heard is because it's an HUGE country and generally muslims tend to live in big cities and most of the muslim immigrant are more educated compared to the one we have in here in Europe but there is a minority (mostly from Somalia) that are demanding more rights (prayer stops while other worker doesn't have).

Many nations in Europe are smaller compared to some US State and in come countries France or UK (to name a few) have more muslim compare to the US, they live in some parts of big cities that are no go zone for the "native" and second or even third generation doesn't speak well the language of the country they are living in.

Apart from the crazy converted can you assure me that each woman who wear a nijab is doing by her free choice (or even a hijab)? I live in a average town in northern Italy but i still remember cleary when I saw a woman fully veiled (she had even a tiny veil covering her eyes), wore tick black gloves and she walking with her daughter (she was around 4 or 5 years) will be this girl will be able to make a free choice.

None force those pious muslim to come here and for the converted who seemed to forgot that they were born in a western country and are ashamed that they are Italian why doesn't emigrate to Arabia?

Slighty OT One of the reason that lately there is a muslim issue is that you can't speak badly of Mohamed....Just look what is happening around South Park...during its 200th episode each and everyone was spoofed but when it was Mohamed was spoofed the producers received death threats and commedy central broacasted a "censored" episode I'm asking to all muslin poster why when some joke about Jesus/Buddah/whatever deity it's ok but when you touch Mohamed you can bet you mother that the cartonist/writer/director will receive death threats thank

(Sorry Chiara for my loooong comment)

Usman said...


"I'm asking to all muslin poster why when some joke about Jesus/Buddah/whatever deity it's ok but when you touch Mohamed you can bet you mother that the cartonist/writer/director will receive death threats thank"


You Christian or Ex-christian like to mock your own faith and holy personalities, then it is not my business. We Muslim don't mock Muhammad, Jesus or Moses. In fact in some Muslims countries, you will end up in Jail if you mock Jesus.

So, You should be asking this question to your fellow christian and countrymen that "What kind of christian you are that you are mocking your own prophet(Lord)?"

Ball is in your court, not ours.

Wendy said...

Countygirl on your 'off topic' comment about South Park, cartoons, etc...
Yesterday my husband rec'd an email joke from a friend in Saudi and the joke was making fun of Catholic nuns and Jesus. I was about to ask the same question. Why is it okay to make jokes about other religions and especially from a Saudi Muslim?

I am also sorry, Chiara.

Usman said...

"..joke was making fun of Catholic nuns and Jesus..."

Jesus is prophet of Islam. It is considered blasphemy in Islam to mock Jesus. Some Muslim countries have laws against this blasphemy.

Bottom line, It is NOT OKAY for Muslims to mock other religions or Jesus and Moses etc. All the mockery of Jesus comes from Christians in western country. You better ask them why do they do that.

Chiara said...

Thank you all for the great comments and civil discussion.

I will comment substantively tomorrow, but keep sharing in the meantime.

Thanks again to all! :)

countrygirl said...

Sorry Usman but here in the west we have a wonderfull thing called freedom of speech I don't see why an artist/humorist/cartoonist should impose some self censorship to avoid problems with muslims.

I'm a christian and I don' see anything wrong in parodies about Jesus (one of my fav movies i Brian of Nazareth). THere are some so called artists that made some disgusting painting/statues that could be considered blaspemy but the so called artist never received death threats....I am free to NOT go to see those painting/statues if I'm offended by them.

Why should we in Europe/America should abide with religion laws issued in muslim countries by avoiding making jokes of Allah/Mohamed .

Jesus, God, Allah, Mohamed are grown up boys and for sure they doesn't need the help of us humans to defend their virtue.

Van Gogh died only because he made a movie, Rushdie lived in fear fo many years only because he wrote a book, many former muslim are living in fear even in Europe only because they became Christian, the danish cartoonists are living protected 24/7 only because they draw some cartoon

Meanwhile famous directors, commedians, writers, humorist, and more can live without fear even though they seriously mocked other religions, portraited in a very negative figures from other religions.

Here in Europe people died because they showed Jesus in a negative way but it was during middle ages but we grew up maybe it's time for some muslim to grow up too

Btw Chiara what do you think about avoiding to mock Mohamed to avoid problems

oby said...


1) Percentage of Muslims in America is very small. Less than 1%

2)There is strong belief in America that intervention of Govt in the private life of citizens should be minimum.

Hence, it is more to these two factors that Muslims are not facing this issue in US, rather than simply saying that Americans are better than European in their personal attitude.

I agree with you 100%. I actually thought that the percentage of Muslims in the USA was higher...I had read up to 3%...regardless it is still a small # in relation to the overall population. I hope fervently as it grows over time we don't run into the same troubles that other countries have had and we all maintain our peaceful status.

You are right...the USA has a long history of wanting as little government intervention in private life as possible. Actually, that was one of the biggest reasons that the Government healthcare bill we wrestled with over the last year was so contentious...many felt that it was too much government involvement and the government was having too much say in our lives. It made people very uncomfortable. There is a long and rich history of Americans not trusting the government and keeping one very skeptical, distrustful eye out for them.

As far as personal attitude...again I agree. I don't think Americans are more magical than the Canadians or the Europeans at accepting. In fact, perhaps it is due to Chiara's political beliefs but since I have "known" her, I have come to believe that perhaps Canada has done an even better job of assimilating immigrants..not just Muslim ones either. They seem to be even more proactive about actions...for example changing the RCMP uniform for the Sikhs to become police...gotta admit I haven't seen anything like that here,,,but then again maybe there isn't a hot demand for it here...don't know.

As for the debate the other worries. Thanks for clarifying though. Americans aren't all bad. :-)

oby said...


Thank you for the info about LMOTP...I am going to see if I can search it down. I could watch it on the computer, but as I don't have a laptop I would rather watch it on TV with my feet up relaxed to really enjoy it. that way too I can share it with my daughter. Again, thanks so much for the info.

Susanne said...

"There is a long and rich history of Americans not trusting the government and keeping one very skeptical, distrustful eye out for them."

That's so true and I'd say especially so in the South. You know the feds did attack us when we wanted to be free, right? ;)

Wendy said...

I'll make another point about the niqab. In a country where they are not the norm wouldn't a woman wearing an niqab be drawing a lot of attention to herself? Her supposed desire to be modest and not be seen will in fact be having the opposite effect.
I know some women wear the niqab because they may think it makes them seem 'more religious'. How 'religious' or how faithful you are does not come from your attire but from within. Clothing has nothing to do with it.

Usman said...

From Wendy,

"'ll make another point about the niqab. In a country where they are not the norm wouldn't a woman wearing an niqab be drawing a lot of attention to herself? Her supposed desire to be modest and not be seen will in fact be having the opposite effect. "

Agree! And I am here not defending the practice of Niqab. The question is Govt.'s unneccassary intervention in what to wear or not to wear in daily life. I have made my position clear in my very first comment on this post.

"How 'religious' or how faithful you are does not come from your attire but from within. Clothing has nothing to do with it."

Clothing is not much to do with faithfulness, It is to do being modest in ones perspective.

Chiara said...

I just got back here, after doing a new post on the South Park issue, which is a response to one of the issues raised here.

Just a few thoughts. In both Quebec and France, the ban on the niqab is primarily a political grab for votes. That was clearly identified by the French press from across the political spectrum at the time that Sarkozy first proposed it, almost a year ago. It was part of his attempt to get the far right to join his centre right and re-elect him.

Similarly in Quebec there is a scramble among parties both provincial and federal to decisively win the Quebec vote. The appeal is to the current within Quebec culture that harkens back to its New France roots, wanting only Quebeckers of pioneer stock, speaking Quebecois (not French) and preserving this historical identity which includes Catholicism as well as the French language and French Canadian descent as core values to preserve against the encroaching English, whether from the rest of Canada, or the US; or, ironically from the immigrants that Quebec alone of all the provinces approves before they are approved by the federal government.

There have been no security incidents of any type with women in niqab in Canada. As was pointed out, women in Islamic dress, particularly the niqab draw a huge amount of attention. Normally when one is up to no good one tries to blend in with the locals not draw the eye of all and sundry.

Some Muslims have argued to me that anti-semitism isn't allowed, racism against black isn't allowed, etc but some how Islamophobia in various forms is allowed.

The topic of free speech shades into the new post on the South Park episodes, but here are some ideas. Freedom of speech is never totally free. There are always exceptions to that freedom, and ironically the US curtails certain types of freedom of speech more than others do (eg Canada tolerates more open sedition than the US does). Hate speech, especially that which incites to violence is curtailed. But, so is speech advocating pedophilia, child pornography, gang rape, how to commit suicide, etc.

Thank you all again for your comments here, and I hope you will comment on the 2 newer posts.

You are welcome to continue commenting here, and I might too, but I do plan to return to the topic of the ban on the niqab, and to the niqab in general in 2 future posts, so you may find that they inspire some other thoughts as well.

Oby--you are welcome for the LMOTP info, enjoy.

Countrygirl--I will never complain about a long comment, and suggestions off topic are welcome.


Maha--thank you, I will comment again on yours and others specific points.

Wendy said...

We await the next chapter Chiara!!!

oby said...

I wanted to add something...I have been thinking about the "Whys" of European demonstrations and potential banning of the niqab and potential differences with America.

Perhaps I wear the largest pair of rose colored glasses available but...

I mentioned in a post above that America as of yet has not had many problems...while thinking about that I remembered two things. Chiara once said on another post I participated on that in France (and perhaps England) the immigrants are marginalized and live in "group" housing that keeps them out of the larger population. I don't know if that is by design or if they are poor and this area is all they can afford or if they are on welfare and this is the housing provided. Coupled with that I remembered a good friend of mine who was French once told me(years ago, long before the conflicts or niqab issue) that one of the bigger negative issues he sees with France is the people's attitude toward others success. He said that if someone becomes successful that they sort of resent that and instead of being happy about that they try to pull them down. The example he used (and I'll never forget) is that someone in the neighborhood who knows of the person's success will scratch up his new car for example. ??????? He said he didn't see that attitude in America. That America almost expected people to at least try to be successful.

I started mulling that over and Usman pointed out, America is a country made up of immigrants. Almost everyone who is here now came from ancestors who came from somewhere else. They came for various reasons but generally to improve their lives either for freedom of religion or a better life financially or some other desire to improve themselves/situation. This idea of immigration and our ancestors coming from another country is buried deep in the DNA of most Americans. We think of ourselves as a country of immigrants at one time or another. I think on some level people know the whole country was made of immigrants and as such, perhaps are more comfortable with the idea of immigration. Our country doesn't have a history without immigration. Perhaps due to the idea that everyone came here to improve themselves in one way or another we accept that idea more easily.

America does not guarantee anyone success, but what it does say is that everyone should have a chance to succeed and it is up to them with lots of work etc. to do their best to make it happen. When someone does well, immigrant or not, instead of feeling resentment, we feel happy for them.They built a business from nothing with 18 hour days and alot of perseverance...fantastic! OK, not everybody would be happy, but on the other hand, I have never heard anyone I know be disappointed that an immigrant did well for themselves. In fact, they were happy because it meant they wouldn't have to be supported by taxes via welfare.

I can remember my parents many times when I was growing up talking about people coming from one country or another and the efforts that they make to begin a new life here. And if they make it...Great!They will pay taxes and be a good citizen because they have worked so hard to be a success.

Maybe one of the differences is that in America, unlike France, trying and succeeding is OK and not a bad thing and even expected of the immigrant. Why else come here and leave your home behind?

If the immigrants who come here feel that they are not marginalized and at least have a chance for success I would think that can make them feel comfortable, content and have a good view of their adopted homeland.

It could be the same in Canada too. I am not trying to take anything from it at all. I am not Canadian so I can't speak for them, as I said before it seems they do a good job of assimilating the foreigners.

Just exploring why things are different here and if there are reasons other than the ones Usman mentioned above.

Usman said...


I fully agree with you and I would like to emphasize a bit more.

US as Land of Immigrants is certainly a melting pot. Though Canada has not yet acquired that notion but it certainly has those elements in it. Notice there is no such thing as “ethnic American” or “ethnic Canadian”. There are Anglo American, French American, Irish American, German American, Latin American, African American. And similarly French Canadian, Anglo Canadian etc. So despite the categorization of the population into race and color to create (somewhat) pseudo majority, the nation is hardly a monolithic entity, or consists of large monolithic entities. The largest monolithic entity or ancestry group in America are German Americans who make up only17% of the population (2000 census). This lack of monolithic majority helps the country exist heterogeneously and absorb the alien customs and culture. Hence a veil or a Dastar does not give that much a bizarre look in US (relatively speaking) as it gives in Europe. In small European countries, people get a sight of veil and Dastar and feel that their culture and identity is “melting away”. But in America, this feeling is not as strong. People here have already absorbed several “alien” cultures and customs by now. For them anything new is just another one.

Another important factor which is not much discussed is the Anglophone factor. In my opinion, Anglophones are the least xenophobic people on earth. This is due to their large colonialism around the globe which lasted for a couple of centuries in almost every continent and as a result English being the dominant language in the world. As English speakers, they are more connected to world as compared to any other linguistic group. English gives them the medium to cohesively walk the walk with all kinds of folks around the world. This is a privileged or leisure not enjoyed by any other group, or at least not as much as do Anglophones.

On the contrary, French, for example, have serious problem in this regard*. Despite the fact that they too have been colonial power for so long and ruled half the Africa, they could not come to terms to adapt any “alien culture”.Whether you are in France or in Quebec, French want you to be French, they want you to behave French and be francophone. They seem more insecure about their identity and culture than Anglophones. The reason of this French Identity problem I do not fully understand. And Muslims are not alone in this complain. Jews in France, for example, have also raised similar issue recently.

These two factors coupled with two previous which I mentioned above are my answer to the question that why don't Muslims receive that kind of nastiness as they get in Europe. There is certainly hostility against Muslim as a group in America. But Muslim individuals are surprisingly very successful as compare to their European counter parts.

* For those of you who feel the heat that I sound anti-French, let me clarify that I consider Pakistanis and Arabs as xenophobic as are French.


Oby, we do have disagreement on certain other issues on this blog, but here I agree with you. Niqab has got nothing to do with the religion of Islam. Hijab has. It is a verse in the Quran that clearly forbids a woman from revealing herself. Now how not to reveal is left to interpretation, which in the case undermention, is more of tribal thinking and less of religious thinking. But here is a point. Xenophobic as Pakistanis might be, none of my christian friends ever told me that they were persecuted for being just a 2%of the hugely Islamic society or for that matter as a retaliation to what is happening to Pakistani muslims in the West, or that they were ever told to not wear the cross or if their nuns were stopped from wearing the headgear they wear or if someone objected to their wearing skirts in open areas...public areas, if you please. Xenophobic as Pakistanis might be, they are much better than those who follow political agendas, by instigating religious hatred.

Usman said...

Holy Sinner,

That Christian Issue in Pakistan has to do with religious intolerance. The term xenophobia does not apply here since christian Pakistanis are Pakistanis by means of ethnicity and race. They are not outsiders. So your comparison is quite wrong. Actually there is very very small insignificant non Muslim foreign population live in Pakistan. So issue of xenophobia does not exist over there.

When I used xenophobia in my remark, I was referring to intolerance and some ethnic tension in the country. Maybe I should have use a different word.

Dana Seilhan said...

Re: the notion that niqab should not be allowed because covering the face makes others uncomfortable, that's silly. Lots of things make people uncomfortable; only some of them are illegal. Shall we also lock up mentally ill people in institutions because their behavior causes discomfort? I ran across some really weird-acting people on the city bus who were otherwise harmless, just had a penchant for laughing out loud for no apparent reason at random times.

Re: the notion that a niqabi asking for a female police officer or clerk for the purpose of questioning is a "privilege" that no one else can have... What about people who are deaf or hard of hearing, who need a sign language interpreter? What about people whose first language is not English (or French?) who need a spoken language interpreter? What about a blind person who might need a Braille document to read? Niqab is not really a disability, but is a special situation that calls for extra services to address the issue.

A woman who truly believes it is modest to wear the niqab is essentially being asked to strip naked in public when you ban the face veil. No one has the right to do that to a person, I don't care what values you claim to uphold.

And until everyone in the Americas begins speaking aboriginal languages and living like the aboriginal people lived when Europeans first came here, I don't want to hear it about assimilation and behaving according to the host country's values. Every single one of us who is not pure aboriginal is the descendant of at least one illegal immigrant who refused to assimilate once they got here.

Every. Single. One.

Usman said...

Dana Seilhan,

Your comment...., is just perfect!
Loved Reading it, Thanks.

Tight LikeThat said...

Customs deemed acceptable in one culture or country are considered degrading or oppressive elsewhere. It all depends upon basic beliefs about men, women, children, marriage, sex, etc.

For example, many traditional cultures still practice arranged marriages in which the girl or woman is "given away" to another male, without having any choice or influence in the matter. The bride may be a young adolescent or teenager assigned to a much older man.

This practice is not considered improper where it exists, because it is assumed that women are inferior to men and therefore not entitled to the same rights, such as the right to choose one's own spouse. It may be socially acceptable for an older husband to engage in sex with his wife any time after her adolescence, because religious custom or cultural tradition says that reaching this biological milestone --rather than psychological & emotional maturity-- determines "adulthood."

In more modern and progressive societies, however, women are deemed to have equal rights to men, because there is no objective evidence that they are categorically inferior. Medical science has shown that children and adolescents are not capable of "consenting" to sex with adults.

In modern societies it is a crime for parents to force a child to marry someone against their will, or for adults to engage in sex with children younger than the legal age of consent, or for a man to engage in polygamy.

Few realize that in almost every modern country, a person cannot legally "choose" to become another person's slave or indentured servant if, say, one were desperate for food and shelter. Nor are you free to sell your own organs for this purpose, nor (in most places) your own body for sex. Nor can a woman "choose" to become a man's second or third wife if he's still legally married.

This is because practices like indentured servitude and polygamy are fundamentally exploitative and oppressive (if you believe in women's equal rights and basic human dignity, that is).

Even if a willing indentured servant said, "but I really, really *like* the fact that I get shelter and food in this arrangement; it isn't degrading for me at all!" it would not change the fact that it is exploitation plain and simple.

We would react similarly if a 14 year old girl said of a 40 year-old man, "but I liked the way he touches me, he makes me feel loved and appreciated." We would say, no he is exploiting you and it is unhealthy and wrong for you to have a physical relationship with an adult.

I think many people (including myself) who live in modern, progressive cultures, view the Niqab like polygamy, arranged marriages and men marrying girls: demeaning practices of female subservience that have absolutley no legitimate moral, ethical or rational basis in the 21st century. They simply are cultural relics of discredited, self-serving and bigoted (male) views toward women.

While I agree that passing a law is too harsh --energy would be better spent helping to educate women-- it is flawed reasoning to argue that "freedom" includes the "freedom" to give away your human rights and dignity in the name of any religion, custom or cultural tradition.

Eoin Whelan said...

Assalamu Alaikum sister, may Allah(SWT) Bless your patience. I would have beaten him senseless, and that the Irish side of me, not the Muslim side hahaha!!

Jazakh Allahu Khair,
Yahya Patrick John Whelan
(Thought Id add my whole name for effect)


Related Posts with Thumbnails