Liberated Women, Oppressive Laws
By Sadiah Waziri

March 22, 2012

The drastic shift in foreign policies over the past decade-- more so the past five years, have had an immense impact on Canada's image to the world. The future implications of rights and freedoms deeply worry me as a citizen. Since the Conservative Party came to power in 2006, a much more direct and comprehensive effort has been made on the part of right wing politicians to further isolate minority groups. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney-- disreputable for his stance and support of deportation policies-- has once again entered the spotlight.
This time, it's for his recent implementation of the ni'qab ban. The ban was introduced this past December pertaining to citizenship oath ceremonies. Kenney off course made this an issue at a coincidentally favourable moment, when The Supreme Court of Canada was busy hearing arguments in the case of a woman wishing to testify in court while wearing ni'qab.
Kenney quote-on-quote declared that the veil "reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept in Canada. We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society... certainly when they’re taking the citizenship oath, that’s the right place to start.’’ Right place? Is Kenney going to determine a woman's place by banning her right to wear it? This isn't just about the citizenship oath. Kenney is also a strong supporter of the proposed Bill 94 in Quebec-- which if implemented, will seek to strip women who wear ni'qab with essential services.
The condescending tone espoused by Kenney, reminds me of the same inferior lens that was once cast upon the indigenous peoples of this land. Let us not forget that residential schools were the most powerful component in destroying Aboriginal culture and identity. Instead of learning from Canada's past indiscretions towards minority groups (such as the internment of Japanese immigrants in WWII), the Conservative government has opted instead to further isolate the Muslim community.
I interviewed a woman who has been wearing ni'qab for fifteen years of her life, in order to get her perspective on the recent ban. Aneesa, a vibrant and educated South Asian woman, was born and raised in Toronto, where she attended the University of Toronto, and obtained a degree in Near Eastern Studies at the St. George campus. She is now married and a mother of two. Aneesa is also Treasurer and Secretary of the largest home schooling organization in Canada, as well as head of a magazine dedicated to topics concerning Muslim women. She also runs a small business on the side, selling hand crafted goods and fair trade products, made by socially and environmentally conscious artisans.
When I asked about her opinion on the ban, she repudiated Kenney's statements ad infinitum. Aneesa proclaimed, "I have grown up seeing women wear ni'qab for thirty years in this country. Why are they being harassed and targeted now? I would like to ask Mr. Kenney what the real motives behind this ban are? One of the beauties of living in Canada was the strong commitment to tolerance. That acceptance is what made Canada beautiful, that it was okay to be you, that it was okay to disagree. Both my neighbours have absolutely no problem with not having to see my face. We live in harmony and we respect one another. This is what Canada is about. In all the places that I have lived, there is no other place I would consider home other than Canada."
Aneesa further asserted, "I believe actions speak louder than words. I am a law abiding citizen, I respect the existing laws of this land. I am a proud Canadian, my ni'qab does not cause any citizen harm. They should be discussing more pressing topics affecting this country such as issues pertaining to the gun registry, joblessness, food price hikes, not a ban that fuels misunderstandings." To emphasize how irrelevant her personal choice of dress should be to politicians who prioritize is so much, Aneesa stated, "My face veil at the time of oath has no bearing on the poverty apparent in Toronto."
Aneesa also mentioned the hypocrisy of those within the Muslim community who did not support the rights and freedoms of women who wear ni'qab. "Had the community been stronger and more tolerant within" she explains, "a ban would not have effectively been implemented. How is it anyone's business how I choose to dress, especially Muslims who oppose it? I'm not forcing anyone to wear it. The media is also very powerful in portraying stereotypes and causing fear amongst misinformed Canadians."
I also interviewed an articulate young woman by the name of Elisabeth Strout. She is a 19 year old Canadian citizen, who is teaching English in Egypt and currently studying to obtain her bachelor's degree. Elisabeth was born in Quebec to Protestant, American parents. She converted to Islam in 2010 and wears the ni'qab. She also mentioned that as a child, she had always had an admiration for the veil, even though she had no understanding of Islam, or the concept of veiling. Elisabeth articulated to me the following: "It's absurd that secular, western governments have taken it upon themselves to dictate to Muslims what their own religion does or does not require of them. By banning the veil, even if it's only in certain situations, the government is effectively saying that the veil is in some way harmful to the citizens of this country."
When I asked Elisabeth if she feels the ban somehow undermines Canadian values, she responded by saying, "Canada is my home, it is the country that I love and respect. It is a country that represents freedom and safety – freedom from harm and oppression. To dictate to women that they must dress a certain way during such an event, the taking of the oath of citizenship, of embracing the freedoms and responsibilities that come with being a “member” of this country, is to go against everything the country is supposed to stand for. As a Canadian citizen living abroad, it is with pride that I tell people, “I am Canadian” – a pride that comes from Canada’s image as a tolerant, welcoming society, an image that will quickly deteriorate if Canada follows the growing Western trend of trampling on Muslim rights."
Elisabeth also renounced the idea of women simply being oppressed by the veil when male relatives in her family including her husband had absolutely no say in how she chooses to dress. As someone who wears hi'jab (the more common visible head-covering worn by Muslim women) and as a Canadian citizen, I am deeply concerned about the implications of this ban, as it goes against the observance of religious freedoms that is outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Rarely will you come across a ni'qabi who is not willing to cooperate with basic security measures and safety concerns. The reality of the citizenship oath ban is to create issues. The ban in practice does not ensure that everyone is reciting the oath during ceremony. It is only a deliberate attempt to target and attack women who wear ni'qab, a gesture of intolerance and discouragement for those who seek to live in Canada. Jason Kenney made it blatantly clear that the citizenship oath ceremony was the "right place to start". The real question is, where will it end?


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