So the Quebec Liberals have introduced Bill 94, which, if passed, would prohibit anyone with a covered face from providing or receiving public services. In our socialist state, “public service” means education and health, among other things – so no face, no healthcare, no teaching or learning, no driver’s license, and so on.
While the language of the bill does not specifically target Muslim women who choose to cover their faces for religious reasons, the bill is clearly a response to the “reasonable accommodation” issue, which reared its ugly head a couple of years ago with the now-infamous Herouxville doctrine and the sugar shack that (quite reasonably) accommodated a group of observant Muslims by making a special pork-free menu and providing a prayer space during the group’s visit.
Several of my fellow Quebecers, through letters to the editor and radio call-ins, have voiced their support for Bill 94. The standard argument in favour of the bill seems to be “if they come to our country, they should act like us.” When in Rome, as it were.
Ok, where do I start?
This is NOT a matter of choosing to be Canadian as opposed to Muslim. Canada is a place. Islam is a religion. One can be Canadian and Muslim, just as one can be Canadian and Jewish, or Catholic, or Wiccan. People who “come here” aren’t converts, they’re immigrants.
Secondly, the idea that this bill somehow sets Quebec up as a secular state, as our premier would have us believe, is disingenuous – we’re already a secular state, and that’s precisely why we (as a state) have no business telling people what they can or cannot wear, in terms of religious expression (not to mention that freedom of religion is enshrined in our national Charter of rights and freedoms – is Charest planning to whip out the notwithstanding clause when this matter, as it inevitably will, shows up in court as unconstitutional?).
Finally, the whole matter of telling Muslim women what they can/cannot, should/should not wear is so distasteful it hardly bears discussing. The fundamentally paternalistic condescension is nauseating. It’s leftover colonialism – you’ve come to our country (which assumes that there are no Canadian-born Muslims) to escape the oppression of your country (which assumes that, well, other countries, i.e., non-Western/North American/white countries, are oppressive); the niqab/hijab/burqa is a symbol of male oppression (which assumes that women are forced by their fathers or husbands to wear these things) and we’re going to set you free (which assumes that women don’t really choose to be Muslim).
And how are we going to set you free? By telling you what to wear.