Duplessis is alive and well.

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.

10 Replies to “Duplessis is alive and well.”

  1. Thanks for the referral, Sally. And this is a great post. Pushes my reflection further. Religious symbols and clothing make me uncomfortable and I am not sure about my own position. But what I do know is that in the end, how other women dress is none of my damned business.

  2. If in 20 years Quebec society changed and it was deemed wearing facial or hand tattoos was an attempt at male/human dignity, I’d just put makeup on them unless I was in tattoo-friendly neighborhoods/places.
    I wouldn’t move neither question my nationality for that.
    Don’t hesitate to speak you mind on my site, I won’t censor anyone unless you spam.

  3. Ah… I remember speaking to you at length about this some years ago — when I was in your office, to submit my final essay for my English Class [Critical Analysis?] We also had an in-class topic about Sultana-someone from US (a convert/revert) who refused to remove her niqaab (face-veil) for photo-id for driving license pic. It was a stimulating conversation. I remember people being quite surprised at the various opinions in the Muslims community re this issue (esp. about rules and exceptions in the face of necessity… etc). It’s good to see people don’t see Muslim women purely in pre-historic and colonial terms. Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical and Modern Stereotypes by Katherine Bullock is an awesome book on the subject. Very relevant to Canada and the West. I think it would be fantastic if passages were presented as part of the reading material. It gives great scope to reflect on equality, diversity, social issues, perception, objectivity, social media, and so on. I’ve been discussing many of the topics with people who’ve stereotyped Muslim women — incredibly many Muslims as well, who’ve found their perceived religious and social identity as being strained by external pressures. I think people forget what sort of construction and built-up Western history made of foreigners and other minorities to alienate them further away from, and to marginalise them from society. Recently, one of my good friend(a born-again Christian working in social and community environment) commented on how he finds Asians leading very difficult and complex lives. (I.e. in reference to family problems). Although this topic was different from the ‘veil-issue’, many similarities were drawn to discuss social perception and differences among Asians and Whites. I asked my friend if those same family issues present in Asian families would appear any different if they occured in Non-Asian (White) families. He thought for a minute and said it would. Hence, social issues, like say, domestic violence cases would appear more severe to him if they occured to people of Black and Ethnic Minority (BME). Subconsciously, of course, as I’m sure he would have no cause to deliberatly generalise or vilify a group of people, but it ‘can’ happen, due to imperial and oriental notions making subtle presence in society. He also found it was incredible how language differences, skin colour and different lifestyle can alter your perception of an issue due to lack of exposure to that given culture or people. Having said that, the opposite may be true if my friend found himself in Asia (or any other foreign land)… Hmmm…

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