Saturday, September 19, 2015

Niqab opposition: so much manufactured outrage

The following is an letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen, as submitted on September 19, 2015.

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The fervor to keep Muslim women from wearing niqabs during public ceremonies, as echoed by columnist Mark Milke (Government right to challenge niqab ruling), is just so much manufactured outrage, and is but the latest front in a longstanding battle to force darker-skinned people to surrender their cultural identity by increments. The first increment, of course, is the attire most identified with one's religious or cultural background.

In the late 1980s, the battle centered on the right of a Sikh Mountie to wear a turban in lieu of the traditional Stetson while in uniform. If the anti-turban contingent had won the day, it likely would have opened another avenue of debate over what a Sikh Mountie should do with his long hair if not put it up in a turban. Pony tail? Perm? Cut it off? (Like I said: increments.)

In some quarters the demand for assimilation extended to other realms. As I recall of heated conversations at the time, some "old-stock Canadians" fumed that Sikh war veterans should "take the damn thing off" before entering a Legion. I also heard others say that they would refuse to get on an OC Transpo bus if the driver was wearing a turban.

More recently, the anti-turban sentiment has included unsuccessful efforts to have it banned from soccer fields.

And then earlier this year, Rania El-Alloul was banned by a Quebec judge from wearing her hijab in court because he simply didn't think it was "appropriate".

Niqab opponents such as Milke claim that the issue is of one of openness as well as opposition to a perceived "anti-woman" cultural practice. The way I see it, given the litany of attempts to get minorities such as Muslims and Sikhs to remove their distinctive head-coverings for a series of continuously shifting rationales, the current 'openness' craze is simply a faux concern pulled out of a hat for the sake of a general dislike of those cultures.

It would be nice if there was a little more 'openness' about the real motivation behind the petty yet persistent drive to force our brown-skinned neighbors head-first through the meat grinder of assimilation.

James Deagle
Ottawa, Ontario