English Canada’s New Passion for the Niqab
There is something profoundly dishonest about Canada’s English-language press coverage of the expulsion of Ms. Naema Ahmed from her French class in Montreal for refusing to remove her niqab–a form of dress apparently inspired by Star Wars’ Imperial guard favoured by ultra-orthodox muslim women.
According the Globe and Mail, Ms. Ahmed “was told to remove the niqab or leave because a student’s mouth must be visible so an instructor can work on pronunciation.” This, according to the Globe, was akin to the practices “in some Arab and west Asian countries, such as the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan” and that “empowering state agents to enforce dress codes and bar the education of women is hitherto unknown in Canada.”
Sure… Except that, as it has widely been reported in the French-language press, even though Ms Ahmed’s teacher had agreed to let her do some exercises one-on-one and give oral presentations facing away from the class, she STILL refused to remove her veil AND demanded that male students be removed from her line of sight in the class.
The student was expelled after the teacher, the school and her classmates, who also, by the way, have the right to learn French, had made considerable efforts to accommodate her. Her demands reached the point where other students were being penalized.
We could forgive the editors of the Globe and Mail who are so thoroughly isolated in the English language that they actually published an editorial last week against changing the word forefathers in the first line of the French lyrics of Canada’s national anthem on the grounds that “Forebears doesn’t really work, because it sounds like four bears.” (Actually, Forefathers and Forbears are English words and therefore neither are in the French lyrics of O Canada. In French the word is Aieux, which sounds nothing like four bears or quatre ours, but a little bit like loser.)
But the boys and girls at the Montreal Gazette certainly speak French and yet they also chose to grossly simplify a complex issue that still divides Muslim nations like Turkey and Egypt–Ms. Ahmed’s homeland–centuries after the passing of the Prophet and turn into the more familiar narrative of redneck Québécois chasing out a foreigner out “their” schools. “Your face or your faith, she was told. She chose her faith.”
Well, if it’s OK to ask that men, be denied the privilege of contemplating your holy self, if that what your faith says, is it OK to ask that, say, Jews, gentiles and infidels sit in the back of the class? Maybe that they try not to touch to many things?
Just last year the case of a woman refusing to remove her niqab in a courtroom was in the news in Ontario. No Canadian newspaper thought this story worthy of an editorial. In fact, a quick search of “Quebec +niqab” and “Ontario+niqab” on the Canadian Newstand search engine tells me that the Canada’s English media has already killed four times as many trees over the Quebec incident.
Four times? Surely the right to cover your face in court will have consequences on our justice system and society at least as important as the right to learn French with a mask.
What’s going on here is that the “French people Bad, Canada Rocks!” bit is just English Canada’s natural defence mechanism against controversial issues that it is not mature enough to face yet. But it doesn’t work. These things are complicated and repeating “Canada is bilingual and multicultural” over and over again won’t make them go away.