AngryFrenchGuy

English Canada’s New Passion for the Niqab

with 327 comments

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.

Written by angryfrenchguy

March 14, 2010 at 12:08 am

327 Responses

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  1. I am no Surgeon General, but I would try and lay off the buttering of the bacon….seriously, that’s just asking for trouble!

    Natas

    March 26, 2010 at 4:10 am

  2. for the health concious –

    much better with margarine. (no dye)

    betty botta
    bought some butter
    but the butter was so bitter
    that betty botta bought.

    johnnyonline

    March 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm

  3. “much better with margarine. (no dye”

    Not really, if you concerned about cancer margarine is
    not recommended. Your better off with butter.

    ABP

    March 26, 2010 at 6:40 pm

  4. BREAKING NEWS —–
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/03/25/i%E2%80%99m-with-the-%E2%80%98intolerant%E2%80%99-quebecers/

    let me know if this unicode paste of the url does not function and i will provide an alternative.

    the scribblings of mark steyn.

    johnnyonline

    March 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

  5. “it is perfectly reasonable to point out the difference between red and black ink. the scots will attest to the perils of ignoring the red. in fact, i am always glad that you take the time to point this out.”

    Here is some more pointing out. Looks like the ROC is finally starting to wake up – see the comments from the Alberta finance minister.

    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/782673–quebec-a-poor-little-rich-province?bn=1

    ABP

    March 27, 2010 at 8:49 am

  6. Bacon up that sausage, boy!

    IslandJohn

    March 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

  7. John, Can oysters be enrobed in bacon?

    You guys had better start passing some defensive legislation in PEI. If you don’t hurry up and take away their veils, they most certainly will take away your bacon!

    A little self-deprecating humour below:

    http://www.theonion.com/audio/aclu-defends-nazis-right-to-burn-aclu-headquarters,17064/

    http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podshows/6275647

    edward

    March 27, 2010 at 11:33 am

  8. I prefer the pepsi story :P

    IslandJohn

    March 27, 2010 at 12:23 pm

  9. edward wrote:
    “So would you ban nuns and priests from wearing their habits and collars in public?”

    You are being very picky of what you retain from my comment. I was specifically targeting the general public, not religious leaders. I have no problem seeing a rabbi or an imam dressed in their traditional costumes, on two conditions: that they only dress as such when they are effectively exercising their religious leader functions and that we can see their faces. Same for nuns. Same for priests. I hope you are not about to suggest that I’d prefer for cops not to wear uniforms…

    On a side note, I haven’t seen a priest wearing a priest habit in a very long time (except inside a church) and I have trouble even remembering what a nun’s habit looks like. In contrast, not only do religious leaders of certain other religions proudly wear their habits, even the believers do (to the point where I have trouble telling an imam from a mere islamist).

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm

  10. James wrote:
    “But *here* they cry foul. What’s good for the goose…”

    Thanks for the link, James! So, this only goes to show what I have been pointing out for some time: that all this freedom of religion abuse is only leading to some religious groups trampling the rights of others. Scary!

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 27, 2010 at 7:17 pm

  11. AFGirl,
    Your Catholic-based notions about religious habits are not so catholic.

    For example, Jewish rabbis have no special dress that sets them apart from other Jews. In fact a rabbi is just a highly trained teacher, not someone distinct from the laity and ordained in the name of God.

    What you are saying is that if Jews or Muslims organized their religion more like Catholics you would be OK with it. That is a bit like an Anglo saying they speak fluently in French, except that they replace French words with English ones and French grammar with English grammar.

    edward

    March 27, 2010 at 8:50 pm

  12. Once again, edward, you pick whatever you think you can attack and then pervert it into something else. Let me spell it out for you so you get it right this time.

    I am A-OK with religious leaders wearing their religious “uniforms”, even if they are the same as what any believer would wear. I am not OK with believers wearing their religion on their sleeve, especially not those who, by the same token, trample human rights we have fought hard and often to the blood to acquire.

    Your comparison with that twisted example of the Anglo speaking French without speaking it is… Well, sorry, no compute.

    Why you accuse me of having Catholic-based notions is totally beoynd me. I care for Catholicism about as much as I care for Islam.

    You make me think of an attorney whose name ends with -baum or -stein. I’ll even venture to say you must be a Jew. Why else would you be so eager to twist the words of a seemingly Catholic-minded person?

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 28, 2010 at 8:42 am

  13. Oh, by the way, edward, if rabbis weren’t “someone distinct from the laity and ordained in the name of God”, then you really need to explain to me why just any Jew wouldn’t do to bless 85% of the food sold in grocery stores… Why does it absolutely take a rabbi, huh?

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 28, 2010 at 8:44 am

  14. Oh, and pardon my ignorance about Jews, rabbis and the like. The thing is, I don’t have to know these things as I am not a Jew, and even if I were, nothing in the law could force me.

    That’s what this dicussion is about: the right to be ignorant of the myriad religions in the public space. I prefer to mind my own, and nothing can take that away from me.

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 28, 2010 at 8:53 am

  15. I do understand your point and I think it is very reasonable that you don’t want somebody else’s religion shoved in your face against your will.

    My point is simply that those from Eastern and mid-Eastern religions have a different approach to religion, which involves personal practice and ritual rather than allowing the clergy to be the representative of their religion. They have “teachers” who are more like guides rather than priests who are actual conduits to God. This means that wearing their religion “on their sleeve” is part of their daily lives and cannot be eliminated without banning the religion itself. I too find it risible that Orthodox Jews or Mennonites walk around in 18th century garb but I have no desire to force my opinions on them.

    I come from New York which is something like 20% Jewish so you just end up learning this stuff “on the street”. You don’t have to be Jewish there to learn that they maintain their own boards of inspectors that certify whether foods are produced according to religious requirements (not to bless the food).

    You claim the right to be ignorant of the myriad religions in public but I think it is cool to see all these different practices around me. If someone were to grab my arm and make me enter their mosque, or accost me on the street and try to make me read their “informational pamphlet” I would not be so patient.

    However you are asking to be allowed to pretend that these diverse people around you don’t exist. Or at least to pretend that they don’t have religions. I really don’t understand why you would want that in the first place, but in any case I do not believe you have any right to not be offended by their mere existence. If you want to live in a homogeneous community then change the immigration law (though it is too late for Montreal). You can’t demand people all dress alike or act alike in the public space. Even taking AFG’s analogy to Klingon costumes into consideration, you can’t make them stop dressing up as a Klingon in the public space unless they are menacing.

    The idea that those who represent the government should present themselves as neutral makes sense, but there are no grounds to extend this idea onto the streets as you suggest.

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 9:24 am

  16. p.s. I am being picky about what I discuss from your posts because I generally agree with them. It is just a few details that merit further discussion.

    I consider religion a fascinating human pathology. In fact if any member of my family were to come home sporting religious gear or announcing that they joined a cult I would be extremely unsympathetic.

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 9:46 am

  17. I had missed James’ link to the Atheist bus adverts.
    It is a fantastic idea — a unique approach to the “militant atheism” espoused by Dawkins.

    I can’t wait to see the first bus.

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

  18. Question. Isn’t atheism a kind of religious belief? (in contrast to agnosticism which is a philosophical conclusion).

    If laïcité laws can be extended to public services, would it not be legitimate to ban this kind of religious advertising on a public service like a bus?

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

  19. “probablement” pas?

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 10:38 am

  20. AngryFrenchGirl writes:

    You make me think of an attorney whose name ends with -baum or -stein. I’ll even venture to say you must be a Jew. Why else would you be so eager to twist the words of a seemingly Catholic-minded person?

    Perhaps, AngryFrenchGirl, you need to ask yourself why you would automatically think that someone is Jewish just because you believe they are “twisting” your words. This prejudging tendency on your part, if you care to examine it, may reveal some things about you that you may want to change.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 28, 2010 at 11:42 am

  21. the steyn article: Je suis avec les Québécois ” intolérants” can be found translated here:

    http://www.postedeveille.ca/2010/03/mark-steyn-je-suis-avec-les-qu%C3%A9b%C3%A9cois-intol%C3%A9rants-.html#more

    johnnyonline

    March 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

  22. The waters have become so muddied at this point. There are at least 8 entirely distinct issues all falling unfortunately under the same rubric or at least being lumped together in the media and by political groups:
    1. Government employees wearing religious paraphernalia.
    2. Government being asked to make concessions to accommodate religious demands (e.g., Halal diets in cafeterias).
    3. Citizens seeking government services wearing religious paraphernalia.
    4. Citizens demanding accommodating concessions from the government (e.g., requesting to be served by a policeman, bureaucrat etc. of the same sex).
    5. Citizens seeking government services with their faces covered.
    6. Citizens making overt displays of their religion on the streets in a way that does not demand concessions of others
    7. Citizens demanding concessions of others (e.g. YMCA window frosting).
    8. Citizens walking on the streets making overt displays of their religion that are clearly offensive to the majority (e.g., anti-feminist traditions like the burka).

    There are probably other categories that I missed or that haven’t come up (e.g., small communities practicing shari’a law). It is impossible to treat all these identically.

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

  23. To edward:

    “My point is simply that those from Eastern and mid-Eastern religions have a different approach to religion, which involves personal practice and ritual rather than allowing the clergy to be the representative of their religion. They have “teachers” who are more like guides rather than priests who are actual conduits to God. This means that wearing their religion “on their sleeve” is part of their daily lives and cannot be eliminated without banning the religion itself.”

    I fully understand this difference in religious practice. However, I see two not so minor problems with this. The first is that it is not our society’s responsibility to make our society compatible with those religious practices: it is the immigrant’s responsibility to ensure that they can practice their religion as usual without in any way interfering with the society they move to. In other words, they have to do their own homework, and if they don’t, I guess that’s their problem. In the case of Islamists, it is clear that their religious practices are fully incompatible with Canadian values (just one example is that women are often seen as goods rather than as persons and are not allowed to participate in public life–this is a violation of the Charter, nothing less). The second is that their adjusting to Canadian values, if it constitues the banning of any part of their religious practices, that banning does not come from society but from those who practice that religion. In other words, if you know you have to change your ways in order to integrate into society, then how can you still go live there and then accuse that society of forcing you to abandon your religion? This is like jumping head first into a swimming pool when you know you can’t swim and then accusing the swimming pool’s administration of not ensuring you don’t drown. I will even add a third point: why should I bother to even take into account how their religious practices are different? How would it be up to me to help preserve their religious practices? Who chose to be part of that religion and who chose to import it here?

    “You claim the right to be ignorant of the myriad religions in public but I think it is cool to see all these different practices around me.”

    Yeah, but that’s just you. Don’t assume that your finding it cool means everybody will or should. Otherwise, you would be yourself asking for everybody to be exactly the same, which according to your own comments you seem to condemn. I also find diversity cool, but it stops being cool when I am forced to integrate that diversity into my personal life whether I like it or not (I shouldn’t have to answer the door to preachers and I should have the right to address a man). As for grabbing your arm and making you enter a mosque, well, every Saturday, Sunday AND Wednesday, Jehovah’s Witnesses come ringing my doorbell. You have no idea how many times I have told them they can keep their so-called religion to themselves and specifically asked to blacklist me, yet they insist to wear out my doorbell. I am about to go to court for harassment. How come they are allowed to do this despite my religious freedom? I’ll tell you how: because it is part of their religious practice to spread the word, so they are allowed to harass me on the grounds of religious freedom. In other words, they are allowed to trample my religious freedom out of religious freedom. So, yes, edward, in a sense, we are being forced to enter the mosque.

    “However you are asking to be allowed to pretend that these diverse people around you don’t exist. Or at least to pretend that they don’t have religions.”

    Once again, you are being picky–please don’t put words in my mouth. I am not asking to pretend they don’t exist. I am asking to take religion out of the equation so we can deal with each other on neutral ground. How do you want to deal with people on neutral ground when those people don’t even recognize my right to address them, based on their religion?

    “You can’t demand people all dress alike or act alike in the public space.”

    Why does it have to be all extremes? It looks like, to you, we are either totally different or identical. One is a brunette, the other is a blonde. They are both beautiful. So are they different or are they the same? Let’s say I want to go naked and you want to be dressed. If you then forbid me from going naked and force me to get dressed, are we then alike? I can still wear a pink skirt while you wear your blue pants. Would you consider that by being both dressed, we are dressed alike? Do you wear pink skirts as well?

    “Isn’t atheism a kind of religious belief?”

    No, it isn’t. It is more or less the contrary of a religious belief. I have trouble, too, with the term “religious belief”. A belief can be not religious and still be a belief. Someone can be religious without believing. So, atheism is a belief but it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It is a kind of refusal to submit oneself to a religion, in a sense. For some, it is simply a lack of belief in anything (other than the freedom to not have a belief). For yet some, it is a rejection of what some consider to be irrational, or in short, the choice to be rational. To me (please, don’t contradict me on this, I am talking about my personal beliefs), it is simply a lack of need to submit myself to anything that even comes close to a divinity, a doctrine and especially an institution. I am a grownup and I can handle my life without any divine intervention, thank you. So, no. The promotion of atheism is nothing to be banned. I personally don’t think these ads will change much as atheists are usually independent enough to know they don’t have beliefs without being told. The campaign however sure is useful for two things: setting the record straight (I am glad my beliefs, or rather the lack thereof, are recognized at least on a few buses) and showing how some relgious groups demand to be tolerated all the while being intolerant of others. I am actually wondering if this wasn’t specifically the purpose of that campaign.

    Before you attack the above paragraph, I just want to point out that if no religious groups were publicly promoting their own religions (through advertizing, dress or any other means), then yes, I would find it just and fair to ban the atheist campaign. But we are not even close to getting to that bridge, so… ce qui est bon pour minou est bon pour pitou!

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

  24. Tony Kondaks wrote:
    “This prejudging tendency on your part, if you care to examine it, may reveal some things about you that you may want to change.”

    Read into it all you want. edward seems to be quite knowledgeable of Jewish faith and custom, and he seems to be defending it as well. And twisting my words he was, as you seem to be doing as well. If you care to examine it, this may reveal some things about you that you may want to change.

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm

  25. My, my.

    You are an angry French girl.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 28, 2010 at 1:23 pm

  26. Question. Isn’t atheism a kind of religious belief? (in contrast to agnosticism which is a philosophical conclusion).

    If laïcité laws can be extended to public services, would it not be legitimate to ban this kind of religious advertising on a public service like a bus?

    well, in repeated, and bloated, and convoluted posts, it’s been explained to us that those demanding that public servants enforce medieval style gender segregation and the inferiorization of women are advancing benign and “trivial” requests which should be cocked to by said public servants in the spirit of « la laïcité ouverte ».

    If the demands just reviewed are so benign, it’s not clear why the buying of ad space by skeptics about God’s existence in a venue also used by the established religions, and containing no demands upon anyone, is so nefarious.

    So Angry French Gal, we don’t even need the reactions of the church authorities to the bus ads to illustrate your point that the holy rollers aren’t prepared to practice the same accommodation of non-believers which they demand of them. We can find the same hypocrisy buried in the abstruse teachings of Imam edward.

    James

    March 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm

  27. AFGirl,
    Once again I find that we agree more than we disagree.
    Yes, every case you cited where someone has intruded into your life to impose or even just to offer without invitation to make available some religious information to you is inappropriate and an abuse of the freedom they have been given to practice their religions.

    As for atheism being a “religious belief”, I didn’t so much mean to lump them together semantically, but rather categorically. Religions all have in common the irrational belief in the supernatural, which is of course not a part of atheism. But they do seem to be similarly protected under the law. At least in US law, with which I am more familiar, the supreme court found in Torcaso v. Watkins that the freedom of religious expression similarly protects the right to not believe in God as the right to follow any other religion. In this case the state of Maryland originally required a declaration of a belief in God (but no particular God or religion) to hold public office. Initially the appellate court ruled that this did not constitute religious discrimination, but the supreme court overturned that ruling.

    I don’t know where the Charter stands on this matter. I love everything about the bus adverts, but wanted to raise this point because it may be an example where being overzealous in opposing the public expression of religious views (laicity) could come back to bite you in the end.

    Alaykum es-salaam

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm

  28. ” if no religious groups were publicly promoting their own religions (through advertizing, dress or any other means), then yes, I would find it just and fair to ban the atheist campaign.”

    Please no. Don’t ban it under any conditions.
    In the US the anti-evolution, anti-humanism factions in Texas have succeeded in removing reference to Thomas Jefferson from history textbooks because Jefferson supported separation of church and state. These same individuals have advanced the teaching of “intelligent design” as an equivalent alternative to evolution. Atheism needs to be promoted in public and to win over converts from the anti-rationalist camp.

    The rights of individuals to express their views should not be impeded in order to assure respect for the majority view. But expression and imposition are two very different things. Influencing the classroom curriculum is tantamount to religious indoctrination and there’s certainly no place for it in a science or a history class.

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm

  29. In effect, we agree again on this point since you did preface your putative ban with “if no religious groups were promoting their own…”
    Sorry to overreact.

    edward

    March 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

  30. @ edward:

    I did not mean that you lumped the two words together–they have been lumped together for so long (pre-recognition of atheism) that nobody even knows what it means anymore, and the term “religious belief” has in my opinion become archaic a long time ago (somewhere around the fifties). The term was coined in times when being an atheist was a sin, and therefore it was implied that if you have a belief, then you are automatically religious (this was actually true in North America around the turn of the century).

    I was only trying to attract your (and everyone else’s) attention to the fact that this term is wrong in this context. I totally understand your using it, though. Everybody still does. But I think it is high time we pay attention to the words we use. Now, if I could only find a clear definition of “freedom of religion”… It is protected by the Charter, but the Charter is mum on its definition. Granted, there is jurisprudence, but it is very limited, and I guarantee that this jurisprudence could not be used to finally stop Jehovah’s Witnesses (and the Mormons, who spend all their time in the Montreal metro underground looking for fresh meat) from harassing me or anyone else. Any term used in law that is not clearly defined is bound to be interpreted as it suits your interests…

    I think the term “religious belief” is just as much of an oxymoron as “religious freedom” and “reasonable accommodation”. There still exist reasonable accommodations that are reasonable, but increasingly, these accommodations are anything but reasonable.

    For now, we only have a handful of women wearing restrictive religious clothing. But these women are trying our tolerance, and seeing as the government is being more then generous with them so far, I think it is safe to say we will be seeing a lot more niqabs soon. When that time comes, I wonder what will become of the rights women have fought so hard to achieve. I do fear for those rights.

    AngryFrenchGirl

    March 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm


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