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. “And by all means, someone please put the cross at the national assembly in the trashbin.”

    Preach it, brother!


    March 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

  2. @Raman & Tancrede

    “Religions divide, segregate and foster mistrust. And that’s why they should be kept out of the social (public) realm.”

    I know, I know… But as you all know by now, I have a fuzzy bleading-heart, NPR, ni–er-lovin’, tree huggin’ liberal side along with my angry separatist crunchy side…

    I’m very worried about the many people who are using your very good arguments to mask straight out islamophobia. The minaret affair in switzerland is a good example of arguments for laicity being used for other, more nefarious objectives.

    But I don’t know… I lean and bend in the wind.


    March 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm

  3. I completely agree that religion is the source of much of the world’s evil. Lenny Bruce rejoiced in the fact that “every day people are leaving the Church and returning to God”.

    I have no place for it in my own life, but I wouldn’t presume to make decisions for others about such a personal thing.

    I feel exactly the same way about nationalism as I do about religion. It allows the small to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves without actually having to contribute anything of value.
    National identity also “divides, segregates and fosters mistrust”.

    It is probably a toss up which (religion or nationalism) is responsible for more wars.


    March 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm

  4. tancrede,

    if not for your immediate redoubt i would have been hard pressed to distinguish you from any hard core evangelist available on tv.

    but let’s get a few things straight.

    the jewish faith is non-triumphal unlike the later following monotheisms of christianity and islam (which are triumphal and actively seek out converts).

    your proselytizing on behalf of godless secularism betrays your ignornance of human nature. mythology (in every and all known cultures) is a testament to the endless desire for the sacred. you may know something the rest of the world doesn’t – but i wouldn’t bet on that. in any case, your spiritual bankruptcy is not important is this discussion – it is the facts that merit attention.

    when you said that “Once you allow people some rights because of some delirious thoughts…” i almost fell off my chair. nobody allows rights – and maybe it just my misunderstanding and something is lost in translating your thought – but – these are not “rights” – they are privileges. rights existed before governments and are often perverted by the laws of man.

    if you have not been paying attention (and that is an understatement) – your “minimal rules of life in society” come from the 10 commandments.

    now if you want to compare islam with christianity 800 years ago – you may find some similarities but your proposition of throwing all into one basket is such screed that i’m surprised you put your name to it.

    comparing the christian church with a totalitarian political theocratic system such as islam is beyond redemption. why don’t you keep this to yourself – before some like-minded individual takes it into their thick skull to ban such words and ideas.

    as for removing a conerstone of our common history from the national assembly – hey! what a great idea – lets burn all the 1837 patriots’ flags while we’re at it – who needs history, culture and values anyway?

    let’s just make them up as we go. there’s a surefire road to stability and prosperity eh.

    jesus, mary and joseph – now i have to wipe the spittle out of the corner of my mouth.

    by the way, it is not too difficult to imagine that you could not read what i write if not for the efforts of the benedictine order during the middle (dark) ages.


    March 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm

  5. All of your should spend more time in discussing issues other than a piece of cloth..over some womens head.

    @ TDN

    The people 80 miles SE of MSP (Hwy 52) seem to be very friendly and helpful… they do not speak much (any) french but I have come to know they have other humanitarian priorities. Some speak other languages and I am sure some can speak french but they have one common goal…


    March 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm

  6. AFG said: “I’m very worried about the many people who are using your very good arguments to mask straight out islamophobia. The minaret affair in switzerland is a good example of arguments for laicity being used for other, more nefarious objectives.”

    I have to agree. For instance, the dubious attempt to mask the presence of the cross at the national assembly as “cultural” (!) by Pauline Marois is a case of this kind of double-talk. I doubt that we can tackle the problem posed by islamism without falling in islamophobia if we do not adress the question of the elephant in the room, i.e., religion itself and its place in western societies. If we do not, the debate on “laicity vs religion in the public place” will be a mask for “our religion vs theirs”, and it horrify me as much as you.

    Probably the test would be: is someone ready to agree to take the same measures against “his” relgion (wheither or not we believe, we all have a familial religious background, even if it skips a couple of generation) than he ask to take for other people’s religion ? If not, he is a fraud. Guy A. Lepage said on his show that if the cross was removed from the national assembly, “it would be fairer for everyone”. Hard to disagree.


    March 15, 2010 at 11:39 pm

  7. Yes I suppose now that the Church has come around to acknowledging that Galileo was correct as of 1992, Christianity really can be considered a modern religion.


    March 15, 2010 at 11:44 pm

  8. a while back, when my brother lived in boston –

    anyway, just outside boston – a municipality that had been around a long time would not allow the corporate symbol (golden arches) to be erected as signage – because it would disturb the architectural ambiance. it was some ridiculous patrimonial heritage argument or something.

    this was nefarious right. or unfair.

    you will have to admit that taking something down is not the same as putting something up. from where i sit – the nefarious action is the eager endorsement of political manoeuverings practised most recently by communists.

    in any case go ahead and remove the symbol if you can get enough support and if it makes you feel better and you think it will improve things. you may clap yourselves on the back and declare yourselves enlightened. furthermore, you will have saved countless individuals from being exposed to such a bad example.

    is that too much of a stretch?

    hugo chavez is in the news again – seems he wants to censor internet access – seems he just wants things to be “more fair.” apparently he’s not big on being criticised cause that could lead to debate. or crummy results in the next election – if there is a next election.

    this from the guy where the murder rate has quadrupled since he took power. two an hour – day in and day out. i can guarantee that there have been zero reports or pictures of nuns wearing camoflage, red shirts, berets and toting ak-47s.

    we can only hope that gallileo has forgiven his tormentors- know what i mean edward – those despicable blinded-by-ideology guys fearful of the enquiring mind and curious spirit that human beings tend to exhibit on a regular basis.


    March 16, 2010 at 1:30 am

  9. Damn, johnny, what a good encryption protocol you are using ! Not a single sentence that make sense. I get the feel of something about bad, bad commies not liking religion, but I must be wrong since the 50s and McCarthy and the cold war are a long time ago now.

    No encryption protocol is needed here I think. Please feel free to share your thoughts in clear, everyone will be happy to be able to read them.


    March 16, 2010 at 7:21 am

  10. “I’m very worried about the many people who are using your very good arguments to mask straight out islamophobia.”

    Yes indeed, there hasn’t been too much of a dérapage in Quebec on the niqab issue just yet, but it can always happen. Look at Bouchard-Taylor…

    Living in the ROC at the time, I remember the turbans in the RCMP thing being supposedly all about Canadian traditions. But 90+% of the commentary I heard was just blatant racism against Sikhs, to be frank.


    March 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

  11. One thing to wonder: If it’s all about covert racism and intolerance of minorities, then why isn’t anybody complaining about Indian women’s saris or about African women’s headdresses…

    That fact is that there is no need to look for suspicious submotives: It is indeed about a comeback of religion in the public and civic spheres. And one that happens to be promoted the most aggressively by Islam nowadays, thus creating reactions that tend to target that religion specifically.

    At my school, for example, the only religious signs you’ll observe are Muslim veils: Worn as much by kindergarten teachers as by 8-10 year old students.
    Ditto when I went to renew my passport recently: The only officer who exhibited her religious affiliation was a woman wearing a hijab.
    And again, when I look through my window, the only people I’ll notice for their religious affiliation are veiled women.


    March 16, 2010 at 11:54 am

  12. AFG : «Pat Lagacé seems to have reached the same conclusions as me»

    Ans so do Josée Legault, J-François Lisée and Richard Martineau, on their blogs.


    March 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm

  13. Déclaration des Intellectuels pour la laïcité

    (Click on the link to read the declaration and sign the petition)

    Extracts :

    La laïcité permet de gérer le pluralisme social sans que la majorité, qui en fait aussi partie, ne renonce à ses choix légitimes et sans brimer la liberté de religion de quiconque. Loin d’être une négation du pluralisme, la laïcité en est l’essentielle condition. Elle est la seule voie d’un traitement égal et juste de toutes les convictions parce qu’elle n’en favorise ni n’en accommode aucune, pas plus l’athéisme que la foi religieuse. Le pluralisme ainsi entendu n’est ni celui des minorités, ni celui de la majorité. Elle est aussi une condition essentielle à l’égalité entre hommes et femmes.

    Si l’idée d’un État laïque est antérieure aux Patriotes, on ne peut donc pas dire que la laïcité est une réaction défensive face aux minorités issues de l’immigration récente. La déconfessionnalisation des institutions publiques s’est faite au nom de la liberté de conscience et du pluralisme. C’est aussi sur ces principes que reposent les actions visant à mettre un terme aux prières dans les assemblées municipales ou encore les demandes de retrait des crucifix des tribunaux, des salles municipales et de l’Assemblée nationale. En aucun cas les droits des minorités ne sont-ils menacés par cette laïcisation; bien au contraire, un grand nombre d’immigrants qui ont fui des régimes autoritaires et théocratiques sont d’ardents défenseurs de la laïcité.

    Le signe religieux étant un langage non verbal qui exprime la foi, les croyances, l’appartenance religieuse et le code de valeurs de la personne qui le porte, il est normal que l’employé de l’État s’abstienne d’un tel discours puisque l’usager des services publics n’a pas à y être soumis lorsqu’il fréquente des institutions par définition neutres. Sans que le signe religieux ne remette en cause le professionnalisme de l’employé, l’affirmation de ses croyances s’avère incompatible avec la nature de sa fonction. Accepter ces signes risquerait par ailleurs de conduire à une surenchère d’expression de convictions qui n’est certes pas souhaitable dans la sphère publique. Et on ne peut faire abstraction du fait que certains des signes les plus ostentatoires représentent pour plusieurs un rejet de l’égalité des sexes qui est une valeur démocratique fondamentale.


    March 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

  14. Contrary to what AFG writes, I read everything that he claims the French press covered but English Canada was hiding in The Gazette.

    AFG is obviously suffering from “Two Solitudes” syndrome.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm

  15. What I find most amusing about the Déclaration des Intellectuels pour la laïcité that Raman links to is that despite the fact that it is a declaration for secularism and pluralism that there is hardly a non-quebecois name amongst the signatories!

    Practically every single name is a quebecois-de-souche name leading me to suspect that each and every one of these tolerant individuals talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

    I wonder how many of them support the race law/hate law Bill 101?

    Tony Kondaks

    March 16, 2010 at 4:03 pm

  16. TK, you’ve once again surpassed yourself in terms of sophism here. In fact, I think “sophism” might be completely inaccurate to describe what you seem to believe constitutes an argument. I’d rather go for “douche-bagism”.


    March 16, 2010 at 4:36 pm

  17. Johnnyonline…this one’s for you

    my apologies to all for rehashing old issues.


    March 16, 2010 at 8:18 pm

  18. watch to the end and you’ll see the relevance to this post.


    March 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm

  19. Laicité is like the conservative GOP support for the pro-life movement.

    They are all too eager to restrict the freedom of others in order to uphold a high moral standard that requires no sacrifice on their part whatsoever.

    How about this… a public policy of voluntary laicité. Everyone has the right , nay, is warmly encouraged, to exercise laicité in their own actions but the decision about whether or not to adopt the policy is made by the individual rather than the state? Or does that constitute too much freedom for those who cannot be entrusted with such a valuable gift? How about we take away freedoms from individuals AFTER they have shown they do not deserve them, rather than beforehand?


    March 16, 2010 at 8:59 pm

  20. tancrede,

    i kn+w exactly wh£t i’m s&yinG –

    i have the dan brown secret decoder ring. ;-)

    we already have separation of church and state – in order to vote in the national assembly – you need to be elected. taking a symbol off the wall there diminishes, no, impoverishes our conciousness.

    why do you appear so determined to break it down – why would you align yourself with islamists and communists who have clearly stated this goal.

    this is what i want to share with you – the christian faith and its precepts are integral and essential components of western civilisation – it is foolish business to mock, decry and encourage dismantling it.

    like it or not – the catholic church and quebec go back together too far – human beings do not wake up one morning and say it’s a new day let’s assume a new personna.

    it’s the long march and just for interest’s sake you might want to look into antonio gramsci and the frankfurt school and its morphing into deconstruction and the recently popular “critical theory”.

    if you will not defend it (our common history) – it will be taken from you. and pardon the choice of words – but god knows what we will wake up to and end up with. things worked out well for the communists with their brilliant new laws on human nature – if you can see where i’m going with this.

    you are under no obligation to participate in any religious event but common sense should be able to tell you when barbarians are at the gate. and guess what – for those outside the western sphere – my opinion is not worth shit.

    i double dawg dare you to repeat those last six words.

    and if you can recognise the evils of communism – then you might want to know who’s tunneling under the wall. the conscientious jihadist is required to ask you to convert. if you would refuse, he is then required to ask you to pay the tax in order to be protected. if you refuse to pay the tax – he is then required to ask for the guidance and help of his creator in order to destroy you.

    perhaps we can focus on things a little more important than what guy lepage thinks. i heard that marie france bazzo beat him in an arm wrestling contest.


    March 16, 2010 at 9:09 pm

  21. during the interlude edward will explain to everyone why phil jones (referenced so heavily in the crock on youtube) has been suspended from his position at the east anglia CRU (climate research unit).

    while you’re at it you can also explain why the ipcc’s most recent report (one hell of a scientific effort) retracted the statement that himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. retracted that the amazon forest would be reduced by 40% and retracted that 50% of holland was under sea level.

    2 questions about catastophic warming alarmism:

    are the temperatures predicted anything humanity has not seen before? – no.

    is global warming anthropogenically created? – no scientific proof – just more piltdown man.

    has the temperature been rising since the last ice age? – yes.

    goodness that’s thre questions.

    and here’s the bonus question – why would a judge in england rule that schoolchildren in england must be cautioned before watching al gore’s science fiction movie (ironically entitled an inconvenient truth) that the movie contains seven factual errors.

    oh and edward those brilliant legislators in the usa who couldn’t tell the difference between a copernicus and a da vinci – oops excuse me – a gallileo were all looking through the wrong end of an educational telescope system provided by progressives like you.

    again – i’ll see your slap and raise you a frying pan.


    March 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm

  22. Raman, you left out the best part:

    “La laïcité fait partie de l’histoire du Québec”

    “Au Québec, la défense des idéaux laïques ne date pas d’aujourd’hui. En témoigne l’oeuvre de Fleury Mesplet pour la diffusion des Lumières au Canada à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. L’idée de la séparation de l’État et des Églises figurait également dans la Déclaration d’indépendance de 1838 proclamée par les Patriotes. Le principe a par la suite été défendu par l’Institut canadien avec les Papineau, Dessaulles, Doutre et Buies. Plus tard, le premier ministre Adélard Godbout, soutenu par son ministre Télesphore-Damien Bouchard, tiendra tête à l’Église catholique en accordant le droit de vote aux femmes et en adoptant une loi sur l’instruction obligatoire.”

    So to those who say “religion alo we can just as easily say that the combat for lacity is an integral part of what Quebec is… Come on, the Patriots were for it !

    In fact I would say that much of the great realizations of western civilisation were done _against_ the Church, not _because_ of it (modern physics, the déclaration des droits de l’homme, medicine, etc.) and when the Church helped it was inavertantly (like in the case of Mendel, who was using the Church money to do his research, or because the islamic did not forget science and it was a little embarassing to be so ignorant). You could perhaps _define_ western civilisation as the battle against religion (a particularly dangerous variety, it should be said – not much in buddhism conflict as much against science and basic morality). So in this sense, religion would be “an integral part” of western civilisation.

    As for frankfurt school, you have read/listen too much trash radio i guess.


    March 16, 2010 at 10:53 pm

  23. Johnny, I can answer all 3 of your questions with one answer: politics, not science.


    March 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm

  24. Phil Jones was not suspended. He voluntarily stepped aside BECAUSE OF POLITICS.

    “Professor Jones said: “What is most important is that CRU continues its world leading research with as little interruption and diversion as possible. After a good deal of consideration I have decided that the best way to achieve this is by stepping aside from the Director’s role during the course of the independent review and am grateful to the University for agreeing to this. The Review process will have my full support.”

    Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Acton said: “I have accepted Professor Jones’s offer to stand aside during this period. It is an important step to ensure that CRU can continue to operate normally and the independent review can conduct its work into the allegations.”


    March 16, 2010 at 11:06 pm

  25. Another thing:
    The Ancient testament is pretty clear on something: “Thou shalt not let a witch live.” But in our society, some people indeed practice witchcraft as a form of religion. What should we do if a christian murder a witch and claim that its faith command it to do so ?

    Should we perhaps not interfere, as the Church should be neutral in religious matters ? Or perhaps we should give him an accomodation, provided that he can prove that he sincerely believe in his religion ?

    Of course not (I am no lawyer but I think it is safe to asume that). We put him in prison or perhaps if he is willing to take an insanity defense, we put him in a high-security mental facility. The reason why we do that is that when it comes to thing that are really important, “freedom of religion” count for nothing. Even “religious” people generally just take what they like and throw the rest.

    People used to think that atheist cannot be good citizen because they cannot swear on the bible. There is a good argument here I think that a religious person cannot be a good citizen, because no matter how insane and immoral something is, he may think that he “should” do it if the bible say so because, in the end, this is what “should” means for him. (Of course christian do not kill witches, but it is because they don’t really believe all that stuff – they just take what makes sense).

    As this is an anonymous forum, we cannot really answer Tony’s worries that this is all pure laine stuff. But I think it’s safe to say that this is false and moreover, that it is a ad hominem in its purest form.


    March 16, 2010 at 11:07 pm

  26. Sorry, a christian is not a “it” (I correct the typo before someone sees it as voluntary.)


    March 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm

  27. @johnnyonline:
    “hey! what a great idea – lets burn all the 1837 patriots’ flags while we’re at it – who needs history, culture and values anyway?”

    Ahem… why not ? Because Patriots were fighting for our independance and our freedoms while religion is an hateful, backward and authoritarian ideology ? Getting rid of the cross in the most important demcratic institution in Quebec is the normal thing to do since Quebec is no longer a quasi-theocratic state.

    Let’s not forget religion for sure, because those who do not know history repeat it (the same goes for socialism (or conservatism) without representative democracy). But also for other reasons:

    Quote from Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion:
    “The main reason why the Bible should be part of our education is that it is a primordial reference for litterary culture. The same goes for greek and roman gods, which we study without being asked to believe in them.” (retranslated from french – p.355 of the french edition)


    March 16, 2010 at 11:42 pm

  28. tancrede – i don’t have a tv, i don’t listen much to radio – and it’s music if i do – sorry to disappoint you.

    i read a lot – more than you – no doubt.

    your skew on history is interesting but predictably misanthropic. i suppose this would help explain your desire to tear things down.

    try something above the level of propaganda – it will improve your critical thinking skills and provide you with the opportunity to let go of your ideologies. i find it liberating.

    or watch more monty python on youtube. laughing is good for the soul. maybe someday you can help pass laws that force people to laugh. or think like you.
    that doesn’t sound too difficult – does it?


    March 16, 2010 at 11:56 pm

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