The niqab debate, let’s not forget, is about individual rights: Neil MacDonald

A further reminder, no matter how much we may dislike the niqab and how much we feel that wearing it is inappropriate (at a citizenship ceremony or elsewhere):

In too many instances, the niqab is clearly an instrument of inequality; using it to indoctrinate young girls is, on the face of it, probably a human rights issue.

But then, indoctrinating children is how religions ensure their continuity. Society has accepted that religious parents have the right to impose religious practices on their children. The children have little say in the matter.

And the decision of a grown woman, like Zunera Ishaq, to cover her face at a public ceremony is, well, the decision of a grown woman.

Sure, Stephen Harper, and a lot of other people, think the niqab is rooted in an anti-woman culture, but where does that argument end once the heavy hand of government becomes involved?

Harper’s own immigration minister, Chris Alexander, has already conflated the niqab and the burqa, which cover a woman almost entirely, with the hijab, which can simply be a headscarf, and which millions of Muslim women wear.

And if a government can base public policy on a belief that one monotheistic religion has misogynistic doctrine, might not some future government turn its attention to the treatment of women by orthodox streams of the two other monotheistic religions?

A niqab can appear sinister to someone who hasn’t lived in the Middle East. It has clearly become a distillation of Canadians’ unease about fundamentalist Islam.

But there is no law against wearing it, and any eventual law will need to scale the impassive walls of the Supreme Court and the Charter of Rights.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, in his awkward fashion, nailed it last week.

“It’s not am I comfortable or not” with women covering their faces, he said. “Makes no difference at all. It’s a question of rights and it will be for the court to decide.”

Makes no difference at all. Precisely.

Source: The niqab debate, let’s not forget, is about individual rights – Politics – CBC News

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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