NuSense: COMMUNITY Issue 4
Christine Clarke, “What’s Wrong with Equality?”
Over the past year, the niqab and the burqa, traditional Muslim ‘head gear,’ have been coming under attack here in Canada. In December 2011, The National Post ran an article about the Canadian government’s ban on face coverings during citizenship ceremonies. Since I live in my own little bubble, I came to this question rather late and did not have a particularly insightful grasp of what was actually happening. Before sitting down to write this article, I traced some of these bans and policies as represented by Canada’s popular newspapers like The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and mass media outlets like CBC.
These now-online sources had one particular element in common. The comment sections had hundreds of posts most of which were discriminatory, biased, while others were overtly racist. Obviously, I am not going to give them the airtime they do not merit by quoting them here. What is important to note is that those leaving less than flattering comments were in favour of the policy changes.
One argument that weighed in favour of banning the coverings was that they interfered with the Canadian values of openness, equality, and social cohesion. Many articles I looked up quoted those same three values. I have to ask about the innate hypocrisy in that statement.
As a Canadian, I take openness to mean valuing and respecting difference. I am not a Muslim. I do not know what it is like to be a Muslim or to wear a hijab, niqab, burqa, or chador. What I do know is that these are traditional articles of clothing worn by Muslim women. I know that many Muslim women like wearing these clothes and do so to adhere to their religious beliefs. I would resent my government telling me what I could and could not wear in public. I would certainly challenge the implication that what I choose to wear has anything to do with patriarchal values or oppression. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was odd for women to wear pants. A century later, women walk about public spaces freely in pants, skirts, or dresses without much censure.
This brings me to my second point: social cohesion. What on earth is this “social cohesion” of which these media speak? To me, it means participating positively in the community, respecting others, and refraining from consciously breaking the law or doing harm to others. Canada is supposed to be a great multi-cultural nation. As the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, the prefix “Multi” means “plural.”
When viewed in the context of Canadian multiculturalism, this should mean that Canadians respect and value difference, including how this “apparent” difference is being exercised in the great Canadian nation. How can a cultural practice be singled out of an allegedly cohesive whole?
Like any other ideas, religions travel, they are borderless. Native Canadian citizens may choose to become Muslim, may be Muslim. How can we then claim our commitment to multiculturalism if we single out our own people and claim that they are different, hence not Canadian?
I saved "equality" for last as I do have some experience with inequality. Equality means giving everyone the same rights regardless of who they are and where they come from. If we are free to practice our individual religions and exercise our beliefs (within the parameters of not harming others), how can we place limits on freedoms related to one particular group? The fact that the comment sections of these articles and clips are littered with racist, discriminatory, ignorant ramblings should be an indicator of how backward such policies are. People immigrate to Canada to flee dictatorial, authoritarian regimes. Then they get here and are faced with similarly invasive government sanctioned limitations on their rights to choose and believe. Perhaps, it is time we lived up to the rights and freedoms as defined in Canada’s Multicultural Act.
© NuSense 2011