by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 11, Safar, 1433)
With his December 12 outburst against niqab, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney confirmed that the rightwing government he serves is rabidly Islamophobic. This is not the first time Kenney and other members of the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper have attacked Muslims.
With his December 12 outburst against niqab, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney confirmed that the rightwing government he serves is rabidly Islamophobic. This is not the first time Kenney and other members of the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper have attacked Muslims. Prime Minister Harper declared in a CBC television interview last September that “Islamicism” (whatever that means) is the greatest security threat facing Canada. Kenney chose the province of Quebec where the Conservatives have little support but Islamophobia is rampant, to launch his anti-niqab diatribe.
He spoke against those Muslim women that want to take the citizenship oath while wearing the niqab. He said the veil “reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept in Canada. We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society and certainly when they’re taking the citizenship oath, that’s the right place to start.” What did Kenney mean when he said the niqab “reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept in Canada”? And how did Kenney arrive at the conclusion that niqab-clad women are not “full and equal members” of society? Has he or any of his cabinet colleagues ever met or spoken to a niqab-clad woman?
The issue here is not whether niqab is or is not mandatory in Islam. Far too many people claim to be experts on Islam and the Qur’an these days and pontificate about its message without knowing even the basics. Kenney also said that women do not wear the niqab when they perform Hajj. Kenney has not been for Hajj; as a non-Muslim, he cannot. Obviously, this information has been communicated to him by one of those secular Muslims that hate Islam even more than Kenney and his ilk.
During Hajj, most normal activities are suspended. Men dress in ihram, the two unstitched pieces of cloth. This is not the normal attire of Muslims at other times. Muslims are also forbidden from hunting or killing animals or birds, for instance. Even the normal conjugal relations between husband and wife are suspended. So the rules that apply at Hajj time are specific to Hajj and Makkah only. They do not apply elsewhere. But how would Kenney and his equally ignorant secular Muslim friends know this? During last Eid al-Adha (11-6-2011) Kenney sent a congratulatory message to Canadian Muslims. It contained two errors: he claimed it started the night before (it doesn’t) and lasted four days (no, only three). Who feeds him such information?
The issue of niqab must be addressed in its proper context. It is a matter of choice — women’s choice — that Kenney and other do-gooders are so keen to “liberate”. Their basic premise is that women are coerced into wearing the niqab. They should ask a niqabi woman to ascertain the facts. But these very self-proclaimed liberators of women want to coerce Muslim women to fit into the “mainstream.” Who or how does one define “mainstream”? Would women coming topless for citizenship ceremony be acceptable? After all, the Ontario Court of Appeal affirmed, in December 1996, a woman’s right to go topless if she so chooses.
Kenney claimed he had gotten complaints from a number of parliamentarians (only one, a Mississauga MP who like Kenney is a member of the Conservative Party) and citizenship judges. They remain nameless and the claims are at best anecdotal. His office cannot even tell how many Muslim women have come for oath-taking ceremonies in niqab. It cannot be more than a handful. So why make so much fuss about a non-issue unless there is a secret agenda behind the ruckus?
Kenney also alleged that judges have complained that with the niqab, they cannot tell whether a woman is actually reciting the oath. Even without any face covering, no judge, however alert, can simultaneously look at the faces all 200 or more people taking the oath. But if the oath is really the issue, there is a simple solution. Women can remove the niqab in front of a female judge to take the oath. After all, there are numerous instances in which people’s religious or cultural practices have been accommodated and respected. This is what makes Canada an open and tolerant society, not the rantings of a minister who has clearly lost his marbles.
Is the niqab illegal in Canada? There is no law against it — yet — although it is becoming clear that the rightwing Conservative government is moving in that direction as it pursues a policy of targeting Muslims — a minority — by pandering to the prejudices of racists and bigots. If people have met the requirements of citizenship — residency in Canada, speak one of the official languages, have sufficient knowledge of Canadian history, politics and geography (in many instances more than Canadian born citizens) and have passed the interview, is it appropriate to deny them citizenship, along with the right to vote, the right to run for public office and hold some jobs? Is there is a dress code for taking citizenship oath? Since when have Canadian ministers started to make policies on the fly without any debate in parliament, especially relating to rights guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
One can see where this might lead to; soon Kenney and his band of rightwing Christian fundamentalists might demand that Muslims watch pornographic videos, a la the Dutch, to confirm that they have imbibed enough Canadian “values” to fit into the “mainstream.” How about insisting that unmarried Muslim girls prove they have had a number of affairs and are perhaps expecting their first child out of wedlock to prove they are sufficiently acculturated to qualify for citizenship? How about banning women of Indo-Pakistani background at citizenship oath ceremonies from wearing shalwar-kameez because the majority of Canadians do not wear such dress? Does the minister have nothing better to do than waste Canadian taxpayers’ money by raising such frivolous issues?
Difficult as it may be for him, even Jason Kenney must grow up — mentally that is. Physically he is grossly overweight and would do well to trim his waistline before he becomes a burden on the already strained health services that are financed by the tax dollars of hard working Canadians, not jet-setting ministers.