Harper and the Niqab

Harper and the Niqab


The Harper government has recently come under fire for its stance against the niqab being worn during citizenship ceremonies as underlined in the article “Trudeau says Stephen Harper sowing fear and prejudice against Muslims” 9 March 2015 (http://www.calgaryherald.com/News/politics/Trudeau+says+Stephen+Harper+sowing+fear+prejudice+against/10875227/story.html). In his reasoning, Harper stated that niqab’s are simply “not the way we do things here” and made the claim that niqabs went against the freedoms that Canada stands for, especially with regards to women.


When taking a second look at this argument, there are definitely holes found within it. Looking back on Edward Said’s “Orientalism”, it could be argued that Harper has made the same mistakes that the West has commonly made about the traditions and practices found within “Orientalist” culture, seeing their practices within their culture as barbaric and inferior to the First World.


Rather than being an oppressive mechanism on women, burqas, niqabs, and hijabs have been worn for a variety of reasons other than the religious purpose for modesty. One historical argument cites that they were worn for protection from harassment within Arabian society as Muslims largely belonged to the slave class in the beginning. Another reason for wearing a headdress in an established Islamic culture was to distinguish noble women from the rest.


Another reason why women wear headdresses is to show pride for their cultural heritage. This last reason for wearing cultural attire is of utmost importance in Canada, as multiculturalism has not only been a major principle within its borders, but has also been written into Canadian policy. As seen in the 1971 Multiculturalism Policy of Canada, it seeks to assure Canadians of their ability to show pride in their native ancestries while still maintaining a sense of belonging to the Canadian state. As a country that has married itself to cultural diversity, Canada would be committing mortal sin against its own legislation should it begin to restrict cultural expression.


Instead of banning cultural attire, a better way forward would involve a dialogue with religious leaders in order to change the purpose of wearing female headdresses. To combat the belief that niqabs, hijabs, and burqas oppress women and aim to protect men from “temptation”, it should instead be emphasized that these headpieces are worn as a sign of cultural pride for ones heritage. Changing the purpose of the headdress would change the conversation altogether, and would show a maturity on both sides of the Canadian Islamic population and the Canadian Government in terms of cooperation and compromise.




Sources (If interested)


  1. Different functions of the Hijab: http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/10/hijab-the-politics-and-history-behind-the-veil/
  2. 1971 Multiculturalism Policy of Canada http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/multiculturalism/citizenship.asp

Jediism a New Religious Movement

Jediism a New Religious Movement


The article Have Jedi created a new ‘religion’? written by Tom de Castella seems presents Jediism as a joke. The beginning of the article described how this all began as ‘a joke at the expense of statisticians’ during the conduction of census. De Castella described the foundations of what is now known and Jediism, and he compares it to the number of people belonging to the Church of Scientology.

So then what is Jediism? It seems to be made up of different types of religions such as Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Samurai. They do not worship Yoda, and do not practice telekinesis, not the way it is portrayed in the movie franchise. The Force is in their teaching; it might be called different names by different religions or even people. The scientific community call it energy and it is also found in Catholic teaching, in the Bible, when Moses parted the Red Sea. Essentially it is based on the cultivation of each member’s personal relationship with the Force. This force is powerful and it binds all things to the universe.

While the title of the article and the beginning of it, seem very apprehensive of the existence of such religion I am quick to judge and say why not? Why can’t it be considered a new religion? It is important to return to basic definition of a religious movement, ‘a religious community or spiritual group of modern origins’. Jediism is based on the spiritual ideologies of the Jedi as described in Star Wars. I suppose people are apprehensive that a religion could be based on a film series. Nevertheless Jediism parallels what defined a new religious movement. It is derived as the article states of about four pre-existing religions which can therefore be referred to as a cult. According to Olav Hammer and Mikeal Rothstein editors of The Cambridge companion to religious movements a NRM are formed from specific segments of the population, for this case Star Wars fanatic’s who believe in power of the Force.

Aside from all the apprehension this movement has received and continues to do so, it is already referred to as the Church of Jediism, at least in the UK. According to Tom de Castella there are 200,000 people around in the world who are active online. Something very captivating about this new religion is that it allows its members to have more than one religion. The Church of the Jedi has a code, which is made up of five statements, these five statements can be said to mirror the Ten Commandments the Catholic guidelines of life.

While I must admit when I came across this article was too apprehensive of such religion since I myself are not a follower of the movie franchise. As I kept of reading the article and what the Jediism is about I asked myself why it seemed so absurd. There are religious movements that I do not personally agree with and I find revolting so why known what I know about the definition of new religious movements couldn’t this be considered one. After all it seems it has gained the acceptance for it to use terms as the Church and the Jedi doctrine.


Colonialism in Canadian Schools (RELS 348)

Chelsea Vowel’s article, “Colonialism in the First Nations Education Act,” The Huffington Post, 9 October, 2013, summarizes the problems with the educational system in Canada and specifically how it is failing the first nations peoples.

The reason this is a problem is as the article mentions, there is no aboriginal system of education in Canada. This would not be an issue if the Canadian school system wasn’t currently failing the indigenous peoples. The fault that the article puts blame on is that of the attitudes of which marginalise the indigenous peoples assuming they are incapable of self education.

The article lists the statistics comparing aboriginal with non aboriginal students in regards to success in school, such as the gap between 40 percent of Aboriginal students who do not have a high school diploma compared to the 13 percent of non-non Aboriginal students who do. The statistics show the flaws in funding too. Because aboriginal funding is only federal, non-status Indians and Metis students are funded provincially, they do not receive the same benefits as other aboriginal students. The article moves on to criticize the federal government for its failure to create and education act alongside the First Nations, but rather has created something that is not helpful to anyone.

The article concludes with the recommendation that the best way  to move forward is for the federal government to stop enforcing policy without adequate knowledge, but rather work together with the First Nations to find an act that will succeed.

This article shines a light on the remaining colonial power that clearly still exists today in Canada. The First Nations group, a group that identifies as other than Canadian, is not only being forced into an education system that they have little say in, but one that is leaving them further discriminated and disadvantaged by. I agree with the points the article makes stating that by not working effectively with the First Nations, any education act the Federal government makes is bound to fail. Sadly, this struggle to work together is not a new one. In Russel Diabo’s artical, “Harper Launches major First Nations termination plan: As negotiating tables legitimize Canada’s colonialism,” 9 November, 2012 (https://intercontinentalcry.org/harper-launches-major-first-nations-termination-plan-as-negotiating-tables-legitimize-canadas-colonialism/) shows how the federal government has a history of struggling to work with the First Nations but rather advocates that they should govern the First Nations themselves.

If we want to move forward to equality I think it is important that the government learn how to work with First Nations leaders rather than against. It is time for an education act that does not discriminate the very people it is designed for.

More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

A response to Eric Campos’s story “Left behind, The Lasting Effects of Post-Colonialism”, Postcolonialism Now, 2011

In this article, Eric Campos understands the term ‘post colonialism’ as referring to the will of a state to impose its views on another one in different spheres. According to the author, the local population can be moulded by a powerful state in many different ways and is influenced to adopt the conquering state’s way of governance and religious beliefs.

One powerful state can influence yet another powerful state to adopt its policies. For instance, Campos picks up the United States of America as a concrete example. In this particular article, he is referring to the countries of Europe, especially England, who wishes to establish a British Empire by extending its powerful rule worldwide by conquering other lands. After their initial indoctrination by the powerful states in ways of governance, the conquered people tend to practice and adopt these new ways on a continuous and permanent basis. As an example, the author cites an episode of the novel ‘Things Fall Apart’, written by Chinua Achebe.

Religion is another field affected by colonialism and post colonialism. Campos pinpoints how the Christian missionaries try to implement their religious views from their countries of origin in the minds of the inhabitants of the new lands to conquer. He again quotes two examples from ‘Things Fall Apart’ to infer how conversion from one religion to another can be done forcibly or in more subtle ways. The practice of a new faith in an immediate surrounding can eventually lead to the new faith’s implementation with new adherents embracing it. At the same time, the arrival of missionaries means assimilation and integration of a new component of population, contributing to the latter’s increase.

In my opinion, in the first place, the incorporation of new faiths can lead to new lifestyles in any state. This means that colonialism has contributed to the birth of new cultures, contributing to the endless cycle of the evolution of humanity. Secondly, colonialism means bringing and imparting new knowledge to others. Moreover, freedom to choose and adopt these new ways of life remains the choice of those concerned. Finally, this can give the inhabitants more autonomy and ability to make decisions, which can contribute to their individual and national emancipation.


Gay Marriage Referendum (RELS 348)

Manabendranath Roy (M N Roy) was a Marxist intellectualist from India in the 1900’s. During his time in prison, he wrote on many issues, one of which was the issue of sexual politics. M N Roy believed that sexual politics was being used as a form of oppression, and was therefore a political problem. The sexual instinct comes from some force located in the depth of an individual, and could not be repressed nor denied by an individual without severe consequences. According to M N Roy these consequences ranged from incest to murder. M N Roy saw repression of sexual urges as an issue that was occurring world-wide. As M N Roy was a Marxist he believed that a Marxist revolution would end male dominance and allow females their sexual freedom, thereby stopping the repression caused by sexual politics. The resulting utopia would be a place where all could “Taste the joy of life, and their natural love of life will no longer be camouflaged in all sorts of religious superstition.” In other words it would be a place where every individual would be able to follow their natural sexual urges without having to fear social conventions. Admittedly M N Roy is only discussing heterosexual relationships, but if we apply the same theory to LGBTQ relationships we see many parallels between his thoughts and the thoughts presented in Una Mullally’s article “The gay marriage referendum is a watershed marriage in Irish History,” The Guardian, 27 February 2015.

Una Mullally’s article reveals that come May a referendum will be help in Ireland about equal marriage status between LGBTQ marriages and more traditional marriages. Una Mullally reports that this is very important to LGBTQ rights activists world-wide as it is the first time the public will vote on this issue. Like M N Roy, the pro side of the debate believe that the sexuality of LGBTQ members is being used as a form of repression, denying LGBTQ individuals the same level of rights as other citizens . Therefore, the equality of marriage is a political issue. The belief in the oppression of LGBTQ citizens can be assumed due to the fact that there is a referendum occurring.

The opposition is primarily made up of the Catholic church and small lobby groups. According to Una Mullally the strategy of the opposition is to make the issue about ideology, such as religion of the Catholic Church, instead of a civil rights issue. If this tactic proves successful it would deny the claim that the sexuality of LGBTQ citizens is being used as a form of oppression. If there is no civil rights violation against people who are LGBTQ partnerships, then they are not being oppressed due to their sexual orientation.

As previously stated M N Roy believed that people should be able to follow their sexual urges and not be oppressed by them. Perhaps this referendum shall be the next step in realizing his utopia, or perhaps not. Whatever the end result, we shall have to wait until May to find out.

KV 348


The Growth of Present Day Religious Empires (RELS 348)

The struggle for power within and over a country is something that is still an issue in the present day, and the rise and rule of empires is something that continues as well. In Soner Cagaptay’s article “The Empires Strike Back,” The New York Times, January 14, 2012, Cagaptay looks at the struggle for power when Egypt and Tunisia were going through changes in government in 2012. The tension that surfaced was, what surrounding countries were going to gain influence and power in those countries? Both Turkey and France were trying to get this control, each coming from a very different type of rule. France was completely secularized at the time, while Turkey had a lot of Islam influence.

This article highlights the tension of what extent religion should be involved within a government, and that often it is the religious views of a government that connects it to other countries and can result in religious empires. The article notes that both France and Turkey have competed for control in the Middle East, and Turkey has been gaining control because of its religious affiliations. It has support from surrounding Islam nations, and as a country has become more influenced by religion.

It is interesting that North America has worked so hard to try and separate religion in state, while in other parts of the world countries are reverting back to religiously run governments that have huge impact on the state. The other consideration is that as countries are being ruled from a religious basis, the borders diminish and religious empires form.

The question at hand is, is this a good thing? Is it good for a countries future to have any religion having control in a government? I believe there is not a right answer, and every situation is different. There are many values that are shared by many religions, and traditions that people are connected with. People appreciate when these values are recognized and supported by the government. Individuals and groups alike find meaning in religion, and that is a wonderful thing. However, if people are no longer allowed to have beliefs that oppose the view of the government it can be dangerous and can cause huge tensions within and between countries. Kris Manjapra reflects on Gandhi’s Beliefs that there could be “a new internationalism born of mutual recognition and esteem among cultures worldwide”[1]. This is the place that I hope the world can come to, that people can have strong religious convictions, and countries can even have a national religion. Often so much of a countries culture and individual’s heritage is tied to religion and the traditions it holds, and it is a shame to remove these things. Yet the struggle when any one religion results in an empire, there is the chance of countries moving away from appreciation for all people, cultures and beliefs, and becoming more concerned with political and absolute power.

This article raises some very interesting questions about the role of religion in government, and I believe that a government can run smoothly, even if it has religious ties. However, for this to be good for all citizens and peaceful relationships with countries world wide there needs to always be an underlying respect and value for all beliefs and religions.



[1] Kris Manjapra, M.N. Roy: Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism (New Delhi: Routledge, 2010), 154.

“Jihadi John,” Imperialism and ISIS (RELS 348)

In the article “’Jihadi John,’ Imperialism and ISIS” written by Bill Van Auken on February 28, 2015, Auken states that American imperialism is to blame for the radical Islamic movement ISIS. The article also goes into further detail about how war is not started out of nowhere. There are many factors that lead up to the climax of going to battle and harming one another. Auken states in the article “Armed Islamist movements existed in neither Iraq nor Syria—nor, for that matter, in Libya—before US imperialism intervened to topple secular Arab governments in all three countries.” With that being said, it seems as if what we see in the media is what we’re forced to believe. As one always hears, there are always two sides of the story. Thus causing me to believe that ISIS could very well be fighting for what Americans are as well. That is for the peace and prosperity of their people. ISIS could possibly just be protecting their empire from enemy invaders.

Auken also talks about the identity of “Jihadi John” the masked man behind all the gruesome acts being committed such as beheadings. With the events going public via social media and worldwide news outlets. There has been high demand to find out who the asked man is. Mohammed Emwazi, who is a 26 year old born in Kuwait and raised in London, is the man responsible for the beheadings of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and many others. Having a degree in computer programming, it is still a mystery what incentivized Emwazi to commit such horrible acts. Could it be that he was sick of seeing his home country being invaded by American imperialists?

This is similar to course topics of war and rise of empires. America could be thought of as an empire invading Iraq, Syria and other Islamic dominant countries to protect their empire of America. With the enemies being gone, this ensures the security of the American empire. But when it comes to the Western media. I feel as if they portray an image that the religion of Islam is a violent cult. This is truly unfair due to ISIS practicing a radical form of Islam. Many people saw Islam as a peaceful religion prior to the 9/11 attacks. Now there is a lingering stereotype that Muslims are not peaceful people and looked at as terrorists. American imperialism may not be visible but it can be seen through propaganda via media. Many media sources such as news networks have the power to persuade nations by their news coverage and how they display a certain issue. Stories can be blown out of proportion very easily. Like Auken quoted above, he explains that before American troops were deployed into parts of the Middle East, there was no need for radical groups such as ISIS. These groups were simply created to fend off foreign invaders and have now escalated into bigger problems due to constant complications with the American imperialists.


More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

In today’s world of unprecedented access to information, not a day goes by where the Internet is not bombarded with news articles speculating on the numerous conflicts taking place around the globe. Currently one of these issues that is receiving widespread attention is the ambitions of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). This group has made its claim to fame through its countless violent atrocities and many are left wondering what their fundamental aim is. To no surprise, much of Western media has used ISIS’s actions to support an ongoing campaign against Islam. A French journalist by the name of Didier Francois was a prisoner of ISIS for 10 months, and he believes that his captors cared little about religion. Mick Krever, in his article entitled “ISIS captors cared little about religion, says former hostage,” CNN, 4 February 2015 provides us with an account of Francois’ time as a prisoner, and why he believes that ISIS is a group with primarily political, rather than religious, ambitions.

The beginning of the article contains quotes from Francois telling of the lack of religious motives he perceived to be held by his captors. He explains that what his captors were believing “has nothing to do with the Quran” and that they did not even wish to give him and his fellow prisoners a copy of the Quran. The remainder of the article contains stories of Francois’ interactions with guards, along with speculations on the West’s political interactions with ISIS. Notably pertinent to matters of colonialism, Francois mentions that “Jihadists from the former French colonies in North Africa… were also comparatively harsh in their treatment of French captives”.

This article is particularly intriguing because it does not focus on the religious aspects of ISIS, as many other articles do. Instead I was left wondering about the possible imperial aspirations of the organization. Western media often paints a picture in our minds that sees Islam as a religion of violence, and uses groups like ISIS as its evidence. This article is refreshing because it leaves one to speculate on the idea that perhaps ISIS’s intentions are to create a political empire, and that subscribing to their religious values are a secondary, and far less important goal of theirs. With the seemingly increasing intensity of acts committed by ISIS, I think it is beneficial to view this conflict as an exclusively political issue. Indeed countries like Saudi Arabia have stated that regardless of religious values, Middle-Eastern countries must come together and create a coalition to eradicate ISIS.

Identifier: JSrels348

Islamic State in Libya (RELS 348)

A response to “Islamic State: Egypt urges international intervention in Libya,” in BBC News online.

This article pertains to Egypt’s call to international communities to intercede against the Islamic State militants that are presently residing in Libya. This plea for international support comes from the Egyptian’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi beliefs that the militant extremists are “a threat to international peace and security.’ On Monday, February 16th at dawn, Egypt launched an air strike in the militant held city of Derna, targeting camps and weapons. These strikes were a direct response to the recent video posting of apparent beheadings of twenty one Egyptian Coptic Christians, by members who are loyal to the Islamic State. These individuals were Egyptians who were kidnapped in the town of Sirte, which is currently under the control of Islamist groups. Egypt is presently battling members of the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula, and has been reaching out to international powers to aid on the ongoing fight. However, many other countries have had little direct involvement thus far, citing that diplomatic solutions should be the primary action.
In lecture, Dr. Hexham has described an empire as the imposed political rule over people and the resources of the land they occupy. To gain this control and power, an empire will use a strong military force, or the threat to implement this. Under this definition, the Islamic State would fall into the category of an empire. The goal of this group of individuals is to institute a caliphate. A caliphate is a state that is ruled by a single religious and political leader (caliph), who rules according to a strict interpretation of Sharia Law. The Islamic State has been attempting to achieve this goal by using extremely brutal force against those they perceive as non-believers, such as crucifixions, mass shootings, and beheadings such as in the article (information from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29052144). Dr. Hexham also stated that empires will collect taxes, which is what the Islamic State has been doing from non-Muslims to finance their cause. He has also stated in lecture that conquests, to the Muslims, were one of two miracles, the other being the Koran. Conquests in history that had been rapid and successful were seen as a sign from God as a blessing on Islam, and this could be a potential viewpoint for extreme members of the Islamic State as well. Currently, their main area is located to Iraq and Syria, however, as reported in the article there is evidence of their presence in Libya, demonstrating intent to grow in numbers, acquired land, and resources. The author of this article reports that the international community is wary to respond to pleas of support made by Egypt, and I believe the author is indirectly stating that international support has been lacking and insufficient. I think it is extremely evident that the Islamic State is looking towards expansion, and Egypt and other nations could possibly need help protecting their citizens. One of the reasons why international powers do not want to intervene could possibly be that they might want to exhaust all other diplomatic measures first before going further. To play devil’s advocate, there could be other reasons as well. As much as Irwin has criticized Said on the actual factuality of his writings and that the issue is much more complex, and as much as I agree with many of Irwin’s arguments, perhaps Said was onto something with the Orientalist. Said stated that Orientalism sparked a particular way of viewing empires, colonialism and the modern world and the relationship with religion. Perhaps because of the stereotypical view of the ‘orient’ described by Said, which was created by Western cultures, these Western cultures are reluctant to help now because of the mystery and uncertainty they view those as the orient. Whatever the actual reasoning may be, we will have to see how the international countries respond to the ongoing pursuit of the Islamic State. #uwreligions

Arun Kundanani: Islamophobia is Just the Latest in a History of US Imperialism (RELS 348)

In a post 9/11 world, various fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and more recently, ISIS, have exacerbated the Green Scare amongst the populations of many western states. As a result, Islamophobia has been on a marked increase within these same populations and has manifested itself in various ways (Andres Brevik, PEIGDA, etc..) . The recent killing of 3 Muslims by their neighbour in Chapel Hill North Carolina has brought attention to such anti-Muslim attitudes within the context of America, the world’s largest power.

In the article “Islamopohbia is Just the Latest in the History of US Imperialism,” Arun Kundanani describes these antagonistic attitudes towards Muslims as “the most recent layer in this [America] history, a reworking and recycling of older logics of oppression.” Kundanani recounts his experiences investigating anti-Muslim sentiments in the US circa 2011, where in one Huston restaurant, he found a photo depicting a 20th century lynching with the face of a stereotypical Arab superimposed over that of the black victim. The caption on the photo read: “ Lets play cowboys and Iranians”. The photo itself is exactly that – an “older reworking and recycling of older logics of oppression” that justified the genocide of America’s indigenous populations and the enslavement of blacks. This time around, however, these ideas are being applied to Muslims, as well as people of Middle Eastern decent (two identities that are not necessarily interchangeable, although this fact seems to be missed on much of the public and policy makers).

Kundanani states that all “empires rely on violence to sustain themselves”; this is unarguably true. He follows: “in modern times, this violence always takes racial character. American elites are by no means the first to use racist narratives to demonize those who resist their imperial authority. An interesting point, untouched on by Kundanai, is that the American discourse surrounding the most recent ‘enemy’, fails to acknowledge the merits of said group in any way. This is a recent trend that is supported by a strong sense of American exceptionalism. In For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enenmies, Robert Irwin points out that historically; the Greeks and Romans (both of which are foundational civilizations on which western societies are now based) were not so binary in their approach to the ‘other’. The Greeks admired the Phonecian alphabet, Lydian coinage and Egyptian sculptures (Irwin, p.10). In fact, Herodotus the ‘father of history’ acknowledged that Greek culture borrowed aspects from the cultures of Egypt and Phonecia (Irwin, p. 13). This is to be contrasted with the views of writers like Sam Harris, who deny Islam any redeeming features whatsoever, calling it the “mother-load of bad ideas” and posit the West against the so-called “Muslim World” in a “war of ideas”. Islamic contributions to mathematics, optics, astronomy , and so on are wholesale ignored.

The binary distinction between ‘the west’ (specifically America) and the ‘Muslim world’ is, as Kundanani states, used as a justification for “wars of aggression against a population defined by its religion”. This antagonistic attitude towards Islam that has been utilized as a tool of American imperialism creates and ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality that is domestically manifested in violent acts like the Chapel Hill shootings. These divisive approaches, fly in the face of Greek and Roman civilizations that at the very least acknowledged the accomplishments and contributions of the orient to their very own civilizations. As American imperialism increasingly relies on the separation of one group from the other, one can expect the phenomena of Islamophobia to proliferate and the recurrence of more Chapel Hills.

Identifier: #rels348 #islamophobia #ChapelHill