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