whose your custodian of cultural censorship?

At the beginning of the Month of February 2015, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, sank low enough to vow to appeal a court ruling that allowed a Muslim woman to take the citizenship oath without removing her niqab (the face covering)1.

Earlier, Harper’s Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander had called the hijab (the head covering) “a perversion of Canadian values”. John Williamson, a New Brunswick MP and former Harper Communications director, called foreign workers “brown people”, as opposed to Canadians whom he referred to as “Whities”.2

This blog entry is not about the obvious: the racism, the cheap politics, the xenophobia / islamophobia, the hypocrisy and double standards, etc. When it comes to Muslims in the West, especially post-911. All of that is self-evident, and these types of headlines only reinforce the latter…

This entry is more about an article that appeared in some news outlets this week – although I found the exact same piece of “news” on online newspapers in 2007!! (is so little happening in the world, in its entirety, that news outlets feel compelled to recycle – as is, no less – the same article that would have been posted 8 years ago. I’m not sure this is the recycling that ecologists are talking about… And the article in question is not more worthy than other entertaining bits of culture-FYI, so one really wonders: what the $%&@ ??!

Please pardon this previous digression. Here is the article, as it appeared in English translation in 20073:

A 50-year-old Saudi woman asked for divorce after her husband lifted her face veil while she was sleeping, local press reported.

For 30 years, the wife said she never showed her face to her husband in conformity with the tradition of her native village near the south western Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt.

“After all these years, he tries to commit such a big mistake,” the wife told Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh, after she left the house in total disbelief.

She said the husband apologized and promised never to do it again.

This is not the first case of husbands who have not seen their wives’ faces in decades.

In the past Al Arabiya has reported the case of Ali al-Qahtani, whose wife had been wearing the face veil for the entire ten years of their marrage. When he tried to take it off, she threatened to leave and only decided to stay after he swore never to try again.

Hassan Al-Atibi threatened to marry another woman if his wife didn’t show him her face. The woman nominated one of her friends who doesn’t observe this tradition as a possible new wife for him, saying this would be better than her showing her face.

And neither the husband or children of Om Rabea al-Gahdaray, 70, have ever seen her face. Al-Gahdaray says it is a family tradition, also followed by mother and sisters, which her husband accepted and never tried to change.

When asked how she could have kids without her husband ever seeing her face, she replied: “Marriage is about love, not faces.”

The practice of always remaining veiled, even in front of your husband, is not an Islamic practice but a very old tradition practiced by a minority of people in Gulf countries.

Okay, so what is the point here? Well, since the Right Honourable Stephen Harper is not my buddy so I can share my sentiments with him regarding this issue in a friendly heart to heart (or whichever other of his body parts he would like facing whichever one of mine…) I thought I would at least ramble and vent on my new modest blog, and maybe somehow, my virtual thoughts would reach his Right Honourableness telepathically or something…

First, Canada is supposed to be officially multicultural. This is a big deal, because it means that in Canada, multiculturalism is not supposed to be empty talk and nothing more, as it is the case almost everywhere else in the world. In 1971, Canada introduced the Canadian Multiculturalism Act: “An Act for the preservation and enhancement of multiculturalism in Canada.” The preservation, and the enhancement… Mr. Prime Minister, you are not only supposed to preserve the woman’s right to wear her niqab in court or while taken the citizenship oath, but as Prime Minister of Canada as well as a believer in Canadian values and policies, you must enhance the presence of these symbols of multiculturalism. ‘Cuz frankly, otherwise it is just empty talk and hypocrisy.

And in case you misplaced your copy of the said Act, here are excepts from its preamble and Section 3, and in which I have taken the liberty to mark in bold and underline the important passages, for your convenience :

Preamble

WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada provides that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination and that everyone has the freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association and guarantees those rights and freedoms equally to male and female persons;

AND WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada recognizes the importance of preserving and enhancing the multicultural heritage of Canadians;

AND WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada recognizes rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada;

[Question: perhaps here you would like us to add something like: so long as they are not wearing any feathers on their person when they are under oath because it constitutes a perversion of Canadian values?!]

[…]

AND WHEREAS the Citizenship Act provides that all Canadians, whether by birth or by choice, enjoy equal status, are entitled to the same rights, powers and privileges and are subject to the same obligations, duties and liabilities;

AND WHEREAS the Canadian Human Rights Act provides that every individual should have an equal opportunity with other individuals to make the life that the individual is able and wishes to have, consistent with the duties and obligations of that individual as a member of society, and, in order to secure that opportunity, establishes the Canadian Human Rights Commission to redress any proscribed discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin or colour;

AND WHEREAS Canada is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Convention recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law against any discrimination and against any incitement to discrimination, and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Covenant provides that persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion or to use their own language;

AND WHEREAS the Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada;

[…]

perhaps is it now necessary to explicitly add “freedom of choosing clothing, attire, coverings…” in addition conscience, religion, thought, belief, etc. So as to avoid any confusion, lest we start discriminating against people who wear latex or tutus, or who have covered their faces with piercings and tattoos – who knows whose values those people will be perverting!

Here is Section 3

Multiculturalism policy
  • 3. (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to
    • (arecognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage;
    • (brecognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future;
    • (cpromote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation;
    • (d) recognize the existence of communities whose members share a common origin and their historic contribution to Canadian society, and enhance their development;
    • (e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;
    • (fencourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be both respectful and inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character;
    • (g) promote the understanding and creativity that arise from the interaction between individuals and communities of different origins;
    • (h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures;
    • (ipreserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada; and
    • (j) advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada.

Federal institutions

(2) It is further declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada that all federal institutions shall

    • (a) ensure that Canadians of all origins have an equal opportunity to obtain employment and advancement in those institutions;
    • (b) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the ability of individuals and communities of all origins to contribute to the continuing evolution of Canada;
    • (cpromote policies, programs and practices that enhance the understanding of and respect for the diversity of the members of Canadian society;
    • […]
    • (e) make use, as appropriate, of the language skills and cultural understanding of individuals of all origins; and

[I am hoping that this is where people like me come in, to help others, less fortunate than I in their “understanding”, with the “cultural understanding of individuals of all origins”]

    • (fgenerally, carry on their activities in a manner that is sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada.

And although some legal scholars (Peter Hogg) have said that this section does not actually legislate for Canadians a right to multiculturalism, the courts, including the Supreme Court4, have referred to it specifically in a number of rulings on matters of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and equality of rights. Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads as follows:

This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

Following these reminds of Canadian policy and legislation, I would simply like to add that, as you can see from the news article above, yours in not the only way to view the world and decide what constitutes an anti-women culture, because clearly, mister the Right Honourable, some women think that what you – and any other man including their husband – want to impose on them is anti-women. What you consider anti-women, they consider perfectly valid, and see it as a matter of honour, of identity, of culture, of religion, of self-expression, etc.

If we believe in freedoms, then let us believe in them for all, including those who freely choose to do things, and say things, and wear things we do not like, so long as it is not causing harm or injury to anyone else. Otherwise, from as far as logic is concerned, this becomes a free for all of inconsistency and hypocrisy.

     ultra orthodox Jewish women
          Haredi Jewish women

              Orthodox Christian nuns
                                                   Catholic nuns

Who among these people is oppressed? Who has asked for your heroic rescuing? Who needs your help in telling them what to do and what to wear? And in a multicultural society, which of these cultures do we want to start prohibiting and considering anti this and anti that?

None of these people need your personal opinion or intervention — or anyone else’s — in deciding for themselves what to wear and how to look – and as Prime Minister, I sure hope that you have more important things to do then fabricate political distractions by playing fashion police.


4     See this case www.scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/189/index.do where it was made clear that a law that places a burden on an individual or group that has the effect of degrading their ability to practice their religion is in violation of the Charter. In this specific case, the law was requiring the store owner to choose between their religion or their business and so was degrading to their faith.

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