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April 29, 2010

Niqab: Dire threat to Western Civilization?

Reuel S. Amdur

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So far, Quebec, which is moving to ban the wearing of the niqab in all contacts with public institutions, has expelled two niqab-wearing women from classes where they were trying to learn French. Let's take a look at the two cases.

Naema Ahmed was the first to be expelled. 

In class, it appears that she had to show her face to the teacher so that the teacher could see how she shaped her lips and tongue.  She needed to sit in front with the men behind.  Her recitation involved her being placed where men could not see her face.  And the next teacher for the class is a man.  The authorities expelled her.  Was she demanding too many accommodations?  The human rights authorities will look at that one, and the exact nature of her problems in the class is not that clear.

In the case of the second student, Aisha, as she wants to be called to retain anonymity, the situation appears clearer. 

Those involved say that she is a lively woman who was making good progress in class.  Her pronunciation did not apparently require the teacher to see her face for correction.  She was well liked in class and had a positive relationship with the men in class.  When government officials came and ordered her out the class she was upset, as was the teacher.

Aisha was unable to remove here niqab because it made her feel naked, she explained.  Consider how a Western woman would fit in a tribal culture where women do not cover their breasts.  She rightly fears how being deprived of the program to learn French could affect her ability to integrate in the larger society. 

While the case of Naema Ahmed is not so clear, without more information as to what exactly was happening in the class, passing a law to deal with her case and that of a handful of other women in the province is overkill of such magnitude that one has to ask just what is going on. 

Quebec is the province that made a major fuss over one young Sikh boy wearing a kirpan, while no one suggested that pupils could not bring their drawing compass to class. 

Quebec is the province that gave the world the infamous Hérouxville code of conduct.  If we go back in time, we see a province marked by anti-Semitism and persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It is interesting to note that no other province in Canada has been interested in legislating against the niqab. 

The reaction to the niqab in Quebec may have something to do with the province’s French roots, as the issue of legislation against the niqab is a pressing one in France and Belgium. 

France, like Quebec, has expectations of  cultural conformity.  Even non-French indigenous languages were long persecuted.  A poster in schools in Brittany from an earlier time informed students that speaking Breton and spitting on the ground were forbidden. 

While the persecution of these languages is far less prominent, a French dress code is in.  In the case of Quebec, as in France, we appear to be faced as well with a dose of plain old fashioned xenophobia. 

Personally, I don’t much like the niqab, but I am far more put off by women who fill their faces with a bunch of rings, pins, and other hardware.  A face full of that stuff virtually calls out for a niqab, but please don’t pass laws about it. 

As for Quebec’s Bill 94, it is so outrageous that when passed it will hardly survive a court challenge.  Imagine being turned away at a hospital emerge with a broken leg because you are wearing a niqab.  Bill 94 would mandate just that kind of situation.

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