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August 12, 2009

A Reversal of Tolerance - Part 3

Disclaimer: I am a Canadian born white male, married into a visible minority family. I consider myself very open minded and non-racist; however, I do have opinions - some of which may be interpreted as racist and/or prejudice. These opinions are my own, and I welcome any feedback as long as it remains civil.

In this series, I will be discussing examples of where we (society, governments or individuals) demanded our rights, often at the expense of common sense. At the end of each example, I'll include my personal opinion. (Hey, it's my blog...)

Part 1 - White Males Need Not Apply
Part 2 - The RCMP Uniform - A Canadian Institution

Part 3 - Hidden in plain sight

In recent years, the Muslim faith has gained a lot of attention for unfortunate reasons. 9/11 was obviously a major world event (to put it mildly), but was initiated by only a handful of radical Muslims. Only the truly ignorant will believe that those individuals represent the entire faith.

One positive outcome of 9/11 is the world now has a better understanding of Islam and Muslims. While headlines are occupied by tales of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, there has also been a lot of coverage of what Islam truly is. I won't profess to be an expert on the subject - religion in general never appealed to me - but I have gained a basic understanding and respect for the belief.

BUT... this series is about tolerance.

Burqas have gained a lot of headlines around the world recently as well. In parts of Europe (Netherlands, Belgium and France), there has been discussion of banning burqas in public. Why? Is is a security issue? Is it a women's rights issue? Is it simply an issue of fitting in? It may be all of the above.

Fitting in - In my area there is quite a large Muslim community; however, when I see a group of women walking together in the black burqas with only their eyes exposed, I can't help but stare. It's not what I'm accustomed to. It's not what I grew up with. And that's really my only issue... they don't fit in. I consider this as a fault in myself. They're not hurting anyone, not causing any problems... they just look different.

Women's Rights - Covering up a woman and only exposing her eyes is a man's idea. Pure and simple. Other men are not allowed to see a wife's or daughter's face, unless she is his (yes, possessive). I would be very curious to ask these women, if they were permitted, would they prefer to walk around in plain street clothes as western women do? Or are they so conditioned to consider that as unacceptable? In their day-to-day lives, are they feeling the oppression, or are they completely indifferent to it since it's just all they've every known. It just is.

Security - This is a sensitive area, where tolerance may have crossed the common sense line. Police and security forces do not like obscured faces. They are trained to read body language, facial expressions and to memorize facial features of wanted individuals. Naturally, a burqa would make these forces uncomfortable. But what are they to do? If asked to reveal her face, a Muslim woman could make a large human rights issue in public over this, possibly ruining the officer's career.

In a more specific example of taking this too far, the Canadian Government (Elections Canada) has allowed burqas to be worn when Muslim women vote. Everyone must bring photo ID to compare to their names on the voters registration list, and Muslim women are no exception, but what's the point when they're not required to remove their burqas? This has generated a lot of public resentment, including from Canada's own Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Even the Muslim Canadian Congress thinks it's a bad idea and has formally requested that Elections Canada rescind it's decision.

The freedom to practise a religion is sacred in Canada, but when does it go too far? When boarding a plane, do these women have to identify themselves? The security implications here should be painfully obvious. An extreme example, sure... but there must always be exceptions.

As I was working on an early draft of this entry, I came across an article on CNN that addressed Muslim women and Hijab's. While not exactly the same as a burqa, the do share some common controversial issues.

I found it interesting that much of the criticism some Hijab wearing American women face comes from Iranian-Americans:

Most of the trouble, though, came from Iranian-Americans, who came to the United States to escape the Islamic fundamentalists who seized power in 1979, she says.

"The Iranians here bother her more than Americans," Behnaz Hekmati says. "They say, 'We got rid of you guys. We came here because we didn't want to see you guys anymore.'"

Also from the article, one viewpoint from an unusually mature 17 year old high school student:

"It represents beauty to me," says Abdelaziz, the 17-year-old daughter of two Egyptian parents living in Old Bridge, New Jersey.

"My mom says a girl is like a jewel," Abdelaziz says. "When you have something precious, you usually hide it. You want to make sure you keep it safe until that treasure is ready to be found."

After reading this article I realized how beautiful this girl truly is, and how the Hijab seems to highlight her face even more. I have seen women like this many times on the subway in Toronto, and in my travels within Malaysia. She certainly has a point, and if she's voluntarily wearing the Hijab for her own reasons, then more power to her.

My Opinion: I'm going to be quite blunt here, and I'm sure some will be offended. What traditions people practise in their own home, as long as no one is hurt, is their business. I really don't care. But in public, you must respect the public laws. Women have equal rights in Canada (no, it's not perfect, but that's a debate for another day). Photo ID is a requirement to vote. There should be NO exceptions. Show your face, or don't vote. (Same would apply for the airline boarding example). When coming to a new country to build a new life, immigrants should make a reasonable effort to adapt to the local culture, and not expect the culture to adapt to them. You want to come to Canada, work, raise a family and contribute to the growth of my country? Then welcome to Canada! You want to come here and make it more like what you're accustomed to back home? Sorry, you should have stayed there.

However, if Lil Kim wants to wear a burqa, I'm ok with that. (Yeah yeah, poor taste. Hey, It's My Blog!)

Ok, bring it on.

Coming soon...
Part 4 - Christmas In August


Anonymous said...

oooh Lil Kim is sexy in that burqa!!

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