The irony of Bill 62

Bill 62 isn’t only disheartening, but paradoxical. Instead of addressing any existing situation, it contributes to the alienation and marginalization of a minority community in Quebec. 

Politicians have tried to justify the legislation using security, identification and communication concerns, even stressing out that accessories with no religious connotations, such as “dark sunglasses,” would also be banned from public services under this law. Despite all of this, the title of the bill makes explicit mention towards the state’s purpose of religious neutrality. As a result, it’s clear that the targeted group is Muslims.

The problem is, there are very few reported instances of women refusing to remove their Niqab or Burqa when asked to do so. On the other hand, as a Muslim Quebecer, I grew up frequently listening to my peers and the media referring to Muslims as terrorists, barbaric and backwards. All of these were based on generalizations, misconceptions and stereotypes they held about Islam. I’ve seen graffiti on my Mosque’s walls, members of my community being killed, all of this while others were getting their car burned down. So, in my view, if there’s one community that should feel unsafe and need a heightened sense of security right now, it’s the Muslim one, not the other way around. 

Going beyond the security aspect, Bill 62 suggests certain beliefs held by Muslims are incompatible with a democratic society. As a result, it also infers that it’s acceptable to restrict certain practices of theirs, if that means freeing women from their perceived oppression. The government and people supporting this bill however fail to acknowledge is that Muslim women who decide to wear a Hijab, Niqab or Burqa, are doing so by choice, not by coercion.

Rather than a sign of weakness or a lack of liberty, going through everyday life with a head covering is an example of strength and resilience during a time where Islamophobia has grown rampant. By asking Muslim women to remove such a crucial part of their identity, the Quebec government is fundamentally disempowering, rather than empowering them. Moreover, even if one fails to agree with this idea, freedom of choice, beliefs and individual liberties are at the core of liberal democracies. The idea that the state can impose upon these values by controlling what people can or can't wear, is inherently contradictory to those democratic beliefs.

In the last decade, I have come to observe that any event shedding the light on the Muslim community — including the 2013 proposed charter of values or the Quebec City Mosque shooting — led to the legitimizing of anti-Islam feelings. I have very little doubt this bill will have similar effects. Rather than promoting provincial cohesion, security and neutrality, it will achieve the exact opposite.

 

 

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