Bill 62 grants Islamophobia a hallway pass

A couple of weeks ago, Quebec passed Bill 62 which bars Muslim people from wearing burqas and niqabs when accessing or offering public services. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the local mosque I grew up attending.

I’ve been mainly thinking about the women there — the ones who wear full-length niqabs that trail the ground, hijabs and those who only veil while praying. These women and their generous hands shaped my faith and it’s this faith that shapes the advocacy work I dedicate a lot of my time to.  

The women who frequented my local mosque were lawyers, teachers, stay-at-home mothers and the owners of the local convenience stores. They had Ph.Ds, Masters degrees and were home-schooled. They were Pakistani, Somali, Arab and every nation in between. All of these connected by faith, if not by continent. For every single one of them, to veil or not to veil was a choice — a personal choice made with one’s own head and heart at the centre.  

When women’s bodies and closets are legislated, their ability to choose is restricted. The fact that a deeply personal decision can separate my ability to access a public service — something as essential as a library, a public bus or a day care — from another Muslim woman’s in Quebec, is an affront to our agency.

The overwhelmingly Western or Eurocentric tendency to “emancipate” Muslim women by exercising control over their lives is colonial in its roots. The argument that women who wear religious face or head coverings are a danger to a democratic society, is the same argument once used by European colonizers to justify “civilizing missions” in the East.

Whether it’s wearing a little black dress or wearing a long black niqab, patrolling women’s choices is sexually violent. Sexual violence exists on a spectrum. The culture that normalizes sexual violence in our everyday lives is the same culture that makes it okay for a male-dominant society to police women’s bodies. This includes labelling dresses above the knee as too promiscuous for girls in high school and telling Muslim women they have to take off their niqabs to get on public transit. 

As states position themselves as legislators of what Muslim women can and can’t do with their bodies, they’re stating that Western governments have the appropriate power to designate what is and isn’t appropriate for our lives and ways of living. 

This bill isn’t about religious neutrality, it’s about an anxiety with overtly Muslim identities. It’s about Islamophobia. If anything, it’s the farthest thing from neutral you can get.

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