Niqab ban undermines “tolerance”


Attempts to ban the niqab at Canadian citizenship ceremonies have shed light on the flawed values “multiculturalism” is based on.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has opposed the niqab being worn during these ceremonies, saying they’re not “transparent” and are “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”.

Conservative MP Larry Miller said Monday that prospective Canadians unwilling to uncover their faces at a citizenship ceremony should “stay the hell where you came from”.

Harper and Miller’s statements — which are exclusionary at best, and racist at worst — fit under the perspectives, practices and policies that the Conservative government has promoted over the years, which exclude certain groups.

This behaviour counters what are supposed to be the fundamental values of Canadian society.

As Canadians, we tend to pride ourselves on our “multicultural” ways, on “tolerance” and on the “cultural mosaic” that is Canada. The Conservative government is undermining this already imperfect ideology — one that focuses on dealing with minorities rather than accepting them.

In Canada, a very small minority of Muslim women wears the niqab and other face coverings. So why is this even an issue?

Perhaps it’s because, as Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau recently pointed out, Harper’s government is using the fear around terrorism to push for legislative changes. One example is Bill C-51 — the “Anti-Terrorism Bill” — which could be discriminatory and promote prejudice towards Muslims and other minorities.

For many people, the words that come to mind when passing judgment on the niqab are: religious conservatism, oppressive, Muslim and, yes, perhaps even “anti-women” — whether this is true or not.

But banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies would be more “contrary to our own values”, to use Harper’s words, than allowing women to wear the niqab during these proceedings. It undermines the already borderline offensive word that multiculturalism is based on — “tolerance” — as time and time again the Harper government has failed to accept or even accommodate minorities.

With even “tolerance” towards marginalized cultures constantly being chipped away at, the acceptance of these cultures in Canada is a goal that seems more unrealistic by the day.

Mishal is one of the Journal’s Assistant News Editors. She’s a fourth-year political studies major.

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