Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Niqab debate

I've seen a considerable amount of hateful opinions regarding the Niqab in Canada come across my Facebook news feed as of late, and while some concerns seem legitimate on the surface, every single one of them neglects a very critical question: Why do Muslim women wear the Niqab?

If we read the opinions of liberal Canadian hipsters who choose to wear the Niqab as a fashion statement, we would learn that they find it empowering, which is something I would not disagree with. Every year on October 31, many people, myself included, find it empowering to cover our faces as we dress up as Ninjas or Batman. In fact, it's a lot of fun, and Islam would seem, on its surface, to provide a legitimate excuse to enjoy this Halloween type fun all year round. However, I doubt very much that these fun-loving hipster bloggers do not constitute the majority of Niqab-wearing women in Canada.

Others have expressed the opinion that the niqab protects them from the prying eyes of Joe public, so that only someone very special gets to see their beauty. Often, they regard themselves as a "Wrapped Candy" or some equivalent. It is a little disconcerting to me, as a supporter of the feminist movement, that a woman would relegate herself to a position of subservience to a man, to reduce herself to little more than chattel to be unwrapped only by her owner. Such a woman cannot expect to be treated as an equal in such a culture, and it saddens me to think that a woman would put such value on something as superficial as their appearance. Once again, I doubt that these women represent the majority of niqab-wearing women. If the majority do believe in this, I don't believe it's the primary reason.
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I believe the majority of niqab wearing women wear their niqabs out of fear. Whether their fear is based in tradition, superstition, or from a real threat is irrelevant. This fear is real for them.

Consider a person who has left their culture where they were surrounded by like-minded people to come to Canada. By and large, these women are not educated by no choice of their own, and are forced to come here with their husbands because they really don't have any say or choice in these matters. Quite often, they look forward to the promise of a better life for their children, something all of us would want. They already wore the Niqab in their culture because they feared what might have happened if they didn't, and it also gave them a sense of belonging to be around other women who were clearly in the same predicament. Now they're in this strange new world with alien cultures and ideals, and all they know is fear. We can hardly expect them to suddenly become enlightened.

Let's be honest here and start by admitting these women feel safer when hiding under their niqabs. This leads to another very important question: Are we really helping them by making them feel marginalized or challenged for wearing what amounts to their personal security blanket?

At a personal level, I disagree with the Niqab for fundamental equality reasons. That said, turning it into a national debate on the covers of newspapers and the top of Facebook news feeds only serves to alienate women who have possibly already suffered a great deal of abuse in their lives, and we may very well be driving them back into the arms of their oppressors. We should feel compassion for these women. Let them wear their Niqab if it makes them feel safe. Ours should be a culture of enlightenment.

Yes, I, an atheist, say, let these women wear the niqab, and let's show them that we accept them with open arms and uncovered faces. Over time, they will come to feel secure and may even come to recognize the niqab as something ridiculous and embarrassing as they assimilate into our culture. It may not happen overnight, and it may not even happen for a generation or two, but it will certainly happen a lot faster and easier if we can agree that marginalizing and criticizing these fearful women is not productive. Please join me and help them become part of our great multi-cultural country by opting out of sharing anything hateful about Muslim women in your Facebook feed.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Phobia Noun 

A persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

Islamophobia is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? Traditionally in the English language, the phobia suffix literally means fear. Thus, when we combine it with the Latin prefix of, say, Claustro (a door bolt), we get Claustrophobia, which is a fear of enclosed spaces.

Phobias are a fairly common trait that most people have. In fact, there is a web site,, that has made the attempt to list them all. Go ahead, have a look. Chances are you'll discover one or more of your own phobias on that list. What's not on that list is Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a made-up word, with a made-up meaning. If we accept it at face value and use it like other words that end in phobia, the reasonable expectation is that it means a fear of Islam. Such a fear is not necessarily an irrational one; many people in the world today are afraid of Islam, as we have witnessed and continue to witness atrocities committed in the name of Islam. Fear is what keeps many people in the world in the Islamic faith. As such, a fear of Islam may be a very rational fear to have, and thus does not merit the use of the suffix -phobia.

The true origins of this word came from the popular use of homophobia, which is a real word with a real meaning. Originally, it was a fear of sameness or monotony derived from homogeneous, but then the LGBT movement took this word and assigned a new meaning to it, deriving homo from homosexual. This is actually quite clever, because both homosexual and homogeneous are Latin in origin, constructed the same way, and would translate exactly the same to derive a word that means a fear of homosexuals or sameness.

Some people didn't just fear homosexuals; there are those even today who outright and without rationale hate them. Hate isn't fear, and some of those people who hated homosexuals didn't feel compelled to avoid them. In fact, many of those who hated homosexuals would go out of their way to confront and attack them. However, people loved using the word, so the meaning became altered to be used to describe people who hate and become confrontational towards homosexual men and women. I don't consider this a great choice, as it dilutes the meaning of what a phobia is supposed to be, but they are fighting the good fight for equal rights and that matters to me. At least the definition of this word is very specific and makes sense.

Capitalizing on the LGBT struggle for equality, Islamophobia was coined with a made-up definition. This definition is: "Dislike or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force." However, the problem with this definition is immediately apparent to me: There are Muslims in this world who have a legitimate dislike or prejudice against Islam. This made-up meaning for this made-up word ends up stereotyping people of a specific nationality, allowing those who might question their religious beliefs to be ostracized or worse. We already have perfectly good words to describe non-Muslim people who hate Muslims. My word of choice to describe this sort of individual is is misotramontanism.

Now consider someone who dislikes or is prejudiced against Islam as a political force. Would we then consider someone who doesn't like Liberals as a political force Liberalphobics? At this point, the very definition of the word Islamophobia continues to become further diluted, fragmented, and nonsensical. Once again there exists words in our language already that better describe this; for example, try misarchist. Or, to be more accurate in this case, perhaps misotyrannist is more apt.

So we have this made-up word that, when taken to its Latin root, doesn't make sense. Its made-up definition doesn't make sense. We already have words in our language to describe people who don't like people of other races or nationalities that are far more suitable. The only reason I see for the existence of this word is to silence those who would criticize Islam, to demonize those who would question this religion, including the very people who are trying to escape it, and to give the religious an unwarranted position of unquestionable authority. That makes this a very ugly word.

I'm going to join French prime minister Manuel Valls in purging this ugly word from my vocabulary when describing anti-Muslim prejudice, and ask that you do the same.