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.

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