Monday, September 17

Lifting the veil on a bogus issue?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minister of democratic reform, Peter Van Loan, are demanding Canada's chief electoral officer ensure that veiled or burka-clad women who come to vote expose their faces to returning officers -- even though the law, which Harper's government passed less than three months ago, has no such requirement.

Sarah Elgazzar, who speaks for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, says most Muslim women are more than happy to lift their veils for official purposes, such as voting. So what's generating this furor?

It's hard to escape the uncomfortable feeling that all this artificial outrage has less to do with ensuring the integrity of our voting system than in courting votes in Quebec by whipping up a xenophobic fear of Canadian Muslims.

Muslim women have been voting in Canada for years. Why is this suddenly an issue now? Are we really afraid that the some veiled woman is going to sneak in to vote a dozen times? Or is it really the fundamentalist Islam symbolized by the niqabs and burkas we fear?

The fact that the debate has been timed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of Ramadan makes it all the more distasteful and disquieting.

As a secular feminist, I find the practice of Canadian women covering themselves in niqabs or burkas medieval and misogynist, a coercive strategy to deny women equality and social recognition. But those are my beliefs. I'm entitled to hold them and state them. I'm not entitled to impose them on other Canadians.

The vast majority of Muslim-Canadian women don't even wear veils. But there are some who freely chose to don the traditional attire, as a mark of faith and cultural solidarity. Indeed, some of them see the veil as a kind of neo-feminist statement of cultural pride, a rejection of skimpy "western" fashions that sexualize and objectify women.

FULL STORY: Edmonton Journal

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