Wednesday, October 25, 2017

  • Wednesday, October 25, 2017
  • Elder of Ziyon

Bethany Mandel writes in The Forward:
Last week, Quebec introduced a “burqa ban” – a prohibition against Muslim women wearing the full-face covering (which is actually called a niqab, not a burqa) in the public sphere. The law bans those working in public service or using public services from wearing veils or any sort of facial covering. Teachers and doctors, and anyone else who works for the government, would be subject to the law, as would anyone taking the bus.

Similar bans have been passed across Europe, like the national ban on burqas in schools in France and the total ban on full-face veils in France and Belgium. When the bill was passed in Belgian parliament, lawmakers cited security reasons for the ban, also claiming the veil is a tool of oppression.

But the ban in Quebec is the first time such measures have been taken in North America.

...We Jews especially should stand up for religious liberty rights, regardless of what that faith is. We especially should be in the business of opposing legislation like “burqa bans,” because any attempt to get a minority religious group to assimilate inevitably affects Jews as well.

...And as we saw in France, these bans don’t just affect Muslims, but almost certainly will come to affect Jews who also cover their heads for religious reasons. If Canada proceeds down this path, Jewish men will no longer be able to wear yarmulkes, and religious married women will be banned from wearing a wig (sheitel) or scarf.

If Jews are interested in practicing some ideological consistency, not to mention preventing ourselves from becoming collateral damage in a misguided attempt to assimilate Muslims, this is just the kind of legislation we should be pushing back against. We’re too well acquainted with religious discrimination to bow out of this one.
After the uproar over the proposal, the person who introduced it clarified what it was meant to do:
{t]he law would be in effect only at the moment of identification. Someone embarking on a municipal bus would have to show their face in order to use a transit pass with photo ID, but would not have to remain unveiled for the duration of the ride.

People would have to uncover their faces in order to ask a question of library staff or register at a medical clinic or hospital, but could leave their faces covered while browsing bookshelves or sitting in the waiting room. The ban would extend to public services such as attending university classes, seeking court documents from a clerk or picking up children from a public daycare.

“These are commonsense rules,” Vallee told reporters. They would apply to anyone whose face is obscured, including those wearing large sunglasses or scarves, she said.

The law does not stipulate fines or sanctions for those who fail to comply and does allow for accommodation requests, with guidelines as to the process expected to be ready in the coming months.

The lawmakers blew it with the original rationale of "social cohesion" being the reason for the ban, since, as Mandel notes, that is a slippery slope that could apply to any religious symbol.

However, there are two real reasons that the niqab should be banned in the public sphere, and perhaps beyond. One is the basic idea of identifying people, as noted in the revised reason for the ban - people should not be allowed to wear masks of any sort in schools and when boarding buses because normal social and official interaction requires seeing someone's face and identifying them to be who they claim to be. Otherwise someone could kidnap little Maryam from day care pretending to be her mother.

The more important reason to ban the niqab (and burqa), which the Quebec lawmakers didn't mention, is that those garments are a violation of women's rights. Islam does not require that a woman's face be covered, but too many extremist Muslims force women - either directly or through social pressure - to wear the veil. It is akin to torture.

As feminist Phyllis Chesler puts it:
In a burqa or chadari, one has no peripheral and only limited forward vision; one's hearing and speech are muffled. One's facial expressions remain unknown; no eye contact is possible. Movement is severely limited. A first-time burqa wearer may feel that she cannot breathe freely and that she might slowly be suffocating. She may feel buried alive and may become anxious, claustrophobic. (Try on a burqa, this experience is easy to confirm). Imagine the consequences of getting used to this as a way of life. But maybe one never gets used to it. I have heard many descriptions of what Saudi women do the moment their aircraft leaves the Kingdom's terra firma: they immediately fling off their "coverings."

A burqa wearer, who can be as young as ten years old, must surely experiences both isolation and sensory deprivation which are, essentially, forms of torture which can lead to depression, anxiety, even a psychological breakdown. According to my colleague, psychoanalyst and Arabist, Dr. Nancy L. Kobrin, the burqa may "create an artificially induced autistic-like environment." Covering up the five senses is harmful to the woman in the burqa; making it impossible to recognize or identify such a woman is potentially harmful to others.
If you care about security, you should be against all face coverings. If you care about women's rights, you should be against the use of the Islamic veil.

(I am reading Chesler's new book, "Islamic Gender Apartheid - Exposing a Veiled War Against Women." This is a major theme of the book, which I hope to review next week.)

If Quebec wanted to ban the hijab (headscarf,) I would be against it 100%. That would indeed be a violation of freedom of religion. The hijab doesn't impede women's freedoms.

But the niqab/veil (and more so the burqa, which has been used to hide hundreds of suicide bombers) is a violation of the rights of women - and it is a security risk as well.

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