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Farzana Hassan

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The Veil Isn't About A Woman's Right to Choose

Posted: 12/13/11 11:11 AM ET

Minister Kenney deserves our applause for taking a bold stand against one of ultra-orthodox Islam's most pernicious symbols: The face veil. He stated that:

"Starting [yesterday], any individual will have to show his or her face when taking the oath of citizenship. Recently I received complaints from members of the Parliament, citizenship judges, and even participants in citizenship ceremonies to the effect that it is difficult to ensure that the individuals whose faces are covered are really taking the oath.... But this is not a simple or technical measure, far from it, this is really a matter of pure principle which is at the very heart of our identity and our values with respect to openness and equality...

Indeed newcomers to Canada must embrace gender equality as a core Canadian value. In recognizing the patriarchy behind the veil, Kenny acknowledged that women must make choices freely in an atmosphere of equality and transparency. The face veil must be removed, not just to ensure the integrity of the oath-taking ceremony, but also to affirm the equality of the sexes. And despite what third-wave feminists and multiculturalists assert, the burka is both oppressive and anti-feminist, steeped in patriarchy and control.

It is nonetheless the muticulturalists' love affair with the "exotic" that prevents them from seeing the larger picture about the burka. Their view is obviously predicated on moral relativism that regards all cultures--even the horrendously patriarchal ones--as equal. Third- wave feminists, in particular, assert that women should be free to define their own femininity even if it includes donning the veil. But can a choice be deemed feminist if one adopts a practice that is clearly the result of patriarchal religious edicts?

Regrettably, contemporary feminists continue to support a woman's right to wear the burka. According to them, women have chosen this path of femininity for themselves. Their choices must be respected and any contradictions in their stance must be accepted. To deny a woman the right to wear the burka would mean imposing someone else's standards of equality and freedom.

And herein lies the fallacy. Women who purportedly choose practices that stem from patriarchal interpretations have in fact not defined their femininity. Burka adherents have most certainly taken their cues from chauvinistic and patriarchal religious interpretations and embraced them without question. That women must accept polygamy, that they must veil before strange men, that they must restrict themselves to domestic roles are the result of patriarchal conditioning, rather than women defining these roles for themselves. Paula Simons, a feminist columnist for the Edmonton Journal argues that, "I will grant Kenney this: In many countries and communities, the niqab is indeed an instrument and symbol of gender oppression. Some women are forced to wear it, or, at least, feel compelled to do so because of social pressure, not sincere religious conviction. In other cases, though, women don traditional dress freely, sometimes for reasons of deep personal faith, sometimes to make a political or social statement."

Simons is wrong. Women in fact cannot make choices freely as she contends, when control over their lives is as invasive and pernicious as it is. Muslim women are led to believe that they must accept their husbands as their imams in all matters. What Shariah law demands of them is complete subservience. Women must hence comply if their husbands require them to don the veil.

Such patriarchy is contrary to Canadian values based on gender equality. Minister Kenney has taken a step in the right direction by requiring veiled women to remove their face coverings during the oath taking ceremony. He must now go a step further to ban the face veil from all public spaces.

 
 
 

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