There is nothing intrinsically "Canadian," let alone "conservative," about leveraging insecurity, racism and xenophobia for votes through ethnic scapegoating. That is not a "conservative" strategy; it's a fascist strategy with a long and bloody history, and it has no place in Canada. On October 19th, we have a chance to "take our country back." We have the chance to declare once and for all that who and what we are as Canadians is no longer for sale. We have a chance to steer Canada off its collision course with history, to save it from derailing and crashing beyond our ability to recognize it, let alone repair it.
Every day we see another poll, another tracker, another analyst examining this or that issue. The latest is the niqab, the face veil some Muslim women wear. But women's issues and politics in Canada encompass more than a face veil. In fact, I'm going to come out and say there are far more pressing issues we have to deal with from a woman's point of view than whether or not some women wear a veil. Stephen Harper's continuing waving of the veil in our faces is nothing more than a distraction and a deflection from what truly matters.
These women aren't separating their spirituality from personal or creative expression. By having the mainstream fashion industry represent women and men from different cultural and religious backgrounds, stereotypes and beliefs towards a group of people can be challenged. It is a step towards making unseen people seen.
Judge Eliano Marengo has declared her Quebec courtroom "a secular place and a secular space", and has denied Rania El-Alloul a hearing because she wears a hijab. The judge proclaimed that there are no religious symbols in her courtroom. It is impossible for a judge who daily has witnesses place their hand on a Bible and swear to tell the truth to claim there are no religious symbols in her courtroom. So did the fact that Rania El-Alloul's attire was Islamic weigh more heavily on the judge's decision than the fact that she wore a religious symbol?
It is mind bogglingly outrageous to learn that a Quebec judge would serve her own religiously discriminatory interests rather than promote the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms under which she governs. As a proud Canadian Muslim woman I firmly believe that we as a society are better than this and we need to speak out against discrimination under the guise of secularism.
For the naysayers or eye-rollers out there, there is nothing wrong with removing my hijab or other article of clothing for a doctor if it is necessary for the sake of the medical examination. In this instance, it was not. It was the equivalent of asking a woman to fully remove her top and undergarment in order to examine her lungs. The changes in the environment in Quebec are subtle but ever present. I have felt the chill in the air. From the racial slur while at the movies with my kids to reading passive aggressive comments on social media. Our joie de vivre, pride in diversity and bilingualism has been replaced with political unease, targeted discrimination of visibly religious minorities and linguistic force.
Imagine your child's favourite teacher. This teacher is known to provide her students with an enriched classroom. Now imagine that this exemplary teacher is a person who subscribes to a religious faith for which she dresses in a particular fashion. Should she remove the outward signs of her faith so that she can keep teaching?
Quebec's Muslim women have been threatened -- violence against veiled women has increased dramatically since the Charter debate was introduced. In Quebec, the issue of choice and self-determination around the veil is critical. It would seem, then, that in matters of fashion, religion, and secularism, Montreal's Muslim women are being held to a higher standard by their provincial government. Montreal's young Hijabistas -- and those who support them -- told us what the veil means to them.
The PQ is unable to distinguish between religious zealotry that overtakes the public sphere and individuals who, though they exhibit their faith publicly, continue to work peacefully, alongside their neighbours of other beliefs, without difficulty. Make no mistake -- everyone in Quebec will be affected by the Charter of "Values." The entire society will be subjected to change as a result. Do we want people to be forced to choose their faith over integration in the public sphere? Do we want "Muslim only" sections of cities? That will be the result of failing to allow the integration of visible religious minorities in the public sphere. It is apartheid.
Imagine a teacher at a public school, or a Centre de santé et des services sociaux receptionist. If she tucks her hair into a turban as a fashion statement, or dons a headscarf to keep her hairdo safe from the rain, or because she's having a bad hair day, that would be perfectly acceptable. Ditto for covering a pate denuded by cancer chemotherapy. But if she puts on that same headscarf out of Islamic modesty, das ist verboten.
In the wake of yesterday's mind-boggling announcement out of Quebec, we must ask: Why is there the need to accommodate religion in this way? I have never quite figured out how someone else's attire affects my philosophy. Seeing a man wearing a kippa has never pressured me to consider Judaism as an option for my personal philosophy.
On the heels of the Quebec Soccer Federation banning children from wearing turbans while playing in kiddie league games, the Province of Quebec has extended the ban to include cowboy hats being worn anywhere in public by adults or children. "Cowboy hats are destroying our natural French love of toques," said Premier Pauline Marois, making the announcement from the steps of the Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly) in Quebec City, wearing a green paisley beret to match her business suit.
This weekend the Quebec Soccer Federation votes on whether to lift a ban that prevents kids from playing soccer -- specifically Sikh players who wear turbans. In sports, you learn to participate and take risks. And you learn to include everyone. It is a lesson that some of the grown-ups still don't get.