Everyone seems to have something to say about the recent proposed charter of values. The pundits, the white feminists, the atheists and the secularists. I've gotten hundreds of responses to my recently published pieces on the Charter. I've chosen to focus on the positive ones, which are overwhelming the majority. However there is one I received recently that stood out. It was short and to the point. It read:
"Vous faites tout pour être détestée vous !" (Translation: You do everything to be hated, you!)
Does the simple cloth on my head offend you or is it the fact that I do not let societal pressures to dress and act a certain way change who I am? I am tired of being told to keep my opinions to myself, that my beliefs or values do not matter or that I must have been brainwashed. Why? Because I dress in a manner that may cover my body yet certainly has not covered my mind, my identity or my faith.
We have a beautiful pluralistic society in which people of all walks of life coexist. It is something to pride ourselves on, not to feel burdened and scorned by those who choose to transplant their cultural ideologies and political injustices from other parts of the world. Too often I have had readers tell me how messed up it is that I cover my head when in their country it is part of an oppressive regime. My answer has been, and will always be, to tell them about my country. My province. My hijab and my choice. We embrace our differences here, not oppose those who are different.
A prime example of this, is in the nature of the debate that surrounds this heated issue. This proposed charter of values is being flung around like law. It has emboldened some to feel a government sanctioned duty to spew racism, hatred and ignorance towards those who choose to follow their faith and lead peaceful lives. There are many who suggest that Muslims, Jews and Sikhs remove their religious adornments during business hours. To say this is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the significance of the integral roles of the hijab, kippah and turban in their respective faiths.
The truth is that this proposed charter of values will not see the light of day. I have no qualms in saying that because it is an open secret that it will never pass any genre of human rights litmus test. Yet it is incredibly successful in needlessly dividing society.
Amongst the countless emails, comments, tweets and messages I have received over the past weeks, one story has stuck with me and has not left my mind for a day. One of my readers told me she was verbally assaulted while shopping with her elderly mom by a burly, large set man who told her how messed up she is for dressing in a manner to reveal her faith, how she should get the hell out of his province and other nonsensical hatred. She feared for her and her mom's safety and had to stand there and comfort her elderly mother as she cried. She was afraid to go to the store's administration and complain or to call the police. She felt unwelcome and afraid. A third person later approached her in the store and told her that what the man had done was wrong and while she did not know him, she wanted to apologize on his behalf. She wanted to assure her (my reader) that he did not represent anyone but himself and that she is as welcome here as the next person.
This is what this proposed piece of legislation has done to our society. This is why it does not belong in our beautiful province. This is also a perfect example of the two extremes that have emerged as a result of this divisive debate.
Dialogue needs to take place. The time is now for those who have silently objected to this proposed charter to speak up and make themselves and their opinions heard before it is too late. I was pleased recently when my daughter's teacher invited me in to speak to their class about my faith, culture and decision to wear the hijab. She felt it necessary to speak to her students about embracing those who are different, particularly with the current political climate in Quebec. I couldn't have been prouder to speak to the students and answer their dozens of questions on why I dress the way I do, what sort of food we like to eat and so on. Some were a little surprised when they heard that my kids love poutine and steak. As a visible minority parent, I appreciate the opportunity to encourage children to embrace differences, not to be afraid of them.
This proposed Charter of Values has forced us to question what we really truly value as a society. Are we really the progressive nation that we like to think we are or is it just politically correct terminology that is convenient to use? What kind of nation do we want for our children? One of religious tolerance and understanding or one of intolerance, exclusionism and passing judgment?