04/16/2012 01:59 EDT | Updated 06/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Hey Islam, Get Your Hands Off Our Art

The student who took a photo of a women in Muslim veil holding a bra undoubtedly offended religious fundamentalists. But so what? This is Canada. People have the right to express their religious beliefs freely. Canada is not answerable to Saudi Arabia.

Sooraya Graham

Thompson Rivers University must do the right thing. It must restore the display of an art assignment -- albeit a controversial one -- that depicts a woman wearing Muslim veils holding a bra while folding laundry.

Irate calls over perceived insults to Islamic culture, belief and practice have once again stifled freedom of speech and expression. The art student, Soorya Graham, is nonetheless fighting for her right by insisting her work be displayed once again at the school. Her photo showing the Muslim woman holding the bra was reportedly stripped off the wall by another student.

What addles the mind about the incident is the audacity with which fundamentalists impose their religiosity on others.

Graham, who also wears a head scarf, merely wanted to show the world that veiled women are the same as other women even underneath those sombre layers of clothing. Perhaps she thought the public was under the impression that women in Muslim veiling do not wear undergarments. Graham had hoped to dispel that impression and as a Canadian student she had every right to do so. But that right has been rudely snatched from her by bigots.

Her artistic expression undoubtedly offended them. But so what? This is Canada. People have the right to express their religious beliefs freely. And if the fundamentalists are unhappy with these freedoms -- they too are free to leave.

What they most certainly are not free to do in Canada is steal art and use it to impose their fundamentalist agenda on others. The perpetrator is allegedly another Muslim student. Her actions have sparked controversy over issues of free speech, the limits of artistic expression as well as the limits of multiculturalism.

She allegedly acted on behalf of an Islamic Education centre in Kamloops, B.C., that has expressed open opposition to the art work. The centre is funded by the Saudi Arabian embassy. Both the Embassy and the education centre feel the photo mocks Islam.

In Saudi Arabia, men are now technically banned from working at lingerie store. The demand for the law came from Saudi women themselves, who had previously felt a sense of shame and embarrassment in dealing with male salesmen while buying lingerie. Despite opposition from top clerics who discourage women from working in stores, the law that was appraised by King Abdullah in 2006 allowing female-only workers is now finally being enforced.

In Saudi Arabia, therefore, garments worn underneath the burka -- that symbol of Wahhabi-manufactured piety -- are meant only for the eyes of the husband. It explains Saudi chagrin over the controversial photo in Kamloops. Saudi Arabia, however, cannot impose its value system on Canadian citizens who enjoy the right to free expression.

Our civil liberties are enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Included among these are freedoms that foster a range of artistic and intellectual expression. It is only in allowing this wide range of ideas that societies can evolve and progress. And while certain types of artistic expression may very well offend religious sensibilities, our artists and intellectuals must not be denied their full creative expression.

Canada is not answerable to Saudi Arabia.