When Tolerance has Limits

November Op-Ed for Bridge River Lillooet News

I find myself at a crossroad: my entire life I hold Liberal views and stand up for rights of many kinds and now I agree with the Quebec law prohibiting the face veil in public—and not because I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole to the far right of the political spectrum—and not because I’m intolerant or racist.

The Koran/Quran says Muslims should be modest but nothing about women having to cover themselves. That nasty ‘cultural practice’ has been invented only recently by extremists. Long-time activist, Raheel Raza, made important points about this in her 2015 HuffPost essay titled ‘As a Muslim, I Think Canada Should Ban the Niqab and Burka in Public’:

“In the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent that is passed off to naïve and guilt-ridden white, mainstream Canadians as an essential Islamic practice.”

“As a Muslim mother who never saw a niqab when I was growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, I am astonished to see Canada’s judiciary caving in to Islamists who have nothing but contempt for Canada’s values of gender equality.”

The legal challenge currently before the Supreme Court will probably result in the Quebec law being overturned, which boggles the mind. How is it that women all over the world are pushing for equal pay, girls’ right to education, fair treatment before the law, and so many other crucial issues, and these women want the right to cover themselves?

Some are claiming it’s a personal choice but I don’t buy it: I’m a woman with nearly sixty years of experience living in a patriarchy; the woman who prefers shackles to freedom is brainwashed. And what’s worse, covered women are ultra-visible in public so they’re shouldering that stressor while those who enforce the veil remain thus-far protected from scrutiny. Oppressors always need privacy in order to maintain their power.

Raza pointed out that “the niqab and burka have nothing to do with Islam. They’re the political flags of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaida and Saudi Arabia.” She warned that face veils decrease our safety and security, which is timely—ISIS fighters may have been ousted from Middle East strongholds but as we all know, they didn’t surrender, they are merely dispersing.

Women’s equality is critically, fundamentally important to peace. Rojda Felat, a female commander in northern Syria, told The New Yorker reporter Luke Mogelson that Kurdish women became soldiers so they could “protect other women from extremists and their sexist ideologies”. They’re willing to give up their lives and what are we doing? Holding our breath and quietly hoping for the best.

Meanwhile, the burka and niqab are magnifying social discord and political fault lines; they’re soft weapons being used against women and against positive, progressive values. In this particular matter, the tolerance for which we are so justly proud is helping extremism and hindsight will be the wrong time to realize it.













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