Niqab by Numbers: Quantifying the Overreactions

I am so, so sick of talking about the niqab.  So I’m not really going to, despite the fact that the Canadian province of Quebec recently introduced a bill that, if made law, would force everyone to show their face when dealing with provincial government bodies.  If anyone else has intelligent insight on recent Quebec-related media coverage, please share.  I, for one, can’t think of anything new that I haven’t said a million times already.  You’d think the politicians would get as tired of this as we are…

The only thing I want to do here is highlight part of this article, which puts into context just how overblown the whole issue is:

One Muslim group argued Wednesday that Quebec’s political oxygen was being unnecessarily sucked up by debate over a microscopic number of cases.

The Muslim Council of Montreal says there may be only around 25 Muslims in Quebec who actually wear face-coverings.

Of the more than 118,000 visitors to the health board’s Montreal office in 2008-09 only 10 people — or less than 0.00009 per cent of cases — involved niqab-wearers who asked for special dispensation.

There were zero such cases among the 28,000 visitors to the Quebec City service centre over the same time period.

So, everyone who’s freaking out about how Quebecois culture as we know it is going to crumble if people are allowed to wear niqab can probably breathe easy.

I’d love to see similar numbers as they apply to other regions or countries dealing with similar debates (France, perhaps?).  And, I’d love to see these numbers appear more often.  The media can play a big role in fueling (or even creating) panic about Muslims (or whoever) taking over, and numbers like this help to give a little perspective about how miniscule the group is that is being discussed, and how disproportionate the outcry really is.

  • rabia

    good stuff krista. my thoughts exactly. as a public servant in quebec, i confirm that i have only seen two niqabis in over a year of service.

    these people are waaay too freaked out about something that is such a small matter. in reality niqabis are a tiy minority. but in thier heads, before you know it they’ll be comin’ to git u!!!

    pathetic.

  • Laury

    Your reply on your other post did clarify things, thanks Krista. I understand what you were getting at now.

    I want to keep up the pont that it is useful to articulate the right of women to wear the burqa/niqab without requiring anyone to like it.

    I was talking with a bunch of amateur wrestlers at a big tournament this last weekend. The burqa-niqab ban came up and they all said they supported the ban. I suggested that they, all Canadian males, might be confusing two liberal impulses: 1. to support difference through multiculturalism, and 2. to feel that they have to like that difference. I suggested that they don’t have to like it to live with women’s right to wear it. When they didn’t think they had to like it, they were fine with it. I truly believe it is the feeling that one is being morally coerced to accept a position that most outside the Muslim community and many within find unacceptable.

    I explained to them that most women choose to wear it themselves for a variety of reasons. I explained how the US has dealt with the security issues involved. They were of the mind that it was weird, but legally permissible. Great! Who cares what they like and do not like, that should have nothing to do with protecting civil rights.

    It is hard for me to believe that the same Canada that went on and on about giving Ann Coulter the right to speak as she likes are also unable to give Muslim women the right to wear whatever they want.

    In any case, I think the ban is an opportunity because it will force a legal challenge that will reach the highest courts showing it is (so obviously) unconstitutional. Settle the matter once and for all.

  • Laury

    Just a clarification, since a good friend and regular reader sent me an email disagreeing with me on a few things in my comment: I do not think that a bunch of macho non-Muslim wrestlers and coaches are “Canada.” My friend mentioned how non-Muslims use language like “they” are taking “our” country away, etc. The small focus group of macho wrestlers and coaches were certainly speaking in that vein until they realized they did not have to like it, indeed could hate it all they liked, and still let it be legal. “Their” country remained their own because they didn’t have to give anything up to the (9) niqabis who live in Quebec. Their racism was hardly resolved as they decided they no longer minded if Canada had equal civil rights. So to reiterate, this position I’m taking does not even attempt to resolve racism which is the larger part of the problem.

  • Sobia

    @ Laury:

    You make an excellent point about not liking the niqab but supporting a woman’s right to choose it. I feel the same way and I think if more people did feel they could oppose the ban while still disliking the niqab we may find more people opposing the ban. For instance, I have met Muslims who support the ban because they want to make it clear that they oppose the niqab and feel they can’t separate the two. This is why I also make it clear that I hate the niqab yet oppose the ban, only because our opinions on the issue can more easily be blended by others because it may seem that I am condoning the niqab if I oppose the ban. As Muslims our support of or opposition to the bill means something very different than it does for non-Muslims.

  • Asmaa

    It’s a bit shocking to hear the numbers and compare that data with all the nonsense going on in Quebec. Perhaps the niqab is s symbol of something greater than just an individual’s so-called “oppression.” It may be a symbol of rejection of mainstream materialistic culture – which translates into an imagined threat to cultural homogeneity.

    Quebec has always been hyper-vigilant about the “threat” of minorities overtaking French culture in their province. So this does not come as a surprise to me.

    The scary part is – if Quebec goes ahead with this, where will it stop? It’s not at all difficult to imagine that the hijab will be next.

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  • http://www.unitedshades.org.uk Aoife

    Interesting look at statistics. I don’t have them to hand, but I have seen similar figures for France and other European countries who are looking at banning niqab and burka.

    The narrative in France (and amongst some of the groups proposing a ban n my home country, the UK) is especially interesting. Sarkosy has said that such covering is’t French because women are forced to do it. So in response to his passion that women not be told what they must wear, he’s telling them what they must not wear. *rolleyes*

    I’ve shared the link to this discussion with the facebook group of our organisation, as there’s been a lot of debate about niqab and rights there, and the idea that people are struggling to separate their personal feelings from the right of others to choose what they wear is a really good one.

    We also have some articles about hijab and traditional covering in Catholicism on our website http://www.unitedshades.org.uk which you might be interested in. I also tender to any of the excellent writers here at MMW that if they wish to submit a guest blog post to our site, then they are more than welcome and should get in touch!

    Aoife
    United Shades of Britain

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