#ListenNotSave – Niqab in Canada

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Last month Canadian social media went wild with covering puns and jabs at the extraordinarily Islamophobic leader of the government, Prime Minister Harper. The Harper Government are challenging a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that allows Ms. Zunera Ishaq to wear her niqab at her Canadian Citizenship ceremony.  A ruling that Harper insists he will challenge. According to the Prime Minister, Ms.Ishaq’s choice to wear niqab, as a practice of her faith, is unacceptable and baffling while joining the Canadian family.

“It’s very easy to understand,” said Harper in the House of Commons. “Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and, frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women?”

For just one moment, let’s ignore the tragic irony (read: hypocrisy) that is Prime Minister Harper dictating what is allowable for women to wear.  In his usual arrogant and misogynist tone, he declares that a woman in Canada, who chooses wearing niqab, should not be supported by fellow Canadians. Prime Minister Harper and his cronies, namely Defense Minister Jason Kenney and Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander, often make ridiculous and misinformed statements about Muslim women’s clothing. Let’s for another moment, imagine that Canadian women are perfectly fine with choosing their own clothes based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and well, basic fashion savvy. Immediately, Canadians took to their laptops and phone and took up a rallying cry of unapologetic wit and sarcasm with the hashtag #DressCodePM As important and hilarious as the tweets and posts are, a huge piece of this campaign is the #ListenNotSave hashtag that is reminding us to call out disingenuous rhetoric by the Harper Government under the guise of caring about the marginalization of women. The same Government that has failed to speak up and investigate the cases of over 1000 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. #ListenNotSave was originally created by women of colour to speak to the injustices of Bill S7, the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.  #ListenNotSave was also a call to amplify the voices of the women who are being spoken *of* and not *to*. In the same way that at MMW we have extensively covered the topic of ‘saving’ Muslim women by ineffective policies and by saviourism. Tasnim, Eren and I read and reviewed Prof. Lila Abu-Lughod’s brilliant work in  “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” This book is a must-read for politicians and public representatives. Particularly those who engage in meaningless discussions about Muslim women’s choice of dress. Although Prof. Abu-Lughod’s focuses primarily on women in Muslim-majority countries the themes of neglecting to work and communicate with or provide adequate platform and agency to Muslim women, is strikingly similar to the actions and thoughts of the Canadian government. They are ignored and overlooked often by men who disregard their opinions and ideas and decide what is the most beneficial for them based on some outdated and irrelevant experience. Another important theme in the book, one that I covered in my piece, was the politicization of Muslim women and how a mission to ‘save’ them is used to score points with a caring public and garner support for political or military campaigns. This is precisely what is occurring in Canada. We are a few months away from a federal election and Stephen Harper, has decided that in addition to fearmongering with an Islamist boogeyman, he will pretend to care about Muslim women. Laughable and enraging.

Source.
Michael de Adder for The Embassy magazine. Source.

Fortunately, the caring public will have none of his shenanigans. People simply refused to accept Harper attempting to police women’s bodies in 2015. #ListenNotSave was not as widely represented as #DressCodePM although both are equally important in this debate. This is not only an issue affecting Muslim women- it is a feminist issue.  For a white, male, privileged man to decide what it OK for women to wear is unacceptable and intolerable. Muslim women and allies were requesting that also go viral and draw attention to the voices of..wait for it…niqab-wearing Muslim women. It could be argued that mainstream media tells us that voices of Muslim women are not really relevant in discussions about Muslim women. #hijabdesk But, in a wonderful turn of events, Muslim women and their tweets were not only getting face time and exposure, their voices really influenced the opinions of those who had never heard them before. Mindboggling. Gerald Caplan, of the Globe and Mail, wrote about his experience of hearing the intelligent and strong opinions of Muslim women for the first time.

“These glimpses are revelatory. They destroy every single assumption I made, in my ignorance, about niqabis. I strongly urge everyone to check out these sources for themselves. Given the government’s hysterical fear-mongering, we all owe it to ourselves to know these women better. We can safely assume that no member of the government ever has done so, or how could Jason Kenney, another renowned authority on Islam, dare say that face coverings are a “pre-medieval” tradition “that has been imposed on some women.”

The Toronto Star published an opinion piece from the woman who is the veiled thorn in Harper’s side, Zunera Ishaq. She writes: “While I recognize that it’s not for everyone, it is for me. To me, the most important Canadian value is the freedom to be the person of my own choosing. To me, that’s more indicative of what it means to be Canadian than what I wear.” Although the comments after her article are often hateful, her voice was published at Canada’s largest daily circulated newspaper. And to say it did not provide clarity is ridiculous. Aysha Luqman-Pandor, a woman living in Ontario, penned a piece for TheTyee.ca in which she explicitly detailed how wearing niqab was her choice and one she was proud of. The Current, a popular radio program on CBC radio, featured a segment with two two-niqab-wearing women and a woman in hijab. This was the first time, subjects at the center of this debate were invited to speak about their opinions. This issue is still producing a hotbed of opinions for and against niqab that are often accompanied by Islamophobic remarks. Or even supportive in a reductive manner. (*note to self: do not read the comments!*) The reality is that asking women what *they* think and what *their* beliefs are is critical in these discussions. I am not pleased that this issue is being debated in the House of Commons at all. I am duly unimpressed that some Canadians think it is acceptable to have an opinion what a woman chooses to wear. I am, however, pleased that media in Canada looked to voices of Muslim women instead of away from them while covering this story. That would be *listening* and not overlooking and attempting to save women. Who, sorry Harper, are not actually in need of saving after all. Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to provide more details about the origins of the #ListenNotSave hashtag.


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  • Robert ADDINGTON

    The ruling being challenged is by the Federal Court of Canada, not the Supreme Court. Judgements of the Supreme Court are final.

  • radiofreerome

    If your citizenship ceremony doesn’t require you to be identified by your appearance, then I don’t see a problem with hiding your face. Harper’s objection on the grounds of symbolism is indefensible.

    • Indigenous Justice

      The citizenship ceremony does not require you to be identified by your appearance? I am curious as to where this information comes from because you need to be identified by your appearance to get a passport and to get your driver’s licence and your picture is on your Health Insurance card and you need to show some ID with a picture in order to vote. So if we can’t use appearance to identify someone, what other alternatives should we use? Fingerprints? A DNA test?
      For passport pictures, women are required to bring their hair behind their ears so that their face is completely exposed. So I would be very surprised that you are not required to be identified by your appearance in a citizenship ceremony.

      • kristariley

        Two quick notes: I think the issue here is about whether women should have to remove their niqab *while taking the oath of citizenship* – many women who wear niqab have no problem with taking it off quickly in order to show their face (preferably to a female official, but still) for the purposes of identification itself. Presumably, once she has been identified as the right person, there’s no need to prevent her from putting the niqab back on.

        And second, photo identification is not actually required to vote in Canada (see http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=ids&document=index&lang=e). In fact, I voted in the last election by showing my social insurance card and a credit card bill. I don’t wear niqab, so my face was clearly visible, but I was not required to show any identification with an image of my face, as per Elections Canada regulations. (The question of whether photo ID *should* be required is a separate issue, and I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it, but the current laws that make it clear that it photo ID is *not* required mean that the fuss over making niqab-wearing women show their faces seems a little overblown…)

    • Indigenous Justice

      The citizenship ceremony does not require you to be identified by your appearance? I am curious as to where this information comes from because you need to be identified by your appearance to get a passport and to get your driver’s licence and your picture is on your Health Insurance card and you need to show some ID with a picture in order to vote. So if we can’t use appearance to identify someone, what other alternatives should we use? Fingerprints? A DNA test?
      For passport pictures, women are required to bring their hair behind their ears so that their face is completely exposed. So I would be very surprised that you are not required to be identified by your appearance in a citizenship ceremony.

      • kristariley

        Two quick notes: I think the issue here is about whether women should have to remove their niqab *while taking the oath of citizenship* – many women who wear niqab have no problem with taking it off quickly in order to show their face (preferably to a female official, but still) for the purposes of identification itself. Presumably, once she has been identified as the right person, there’s no need to prevent her from putting the niqab back on.

        And second, photo identification is not actually required to vote in Canada (see http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=ids&document=index&lang=e). In fact, I voted in the last election by showing my social insurance card and a credit card bill. I don’t wear niqab, so my face was clearly visible, but I was not required to show any identification with an image of my face, as per Elections Canada regulations. (The question of whether photo ID *should* be required is a separate issue, and I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it, but the current laws that make it clear that it photo ID is *not* required mean that the fuss over making niqab-wearing women show their faces seems a little overblown…)

  • ahermit

    While I generally agree with you here regarding Harper and his fearmongering I am a bit puzzled by something; I heard a Muslim woman on CBC explaining that the niqab is not a requirement of the faith, but a personal choice and pointing out that a woman on Hajj to Mecca is not permitted to cover her face.

    I’m left wondering why, if uncovering the face is deemed necessary for an important event like the pilgramage, it shouldn’t also be expected at something as important as a citizenship ceremony? I have to say it does seem a bit disrespectful to hide one’s face in such circumstances.

  • ahermit

    While I generally agree with you here regarding Harper and his fearmongering I am a bit puzzled by something; I heard a Muslim woman on CBC explaining that the niqab is not a requirement of the faith, but a personal choice and pointing out that a woman on Hajj to Mecca is not permitted to cover her face.

    I’m left wondering why, if uncovering the face is deemed necessary for an important event like the pilgramage, it shouldn’t also be expected at something as important as a citizenship ceremony? I have to say it does seem a bit disrespectful to hide one’s face in such circumstances.

  • J. Inglis

    Your blog comments are way over the top, and indicate a a failure to even try to understand where Stephen Harper is coming from. You obviously disagree with his position, but that is no excuse for being intolerant, name calling, misrepresenting his position, and accusing him of Islamophobia. You are using very pejorative terms to describe someone you disagree with in order to discredit them and as a (poor) excuse for not having to actually listen and understand his position and for not having to do the work of presenting actual rational arguments. By your method of reasoning and discussion he could call you Canadianophobic, or Harperphobic, etc.

    “extraordinarily Islamophobic leader of the government”

    Really? He is not saying anything more than other critics of the practice of face covering, including Moslem critics of the practice.

    Furthermore, he has met with with Islamic groups in Canada, just as he has with other religious, business, cultural, or political groups. Wajid Ali Khan (a Moslem) was a member of parliament with Stephen Harper. Wajid was initially a Liberal party member of parliament, who was given permission by his party to act as an advisor to Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party. Eventually Wajid left the Liberal Party and crossed the floor to join the Conservative Party and serve under its leader, Prime Minister Harper. I think it highly unlikely that Wajid would do that if Prime Minister Harper were extraordinarily Islamophobic”.

    In 2010 Prime Minister Harper met with and welcomed His Highness Aga Khan to Canada, and took part in the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and Park. The Prime Minister stated, “Canada is honoured to have been chosen as the site for these important institutions. They will serve to promote pluralism, peace and tolerance through greater understanding of Islam.”

    During the Aga Khan’s visit, Canada will formally granted honourary citizenship to him, an initiative that was passed unanimously in the House of Commons on June 19, 2009–when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. Such an action–a very rare action, and one of great honour–does not, and could not, occur without the support and initiative of the Prime Minister. FYI, Canada’s relationship with the AGA Khan Foundation Canada spans over 25 years–many of them under Prime Minister Harper–and Canada has worked with it on many health, education, and economic development projects in Moslem countries around the world.

    More recently, in 2014, Prime Minister Harper and His Highness the Aga Khan signed an historic protocol committing Canada to regular high-level consultations with the Aga Khan on a range of issues.

    Given that the Prime Minister is, and has been for many years, the leader of Canada, your slander of Prime Minister Harper is a slander of Canada. And its a baseless slander, given that the facts show that the Prime Minister, and the nation he leads, has had good, positive, constructive relationships with Moslem citizens, Moslem organizations, and Moslem countries.

  • J. Inglis

    Your blog comments are way over the top, and indicate a a failure to even try to understand where Stephen Harper is coming from. You obviously disagree with his position, but that is no excuse for being intolerant, name calling, misrepresenting his position, and accusing him of Islamophobia. You are using very pejorative terms to describe someone you disagree with in order to discredit them and as a (poor) excuse for not having to actually listen and understand his position and for not having to do the work of presenting actual rational arguments. By your method of reasoning and discussion he could call you Canadianophobic, or Harperphobic, etc.

    “extraordinarily Islamophobic leader of the government”

    Really? He is not saying anything more than other critics of the practice of face covering, including Moslem critics of the practice.

    Furthermore, he has met with with Islamic groups in Canada, just as he has with other religious, business, cultural, or political groups. Wajid Ali Khan (a Moslem) was a member of parliament with Stephen Harper. Wajid was initially a Liberal party member of parliament, who was given permission by his party to act as an advisor to Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party. Eventually Wajid left the Liberal Party and crossed the floor to join the Conservative Party and serve under its leader, Prime Minister Harper. I think it highly unlikely that Wajid would do that if Prime Minister Harper were extraordinarily Islamophobic”.

    In 2010 Prime Minister Harper met with and welcomed His Highness Aga Khan to Canada, and took part in the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and Park. The Prime Minister stated, “Canada is honoured to have been chosen as the site for these important institutions. They will serve to promote pluralism, peace and tolerance through greater understanding of Islam.”

    During the Aga Khan’s visit, Canada will formally granted honourary citizenship to him, an initiative that was passed unanimously in the House of Commons on June 19, 2009–when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. Such an action–a very rare action, and one of great honour–does not, and could not, occur without the support and initiative of the Prime Minister. FYI, Canada’s relationship with the AGA Khan Foundation Canada spans over 25 years–many of them under Prime Minister Harper–and Canada has worked with it on many health, education, and economic development projects in Moslem countries around the world.

    More recently, in 2014, Prime Minister Harper and His Highness the Aga Khan signed an historic protocol committing Canada to regular high-level consultations with the Aga Khan on a range of issues.

    Given that the Prime Minister is, and has been for many years, the leader of Canada, your slander of Prime Minister Harper is a slander of Canada. And its a baseless slander, given that the facts show that the Prime Minister, and the nation he leads, has had good, positive, constructive relationships with Moslem citizens, Moslem organizations, and Moslem countries.

    • Footybedsheets

      A few thing:
      1) Your argument that Harper has met and spoken with Muslim members of the community is laughable. He has yet to actually sit and speak with a woman who wears niqab. Wajid Khan or any other Muslim man does not speak for Muslim women. Shocking, I know.

      2) I am under no obligation to “understand where Harper is coming from” . Also, the word is *Muslim* not “Moslem”. And go read what thousands of Canadians have been saying about this horrid man and his destructive practices. Critiquing Harper is my right as a Canadian. Until he tries to shred the Charter.

      3) Critics of the practice of face-veiling are not expected to wear it but they are expected to let a woman decide her own clothing. Policing women’s bodies is not acceptable to women in Canada.

  • https://www.etsy.com/shop/greydovescottage Grey Dove

    Thank YOU J. Inglis, you said all I wanted to, and so much better than I could have! Let me just add that being open to the customs as well as the rights enjoyed by the citizens of a country, and having that country’s leader solidly represent those values is NOT FEAR Mongering!!! It is The Prime Minister’s critics, particularly such over the top ones as this “author” who have the problems with acceptance and inclusivety!

  • https://www.etsy.com/shop/greydovescottage Grey Dove

    Thank YOU J. Inglis, you said all I wanted to, and so much better than I could have! Let me just add that being open to the customs as well as the rights enjoyed by the citizens of a country, and having that country’s leader solidly represent those values is NOT FEAR Mongering!!! It is The Prime Minister’s critics, particularly such over the top ones as this “author” who have the problems with acceptance and inclusivety!

    • Footybedsheets

      I’m so terribly sorry that your comments about acceptance and *inclusivity* (correct spelling) are rendered moot when you challenge the inclusion of a Canadian woman.

  • http://beyondthesleep.tumblr.com/ HP McLovincraft

    ah, tolerant Canada. you’ve paid entirely too much attention to our American fearporn.

  • http://beyondthesleep.tumblr.com/ HP McLovincraft

    ah, tolerant Canada. you’ve paid entirely too much attention to our American fearporn.

  • John Citizen

    I don’t see how a niqab is anything but out of synch with the values of a democratic country, with a society rooted in the Enlightenment values and dedicated to gender equality. Now should it be illegal? Should someone be forced to take it off during the taking of an oath or for, say, public identification purposes (a driver’s license)? That is somewhat of a different story.

    I could go on and on about the Enlightenment, but while it prized rationality over superstition and literalism, it also placed a premium on individual liberty.

    But the idea that women are so unequal–or their sexuality is just so overwhelming that men can’t control themselves–and thus they have to cover their face or even entire body . . . THAT is definitely an idea incompatible with the values of a modern liberal democracy. Now, if a woman chooses to don such attire completely out of her own free will . . . that’s her choice to make. Just as its her choice to express herself in a thousand other ways that are inconsistent with a liberal society. If she is so independent, though, why would it bother he so much to take off the niqab for a few minutes for public purposes? Its her own choice, right? And perhaps she could wear a headscarf or hihab in lieu of the niqab during the ceremony? Its not like there is a man waiting for her at home whose going to beat the crap out of her, right?

    Religion is not, or at least should not, be a license to do anything. Canadians–don’t go down our route here in the US where “religion” has become a special license for a minority of far-right Christians (not Muslims) to get around the law.

  • John Citizen

    I don’t see how a niqab is anything but out of synch with the values of a democratic country, with a society rooted in the Enlightenment values and dedicated to gender equality. Now should it be illegal? Should someone be forced to take it off during the taking of an oath or for, say, public identification purposes (a driver’s license)? That is somewhat of a different story.

    I could go on and on about the Enlightenment, but while it prized rationality over superstition and literalism, it also placed a premium on individual liberty.

    But the idea that women are so unequal–or their sexuality is just so overwhelming that men can’t control themselves–and thus they have to cover their face or even entire body . . . THAT is definitely an idea incompatible with the values of a modern liberal democracy. Now, if a woman chooses to don such attire completely out of her own free will . . . that’s her choice to make. Just as its her choice to express herself in a thousand other ways that are inconsistent with a liberal society. If she is so independent, though, why would it bother he so much to take off the niqab for a few minutes for public purposes? Its her own choice, right? And perhaps she could wear a headscarf or hihab in lieu of the niqab during the ceremony? Its not like there is a man waiting for her at home whose going to beat the crap out of her, right?

    Religion is not, or at least should not, be a license to do anything. Canadians–don’t go down our route here in the US where “religion” has become a special license for a minority of far-right Christians (not Muslims) to get around the law.

    • Footybedsheets

      Dear Mr.Citizen, clearly you have neither read not have been able to fully comprehend what women who choose to wear niqab are actually saying. They are model citizens, and completely aware of their rights in this wonderful democracy. The same one that subsequently disregards your shallow poo-poohing of a woman’s right to choose what she wears. Your knowledge of why woman wear niqab is pathetic. I know it might be difficult for you to fit in learning with all of the mansplaining you have to do, but before you offer your unintelligent observations, at least familiarize yourself.
      Lastly, it is ironic that *YOU* are complaining about a woman’s right to cover herself when your online identity is shrouded as well.