Of all the very stupidest things to become an election issue, and to even sink the political fortunes of the social democrats, when there are so many other serious problems that need to be addressed, controversies about women wearing the niqab is about the stupidest imaginable. Unbelievable!
The bigotry here is astounding, but the Conservatives, having politicised the issue and even expanded on this “dog whistle issue” so much that even a Red Tory like Danny Williams has dissed Mr. Harper for being “borderline racist“, while New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair, having taken a very principled stand in favour of the woman’s right to wear the niqab, has lost political favour with large parts of the public. This is insanity.
And it’s in this context and mood that you have to appreciate Ira Wells’ observations in The Guardian about the “politics of paranoia” as the political “pornography of the contemporary Conservative” that has become the new normal of Canadian public discourse, which even the Canadian Jewish News finds unsettling and disturbing about the Conservative’s dog-whistle politics surrounding the niqab issue.
The lop-sided view of this is that the niqab is a symbol of the oppression of Muslim women by Muslim men, and that banning the niqab is “emancipation” from “barbaric cultural practices“. So, it comes as a shock to the true believers in the emancipation narrative when Muslim women themselves, like Zunera Ishaq, defend their right and freedom to wear the niqab and even take the Harper government to the Supreme Court over the issue as being a violation of the Charter of Rights.
She won. Good for her.
Let’s try to deconstruct that whole “emancipation” bullshit which, I believe, is really a disingenuous cover-story for bigotry and racism.
The niqab has a practical history and also a symbolic one. For a desert people, it was like the scarf Canadians wear in the winter. In this case, a defence against the elements — sand. Arab men wear them too, or hasn’t anyone noticed that it has become a part of traditional costume? That’s the functional aspect of the niqab.
The other aspect of the niqab is symbolic. It’s an expression of modesty, but in connection with that, a barrier against the pressure of the sexually aggressive and greedy male gaze. Is it any coincidence that the most vocal critics of the niqab seem to be men? The niqab also serves to blunt that aggressive gaze. And as some Arab and Muslim women have said — they feel naked, exposed and vulnerable without their niqab, for that very reason.
This has a very long history, too. As best as I can determine, the niqab, as symbolic form of the veil, began when Mohammad, during his exile at the oasis of Medina, erected veils in his household to protect the privacy of the women, because Muslim men were entering his household — probably a tent — freely at all times of the day and night and catching the womenfolk in various stages of undress.
Niqab, in that sense, means protection. Not only, as earlier, from the desert sands, but from the aggressive and greedy male gaze that wants to sexually possess.
And inasmuch as this is the motive for women wearing the niqab, the “emancipation” narrative is complete bunk, although I’m all for the woman’s right to choose whether to wear the niqab or not to wear the niqab. If the woman feels exposed, uncomfortable, and vulnerable to the sexually aggressive male gaze, by all means — wear the niqab. But it should be the woman’s choice and no one else’s, least of all the State.
It’s really the male ego that needs to be “emancipated” from its lustfulness in terms of the acquisitive desire to possess sexually, isn’t it?
The “barbaric cultural practices” tip-line that Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party are proposing smacks of the political snitch culture of totalitarian states — the network of neighbourhood informants on those who are deemed politically incorrect or ideologically deviant. This is just more wedge politics and “the politics of paranoia” leading towards a snitch culture. There are already laws in place, and report lines for breaking those laws, that cover anything that might be deemed “barbaric cultural practice”.
The whole thing smacks of creeping fascism.