Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Niqab Complainer Hammers Last Nail in Coffin in Reasonable Accommodation Debate

Sometimes, just sometimes you get to witness a clearly defined historical turning point, or to put it in modern vernacular, a 'tipping point' or profound and cascading shift in public opinion.

The recent issue with the niqab wearing Muslim being expelled from French Class in Montreal may not have the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall or the effect of 9/11, but it does represent a final and permanent shift in Quebec's "Reasonable Accommodation" debate.

If ever there is someone who did a disservice to her own cause, it is certainly Naïma Atef Amed, who refused to remove her veil in French class at a Montreal junior college.

Her refusal to unveil herself so that her enunciation could be critiqued, plus her demand to speak facing backward and that male students not be seated beside her, was so over the top that it made the decision to expel her rather easy.

The demand for such accommodations are to the vast majority of Quebeckers unacceptable, especially to women who see the veil as an instrument of subjugation.

When famous Montreal human-rights lawyer, Julius Grey and Bouchard/Taylor commissioner, Gérard Bouchard come out against the accommodation, you know you've hit the bottom of the well in public support. Politicians are scrambling to get on the 'right' side of the issue and Federal Minister Josée Verner has already added in, that she wouldn't open the door to a Niqab-clad person.

Apparently Ms. Amed has found another school that is allowing her to wear her niqab in class. This news didn't please Immigration Minister Yolande James who has ordered her to remove her niqab if she wants to stay in school.

At any rate, it seems that a consensus has been reached and that politicians now feel comfortable attacking the veil, so it's bad news for Naïma Atef Amed and others sporting extreme wear.
I think I know why so many of us hate the burqa and niqab, it reminds us of the Grim Reaper, as depicted in my cleverly 'shopped' montage.

Curiously, the newspapers have stopped referring to Ms. Amed by name and mention her only as the mysterious "Naïma." Could it be that the young woman has been in for a rough ride?

Notwithstanding, Ms. Amed Naïma has plenty of guts and has pledged to take the case to the  Commission des droits de la personne du Québec (Human Rights Commission). Unfortunately, it's another miscalculation.

The commission is not an impartial court where judges don't give a hoot about public opinion. Commissioners sit for a fixed term and are subject to re-appointment. They are vulnerable to public pressure. Would the commission rule in her favour, the august body would be discredited permanently and I've no doubt commissioners would think long and hard before defying public opinion, especially in this case, where opinion has crystallized so clearly against accommodating the veil.

I can only imagine the hilarity of Ms. Amed refusing to give testimony in open court, unveiled. After all, it is a fundamental principle to confront one's accuser ' face to face' in open court. If she refuses to unveil, her case could be thrown out. What fun!

People object to the niqab and the burqa for a variety of reasons, either fear, racism or because they consider it a symbol of subjugation or misogamy.

Personally I object that there is no letter "U" in either 'niqab' or 'burqa,' after the letter "Q," it's something that offends my sensibility and attacks my fundamental belief in good spelling!
The right of religious and personal freedom is, in a free society, subject to reasonable limitations and where those limitations are placed, is of course, subject to fair debate. 

Religions are mostly free to do what they want so long as they don't violate basic societal principles. 
That is why polygamy, stoning, animal sacrifice and other unacceptable religious traditions practised elsewhere in the world are banned in this country.

There's no doubt that veiled women offend public sentiment in this province. The right to look at someone in the face when dealing with them in a public place is a right that we as a society apparently refuse to give up, or so it seems.

Whether women wear the veil by personal choice or by force is quite beside the point. Defenders of the veil always refer to 'personal choice', but personal choice is not a passkey to do whatever one pleases. Those who take drugs and commit crimes also do so by personal choice.

The issue of Naïma and her niqab is a Godsend (excuse the reference) to those who oppose any accommodation based on religious beliefs. This sad episode spells the beginning of the end of tolerance towards women wearing burqas and niqabs and for that matter, any other religious accommodation.

The debate is over. Naïma made it just too easy to say no.

It's sad that small accommodations, that are truly reasonable are going to suffer in the backlash.


  1. No one should be allowed to walk around in public with their face concealed in such a manner. It is a matter of public safety. A criminal could hide under that thing. One could rob a bank or jewellry store without fear of identification. A man in disguise could hide under that thing. Would a young woman want to go into a public washroom with such a person hiding in there?

  2. "It is a matter of public safety. A criminal could hide under that thing."

    A Hassidic or a Greek priest could also walk around with loaded shotguns concealed in their baggy attire. So could teenagers with the baggy loose pants whose original purpose, by the way, was precisely that. Ban them!

    "Those who take drugs and commit crimes also do so by personal choice."

    Hardly a fair comparison. This girl is not committing a crime.

    "A man in disguise could hide under that thing."

    They could do the same with a beard, a ski mask, a halloween mask and even a pair of pantyhose. Anything could be used as a disguise. I've yet to see a movie of a heist where the assailants used traditional Muslim wear to change their appearance. Should we make a list of good disguises and ban them all? Why focus on this in particular? Personal distaste should not come into play. And if we're on the issue of men using the disguise to enter womens bathrooms, then I think crossdressers and all such variants should be on the list as potential offenders.

  3. "it is a fundamental principle to confront one's accuser 'face to face' in open court."

    Unfortunately this doesn't apply in Quebec with respect to language laws, where anyone can make anonymous complaints to the Office de la langue francais about so-called violations. The office will then prosecute/persecute the offenders.

  4. Reply to Anon at 6:35 AM;

    There have been MANY cases here in Toronto of "Burkha Bandits". Their favourite target is jewellry stores. There have been many cases in the U.K., particularly, surprisingly enough, in Scotland of the same thing. Many schools in the USA HAVE BANNED baggy pants, precisely because they can allow firearm concealment. I say again. NOBODY should be routinely allowed to walk around in public with their face CONCEALED. In the U.K. a muslim (male) terrorist was on the lam for over a year, precisely because he used female muslim attire when out in public. By the way I would like to see you try walking into a bank wearing a ski mask.....

  5. Reply to Anon at 6:35 AM:

    If you think a male having a beard and wearing a burkha are the same thing you are divorced from reality. Would you open your door to somebody wearing a skimask? I NEVER would.

  6. Je suis sur que le blogue de La Clique Du Plateau, le post "Radio de Québec" t'interpellerait.

    À Charlebourg, y'a un citoyen qui a kické out une musulmane intégriste d'un supermarché.

    Et tout le monde de la région semble l'applaudir.

  7. Lets face it, it had to happen sooner or later. If it hadn't been this, it would have been something else. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Muslims will keep on pushing the envelope and pushing the envelope. People NEED to know where they stand. The natural pressures inherent in a relationship between peoples of such different values and cultures make it ineveitable. And appeasement is a self-defeating strategy.