Barbara Kay: Ten reasons to ban the niqab — in the public service
Libertarians are committed to the principle that every individual has the right to live his life as he pleases, as long as he does no harm to others. But the meaning of “harm” isn’t always as identifiable as a physical assault or “fire” shouted in a crowded theatre. Nor is the phrase “to others.” Add up enough “others” and you have a community; add more, a culture.
The National Post editorial board takes a libertarian line on the niqab (‘The niqab? Really?’ Sept. 26). Saturday’s editorial expresses astonishment that the niqab has morphed from “an otherwise straightforward issue of religious accommodation” into “moral panic.” The editorial concludes that the niqab is not doing “actual harm to anyone” and that the leaders should all feel ashamed for exploiting it politically.
Yet there is nothing “straightforward” about face covering in a supposedly open society. It is corrosive to the social reciprocity on which neighbourhoods depend for spontaneous camaraderie. And culturally speaking, Canadians’ opposition to the niqab is commendable, since it means most of us feel we still have an actual culture to be harmed, which is no small triumph in an era dominated by the pernicious laissez-faireism of cultural relativism.
Here are 10 justifications for banning the niqab, not just in citizenship ceremonies, but, as Quebec is rightly proposing, in the public sector generally:
- The niqab is not a religious obligation, it is, according to many Islamic scholars, a regional custom. But even in Saudi Arabia, where it is considered a religious obligation, it is removed by women participating in the hajj. Why must Canada be more niqab-consistent than Saudi Arabia?
- The niqab is indecent. Beyond “offence,” which can be cognitively managed, decency standards go to the heart of our psychological well-being in society, and is beyond our cognitive control. Our sense of decency is what regulates our comfort zone amongst strangers. Decency standards are not imposed by a charter, but spring up organically in all societies under a variety of historical and cultural influences. Decency standards differ amongst societies and shift with time, but the when-in-Rome principle is universally accepted by reasonable people.
- Decency here resides in the perceived broad middle of a spectrum. Just as full nakedness provokes extreme discomfort in most Canadians, so does full cover. That full cover is almost invariably a Muslim custom is immaterial to those of us who find it indecent. (So enough, please, with the “Islamophobia” shtick.)
- Double standards: it is inconceivable that we would allow men to mask themselves in civic interaction, even if they considered it a religious obligation, because masked men are threatening to women (and other men). We should not permit to women what we would not permit to men.
- The only societies that mandate the niqab as a social norm are those in which women are considered sexual chattel with virtually no rights. Willed indifference to the niqab is more than tolerance; it is an endorsement of gender-rights relativism in our national home — equality for our women, inferior status for theirs.
- The editorial notes that “only a tiny minority of women” opt to wear the niqab. This is precisely why it should be regulated now, when it is enforceable, not when potentially thousands of women adopt it and it is unenforceable.
- Some women wearing the niqab have had it imposed on them against their will. What is the lesser evil: that all women should be forced to show us their faces while interacting with us in the public sector, or that we facilitate the lifelong misery of voiceless women? We should err on the side of support for vulnerable women yearning to fully integrate into Canadian life.
- The niqab is a gross insult to Canadian men, as it suggests they require a physical barrier to prevent lascivious thoughts or behaviour.
- The niqab is a gross insult to uncovered women, suggesting their “immodesty” invites sexual attention.
- In the West, the niqab is often a political statement, a proud sign of militant Islamist activism. “Put on your niqab!” cried Hezbollah supporter Yvonne Ridley at a Montreal Canadian Islamic Congress fundraiser in 2007. It wasn’t modesty she was encouraging, but participation in the stealth jihad.
The niqab differs from other fashion accessories that promote faith and modesty like the kippah or hijab, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. The arc of contemporary Islamism, still in its ascendancy, frightens us. Our alleged “moral panic” is actually moral revulsion. When a symbol comes with this much baggage, libertarian rigidity in its support looks less like principled idealism and more like cultural self-sabotage. No leader who grasps and uproots this nettle need feel ashamed. True patriot love demands nothing less.