Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When Your Fist Meets My Face

I do not support the niqab.

I said it - I do not, nor ever will, support women of any creed wearing a niqab, which to specify is the face veil that forms part of a hijab, though you can wear the latter without the former. I feel the same way about burqas and other clothing or symbolism that I feel is part of a systematic repression of women (or any group) in a large swath of the world. It is one of the starkest examples of dictatorial repression by religious and misogynist extremists that still exists today, and it should be noted as such by all reasonable people.

Given my position, you would think that I would be backing Stephen Harper when he rhetorically asks, "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?" when discussing his government's proposal to ban niqabs during citizenship ceremonies, as well as Chris Alexander's  assertions over the hijab's similar cultural connotations. Hell, you'd think the pĂ©quiste's Values Charter would have been my best friend.

But, I don't. For a very simple reason, a reason that you would think the quasi-libertarian Conservative Party would embrace: freedom.

Now, that line is super cheesy, so let me explain. While I don't support the symbolism of the niqab or burqa (even the hijab gives me some pause), I don't see it as my place to go out and criticize them for doing so. If comments are invited, I'll say what I think, but I try to avoid going out of my way to criticize someone for a personal choice, especially in clothing or even religious symbolism.

Now, that's just talking about me. I think most people will agree with that as well, usually no matter what side of the aisle they're on. Live and let live, all that.

The difference, however, seems to arise when we talk about public appearance, whether its civil servants, or appearing in court, or at a citizenship ceremony. Some people start freaking out at the idea of seeing a woman with their face covered or a man with a turban on in any sort of public capacity. It is especially acute when the news is saturated with reports about groups like the Taliban, Boko Haram, or IS. When politicians get a hold of it, the topic becomes symbiotic, with the give and take of public opinion inviting all sorts of unsavory people and ideas to the table. Thus we end up with the current values war over whether or not we should ban articles of clothing.

Here is a very simple liberal philosophy that I try to organize my beliefs by: until your fist meets my face, you have the right to do anything you want - but the second it makes contact, we have a problem, and your rights have violated mine.

Taking that as a standard, I ask you: what right of mine or yours is being infringed upon when a woman wears a hijab, niqab, or burqa?

The answer is none. Her wearing that clothing doesn't affect you, me, or anyone in any significant way.

Now, I ask you the reverse: what rights of that woman are being violated when the government decides to ban clothing or religious symbolism, just because it can? What is wrong with the picture when the government decides it has the right to punch you in the face, with the sole excuse being "you're being oppressed"?

The answer is almost every right. Freedom of expression is a fundamental part for most of our social contract, and the government violating here means they can violate it anywhere.

That is why when Trudeau says, "it is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear," he is absolutely correct. It is practically newspeak to say you're protecting people from oppression by oppressing them.

There is of course a lot of nuance within this argument that we can get into, but the fact remains that in this situation, the government is the one with all the power. Conservatives are supposed to embrace the concept of stopping government overreach, yet here we are.

This whole story becomes even more insane when you consider who the friends of this Conservative government are. While Harper rails against the oppression of women, he has secured an arms deal with a nation that is just about the most oppressive on the planet, especially in regards to women's rights. Saudi Arabia mandates the burqa. Where is the Conservative outcry there? It doesn't exist, of course.

Do you want women to be empowered, Conservatives? Promote education. The best way to get women away from the oppression of misogynists is to ensure they have accessible education. Its a very easy, very direct, and very effective way to ensure women's rights are strengthened, not just in Canada but everywhere.

The Conservatives already know this - that is why they toot their horns about supporting education programs abroad for women, and good on them for doing so. Of course, this just means that all this recent talk is just a cynical political ploy, aimed at boosting Harper's support in the polls even more. Do any of them even believe the crap they've been spewing? Is this just an appeal to the lowest common denominator from a party scared of losing power?

You're right, Justin. This government truly is just a cruel joke.


  1. Very well said, and bang on where the substance of this issue is concerned IMHO. You are speaking for me as well, for I too am a big believer in the basic philosophy you refer to here, the "when your first hits my face" rule. What Harper and the CPC are whipping up here has very ugly resonances to ideologues of the past who led humanity to some very dark places, and to be hearing this from a sitting Prime Minister of Canada only shows just how far we as a nation have fallen under the rule of Harper, and how far from traditional Canadian conservativism the CPC truly is. There are alas far too many examples in human history to be narrowing it down to just one, even if that one is one most people immediately recognize, that said though it does not detract from the argument to use it when it is as clearly apt and fair use as it is here by Trudeau.

    Good for Trudeau for being willing to call it for what it is, for all the comments about how he cannot make good decisions, cannot lead whatsoever, this is the sort of example that puts the lie to that premise/argument. While I am advocating Lib in the election because it is the only realistic way I see of removing Harper from power, I will admit it is times like this when I start to feel something more than just that, where I feel like in supporting them I am supporting a possible PM who will help me regain some of my lost pride in my nation and the kind of politics we practice that I have lost over the past decade.

  2. I don't have strong opinions one way or another, however, I don't see this as a winning political strategy anywhere outside Quebec.

    1. To clarify; I don't see harper's anti-muslim position as being a winner anywhere outside Quebec.

  3. I'm with you. If some outlandish religion (and they're all outlandish in my view) required it's female patrons to wear soiled diapers across their mugs and these women are OK with that? Then have at her. I believe that expressive religious right is enshrined in our Constitution. End of story.

  4. Senior Conservatives minsters are acting hysterical these days. Terrorism this. Muslim that. Jason Kenney's picture tweet, Steven Blaney's Holocaust comments. Absolutely ridiculous.

    I don't even see it as a winning political strategy in Quebec, since the Marois-led PQ was demolished due to her hysteria. Best case scenario the Conservatives pick up a dozen seats while holding what they currently have. That is not worth the amount of seats they will lose in Ontario and BC for being seen as intolerant.

  5. Very well said, and spot on!
    This is just a lever to put us on a very slippery slope. I feel that Trudeau has hit the mole on the head, and judging by the way the CPC has responded to his speech, it really stung.