Op-Ed: Reflections on Outlawed Belgian, French, Italian & ? Burqas

Posted May 11, 2010 by Hans Smedbol
Belgium's recent burqa ban legislation and France's intention to outlaw burqas raises controversial questions over the issues surrounding the principles of multiculturalism, religious freedom, immigration policies, and assimilation into one's new country.
A typical burqa (burka) veils the complete face
A typical burqa (burka) veils the complete face
The recent Belgian decision in parliament as told by Digital Journal to ban the Islamic fundamentalist burqa (the garment prescribed by the fundamentalists for their women, which covers the entire body, from head to toe), as well as France's determination to introduce similar legislation in the near future, raises many issues in several different "domains", among which can be found, cultural traditions, multiculturalism as expressed in various countries, immigration policies, expectations of assimilation of immigrants, ghettoisation of newcomers in enclaves of similar folks, such that they do not really get the opportunity to mix with and assimilate into the general population, and so on.
More recently, Andrew Moran in the Digital Journal told us the police in the northern Italian town of Novara fined a Muslim woman $650 for refusing to uncover her face to the male officers. Her husband had refused to allow her to uncover her face in front of men. She did comply with the order when a female officer arrived, but was still charged with the "crime". Andrew further said: "Since 1975, reports AFP, Italy has banned people from covering their faces in public, such as a veil." While France tends to look at the issue as a women's rights issue, the other argument being used by Belgium, and the Italians is Security Issues. It is far too easy to entirely hide yourself in the burqa, carrying an assault rifle, a grenade launcher, a lot of grenades, or even one of those oh-so-fashionable among young terrorists must have items: a "suicide bomb vest". If the police cannot see your face, how will they be able to maintain security and order. After all, the purpose of an I.D. card is to establish your legal identity to the officer when asked. However, for the card to work, the officers have to be able to see one's face, to compare it with the I.D. card.
In Quebec, women are not allowed to wear burqa or niqab when attempting to access government services...for the same reason. The authorities want it to be obvious who you are for identification purposes.
When one observes someone walking down the street in complete burqa or chador, it seems obvious that person is a member of some kind of cult. Oh, wait! That kind of Islam is a kind of cult, i guess, when the men are imposing such repressive and oppressive ideas on their women. If Islam wants to be taken seriously as a worldwide religion, which is internationally accepted, then there needs to be some revision of the more oppressive and repressive practices common to the more fundamentalist members of the cult. For that's what it looks like when we see women all covered up like that.
What are they afraid of? Someone might see their wives' eyebrows? And so WHAT if someone sees your wives' eyebrows? It's not a problem for most people to look at a woman's face. We western men (for the most part) do not get all lusty and uncontrollable at the sight of a woman's face, at least the more mature among us don't. What is this obsession with anonymity?
All this kind of complete coverage results in, is that the Islamic men themselves, will likely find themselves aroused at the sight of a finger, or a shoe, or the flash of an eye behind that mask. It doesn't sound mentally healthy to me. But then the people in our country (Canada) are not so particularly obsessed with whether a woman has a teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, or a one piece full length dress. We don't tend to see more bare flesh as representing more loose morals, and uncontrollable lust. Hopefully we are more mature than that.
A case can be made that the more you cover up, the more repressed your culture is; the more extreme they are about little issues like an eyebrow, or an ankle. This is why people in the west have rebelled for so many years against just these kinds of restrictions: on the theory that the more flesh you see, the less it turns you on. You just become used to it all. It was obvious during the more "repressed" times when people dressed much more modestly, that there was definitely a hypocritical mindset in the society. The upper classes in particular, would appear to be the soul of propriety, all the while carrying on with drunkenness, loose living, and so on. Perhaps they had too much time on their lily white hands. The motto of the day seemed to be "say one thing and do another".
That's the trouble with some of the people of traditional cultures, when members come to Canada or the U.S. They see all the bikinis, and short shorts, and mini skirts, and being unused to such thing, the men, especially, just go crazy. It's all too much for the old world male brains. Whereas the folks who are from here, and born here, tend to not be impressed too much one way or the other by all the bikinis and mini skirts. It's all a question of what one is used to.
We do understand that some people think that Islam calls for burqa and niqab. If you must live according to that strict kind of interpretation, then perhaps don't come to Canada, or any country in the west where this practice is discouraged. If you come to our country you must come prepared to learn our ways, and to assimilate at least somewhat, and enough that you feel yourself to be Canadian first and foremost, with no religious, or cultural reservations. You must be able to show your face in public, and to speak passably good English or French after some time here.
It's not that we hate Islamic people or any other religion or culture, so much as we earnestly desire them to become part of our country, part of the general population, rather than separating themselves off into ghettos of misunderstanding and suspicion. If you want to continue your same old cultural and religious practices that might seriously conflict with Canadian values or laws, then I suggest humbly that you might rather stay home in your own country, or move to a more sympathetic one. Malaysia springs to mind, where the country is technically a secular one, but supports the traditional Islamic values as well.
In the west, such values are not particularly supported or valued. I mean the outward markings of the faith. Inside one may believe whatever one wants, as long as one doesn't appear to be forcing these beliefs on anyone else, but this idea of segregating people according to culture or religion is, I believe, contrary to Canadian values, and is indeed harmful to the unity of our country.
In my opinion, which is shared by Ujjal Dosanjh (former premier of B.C, and mentioned in my Vaisakhi articles), in his column on April 23, 2010, in the National Post, multiculturalism has gone too far in Canada, and we need to work a lot harder on assimilation of immigrants into the fabric of the general Canadian population. This doesn't mean that one cannot be a Sikh or Muslim, but only that one should think of oneself as a Canadian first, and a Sikh, or Pakistani, or Albanian, for that matter, second.rather than the other way around. It also means that people must try harder to learn what Canadian values and ways are, and to attempt to live more accordingly, at least in public. They can wear what they like, (other than complete body and facial coverage in public), eat what they like, sing what they like, believe what they like, keeping as much of their culture as they like, as long as it doesn't interfere with being Canadian, or contravene any laws.
Also, Canada needs to change immigration policy enough to weed out the extremists of whatever religion or political persuasion at the border. Keep them out to begin with, rather than trying to deal with them once they're citizens. It may be necessary to make the citizenship requirements more stringent, and more of a privilege than a right for these new comers.
Immigration is already trying to address these problems, but they need to be a bit more inquisitive into the affairs of suspected extremists, before they let them into the country. Immigration officers do warn people, when they get a PR card (Permanent Resident) not to break any laws as the consequences may be severe, including loss of PR status and deportation. But then I suspect that there needs to be a bit more follow up.
I wrote about this somewhat already in the op-ed columns I wrote on the Sikh Vaisakhi day Parade earlier last month.