The provincial legislative in Quebec, Canada, passed a law that bans from wearing face-covering garments if receiving or providing public services. This is the first ban of that kind in North America, but the so-called burqa bans are gaining in popularity around the world.
Canada and Social Cohesion
The long-discussed Bill 62 passed last week in the province of Quebec, approved by a slim margin of 66 for versus 51 against. Officially, the bill’s aim is “to foster adherence to State religious neutrality”. According to its proponents, the law will advance social cohesion and public security, and it does not target any specific religious group. In practice, Muslim women wearing burqas of niqab will not be allowed to receive public services, such as healthcare or ride a bus.
“Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes,” argued last year Stéphanie Vallée, Quebec’s minister of justice and a fervent supporter of the legislation.
Many question, however, the motivation behind the bill. Suppose we are in the middle of winter and the weather is cold. A scenario far from exaggeration – the average temperature for Quebec City in January 2017 was -7 °C (19 ºF). Passengers enter a bus with a scarf wrapped around nose and mouth. Will they be asked to remove the scarf?
Marginalization of Muslims
Indeed, only one group of the society will find itself affected, opponents say. “Rather than helping to facilitate inclusion, as its proponents claim, it excludes citizens in the public sphere and reinforces the marginalization and stigmatization of Canadian Muslims,” commented Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. He also called the ban “an unnecessary law with a made-up solution to an invented problem.”
Furthermore, the enforcement of the bill can easily serve to encourage further discrimination against Muslim communities. On January 29, 2017, a lone gunman opened fire at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, killing six worshipers and wounding 19 others. And such attacks are not isolated cases. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of hate crimes against Canadian Muslims increased by 253%, according to Gardee.
Stop telling women who wear burqas to go home… THEY LIVE HERE.
Опубліковано BBC Three 21 жовтня 2017 р.
Austria and Fishing for Sharks
Austria was the latest European country to join the group of countries that ban full face-veil clothing in public. This contentious measure has primarily symbolic though. According to the estimates, only about 100 to 150 women in Austria wear full face-covering garments. The penalty for violating the law can be up to 150 euros (about 220 CAD).
“Acceptance and respect of Austrian values are basic conditions for successful cohabitation between the majority Austrian population and people from third countries living in Austria,” the government said in a statement.
The controversial restrictions came into force on October 1, 2017, and their enforcement has already drawn widespread criticism. On October 6, the police in Vienna fined a young man wearing a shark costume. The mascot was promoting the opening of an electronic shop. For many, the incident embodies the absurd implications of burqa bans.
Did Austria's burqa ban just jump the shark? pic.twitter.com/6GNyhVLQJT
— Brut (@brutlive) October 13, 2017
France and Living Together
The first country worldwide to implement regulations on face veils was France in 2010. The decision, preceded with a long debate on removing religious symbols from public schools, outlawed covering faces everywhere except private homes, places of worship, and inside a car.
In 2014, the Muslim community decided to challenge the law before an international body. A 24-year-old French citizen of Pakistani origin, who brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), argued that the restriction violated her freedom of religion and the right for private and family life, among other provisions protected in the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR ruled however that burqa bans constitute a legitimate solution for pursuing the goal of “living together.”
Then, in 2016, amid the increase of terrorist attacks in Europe, several seaside towns introduced burkini bans, barring Muslim women from wearing full-body swimsuits. In this case, the clothing did not even cover individual’s face, which immediately raised questions about the reasoning behind the ban. Subsequently, it prompted a contentious debate on the control over women’s bodies.
Paradoxically, the ban led to imposing rules of what to wear on the grounds that it is wrong for women to follow a religious dress code. The international outcry exacerbated after the humiliating incident in Nice when armed police forces demanded women wearing the burkini to undress.
“The undressing of Muslim women by French authorities has a long colonial history. Such a practice of imperial subjugation goes against women’s empowerment and should have no place in today’s society,” wrote UK female scholars in a letter to The Guardian.
Eventually, Conseil d’État, organ acting as the highest administrative court, overturned the burkini ban. “The contested ban seriously impinged on the principle of equality of citizens before the law, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of movement and was manifestly illegal,” stated the court in the ruling.
— France Bleu Saint-Étienne Loire (@bleustetienne) June 28, 2017
Diversity Is Welcome
Burqa bans in Quebec, Austria, and France exemplify a broader trend in the politics across the globe that stigmatizes Muslim communities by praying on societal biases and fears. Ultimately, the issue of burqas is not inherently one of inclusion.
The government should trust its own mechanisms of protecting individuals, and that’s where we should direct our efforts. That is, rather than forcing women to remove burqas, we need to believe that if a woman actually feels forced to wear a burqa, the state will provide her with help.
Other than that, the issue of the burqa is simply one of cultural choice.
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