Below is an Op-ed from Jeff Itcush, as shared on Facebook. My opinion comes after the piece.
The Quebec government’s Bill 62 will ban face coverings within public service contexts with the justification of promoting “state religious neutrality “. The Charest government attempted the same thing in 2010 with Bill 94. Below, is an op-ed that I wrote in response to that bill. My sentiments now are the same as they were then.
OP-ED PIECE BY JEFF ITCUSH
THE NIQAB REVISITED
The Charest government’s recent effort to prohibit the wearing of the niqab in public service contexts is shortsighted. If the spirit of Bill 94 is to promote integration in a pluralistic society, the legislation is poorly-conceived at best. At worst, it will prevent healthy social integration.
In the past decades, Quebec has promoted immigration from various parts of the world for political, economic and humanitarian reasons. This has helped foster Quebec’s reputation as a tolerant and open society. In these circumstances the presence of people practicing a diversity of religious and social customs should be expected. This is also a part of a global transference of human populations that will be even more prevalent as the twenty-first century unfolds. Monolithic societies simply do not exist anymore. Throughout the twentieth century, governments which attempted to reinforce monolithic myths have fostered intolerance, discrimination and gross civil rights abuses. These things have marred the history of those societies. What then of Quebec?
The presence of Niqabs and other religious symbols will be an ongoing but limited phenomenon in Quebec. This is simply evidence that Quebec is part of the globalized and increasingly urbanized world. Most urban societies have already long been “communities of communities”. The only way out of sharing the presence of those with different customs is to either try to escape the present or punish people who seem different. Both of these reactions are unrealistic and the latter is problematic from a civil rights perspective. In the bigger picture, the latter also shows that we are not as tolerant or “open” as we think.
If we, as a society, wish to integrate those with diverse customs, then benefits to engage in the larger community must be obtainable. Beyond this, it must be realized that only a few people in any given cultural or religious group will wish to forgo the opportunities that integration can offer. Thus, the total number of people wishing to wear a niqab will be minimal. Of 146,000 clients visiting Montreal’s health insurance board offices in 2008-2009, only ten women donned in niqabs requested accommodation.
What then is a viable integration-building alternative? Social integration does not exist without economic integration. Economic integration does not exist without employment. This is significant because, according to Statistics Canada,, unemployment among immigrants in the province is more than twice that of persons born here. Given the issue at hand, this rate is even more telling when it is understood that nearly half of Quebec’s recent immigrants are Moslem. The majority of this group can function well in the French language.
Integration is contingent upon employment. Needed are legislated hiring policies that are consistent with the goals of real integration – economic engagement. Given the opportunity to prosper, very few will choose to be disengaged from a society shrowded by customs of another era. When, however, any group is excluded from the mainstream, it has no alternative but to seek refuge in the past. People, no matter who they are, seek stability and some sense of solidarity.
Integration through employment is a means for people of diverse backgrounds to build commonality on the things they all seek – mobility, prosperity and the opportunity to contribute. Governments, including Quebec’s, need to embrace proactive measures that engage the diversity of our population despite all of our interesting differences. Niqab curtailment isn’t likely to accomplish this. Employment will.
Former President – Federation of Teachers of Jewish Schools
It would definitely be hypocritical of feminists to be for this law. After all, they support freedom of choice for women. And since this is the law made by middle-aged, mostly-male lawmakers, it would go against the very tenets of feminism by allowing them to control women’s rights. On the other hand, it would be inappropriate for feminists to support this law if they believe men in the Muslim world are forcing these women to wear the Niqab.
The above dilemma creates a quandary for feminists, and for us, because we are mostly ignorant of the culture these women live in. And the main culprit in this is the mainstream media. They keep throwing images at us of those “terrorists” that are causing all the problems on this world. We are bombarded with shantee town-like images of Palestine and Lebanon. There are no images or reports about “those good Muslims” (I’d say about the same ratio as people from all other religions) trying to live a straight and healthy life. They are just part of the problem and should stand up to the ones that are bad. I suppose it’s like how us Christians stand up to the KIK lynchings.
Can we at least establish that most Muslims are good? Now we can move on to comparing the niqab to the crucifix. Although far more visible, the niqab is a religious symbol no more or less than the crucifix.
Now let’s go to India, where women get killed by their husbands because of the dowry system. These are scorned by the media, yet hardly ever reported on.
All this should make it simple to conclude that the law is fair if we are looking for separation of church and state. But this isn’t the case here. This law picks on one sole religious group. For that, it must not exist, unless it can be proven that it incites hate and /or discrimination.
Quebec is one of the least socially and democratically progressive place in the western world. It is not surprising that they have chosen to discriminate against yet anotger group of “outsiders”. Quebec needs to build a tolerant, just, and democratic system and stop hiding under the veil of “the quiet revolution”.