Re: Niqab ban oppresses new Canadian citizens (Opinions, March 8)
MINISTER JASON KENNEY’S controversial ban on the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies has been an effective red herring, distracting from the government’s many questionable policies. But it would arguably be acceptable even if he sought to extend the ban toward all public life and contradict traditional Canadian multiculturalism. Sadiah Waziri is mistaken to believe it to be an act of, rather than against, discrimination.
The ceremony ban is a violation of the Charter right to “religious freedom,” but only if you interpret the concept as being one of the positive right to special legal privilege, rather than as a negative right against state-imposed inequality. Because religion cannot be regulated, one can hold any kind of religious view, no matter its consequences or irrationality, like that prayer is supposedly an effective cure. So not all beliefs deserve to be institutionalized.
Obviously the state lacks the right to legislate whether the niqab is truly Islamic or not. But regardless of whether it is part of the religion, Waziri’s argument challenges the need for the public to see one’s face in public spaces. A few criminals, including males, logically can and have used the niqab to hide their identity.
As for citizenship ceremonies themselves, one could dismiss as mere symbolism any need for new citizens to show their faces at such times, but that would be inconsistent with any logic behind having such an entirely symbolic ceremony at all. If proving sincerity of citizenship oaths is necessary, then any face-covering is incompatible with that necessity.
One is reminded of the ongoing furor in the U.S. about whether Catholic-run hospitals should be required to serve actual health purposes, by providing contraception to users in violation of “religious freedom.” Just as the vast majority of Muslim women do not wear the niqab, so too do the vast majority of Catholic women use contraception anyway. It is clearly too widely assumed that religious practices have certain rights over people—that they are self-justifying. The right to believe is not the same as the right for one’s belief to be unquestioned.
If some Canadian Muslims genuinely believe the niqab to be required by God, they are perfectly free to use reason to persuade other Canadians that the Qur’an is true and that it encourages such accessory. If it is true, then anyone should be free to wear the niqab anytime. If not, then Muslims have no reason for their identity, and no one actually needs to wear the niqab.
Arguments that ignore these possibilities are based on moral relativism, and if there is one problem with moral relativism, it is that it necessarily legitimates conflicting practices of which some must be wrong.
Second-year political science student