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The niqab ban and Tory scapegoating

By: 
Jesse McLaren

March 23, 2015

From distracting from their anti-choice or anti-climate policies, to promoting war and attacks on civil liberties, the Tories attack on women wearing niqab is classic scapegoating and must be opposed. 
 
2011 scapegoat
In September 2011, Harper used the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to declare “the major threat is still Islamicism,” inventing both a word and a threat to justify the catastrophic occupation of Afghanistan and war on Libya. Racism from above encouraged racism from below: in November of that year Inas Kadri was assaulted in Mississauga and had her niqab ripped off her face, while the attacker yelled “leave your country. Go back to your country.”
 
What was the response from her local MP, Wladyslaw Lizon? Instead of challenging hate crimes he urged Jason Kenney to ban women wearing niqab from citizenship ceremonies. Using the same racist and sexist paternalism that justified the occupation of Afghanistan, Kenney announced the ban the following month, claiming  “we want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society.” This from Kenney, a life-long anti-choicer, and the rest of the Tory party—who have denied pay equity and childcare, cut refugee health for pregnant women, and attacked abortion rights, including Lizon calling for the RCMP to investigate abortions as homicides.
 
As a spokesperson for the Canadian Council of American Islamic Relations said at the time, “I can’t think of anything more damaging to women’s equality and women’s rights than removing their freedom of choice. So I think it was an easy political point to score and at the expense of a vulnerable group of women.” As a classic example of scapegoating, the niqab ban also served another purpose: distract from the Tories killing the Kyoto protocol. December 12, 2011, the same day as Kenney loudly announced banning women wearing niqab from citizenship ceremonies, the Tories quietly withdrew from Kyoto.
 
2014 hysteria
This year a federal court judge just struck down the racist ban, explaining that it “interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath.” This time it was Harper himself who led the attack, claiming the niqab is “offensive” and an expression of an “anti-woman culture.” So after having supported sexist warlords in Afghanistan, imposed a “maternal health plan” that denied abortion, and refused to investigate more than 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women, Harper claims to be a champion of women’s liberation.
 
This niqab ban has nothing to do with secularism. In 2012 Tory MP Larry Miller defended the Lord’s prayer to council meetings saying:  “For months now we have had to suffer and listen to how reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Grey County council has somehow bruised the rights of one of its residents and of how the county is now being sued in order to get it to stop this terrible injustice… Tradition is something that we should all be proud of. Tradition can be of a cultural nature, a family tradition, religious or linguistic traditions or one of many other traditions too numerous to mention. If something ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Is the present practice really hurting anyone or anything? If the answer is no (and it is no) than things should stay as they are.”
 
But when it comes to the niqab, Miller called on Muslim women to “stay the hell where you came from”—as though Miller, a non-Indigenous person of Irish descent, has more rights in Canada than Muslim women. Not only is the niqab ban xenophobic but it also reinforces the denial of indigenous sovereignty.
 
Stop racism, stop war
While CSIS and a Canadian embassy, as well as Canadian military campaigns, have been implicated in ISIS recruitment, the Tories are eager to demonize Muslim women in order to justify Bill C-51 and the extension and expansion of Canadian military intervention. But there have been recent mass rallies across the country against Bill C-51.
 
As OFL president Sid Ryan said at the Toronto rally, “Do not allow Stephen Harper to divide us. Do not allow him to divide us on the basis of religion. Do not allow him to demonize the Muslim community, and do not allow him to demonize Muslim women. We have to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community, stand up to Stephen Harper and say we will not allow an act of racism to divide our nation.”
 
To oppose Bill C-51 we need to oppose the Islamophobia and war that drives it.
 
If you like this article, register today for Rage Against the System, a weekend conference of ideas to change the world, April 24-26 in Toronto. Sessions include "Stopping Harper's agenda," "Imperialism and resistance," and "Secularism, Islamophobia and the new racism."

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