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NAZNEEN SHEIKH

Please don't change my country for the niqab Add to ...

The Citizenship and Immigration Minister announces that an eight-inch square of fabric to mask the face from nose to chin is an un-Canadian act. Supreme Court justices appear to be walking on eggshells debating a similar issue from a more philosophical perspective. Scholars and feminists of every stripe are fuming about violations of the Charter of Rights, and journalists deftly handle the pros and cons in their robust columns. Welcome to Canada!

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I’m hunched up wondering whether, 44 years later, my adopted country – where both my children and my writing career were born and have flourished – has been invaded by aliens. Having watched the multicultural bandwagons roll by in the 1980s and the curry, bhangra and Bollywood imprints add splashes of colour to the Canadian drabscape, I now find myself filled with deep concern. A handful of people with whom I share a spiritual link have embedded themselves within the fabric of our civil society and managed to dupe others into believing that symbols of patriarchy and misogyny have been adopted by them of their own free will.

Adrienne Clarkson’s latest book, Room for All of Us, with its hope-filled illustrations of successful immigrants, doesn’t address the new cadre. Before 9/11, the niqab wasn’t seen on the streets of Toronto and the hijab wasn’t a fashion accessory on university campuses. The glue that held together Canada’s various immigrant communities stayed firm because a uniformly benign welcome wagon greeted all newcomers.

Rough beginnings, where adaptations to dress, cuisine and culture are par for the course for all immigrants. Yet, the game plan was to participate to the best of one’s ability and thereby enhance all existing cultural, educational and political institutions.

The shadow of a politicized Islam is the new game across the world. The repellant notion that a bare-faced woman is a whore and brings shame not only to herself but also to her family belongs to the repressive male-dominated communities of backward societies. Yet, this has now reached the shores of Canada, where, despite the knowledge that this isn’t a religious practice, the odd attention-seeking female duped by a newly politicized male of her community exercises the power to paralyze appropriate responses and generate tonnes of press.

The oath-hearing citizenship judge, the community college teacher, a police officer or an immigration officer at an airport isn’t violating any niqab-wearing woman’s essential dignity or privacy by looking at her face. And if she truly believes that this is the case, then she doesn’t belong in Canada.

Why are Nicolas Sarkozy, who banned the niqab in France, and Jason Kenney, who decided this particular jig is up in Canada, reviled? As a Muslim woman, I regard these men as true feminists. There are truly distinguished Muslim women in Canada in all walks of life, and none of them insist on covering their faces.

And what about the patrons of a bookstore in Mississauga who routinely caution shoppers with this announcement: “Men approaching the store.” Let’s stop these people and say we’re not prepared to take Canada back to the Dark Ages.

Nazneen Sheikh’s latest book is Moon Over Marrakech , a memoir.

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