I just finished school a couple weeks ago and since then I have been appalled at the sheer volume of awful things done by the Federal Government, or should I say the Harper Government. The list is long, and I am undoubtedly missing many items, but I'm going to just name some here. Blogs about these topics are bound to come out soon (perhaps in the new year).
Québec wants the Federal Government to transfer to them the data for the long gun registry so that the province can start its own. Harper has refused, leading to what analysts expect to be a very expensive lawsuit
Canada recently pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol. This followed the climate summit in South Africa where Harper reaffirmed Canada's commitment to the environment and to the international community. Leaving the treaty has proven to be an embarrassing move for Canadians.
Harper has suggested that public health care is no longer sustainable in Canada. The Canada Health Act is set to expire in 2014 and Harper hopes to come up with a new agreement with each province, rather than ensuring that the standards are met across the country (which would be in contravention of the Health Act).
December has been a busy month. But one of the most ridiculous items to come up has been the recent decision by the Federal Government to ban the wearing of face coverings for Muslim women at the citizenship ceremonies. I recently wrote a term paper about Islamophobia in Europe, particularly in the context of European citizenship policy. I was very critical of the oppressive stances of national governments (particularly in France) and of the European Union in general. As a result of this research being so fresh, I have a lot to say about Islamophobia in Canada.
In Canada Islamophobia is a growing problem. Our leaders know that debates around terrorism, Islam, immigration, and security are all intertwined in the public's perspective. These controversial issues are always bundled together as a package, with hardly any effort given to unpack the correlation between the ideas. Politicians, religious leaders, media conglomerates, and many others have used fear invoke reactions from Canadians that are hostile to Muslims. It obviously comes as no surprise to me that the government would go to such lengths to ban face coverings, but what's even more interesting is the public reaction.
As anyone who knows me can attest, I am an avid CBC Radio 1 fan, and long trips home are often spent listening to the radio. The day I was in transit to Kitchener happened to be the day after the announcement of the policy, and Ontario Today, a daily call-in show, was having a debate on the issue. What surprised me was that the percentage of callers supporting the move was greater than the percentage of callers who were upset. Since CBC Radio is generally quite a fair and balanced media outlet (often criticised for being too left-wing), this took me by complete surprise. In fact, many who were calling in were self-identified opponents of Harper and still supported the move - evidence that this move is congruent with larger social forces of Islamophobia.
The whole premiss of banning face coverings at a citizenship ceremony bothers me for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the event is just for show. People who participate in the ceremonies have already been deemed successful candidates for Canadian citizenship.
Also, the government's position was that it needs to be made clear that the person's face is visible as that is how we can tell if they are saying the oath. I find this quite ridiculous - I never had to take an oath of citizenship. Why should I be treated any differently because I had the great fortune of having been born here? The ceremony should be recognised for what it is: a formality.
Moreover, I think it's important to note that by saying women cannot wear face coverings that there is a sense of cultural superiority at play. To Canadians, it is supposed to be objectively "better" that we should see your face. The "Ideal Citizen" or "Ideal Canadian" is someone who looks and acts like a normal person - and since normal is entirely subjective, this means like a secular Christian.
This is similar to the secular policies of France and of Québec. In both regions, a strong civic national identity is represented by the removal of religious icons in public. While lofted as equal and fair, these policies promote secularism that has a distinctly Christian history. Since religion and culture are vastly interwined, it is impossible to have a secular tradition that ignores the influences of religion (look at the farce in the United States for example). Also, note that many of the face coverings are relics of culture long before the arrival of Muhammad, and are therefore not a product of Islam.
It's hard to not see the line of reasoning that Canadians (read: whites) are much more fair to their women than Muslims. Women in the West are supposed to be liberated and free, but this is clearly not the case. It's not a black and white division - both "Western" and "Eastern" women are oppressed, albeit in slightly different ways. Refer to this great political cartoon.
Lastly, when asked if there would be any accommodations, the citizenship and immigration minister, Jason Kenny, indicated that that is a ridiculous idea. His attitude was that this was some type of light topic and that there will be no harm done to anyone, afterall, if new Canadians can't handle us, they can always "choose" to go back home. I encourage you to read the text of the speech made 12 December when announcing the policy.
There are two conclusions that I draw from this policy. Firstly, I believe that this move was designed to distract Canadians from other, more serious, policy issues that have emerged over the past few months. Refer to my list above. As I made mention to, this is a topic to which virtually ALL Canadians can relate. Everyone has an opinion and it's easy to gather and debate this topic (as I have managed to do continuously for at least a week). It keeps us busy and prevents us from getting into debates about items that might require some more research.
Secondly, I feel that this gives credence to a statement one of my classmates made this year about Jason Kenny. He referred to him as our Minister of No Citizenship and Less Immigration. Although this reference was made long before the policy announcement last week, it's really highlighting the fact that the Harper Government is following a sadly predictable trend when it comes to Muslims in our society.