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Stephen Harper’s Attitude Towards Niqab (and Muslim Women) is Pretty Bad

Stephen Harper’s Attitude Towards Niqab (and Muslim Women) is Pretty Bad

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently decided that he is the spokesman for the rights and feelings of Muslim women. He proclaimed that the niqab, the face covering that some Muslim women choose to wear, is anti-Canadian, part of a fundamentally oppressive culture, and actually offensive to Canadians.

“Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice [niqab] at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and, frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women? […] and quite frankly stokes fears and anxieties at a time where people are worried about terrorism and extremism.”

Harper made these comments while discussing whether or not women should be allowed to wear the niqab while taking the Canadian citizenship oath. His comments are offensive and narrow-minded on a variety of levels. First of all, it is completely problematic that he has decided that Islam is fundamentally oppressive to women. Obviously, this is not a fresh take on the religion, but it is especially problematic when this comes from a prominent world leader.

His comments are part of a larger ostracization of Muslims. Depicting Islam as essentially inferior to Western culture is a common narrative perpetuated by people who want to justify and continue the ongoing wars in Muslim countries. Delegitimizing Islam devalues Muslim lives. It fits into the familiar narrative of the clash of Eastern and Western civilizations that has been told since the days of the Crusades.

Harper’s infantilization of Muslim women is also extremely ironic. Obviously, some women around the world are pressured to wear hijab or niqab. The solution is not to ban these articles of clothing, because the problem in these scenarios is the entitlement that some men feel to dictate how women dress. The problem does not lie in the cloth itself. Harper is doing precisely what he claims the niqab is doing. He is oppressing women and trying to control how they dress. Forcing a woman to take off a garment is actually just as bad as forcing her to put it on.

When you make laws legislating the religious dress of women, you are helping no one. The laws do not actually help women who were pressured to wear niqab; they are now just in another forced state of attire. They have not been given back their right to choose.

These laws actually hurt some people. They have a strong negative effect on those women who chose to wear niqab. They have now had their right to choose taken from them. They will be obligated to expose more of themselves than they would be comfortable doing. Think of the humiliation that entails.

Harper’s thoughts, if turned into law, are extremely dangerous. They have the potential to disenfranchise those Muslim women who choose to cover. They also put Islam, and thus Muslims by extension, outside of the regular society, as being part of an inferior culture.

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The response by Canadians has been very heartening. The Twitter hashtag #DressCodePM criticizes Harper for trying to control the outfit choices of Canadian citizens and mocks him for his overreach. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau also seems to at least partially get it; he said, ““It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear” – a sentiment that is difficult to argue with.

I hope that Stephen Harper, and those who think like him, take this kind of criticism seriously. I know I’m just a poor little oppressed Muslim woman, but I’d like to decide for myself what articles of clothing are demeaning or oppressive, and I’d like the world’s governments to have exactly zero say in my outfit choices. We need to step away from this kind of infringement on very basic rights to freedom of expression, and we need to keep away from deliberately polarizing and inflammatory comments. Let’s hope Harper learns that, soon.

Image: [The Canadian Press/ Patrick Doyle]

View Comments (12)
  • ” that he has decided that Islam is fundamentally oppressive to women.” islam is oppressive to women. that is self-evident.

    • Oh gosh its you again…

      dont you ever learn from your replies?

      You are no better than those Mossies nitpicking verses and overriding the islamic bible with a hadith and only do it to show something false.

      [2:62 Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.]

      Also on your ayat, BELIEVED. Past tense.
      These were the Jews and the Christians that would turn away from the scriptures they were given (yes, their own bibles) and would follow terrible practices and ridicule the Prophet. Otherwise, the prophet wouldnt send his own men, yes his own muslim men, to abyssinia to seek refuge under the approval of the christian king.

      Or have you failed history because your failure to recognise from primary and secondary sources?

      • I don’t know what a ‘Mossies’ is?

        Sahih International

        Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.

        this translation used the word ‘believed’ again. so according to you this must only apply to jews, Christians and sabeans of the past. of course there are no sabeans anymore.
        he sent his men to Egypt because the pagans in his own tribe didn’t like him. when his uncle died he had to flee mecca. but he conquered mecca in 8H. the 5th surah was ‘revealed’ in 10H, shortly before his death around the time of the farewell pilgrimage.

        • “Of course, there are no sabeans anymore”
          That is fucking bigoted. Barely anyone knows what a Sabean really is, but they are located in modern day Iraq as a minority.

          and damn you are bloody stupid. You dont even know the grammatical fluidity of the Quran and continue to criticise it. You only pick and choose to fit your agenda. And stop picking Sahih International’s crappy translation, take an Arabic course then criticise it.

          Also one more thing, not only are you bigoted, but from your head one thing goes out the other. If someone finally informs you about something, you just leave it to criticise Islam for the sake of criticising when you aren’t really a critique at all, you just want to bash Islam. You claim you are criticising but just a fucking elitists – the same people who takes their children’s movies far too seriously even knowing it is a bloody children’s movie – then criticising the same movie for having poor story development.

          Fuck off this site mate and don’t come back. go back to r/atheism and 4chan back where you belong.

          • what is a sabean? Muhammad asad’s translation says they were followers of john the Baptist. you sure you aren’t thinking of the shabak? were in Iraq are they?

            yes I’m stupid, I don’t understand the ‘grammatical fluidity’ lmfao. yes I criticize the Koran because the Koran is poorly written. I don’t need to know Arabic to know this book is stupid.

            “Fuck off this site mate and don’t come back.” lol. your adab is very poor.

  • Their needs to be some control over the outdated concept of dressing whether it is by men or women. If religion guides the people to wear this or that sort of dress then it should also provide some accepted norm or path by which common people or the follower can do his duties without getting criticized for getting out of way from his/her concept of religion. There’re always conflicts of interpretation in way the particular dress could be beneficial or in general interest but, overall the logical way should always be pursued. In this regard, full body covering i.e niqab or hijab/burka wearing is somewhat too much overdone aspect of religious norm. It’s an outdated model of dress out-n-out. If some women or religious person is making it as the mainstay of his/her freedom than at some point or other, it would have to be told that this is getting too much insane. I think Canadian move in that regard is quite reasonable. There’s nothing good in making women a hideous piece of shame, which actually the total covering hijab/burka is making them…plain-n-simple.

    • Just because it is “outdated” to you does not mean someone who chooses to wear should not be given that right, or should be criticized for wearing it. In the end of the, women should be able to express their beauties and beliefs in any way or form, whether it be “outdated” or “modern.” The niqab is not about shame but about reaching some form of modesty and practicing a religion. What gives you the liberty of deciding what women should wear or not wear. A women can wear what she wants. THE END. Also, I don’t think some ignorant man should be commenting on how “progressive” women should dress, people have their own individual beliefs for a reason. I am not even a person who wears the niqab, but I know people who are hard-working, intelligent, and caring people who wear it. When did appearance ever matter, also if we are on the topic of clothing that is plain and simple, let’s bring up the topic of nuns (people who dress the way they do b/c of their faith)

      • Quote: “Women should be able to express their beauties and beliefs in anyway or form, whether it be “outdated” or “modern.”
        Is it some form of bigotry or a statement of authority..? Are we going to follow every dictum of lunatics and mental prisoners, no way, its gotta be the other way round. Although, there are all sorts of weird dresses and modes of fashion but nothing is permanent, you got to change according to the needs of the job, environment and demand.

        Since, you’re going to live in a country where there is no need for such sort of dress-up the whole body then you should adapt it too. Maybe, you don’t believe in nationalism, nationality but only the religion, which is quite unfair. Either you accept the nationality in full or be prepared to be ridiculed. You got no right to impose your religion in a country where the social systems are different. Canada didn’t invite you to live there, you gone there for your needs, so have to follow the country laws. Same goes for westerners also, they have to follow the Muslim country laws and respect their norms if they wanna live in Muslim countries.
        Regarding your wording about commenting, I urge you to not indulge in that pathetic argument. Everybody got a right to comment whatever he/she deem fit. You can comment on men’s dress as well, nobody going to ask questions. And regarding nun’s dress, they dress in their chapels but not cover their full faces. Muslim women should also adapt and can do alteration in their dresses showing the face as in so many places these days, face recognition, IRIS recognition etc. are required. You can be a nuisance at some places or won’t get a job either if you remain stubborn due to your orthodox religious belief. So better adapt instead of defending ancient customs and outdated dresses.

        • First of all, Let me make a clarification. I am an American, not Canadian, so maybe Canada doesn’t have the same thing that we do, but here is it: “I am allowed to practice mt religious freedom; I do not have to conform into anyone’s standards of beauty because it is my human right.” I am not imposing the way I dress on to people; I am just dressing the way I want. Modesty is important to the people who I love and care about. Thank God I am an American b/c America gives me the right. It is simple as that. Islam also says to follow the laws of the country you live in; just fun fact that I think you should know, but here is the thing: my country’s law permits to practice my religion freely, and people who are different from me, respect me. I respect people from other paths of life b/c that’s how I have been raised with Islam. If had to conform to someone else’s standard of beauty; then we would be living in a scary place right now. If people want to be critical over me, fine, but you choose: Conforming for acceptance; or being hated for looking different.

          • A great many people are just escapist to any changes in society, country or civilization. Maybe, you’re one of them, you’re hiding behind religion to not accept changes. You got freedom but it doesn’t mean that you stop thinking for the good of humanity and general life in general. If someone is asking you to change your behaviour and way of living if it don’t conform to anything modern or rational then it doesn’t mean always that he’s strangulating you. You are just hiding behind religion to not accept any change. The prophet or Allah doesn’t command you to remain just a obedient animal as per his whims and fancies. He expected you to gain knowledge and use it for your best benefits. Maybe, you’re just follower of prophetic norms like some headless chicken in the garb of practicing your right of freedom.

          • “Maybe, you’re just follower of prophetic norms like some headless chicken in the garb of practicing your right of freedom.” Thank you for phrasing your words with such human decency. Nothing you say is valid. You blame me for not formulating my own opinions, my own agendas, but you do not know the person I am. I have been studying different faiths, and I am still studying. I have blessed with a wonderful education, and I am pretty sure that I am not the “headless chicken” you tell me I am. My prophets (peace be upon him) and the prophets before him encouraged people of all type the right to receive an education. I have freedom, freedom to learn, to accept, to excel. I, as a human being, except different people, and I study the subject before I formulate an opinion. I am not trying to attack you; I am saying this because I do not want my generation to live in a superior, ignorant society. I have a goal, and I think, just a suggestion, that we should share this goal together: Study different faiths; don’t just go to Google but actually learn in those places such as mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples. You will be quite surprised on what you learn; I hope you have the best luck in life, and from a muslim girl, I want to say goodbye to you like I would to anyone else I care about ” Assalamualikum (may the peace and blessing of God be upon you). If you do respond, I hope you respond with some sort of courtesy, please. I hope you have a lovely day, and thank you for conversing with me.

          • It’s apparent that you only believe in your religion because of some decency factor or whatever your thinking/expectations are about civilized norms from a human person. I don’t have complaint regarding that but, sometimes you do have to wonder whether all the theoretical part of religion is actually relevant or correct at all. Since ideologies are supposed to have a shelf life of its own, clinging on to the dying ideologies is not the best option for anyone, it’s an opinion that I hold dear. To stick to the ideologies of the period that might be thousands, hundreds of years old just because that was perfect at that time and trying to think that it is timeless is only your imagination not the reality.
            Since you emphasize much on decency, don’t construe any of my words to be insulting or anything against you. It’s part of normal conversation, nothing should be thought as some tirade or mocking or meant to harm you….Sayonara.

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