There has been much talk about the niqab as it relates to the swearing-in portion of citizenship ceremonies. Everyone seems to be missing the point on this subject, especially Stephen Harper.
First, let’s get the facts straight; identification is done through paperwork, not facial recognition. Yes, there is an aspect of facial recognition to the identification process, but ultimately, it comes down to documentation. This is very simply demonstrated with the example of triplets at the border; they don’t all use the same passport simply because they look alike.
Second, the swearing-in ceremony is a chance for people who are new to the country to present themselves as they are. It is an opportunity to introduce themselves to their peers, and if the goal is to be recognizable, then their appearance must reflect who they are even moreso than what they look like. They will not be forced to go through the procedure for a second time should they fall victim to a disfiguring injury, for example. They must, therefore, present their public face. Whether that face is veiled or not, it is their own personal choice and it reflects their own personal identity.
Third, the niqab is not a disguise. Wearing a mask at a protest march is a change in one’s public face in order to hide one’s identity. Wearing a niqab (or a burqa, chador, dupatta, tichel, snood, babushka, or veil) is a celebration of one’s cultural identity, not a duplicitous attempt to conceal it.
Fourth, there are some who would say that because some women are forced to wear such coverings by the males in their social groups, this behaviour should not be encouraged. However, this is not the issue at hand. Surely women who are oppressed by men have avenues available to them in order to help them break free from these bonds. Replacing such bondage by governmental oppression is not an acceptable option.
Fifth, a person should have the right to personal freedom of expression. Furthermore, a person should have the right to adorn one’s body as one sees fit, and to practice the religion of their choice, if this is the case. Be it cultural garb, mandated medical procedures, abortion, prostitution, or euthanasia, a person should have exclusive rights over their bodies and the way these are portrayed, displayed, treated, and cared for. If wearing something cannot be forced upon us, not wearing something should not either.
Sixth, the right to determine one’s own lifestyle should never rest with the state.
A final thought – when a government equates a form of dress with a certain pattern of behaviour, be it overtly or not, that is a form of discrimination and has no place in a modern society. Whether it is stated directly or not, equating the idea of a niqab with a sense of fear from terrorism is no different than identifying a religious group with a special ‘brand’ in the hopes of generating the same feelings of uneasiness. We should all be disgusted that some feel this debate is necessary or even appropriate.
Update – Zunera Ishaq just took the oath of citizenship while displaying her niqab-adorned ‘public face.’ This represents a victory for human rights in Canada, although, the court decision risks being overturned when a new government is elected.