In light of the fiasco that is the Parti Quebecois‘ proposal
to turn Quebec into arguably the least tolerant jurisdiction in North America to impose controversial restrictions on language and religious displays, I thought this older piece might be appropriate. It arose from this story about a Muslim woman who was told to remove her Niqab if she wanted to attend a French language/civics class, because, among other things, the teacher couldn’t see her lips to ensure she was learning French properly. In response, she filed a human rights complaint with the Quebec human rights tribunal. Enjoy!
I’m never sure who to cheer for in these cases.
On the one hand, I tend to be of the Mark Steyn/Ezra Levant school of thought that sees human rights commission as kangaroo courts that offer a venue to whiners and the overly sensitive (to say nothing of politically motivated trouble makers). And it doesn’t help that the woman in question here sounds like a bit of a religious nutbar.
On the other hand, I’m also of the school of thought that says that if someone wants to wear something, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, who cares?
Who cares if you can’t see this woman’s lips, and as a result she doesn’t learn to speak French properly? Query whether that really makes a difference, my French teachers could see my lips for all the 13 years that I studied French, but I still speak French like an American tourist. Not being able to speak proper French (in a overwelmingly French-speaking province) is really her problem, isn’t it? And that’s something that should be pointed out to her down the road if she returns to the human rights commission in a few years complaining about how no one will hire her.
Learning French is not like voting, or getting a driver’s license, or testifying in court, where wearing the Niqab engages broader societal interest. If she doesn’t learn “proper” French, that only hurts her, and if she’s cool with that, why do we care?
Sure, sure, I get the argument that it’s degrading to the woman to be isolated from the broader society (though presumably no more degrading than wearing the sort of hootchie outfits that pass for appropriate attire in some of our less remarkable public schools). Hey, I even agree with that argument. But as I see it, unless we take the view that Muslim woman (at least those woman who wear Niqabs or something similar) are not mentally competent, and that society has a role to make decisions for them (a view which is, might I remind you, shared by your typical Islamo-fascist), what right does the broader society have to tell them what to wear?
Finally if the concern about her wearing a Niqab is that it prevents her from integrating into the broader society, I’m not sure how expelling her from a class where she’s learning to speak French – the language spoken by thesociety in which she lives – really remedies that concern. Doesn’t that just make the problem worse by preventing her from communicating with the people around her at all? Hell, the purpose of this course was to help integrate new Quebecers by imparting, amongst other things, the values of Quebec society? If it makes her more comfortable, let her wear the Niqab while you impart those values. She might even choose to adopt them as her own. Kicking her out of class just undermines that goal.
I hate to say it, but on this one, I’m siding with the religious nutjob.
- PQ plan: Pass a French test to run for public office (news.nationalpost.com)
- Tasha Kheiriddin: In Quebec, xenophobia is alive and well (fullcomment.nationalpost.com)