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Sat Jan 14, 2012, 07:12 AM

Gender, Race and the Burqa Ban

On Dec. 12, Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney issued a ban that prohibits Muslim women from wearing the burqa and niqab while taking the oath of citizenship. He provided two reasons for this. The first rests on a technicality that citizenship judges must be able to see one take the oath. Rightly fearing that this could be easily accommodated without the need to remove the garments in question, he added a second reason: an appeal to "deep principle" that requires an open public display of "loyalty to Canada."

Kenney's ban is not without precedent. It is part of a larger pattern of Islamophobia. From France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy has disapproved of the burqa as "a sign of subservience" and where women are legally prohibited from wearing the full veil in schools and hospitals, to Barcelona, Spain, which outright bans it in public places, Muslims are brought into the spotlight only to be erased. In this struggle over identity and the right to cultural expression, women's bodies have become a battlefield for right-wing political parties, feminists and antiracists alike. It therefore makes sense to consider Kenney's latest move by taking account of its gender and racial implications.

Preventing Muslim women from covering their faces is a necessary move, maintains Kenney, in order to welcome them into the Canadian way of life. It is allegedly about preserving what Canada is really about—tolerance and openness—while extending freedoms to women who have yet to enjoy them, and perhaps who do not fully understand them.

But the desire to unveil Muslim women is not about a technicality, or even about Canadian values—whatever these might be—it is, rather, a racist desire born of the urge to reject the traditions and cultural symbols of a certain group. We should even go so far as to admit that it is about rejecting that group from public life. The ban is, in other words, the very opposite of what Kenney alleges it is about. It is about telling Muslim women who cover their faces that they have no place here, and that if they want to interact with the state, they must do so by discarding their former selves.

http://www.worldpress.org/Americas/3855.cfm

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