Monday, December 12, 2011

On veils and citizenship oaths.

The latest political controversy spawned by the brilliant minds of our Conserative overlords appears to be: requiring people to "openly" take the citizenship oath during the citizenship ceremony. Which means, apparently, that Muslim women must remove their veils.

The contradictions between this position and the Conservative emphasis on religious freedom should be obvious. Either you're entitled to express your religious convictions -- including through dress -- or you're privileged to do so, at the will of the government. I'm actually more aligned with the latter, as I'm not a big fan of religious freedom generally (although am still ambivalent about it), but the former is allegedly what the Conservatives are all about.

The racist intent is also naked. I can't imagine that the Conservatives will require burn victims to remove any necessary facial bandages, there is, to my knowledge, no exception in the proposed rule for medical reasons. I also can't imagine that nuns will be asked to remove their habits. Someone should try applying for citizenship in full Leafs regalia, facepaint and all, just to see if they're forced to take it off.

Any suggestion that this has something to do with identification is a pure red herring. Your identity gets verified earlier in the application process -- when you submit your documents, and then again when you interview with a CIC official. The oath is just a ceremony that comes after all that. Hence why Kenney is trying to play this as an issue of "openly" taking the oath, without "secrets".

Of course, last time I checked, there was no requirement to show your face to other citizens; only a limited number of special legal circumstances. If the rule were just to show one's face to the official conducting the interview, then I suspect most would have no objection. There is also no general requirement to reveal your secrets to a group of random people you've never met before, the usual audience for a citizenship oath.

The central issue with this change is that it's a solution in search of a problem. Although Kenney gamely tried today to spin a few anecdotal cases of veiled Muslims taking the citizenship oath into some sort of Islamofascist scaryscary plot, I'm not sure that he even believed it. It's really rather incredible, after all: unless I'm the worst terrorist plotter ever, I'm not going to be failing to take the oath during the citizenship ceremony.

It's like the whole racial profiling issue. If I'm a master criminal, who am I going to rely on to carry my stolen or illegal goods: a young black man with low-slung pants and a backwards cap, or a middle-aged white man in a suit? Given that I am, ex hypothesi, a master criminal, I'm going for the white guy every time. (Unless I'm in Tokyo or Johannesburg or somewhere else where whites are a noticeable minority, of course.) After all, I want to stay under the radar, correct?

Similarly, if I'm a terrorist mastermind and I want to infiltrate Canada for some reason, what am I going to do: draw attention to myself by having people hide their faces during the citizenship ceremony, mock the oath, and so on? Or have everyone proudly belt out the oath, with hands on hearts and tears in their eyes?

Ultimately, I think this is all about signalling and symbolism. First, that Canada is for Canadians, where "Canadian" stands for people with birthright citizenship -- that is, people whose sole contribution and effort to becoming Canadian is to have Canadian parents. As a naturalized citizen myself, I might find this offensive. But frankly, I find it laughable. It'd be like the UK making it harder to becoming a British citizen for people not born there, but leaving me -- when I haven't lived in the country for over twenty years (about three-quarters of my life) -- as a full and undisputed citizen.

Second, that the oath itself is somehow meaningful and important. Again, I note that born Canadians don't have to take any oath. Apparently, intercourse between Canadians is equivalent to a sacred oath. Furthermore, the oath ceremony itself is really not a big deal. (Of course, it can be, if you want it to be. But that's your interpretation of events, not something in the events themselves.) You show up with a bunch of other people you've never met before; a judge, or similar civic official, you've never met before shows up and has you repeat some words after him or her. And then you go home. This is a big and important ritual, deserving of special protection?

In short, it's typical Conservative culture war bullshit. I wonder, though, whether the government has -- again -- put itself in danger of a challenge before the Supreme Court. Can someone be compelled, contrary to their religious views, to fulfill an additional requirement, solely on the basis of their religious views, that does not apply to other applicants for citizenship? By my read, there's an argument to be made here about religious discrimination, twice over.


Ian said...

Well said. The irony of the Office of Religious Freedom abroad versus increasing restrictions at home hadn't struck me until now.

Maybe a Muslim woman who wants to wear her veil can make an application to the Office to deal with the discrimination?

ADHR said...

That hadn't occurred to me, but it would be hilarious to turn two government offices against each other.

However they do it, I really do hope that Muslims won't just take this one. Their religion is pretty ridiculous, but they don't deserve to be especially targeted in this way.

ProgressCanada said...

As one who identifies himself as a progressive (and as an actual NDP member) I'm not usually one to fall on the side of what many would call "cultural insensitivity". That being said, I fall squarely on the side of the government of Canada, France and Belgium. The veiling of women has ZERO religious significance (I say this as a historian) and can actually be dated back to pre-Islamic Arabia through the primary accounts of Strabo and Tertullian. Indeed the Muslim Canadian Congress in 2009 also called for bans on the burqa and niqab saying they have "no bias in Islam" and that their use "marginalizes women". I fail to see how Liberals anywhere see the practice of marginalization as a good thing.

ADHR said...

You're not really following the point, I think. (And I don't know what the reference to Liberals is about.)

Whether or not veiling started as a religious tradition has no bearing on whether it is now a religious tradition.

Whatever the governments of France and Belgium, and the Muslim Canadian Congress, do or say is not necessarily representative (is, in fact, unlikely to be representative) and is also not definitive on whether veiling has religious significance.

It doesn't follow from the fact (let's presume it's a fact) that veiling has no religious significance that the government has any business banning veiling during a ceremony that's only as meaningful as the person involved in it wants it to be.

The basic issue is that there's no issue. There's no problem to be solved here. Oddly enough, I'd have more respect for the decision if they'd done what France did and just banned veiling -- even better, if they'd just banned all religious dress in public which discriminates on the basis of gender.

As is, Kenney's new rule is arbitrary, inconsistent with his own government's policy, and frankly racist.