The nicab during citizenship debate is missing one major element
Oct 10, 2015

The nicab during citizenship debate is missing one major element

Many of us have been disgusted the way that the election campaign's hottest issue has been whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab during a citizenship ceremony (note that this is not for identification, they remove it for that in front of a female prior to the ceremony).

The issue is simultaneously unimportant and important. It is unimportant in the sense that of all the numerous impactful issues that face us as a nation, the issue of whether a handful of Muslim women who would like to join the country and wear the nicab during the citizenship ceremony is simply nowhere near the top. It is a minor cultural issue and it sickens me that Harper managed to get a boost in the polls by prioritizing this, particularly in Quebec where it really harmed the NDP. We should be talking about something else.

However, I am going to join in on talking about this issue because while it shouldn't be deciding elections, it is nonetheless important, and because there is a major element to the debate that has been entirely missing. Canada does, and ought to, stand for the basic set of freedoms codified in the Charter and endorsed throughout society. We may not like the nicab. I don't like the nicab, although I will recognize that many who wear it don't fit the kinds of caricatures often portrayed. But that doesn't mean freedom of religion goes away! It doesn't mean that the government - an ostensibly freedom loving conservative government no less - has the right to tell a woman how they should dress, that religious identification is all fine except for this particular few inches of cloth.

While Zunera Ishaq, the woman at the centre of the controversy who recently became a citizen after the court ordered the ceremony proceed with her wearing the veil, doesn't show any signs of this, let me assume, for the sake of argument, the worst caricatures of the opposing narrative. Suppose in a case the nicab is not a symbol of religious devotion, but a symbol of male oppression, forced on women against there will and preventing them from engaging in a pluralistic society. Assume everything bad you can imagine. How, exactly, is this desired ban helping that? Don't we want these woman to be able to leave their homes and engage with society? Don't we want to be welcoming and accepting of these woman as they are so they can feel comfortable to learn about our society, and make their own choices? Perhaps this isn't a slippery slope where the citizenship ceremonies is just the first place such bans occur (Harper has already speculated on bans in public service; Europe is moving steadily in this direction), but is making it so women don't feel able  - or aren't allowed, under these assumptions - to leave the house actually helping anyone? Outside of making us feel self righteous (as we violate our core principles of freedom of religion), I don't see the point.

The missing issue:
Versions of the above have been said by many much more eloquently than me. Let me raise a different question: why are we required to swear oaths at all? There are those who want to become citizens but don't feel comfortable with the oath new Canadians are required to say. I am not comfortable with it, although I didn't have to say it as a natural born Canadian. One of my professors is not comfortable with it either, and has led an unsuccessful legal battle to be able to become a citizen without this oath. I think Canada should be a republic, and think it is repulsive that we should swear fealty to a monarch who happens to be the head of a religion.

Much like Zunera Ishaq, Dror Bar-Natan and his fellow litigants have had various court cases and even got a few news stories. However, their story has not animated the public discourse to anywhere near the same level as Zunera Ishaq who has become, arguably, the single biggest issue in the election campaign. In both cases we have a purely symbolic ceremony that can't be done in a particular way because someone wants to become a citizen but has religious or political objections to how exactly that is to be done. For those that agree with me that the nicab should not disqualify one from becoming Canadian, is it not a small leap to agree with me that swearing fealty to an unelected monarch ought also not be a disqualifier?

I have long argued on this blog that Canada should be a republic, that the Monarchy while only symbolic and lacking de facto power nonetheless symbolizes many bad things we should reject and doesn't symbolize the many good things (such as, ironically, freedom of religion) that we might wish to symbolize as a country. This is view is entirely legal for me to type, and indeed would be a gross violation of freedom of expression for there to be any law against me expressing it. Why, then, would we demand and citizenship be conferred only to those willing to swear an oath that fundamentally violates this view? And why on earth would we care what people wore when they said it. Or, ideally, didn't say it.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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A Kisaragi Colour said...

Personally, I don't care what people wear when they swear the oath of citizenship. They have sworn an oath to Her Majesty the Queen and that is good enough for me to welcome them. Likewise, if someone swears loyalty to the Queen I don't care if they spend the rest of their life engaged in some futile effort to abolish the monarchy. I may think they are being rather foolish but if that is how they want to spend their life in Canada I'm not going to stop them. Loyal Opposition is an important important right after all.

"I think Canada should be a republic, and think it is repulsive that we should swear fealty to a monarch who happens to be the head of a religion."

Might we be honest for a second? You would oppose the monarchy even if the Queen wasn't also head of a religion.

And while we are on the topic, did you ever check out those studies I suggested on your post calling for a republic?

bazie said...

Oh true. That the Monarchy heads a religion is only one on a long list of terrible things symbolized by the Monarchy. It is a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for opposition. It is simply wrong to require one to swear fealty to a hereditary ruler, regardless of what your studies say.

John B. said...

These comments may seem overly glib, but the whole issue of the sanctity of citizenship oaths (and Canadian citizenship itself for that matter), strikes me as rather overblown and hypocritical given the indifference many of us have toward the holding by a bonafide Canadian of multiple citizenships, and toward the existence of recurring secessionist movements in more than one of our provinces. I presume that Canadians concerned over loyalty and values understand that international stresses can come about that will put these into conflict for the holder of a pocket full of passports (In fact, some countries don't even recognize renunciation of citizenship and demand lifetime loyalty to the state.) and that many proponents of regional secession assume, no doubt correctly, that separation from Canada would have no bearing on their right to continue holding their Canadian passports.

Now, add the complication that Harper has decided to bestow citizenship in foreign countries on individuals who were born in Canada, but have been caught attempting to terrorize us and have the added misfortune of having been born to a parent who was born elsewhere. I have cautioned my mother, whose father immigrated to Canada from somewhere in the former British Empire sometime before the First World War, to ensure that she doesn't make any more donations to organizations that might become the object of a government or PMO audit.

A Kisaragi Colour said...

"It is simply wrong to require one to swear fealty to a hereditary ruler, regardless of what your studies say."

You, and other opponents of the monarchy, tend not to go into 'why'. There is nothing inherently different between swearing loyalty to a person (hereditary or not), a flag, piece of paper, or idea. But as your quote demonstrates it doesn't matter how much evidence piles up that republics are flawed you will oppose them anyways on ideological grounds. Which, amusingly, puts you in the position of having far more in common with Harper than you'd like to admit.

bazie said...

You are half right. I'm not much of a fan of being required to swear oaths to anything, even something as banal as "uphold the laws of canada" (think Rosa Parks). But there is something much more disturbing about being required to swear fealty to a person. In the twenty first century, the idea of being subjects of a supreme ruler - even a pointless one with no de facto power - is disgusting. That it is hereditary - a completely ridiculous system of choosing a leader in modern society - is just the icing on this disgusting cake. Maybe some people like the idea of prostrating themselves in to this antidemocratic symbol (for reasons I can't begin to imagine), but to require people prostrate themselves thus? This contradicts the core ideas of individual freedoms at the basis of our modern society, the idea that we are all born equally in our society, that we choose our leaders through democratic traditions, and that we are free to find the view of the monarchy revolting, or desirable.

The major difference between us, it seems, isn't so much that you think the monarchy is desirable and I find it revolting. It is that you would have me swear fealty to your view as a condition of becoming a Canadian, and I never would require the same for you. Who is being ideological now?

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