After receiving this in the mail yesterday, I felt moved to write this open letter to Mr. Harper. Please SHARE MY LETTER (below) if you feel that it is a Canadian value to stop judging people by their clothing, colour and religion.
Dear Mr. Harper
After receiving your flyer in the mail today that was addressed to my family, and states that “It is offensive that someone would want to hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family”, I felt the need to write this open letter to you. I would like to take a minute to talk about family, and about community.
I write to you as a white female from the middle upper class neighbourhood of Tsawwassen BC. I want you to know that I served our great country in Afghanistan in 2009, and I believe that national security is important. I meet the typical demographics of someone that one might think would disagree with the niqab, except I that don’t. Like most Canadians I don’t actually know anyone who wears a niqab, but I would not mind having them as my neighbours, and here is why.
I believe that good citizenship is grounded in upholding the rule of law. Showing ones face at the Canadian citizenship ceremony is not a law in our country. Before the ceremony, the person is visually identified many times in the process of the application. They have already had pictures taken, and formal face to face contact with government officials. After a fully informed process of public discourse, if all Canadians agree to make a law that people have to show their face during the ceremony, fine, but make it a law and then respect the religion by adapting the ceremony in a culturally sensitive way. Right now there is no law, people are not doing anything wrong by not uncovering themselves. A policy that forces these women to uncover their faces at the citizenship ceremony will only serve to exclude them from the possibility of becoming Canadian citizens and reaching their dreams of a better life. Is that what you want Mr. Harper? To exclude vulnerable and marginalized women and children from becoming part of our Canadian family because we are not willing look beyond some clothing? Also, religious tolerance is built into the Canadian citizenship ceremony in that it is legal to bring one’s own holy book of choice to use for the Citizenship oath. If religious tolerance is a Canadian cornerstone built into our Citizenship ceremony and oath procedures, why this cognitive dissonance with the niqab?
Having studied health sciences at university, I know that immigrant women of colour, that belong to a minority religion, top the list of our most marginalized and vulnerable people. Often these women are fleeing home countries due to volatile political conditions, natural disasters, or gender inequality. They overcome the many barriers to Canadian immigration, a system that favours economic immigrants over refugees. We let very few refugees into our country compared to people from wealthy nations. These women make up a group of the most disadvantaged people on the planet, why would we refuse them an opportunity for a better life? Many of these women have children. Protecting children from the horrors of their home countries is a virtuous decision, one that Canadians like me stand behind.
Many of these women have overcome physical dangers, emotional trauma, family separation, stigmatization, the unfamiliarity of a new home and a new culture. Against all odds, they arrive un-noticed by most Canadians. In fact, they are so good at joining the ‘Canadian family’, that many reading this now were not even aware of them until you brought them up.
Have you ever see the movie Rudy, Mr. Harper? It is one of my favourites. If you have not seen it, Rudy is an inspiring true story about an underdog who stops at nothing to accomplish his dreams of playing football at Notre Dame. Like that story, everyone has told these women it is impossible to accomplish their dreams. Everyone has told them they will never have a better life. But these women have heart, and dedication. These women fight for a chance to be part of our great country and a chance for their families to have what we have, freedom and democracy. This is the epitome of courage, of what it means to have heart. The fact that they have overcome so much to arrive at the moment of their Citizenship oath affirms that these women are tenacious and resilient. Those are qualities I welcome into our Canadian family. Our great Nation was built by people who exemplified these qualities. These women are the ‘Rudy’ of our time.
Mr. Harper, your cognitive dissonance brings up a few questions for me.
Where were you on the appearance debate that occurred this summer in BC? A heated discourse on the legality of female toplessness was going on, where a police officer asked a young women to put her top back on at a public beach in Kelowna. What is the message that the CPC wants to send by picking this Niqab debate to address ‘Canadian values on appearance’? That conservative dress is forbidden, but public displays of nudity are encouraged under human rights? That does not appear to be very conservative, Mr. Harper. If the women who exercise their right to be topless don’t offend you, but those who prefer a more covered lifestyle do, what kind of message does that send? Do you have something against modesty, Mr. Harper? Are female rights only encouraged when it means we will be wearing less clothing, not more?
Every Canadian in this country has been told as a child to, “never judge a book by its cover.” Isn’t that just the opposite to what you are telling us, Mr. Harper? Do you want us to judge a book by its cover? Are you saying that this basic phrase of kindness, passed down from generations of wise parents and grandparents, is no longer a Canadian value? Do you want us to judge our neighbours character by what they wear and what colour they are? I think that people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi would be ashamed of this digression in the fabric of Canadian culture and morality. Not judging other people by their appearance is a virtue we instill when we read to our children, when we shape the moral character of our developing young minds. As adults, should we not be leading by example on this? Encouraging people to judge their neighbours by appearance is divisive to our communities. Our communities have to stop perceiving visibility as progress towards ending discrimination. Multicultural representation will always be selectively available to us, and we need to acknowledge and extend solidarity to those who it excludes. That is what builds the foundation of a strong community.
Through generations of music, art, and literature, Canadians have expressed the idea of the eyes being the window to our souls. We have all had moments in our life where we have met someone’s eyes and learned a lot about them. These are shared quiet moments together that carry great depth and meaning. Through communication with our eyes, we have fallen in love, expressed sorrow, and excitement. We have been able to express every human emotion in our repertoire through a glance with another human being. We have all felt that. We know the power of our eyes. To me, the eyes are the most important things to see on a human being. This Canadian ideology is written in poetry, in greeting cards, in famous love stories. It creates memorable parts of iconic films. I believe in this Canadian cultural truism. This is important because it addresses a dichotomy in our Canadian beliefs in this debate. For me, the eyes are the most important part of the face. If I can see one’s eyes, I can also see their heart. This is part of why I feel the niqab still upholds a very important belief in our Canadian cultural tradition.
When I think of the characteristics of a strong community or family, I think of qualities like graciousness, engagement, generosity, and respect. I think of having neighbours that follow the rule of law, that work together on community projects, and that care about their fellow neighbours wellbeing. I have not met Ms. Zunera Ishaq, but have read about her. From what I have read in national newspapers I believe that she encompasses all of those things. She has overcome difficulties beyond what I can comprehend. Since coming to Canada a few years ago, she has since upheld all of the values that I as a Canadian born citizen view as important and virtuous.
I would be honoured to live in a community of people like Ms. Zunera Ishaq. Not only that, but I welcome any and all courageous women whose bravery and perseverance to live in a free and democratic country has brought them here. They have proven to be hard workers, good parents, supportive friends and when given the opportunity, community leaders. These are all attributes that I think could really benefit our communities and our economy here in Canada.
If someone is willing to fight that hard for freedom and democracy, I want them as my neighbour and part of our Canadian family.
Sincerely and respectfully,
Harper does NOT represent Canadian values. I’m not even sure how he got elected in the first place. Respecting people’s personal adherence to their religious beliefs is very important and has always been a central part of Canadian law and culture. Wearing a niqab isn’t hurting anyone else, it’s not taking away someone else’s rights nor is it forcing someone else to adhere to their religion. It’s just how they personally believe they ought to dress, like how some Christians believe in not showing cleavage, some Jews wear certain clothing items to show their devotion to God, etc. They verify the woman’s identity privately before the citizenship ceremony (I believe a female official does it) so there’s no security risk either. And it does not cause significant upheaval or delay in the citizenship process; refugees coming from dramatically different cultures often have special needs such as interpreters and immigration is used to dealing with that. Plus, this isn’t exactly a time consuming or difficult request compared to some that immigration deals with.
His comments are uncalled for, racist, and he’s degrading vulnerable women refugees trying to escape bad situations in their home countries. How can we force them to choose between their religion and safety in a new country? Fortunately, the law has never stopped them or anyone else from covering themselves according to their beliefs regarding modesty. He’s just a horrible person using his political influence to verbally degrade others and incite fear of those who are different from us. But if he stays in office, he may be able to cause more damage to our immigration process than he’s already done.
For those who think that refugees and immigrants ought to give up their beliefs and culture when they enter a new country- with the exception of Native Americans/First Nations people, we’re all descended from immigrants who didn’t assimilate with the established Native cultures here. Did we ask the Irish and French and Italian immigrants to give up their cultures when they immigrated? Of course not. So why these particular people? Because people are racist and fearful of cultures they don’t understand or relate to. But that’s a shitty reason to berate and bully people.