If eyes are windows to the soul, what's the big deal with the niqab?

Do you need to see someone's full face to judge his or her patriotism? When I'm at a hockey game and the guy next to me has his face painted in Habs colours, I don't judge him. I was always taught that if you want to know if a person is tellnig the truth — you should look them in the eye.

Comedian Mark Critch wonders why, in a country where we cover our faces for survival, a niqab is so scary

You might think that in Canada, where covering up our faces is a matter of survival several months a year, the niqab wouldn't be such a big issue, writes comedian Mark Critch. (Canadian Press)

"Sweet God, no!" you exclaim. Not another white guy writing a think-piece on the niqab. Don't minimize this window just yet. I feel exceptionally qualified to talk about something that I know nothing about.

As a Newfoundlander, I am unusually white. Alabaster. In fact, in the right lighting I am translucently white like a jellyfish with acne. I feel just as qualified as Stephen Harper to talk about the niqab.

I'm very happy that the prime minister has made this an election issue. I'm glad because at least now, white folks like me know that the fabric that covers a woman's face while revealing her eyes it isn't actually called a burka. And that, so far, only two women refused to take the oath without it. So, for future reference, twice is the number of times something has to happen before we hit the panic button.

I'm not sure what Mr. Harper expects will happen if someone wears a niqab for the citizenship ceremony. I think he pictures a woman taking the oath veiled, becoming Canadian, then laughing maniacally and saying "Muah-ha-ha! You fools! You fell for it. Now that I have become a Canadian there is no stopping me. I will use my exotic ninja powers to destroy you all. If only you had looked at my face one last time you could have saved yourselves."

The ceremony is, surprisingly, ceremonial. The face has already been examined. The identification has been checked. What will one last look prove? Will checking one more time cancel out the rest? Are Muslim women like Rumpelstiltskin? If you guess their names do they disappear?

Do you even need to see someone's full face to judge his or her patriotism? When I'm at a hockey game and the guy next to me with his face painted in the Habs colours mumbles his way through the anthem, I don't judge him. I know he is a real Canadian because he doesn't know all of the words.

Look 'em in the eye

Some Canadians may feel you can't trust these Muslims because you can only see their eyes.

I was always taught that if you want to tell if a person is telling the truth — you should look them in the eye. Not to go all Rex Murphy here, but allow me to quote, I believe it was Marty Feldman, who said, "The eyes are the window to the soul." Actually, let me go all Conservative base and quote Matthew 6:22. That lefty Matthew says, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light."

Take for a moment, the eyes of Stephen Harper — they are very old stock Canadian eyes. They resemble two frozen doughnuts, but without all the emotion two frozen doughnuts would have.

They are the kind of eyes that would make Vladimir Putin turn to an aide and say, "Brrr … who's the pasty guy with the cold, menacing eyes?" Now, imagine those eyes in a niqab. Do you think you'd need to see his chin to know what you were dealing with? I'm surprised we don't have more cultural sensitivity in a country where we spend most of the year bundling our faces in toques and scarves.

A fire has been burning in the Great White North. It is fuelled by the hot air billowing forth from the mouths of our leaders. Like all wildfires, it has started to worry our civic leaders.

Recently, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi attacked the Tories for their handling of the niqab issue. Jason Kenney, the immigration minister who introduced the niqab citizenship ban, complained that the Muslim mayor and "people like" him shouldn't be politicizing the issue. "People like" him? Muslim? Cuddle sized? Canadian? He shouldn't politicize it? He's a politician! As are you, Mr. Kenny. As is our prime minister who discusses it in political debates.

Ah, yes. Dangerous Naheed Nenshi. If ever there was a poster boy for scary Muslims, it's him.

Nenshi isn't scary. Nenshi looks like someone took one of the cartoon Chipmunks and shaved him. People "like" him? Yes, Mr. Kenny. People do "like" him. They seem to like him very much. So much so that I think we should listen to his point of view.

And just this week, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced an RCMP tip line to stop "barbaric cultural practices." You mean, like hockey?

I'm sure the phone will be ringing off the hook. I wonder how many calls will be coming from inside the PMO. After all, you can't look someone in the eyes when they're on the phone.

Mark Critch is a comedian and a cast member of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. (9 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador) on CBC Television. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCritch.

About the Author

As This Hour Has 22 Minutes' anchor and roving reporter, Mark is one of the hardest working comedians in show business, winning multiple awards for both writing and performance. In addition to 13 years starring on 22 Minutes, Mark has appeared in CBC's Winnipeg Comedy Festival, is the host of CBC’s Halifax Comedy Festival and has written for and appeared in CBC's world-renowned Just for Laughs series. His role in the highly-acclaimed feature film The Grand Seduction, garnered him the ‘Best Actor Award’ at the 2013 Atlantic Film Festival.