The180·The 180

Is the niqab bad for society?

Omer Aziz is a columnist, and a student of international affairs and law. He opposes the wearing of niqabs, but says a ban on wearing them would also be bad for society. On the other hand, writer Idil Issa says the face covering fits right in with a democractic society.
A woman wears a niqab as she walks Monday, September 9, 2013 in Montreal. The Quebec government is scheduled to release more details of its proposed Charter of Quebec Values Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz (The Canadian Press)
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Omer Aziz is a columnist, and a student of international affairs and law.

Recent discussions about the place of the niqab in Canadian society have left him with opinions at 180 degree odds with each other. As someone who was raised in the Muslim faith, he personally opposes the wearing of the niqab.

But he says a ban on wearing them would be just as bad for society.

He says he has heard of women who are pressured to wear the niqab, a head covering which also hides the face of the wearer, and he feels that is unfair. He also opposes the wearing of the niqab because of the potential negative impacts on safety, security, and social interactions that can occur when someone's face, and therefore many of their identifying features, are covered.

But he also says the banning of the niqab by government legislation, or regulation from official agencies like courts, or citizenship and security bureaucracies would be equally harmful to society.

Obviously there are certain caveats, but for the most part I would err on the side of more liberty rather than less.- Omer Aziz, writer

"I think that individuals, ultimately, even if they make poor choices, the government should not be stepping in and playing Daddy or Mommy and telling them that they can or cannot do something as long as they're not harming other people," he says.

Idil Issa thinks niqabs should be allowed too-- but she also thinks they fit right in with a free society: "I think that a person is able to conduct themselves within a parliamentary democracy like Canada perfectly well, whether they're wearing full sleeved tattoos, or whether they have piercings, or other items that they're wearing which might be a bit unusual...it doesn't diminish a person's ability to speak, to cast a ballot, to email their representative..."

She says she has not heard any evidence of women being forced to wear the niqab, and says it's a non-issue. Instead, she says there are very Canadian aspects of culture that are anti-women: like the ongoing plight of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and that should be a bigger focus for Ottawa. 

Liberal democracy is defined not by how we think the ideal citizen looks, but by the protection of the rights of each citizen to live out their lives in the way that they see fit.- Idil Issa

There are coverings in many religions, Issa says, like habits for nuns, and no one wonders if the nuns are covering themselves by choice. She says politicians should "build bridges of understanding" between the different cultures in this country, instead of capitalizing on differences and misunderstanding. 

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