In his editorial column in the Toronto Star Haroon Siddiqui points to the errors within the two commonly cited reasons for supporting the anti-niqab bill in Quebec. Siddiqui states that the two most cited reasons in support of Quebec’s anti-niqab bill are that the veil is an imposed oppression since no woman would ever voluntarily wear it and, second, that the province’s proposal to deny public services to niqabi women is far less punitive than the strictures imposed on non-Muslims in some Muslim countries. Siddiqui concludes, with reference to statistics on women around the world and an argument of cultural relativism, that the first proposition is conjecture while the second is misguided moral equivalency.
Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert claims that the newspapers in Québec have a profound role in shaping the current niqab debate. She argues that by the sheer nature of its size and its relative homogeneity, francophone Quebec is home to a journalism of proximity that translates into a capacity to mobilize public opinion in ways unparalleled anywhere else in Canada. Gérard Bouchard – who co-chaired the recent Quebec commission on the so-called reasonable accommodation of cultural and religious minorities – has also often criticized the media for setting off that discussion on unduly inflammatory terms.
Hébert claims that if anything fuels the high level of support of the proposed Bill 94, it is certainly not populist empathy with Quebec but rather the post-9/11 environment and – more specifically – much of the media and political narratives on Afghanistan. It is impossible for media and politicians alike to spend the better part of half a decade advancing the notion that one is sacrificing Canadian lives to give women and girls a fairer shot at equality in Afghanistan – routinely using the burqa and the niqab as code images for oppression – and not expect a significant number of voters to want their place (or non-place) in Canada’s public arena addressed in no clear and decisive terms.