Friday, March 23, 2007

The Niqab, Sugar Shacks, and Quebec

Another day, another "reasonable accommodation" controversy in Quebec. On Monday, it was sugar shacks. On Thursday, it was niqabs (face veils) and the provincial election on March 26.

Sugar shacks are privately owned businesses. If an owner wants to accommodate Muslims, Jews, Hindus, vegans -- whoever -- then that's his/her business. Certainly, Quebecois culture and its sugar shack traditions can't be in such a precarious state that they'd be threatened by a group of Muslims out to enjoy some maple syrup. Is it really that difficult to stop playing music for 10 minutes, at the direction of the owner, to allow a large group of fellow citizens to offer prayers they regard as necessary? How does a pork-free meal at a sugar shack threaten the culture?

It's said that Muslims should integrate. What exactly is meant by integration? Here we have Muslims, trying to participate in Quebec culture, and they end up in the middle of a controversy simply because they wanted to follow their faith. Integration that requires one to leave his/her faith is simply conversion and cannot be tolerated.

The Montreal Gazette published a very well written editorial on the issue yesterday. But the Gazette's editorial isn't merely enough. Where are the voices of moderate Qubeckers and Canadians? Muslims are always asked to condemn the acts of radicals and to clarify their stance on controversial issues; how about the other way around now?

As for the niqabi voter controversy, it is definitely a surprising ruling, even for many Muslims. While talk show callers ranted about how bad Muslims were (in wanting to live by different rules -- voters are normally asked to produce two pieces of photo ID when voting), many Muslims too were undoubtedly wondering what the fuss was about. After all, niqabis do have to identify themselves, at the airport, when getting a health insurance card or passport and at banks. So why can't voting be similar? Either they can reveal their faces to election officials (many believe doing so for ID purposes is fine) or if they wish, a woman can deal with them.

The Director General of Elections must be credited for trying though, especially in today's tumultuous times.

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