Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Woman with a Veil, a Man with a Book

During the Swiss minarets controversy I noted that there was no way such a law like that could exist in Canada. I may have spoken too soon.

There was a recent controversy over a woman named Naema Ahmed, who was barred from participating in government classes in Quebec because she wore a niqab (veil) and would not take it off in class. There may have been more to this, some said she was doing other things such as not facing the class when speaking and so on but that's not what's important. What's important is the reaction from the Québec government, a bill to ban women in niqab from receiving public services.

Looking at passing a law!? Uh-oh, that does not sound like a step in the right direction. Perhaps the recent controversy about burqas in France is starting to rub off in Québec. I don't have an issue with requiring the removal of a veil for certain key things (drivers licenses and other picture-based ID, security checks etc.) but to consider passing a law banning veils for reasons like it might muffle their speech in a class (oh no!! The horror!) is utterly ridiculous. Maybe we should consider banning scarves in the winter, after all they might muffle our speech a bit.

This is the part that gets me -- we in the West keep going on about how we embrace freedom and personal liberty and this is what makes us the great societies we are now, and encourage other countries to do the same, yet at the same time contemplate passing laws that are designed to place restrictions on a specific group of people, the same people we keep telling should embrace personal freedom. It's hypocritical. So what if someone wants to wear a veil? We allow people to wear piercings all over their body, have strange haircuts, tattoos, or what have you. As far as I'm concerned if a guy can have a ring through his eyebrow a woman can wear a veil.

We as a Western society need to take the high road and stop preaching freedom on one hand while restricting freedoms on the other. Freedom means that some people will just adopt the style of dress that is different from the norm and that's the price we pay for freedom. So yes that means some women will wear veils in Canada -- who cares, get over it people.

Now Québec is a French society and unlike the rest of Canada I believe the law is based on civil law not British common law. I don't know how well that would interact with the federal system and to what extent a law banning veils could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. With any luck if the Québec government does try passing a law it gets appealed and quashed.


The other day I was browsing around a bookstore and when I got to the science section was surprised to see an entire shelf dedicated to a book they just got in. The book was Arabic so I didn't know the title but I definitely recognize the picture on the cover -- Prof. Richard Dawkins. Turns out the book was an Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think.

My surprise is primarily due to the fact that Prof. Dawkins writes books primarily on two topics: evolutionary biology and atheism. Not surprisingly in the Middle East you can sometimes find his books on the former (the ancestor's tale is one of my favorites) and you will never find any of his books on the latter. He does not mince his words in his treatment of organized religions and one of his recent books, the God Delusion, even stirred up a lot of protest from religious groups in the West. I don't think that book is sold anywhere in the Middle East, I tried to look for it once in Dubai without success and I have never seen it in Qatar. I figure if it's not available in Dubai it's unlikely to be available anywhere. [If anyone reading this knows where it would be available for sale in the Middle East feel free to correct me]

Thankfully whatever misgivings this region has about his (anti)religious books does not extend into his scientific work, which is available in bookstores, but this is the first time I've seen a book about him translated into Arabic.

I wonder if any of his books are available in Arabic?


The Dicklomat said...


I have a copy of "The God Delusion" if you want to borrow it. I also just got "Greatest Show on Earth" on audiobook if you want to borrow that for long drives & whatnot.

Do you know anything more about how they portrayed Dawkins in the Arabic book? I am curious as to how he is percieved out here.


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