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Islamophobia, Eh?
Canada’s Veil Prejudice

Canada treats them like Klingons

The Canadian Parliament in spring adopted a law that forbids Muslim women who wear the veil to vote without first proving their identity — by removing the veil. The law passed unanimously. Elections Canada is the administrative arm of the Canadian federal government that regulates elections. It has rule-making authority. Elections Canada decided that veiled women can vote, as long as they show two forms of government-issued identification, or as long as another voter vouches for their identity and swears on it. (Non-veiled voters must also show at least one form of identification.) Hearing that decision, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Sydney for that meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders, blew his top. If he’d been wearing a veil, it’d have reached the Kuiper Belt by now.

There are astronomical fools in this story. And they’re on both sides: Elections Canada and Stephen Harper.

To begin with, Parliament’s decision to pass a law on this is an idiocy on at least three grounds: While there are 750,000 Muslims in Canada, those who wear the full-body covering type of veil number as little as 50, according to the Canadian Islamic Congress. It’s doubtful that all of them are citizens. And given Canada’s turn-out rate at election time, which resembles the dismal rates of other vibrant democracies like the United States and Iraq’s Anbar Province, it’s even more doubtful that more than five or six women wearing the full-body veil would have shown up in any given election. Elections Canada’s decision to regulate the veil at election time is equally idiotic for the same reason, since it’s a non-issue.

Second, Elections Canada’s reasoning doesn’t stand up. If veiled women are required to present government-issued identification cards such as provincial driver’s licenses, that means those women will have had to remove their veil to be photographed for their ID card. If it’s OK to require women to remove their veil for passport photos and driver’s licenses, as it very much is (even in Islamic countries), then why not for an instant before slipping into the voting booth?

Third, Elections Canada passed its rule without even consulting with the nation’s Muslim organizations. The Canadian Islamic Congress and the more liberal Muslim Canadian Congress both derided the decision, the latter calling it a “rude joke.” They’re right. Why would Elections Canada go against an act of parliament? Why on such an irrelevant issue?

All that said, however, only proves that Elections Canada’s decision was stupid, but in and of itself not consequential. It was a non-issue. It would have remained a non-issue had Stephen Harper not opened his Islamophobic mouth, not surprisingly from Down Under, where Islamophobia has itself been worn on and off like the last few seasons’ most fashionable veil. But he did. He made it an issue. And now Canada is up in arms, as Quebec was recently for the very same reason, with most Canadians obviously crying foul and wanting that Elections Canada decision rescinded, and maybe having Elections Canada’s director fired.

The upshot is that a decision supposed to be accommodating to Muslim voters has turned into another reason for bashing those very voters. Muslims in the West have enough sewer pipes thrown their way these days. The last thing they need is the condescension of accommodations hiding behind subtle prejudice.

But let’s not kid ourselves, either. Whether or not Elections Canada had made its “accommodating” decision, and whether or not Parliament had passed that entirely unnecessary law in spring, the reality is that those laws and decisions are being carried out in answer to an undercurrent of textbook prejudice: There is no veil issue at election time in Canada, yet Parliament found it necessary to address it in law. Why? To make matters worse, Elections Canada found it necessary to instigate a fight it knew would explode, because Quebec, the province, had just gone through exactly the same fight when its provincial elections regulator was about to allow Muslim women there to vote veiled. All this has the smell of an intentionally choreographed tickle of bigotry, just to bring the veil issue back to the surface, just to throttle up the latent forces of Islamophobia. It worked.

Elections Canada’s regulation will be reversed. Canada will vote on Sept. 17. But nothing will have been gained, and yet more will have been lost in the West’s alleged march, backward march now, toward that vaunted pluralism we’re supposedly voting for.

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