A Defense of the Right to the Veil

A Defense of the Right to the Veil

This article is a response to “Good enough for France, but not Quebec

I’ve recently moved to Montréal, and in reading a recent article on the issue of France’s ban on public face veils, I’ve been compelled to respond with my own ideas on the matter. For the first time in my life, I’ve seen the subject described – a Muslim woman with a face-covering veil accompanied by a western-dressed man – not in Paris, but here, in my native Québec. It’s an emotional issue that has been used (rightly or wrongly) to stir divisions here recently, and without wanting to get into that debate specifically, I do want to say that I am most happy that we live in a society without public bans on face veils.

First though, let’s not muddy the waters. I do fully agree with a lot of what’s being said about this issue. The idea that women are forced into these clothes by their peers is deeply troubling and completely unacceptable in a free society. The article mentioned a fine of 30,000€ if such allegations are proven true in France; in Canada this would be met with criminal charges. I’m not naïve enough to believe that means this very scenario doesn’t happen in Canada, but it does mean that we have laws already in place to prevent it. That’s a very good thing – every person, man or woman, should have the right to choose the way they want to dress in public, free from the constraints of another’s religion, culture, or preferences.

But that works both ways. Every person, man or woman, should have the right to choose the way they want to dress in public, free from the constraints of another’s religion, culture, or preferences. The idea that religion could be used to impose on women – and women alone – certain dress in the name of “modesty” is medieval and barbaric… but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Enshrining one view of morality in law – when such a law has no demonstrable effect on public safety – is contrary to the principles of a free and enlightened society. Just because something offends us does not give us a right to ban it. If a woman freely chooses to wear a niqab while her male companion wears shorts and a t-shirt, then in a free society she should be permitted to do so – even if we don’t like it. If a woman is forced to wear a niqab, those forcing her to do so should be arrested according to our existing laws – no different than if she was forced to wear a bikini against her will.

Remember – banning a woman from being in public with her face covered is functionally and morally no different than banning a woman from being in public without her face covered.  Either way, we’re imposing on a woman the “correct” way to dress in violation of her own right to choose.  Let’s not become the very monsters we oppose.

A common rebuttal to this argument is to hide the true morally-subjective intentions of such proposals behind a veneer of public safety, citing a need to be able to identify people. Under certain circumstances, like formal identification documents or interactions with the justice system, I’m inclined to agree with that – but the idea that a person must be readily identifiable in public at all times what we’d expect of a police state, not a free society. There are those tempted to believe that we are too tolerant and that this will eventually come back to haunt us… I say liberty – including the liberty to dress as we wish – isn’t something to be “tolerated”, it’s something to be cherished and protected, because it’s what makes us so great in the first place. I also say if there’s anything history shows is still haunting us, it’s our past intolerance.

Like many who would agree with France’s ban on face veils or other religious symbols, I’m deeply uncomfortable about the idea that a woman would be so oppressed as to be made to wear full-body coverings and not be allowed to speak for herself. However, as tempting as the easy path of ad-hoc moral laws may be to maintaining social comforts, the cure to oppression is education, communication, and empowerment – not more restrictions.

Editorials and opinion pieces represent the opinions of their authors.  LifeinQuebec.com maintains a socially and politically neutral ground for the exchange of ideas.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He has an engineering degree from Université Laval and is currently a law student at McGill University.

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