Sunday, 9 May 2010

Ban The Burqa? Then Ban The Kirpan: The Politics And Double Standards Of Cultural Accommodation.

Belgium lawmakers recently passed a law that would ban "any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street", a law undoubtedly aimed at the Islamic burqa costume. This ban would be "the first move of its kind in Europe" and possibly not the last.

France appears to be moving in a similar direction.

Here at home fully veiled Muslim women have provoked a similar call to ban the burqa in Quebec, a move that has national support.

I don't support a legislated ban on the burqa and consequently its sister attire, the niqab, but if that is the route we are going to take then why permit Sikhs to carry the metal kirpan?

The kirpan is a ceremonial dagger all baptized male Sikhs are expected to carry on themselves at all times. The kirpan can be represented in different ways. A small symbolic kirpan can be worn attached to the combs Sikhs keep in their hair. Or it can be represented in the form of a pendant worn around the neck not unlike a small crucifix worn by many Christians. Problems arise when orthodox Sikhs want to carry the full size kirpan which is a metal blade mostly made of iron ranging in size from 7.6 cm to 90 cm. The standard tends to be 9 cm in length.

Wearing the full sized metal kirpan contravenes Canadian laws pertaining to concealed weapons yet orthodox Sikhs have won the right via an appeal to the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to carry them in public places much to the disapproval of the Canadian public at large (and which is yet another reason why Sikhs are not winning any popularity contests).

Well that last paragraph is not entirely true. Apparently you cannot wear your kirpan to court. It seems its okay for judges to order public schools to allow their students to carry a potential weapon to class but when it comes to their courtrooms its a whole other matter.

The kirpan is, in a religious and symbolic sense, a weapon. The burqa and the niqab are not. At least not in intent. There are numerous examples where the burqa and niqab have been used to conceal bomb belts and commit acts of terrorism but the same thing can be accomplished with an overcoat. What is more pertinent is that criminals have disguised themselves in burqas and niqabs to enter banks and rob them. Such a thing happened in Paris and is often cited as a reason to ban the burqa.

But Sikhs have used the kirpan as a weapon. Literally. In the Ontario urban sprawl community of Brampton a kirpan was pulled and a man was stabbed in one of the more dramatic conflicts over a struggle for control of the local Gurdwara. A Sikh youth in Quebec used his kirpan in a threatening gesture. Apologists point out that such attacks are rare. True, but will they be the last?

I don't recall the burqa or the niqab being used in Canada for nefarious ends but the kirpan has so why should the burqa be banned but not the kirpan? Let me stress that I am talking about the metal blade which is not required to be worn at all times but is mostly needed for ceremonial purposes. A Sikh can still satisfy that tenant of his faith by wearing a harmless pendent around his neck. Telling Canadians that male Sikhs need to wear the 3.7 cm iron blade as a religious right is abusing Canadians' ignorance of the Sikh faith and is driven mostly by Sikh extremism and chauvinism, a problem Canada has unwittingly imported from India. And there are numerous cases where Sikhs have removed their metal blades to board planes and enter court houses illustrating that Sikhs will remove the kirpan under certain circumstances. Those who refuse to do so are grand standing and contribute to Canadians' already low opinion of Sikhs (tip: picking fights doesn't win you friends).

Nevertheless, Sikhs are allowed to wear their metal kirpans nationwide and will continue to do so because they are a pampered voting block, pandered to by all of Canada's governing parties who not only depend on them to deliver votes in their direction come election time but also to deliver the free man power needed to run a successful campaign. At 50%, they are pretty much the Indo-Canadian community and constitute the bulk of Indian immigrants to Canada thanks mostly to the family reunification class.

Fundamentalist Muslims, the sect that espouses the wearing of the full body veil, are not as numerous as a Muslim voting block. A small group within the diverse Muslim community they do not carry as much political clout and cannot swing the vote in any of Canada's political ridings. That's why it is safe to consider banning the burqa and niqab.

But that's not all. There exists considerable opposition to the burqa from feminist groups, moderate and secular Muslims, and a large swath of Canadian society who object to the burqa for various reasons. Making up the rest are those who simply don't care enough and whose votes will not be lost if a ban on the burqa came to be. In other words the vast majority of Canadian society wouldn't complain about a ban.

Opposition to the ban comes mostly from Muslim fundamentalist groups and their hypocritical apologists in the media. They object to it on the grounds that a ban would be unconstitutional and limit one's freedoms while at the same time they see nothing wrong with the unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of speech made possible by Canada's Orewillian Human Rights Commissions, assumedly because it protects Islam from criticism. In any event, the fundamentalist Muslim voting block cannot compare to the Sikh voting block even though there is considerable public opposition to the wearing of the metal kirpan in public as well. (An interesting aside. Many conservative bloggers have pointed out that those who support a Sikh male's "right" to wear a concealed metal blade on his person are, more often than not, the same people who support a ban on firearms and a bloated gun registry.)

These two groups have managed to politicize their religious clothing and have used them in such a way that can be perceived as nothing short of cultural aggression against the host society. As I have already mentioned the metal kirpan is not required to be worn at all times since substitutes can suffice. And the same with the turban. The turban is a piece of clothing adopted by the males to organize their long hair grown in adherence to their faith. The uncut hair is what is important to their faith, not the turban. The turban is a cultural adaptation that just works and that's why they use it but anything will do. So, in instances where the turban has come into conflict with Canadian cultural sensibilities or the law the option to find an accommodation has always been present with the Sikh in question. But that has never been the option chosen. Time after time Sikhs have followed the path that causes them to butt heads with the sensitivities of the cultural majority and to force them into accommodation. In perception, they are acts of cultural triumphalism.

Muslims have behaved in a similar fashion whereas in their case the hijab, burqa, and the niqab are the weapons of choice. And like the Sikhs, Muslims are also presented with the option to find an accommodation since the hijab, burqa, and niqab are not religious requirements but in reality are cultural interpretations of a vague Qu'ranic passage. To say that they are religiously mandated is more than a bit of a stretch and the credibility of that claim is inversely proportional to the ignorance of the individual it is being told to.

With that said should it be of any wonder why Sikhs and Muslims rate so low in Canadian opinion polls, almost neck and neck? Instead of being grateful neighbours they have behaved like entitled bratty children always at war with the parents who only enable their belligerence with constant acts of capitulation. This should compel us to ponder the merits of importing groups of people, especially en masse, who have demonstrated an incompatibility with the society they willingly choose to introduce themselves into. Some commentators have mused about banning Muslim immigration altogether. I think this is extreme but too much of something can ruin a good thing and I think this is the case here. Simply put, as proportions of incoming immigrants we are importing too many Sikhs and Muslims.

That last statement applies to all. It is not a good thing if 50% of all incoming immigrants came from one source nation. We are brining in too many immigrants from particular regions of too few source countries (initially Hong Kong but now Guǎngdōng and Fújiàn in China, Punjab in India, and southern Italy before them).

To assume race is the reason for the objection then the British reaction to the influx of Eastern European immigrants would leave one scratching his head. It is no different here. With less than 20% of all immigrants entering Canada classified as skilled we have to wonder who is entering the country as permanent residents and why we allow them here in the first place. And at 2% of the Indian population we have to consider why Sikhs constitute 50% of the Indo-Canadian community.

Such large influxes from single sources impedes integration and assimilation efforts and challenge the Canadian identity, not compliment it, even dilute and confuse it, and a weak national identity founded on multi-national origins hinders national unity. After generations of existence in Canada it was the descendants of Ukrainian immigrants who spear headed the effort to make multiculturalism official social policy. Italian-Canadians are irritatingly more Italian than the Italians even though they may have never visited their ancestral country in their entire lives. The Sikh and Muslim communities behave no differently and are just more examples of the problems that arise when a particular immigrant group is introduced into the country in large doses. Less immigration with stricter selection criteria targeting a larger range of countries instead of mass immigration favouring the few is a step in the right direction.

What is clear is that to Canada's governing parties some immigrant groups are more equal than others. But time and demographics (as well as birth rates) are on Islam's side and one day the fundamentalist Muslim block vote will be as important as an ethnic vote bank as the Sikhs' is today, maybe more so. The burqa and the niqab may be banned today but that will change in the future. Our low birth rate and immigration system will see to that.

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