Metroblog

A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

09 September 2007

Getting Beyond the Veil, and the Hysteria

Well first off there's the fact that I finally found something on which I am in agreement with our Prime Minister.

That worthy has stated that the Elections Canada decision on allowing veiled women to vote without proving their identity violates the law passed by Parliament last year. And I deeply regret being forced to concur. Curse you, EC, for placing me in such a position!

At issue is the question of whether veiled women must un-veil to prove their identity at the polling station. My response is generally "Well DUH." In order to vote I must typically prove my identity. I can do this using a driver's license and usually a secondary piece of ID. But the picture should match the face. And there lies the rub.

Leaders in the Islamic community say that it should be fine for a woman to unveil to a female elections officer. But that's not the point, really.

I see the real issue here as two-sided. On one side, we promise people freedom of religion, thus implicity saying that we will make reasonable accomodation for people's quirks of faith.

If we were to state firmly that a woman must unveil or lose her right to vote, we would have to betray that freedom to worship in the manner she sees fit. Not to mention the undermining of the fundamental right that defines a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Yet, assuming for one moment we could hire a female officer to verify the identities of every veiled person showing up, wouldn't that be caving in to the demands of fundamentalists? And particularly a thin sliver of a sect which follows traditions which are often at variance with those of democracies--including the right of women to vote, drive, or form governments?

Unlike the crop of morons on the Globe and Mail's discussion board I'm not such a fool as to envision hordes of conveniently-veiled men women and children swarming polling places to elect Osama Bin Laden prime minister (Though many of Harper's supporters might find his thinking refreshingly familiar and homey).

But it occurs to me: how many women would we actually be excluding if we said "No. Unveil or don't bother"?

Assuming that the man of the house lets them vote (forgive me if I misunderstand that that is in fact his decision), and assuming he is powerless to direct that vote, how many women will actually make their way to their polling place and strike their franchise chisel into the malleable marble that is Canadian society?

It would be a first. We don't even exclude criminals in jail from voting--and I'll bet that most of them do--it kills a couple of hours. Whereas only 40 percent of the population in total actually votes.

In which case, what is society giving up by allowing or not allowing veiled women the vote, and which is the greater risk to our democratic tradition?

I think we should say "No."

I dislike my stance on this. But at heart it is the only democratic position. Free and equal, with our faces revealed to whatever god we believe in, and to one another.

5 Comments:

At 8:25 AM, Blogger Wandering Coyote said...

Well, I have to agree with you on this one, but only partially. I don't see the problem with making sure there's a female at the polling station for a Muslim woman to reveal her face to to confirm identity. I don't think that's caving into fundamentalism, I think that's quite reasonable. But if the woman still refuses, then tough luck.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Metro said...

I disagree. Elections officers come in all shapes and sizes, and in both genders.

Shall we turn away veiled women when the polling station cannot find a female officer? Or shall we advance preference to women in order to meet this unneccesary neccesity?

No, I feel strongly that this is one time where minority religious tradition (and all it is is a particularly sere interpretation of the Koran) must give way to secular democratic tradition.

In fact, in this country it is the law.

Were I to visit Saudi Arabia, or several other states which embrace their own peculiar interpretation of Islamic law, I would be expected to conform to "religious" repression (which is actually a disguise for political repression), courtesy of the Religious Police and the House of Saud.

It seems like a very small thing in comparison to simply ask a woman to identify herself properly before exercising partially-sovereign franchise.

Though perhaps if a woman who wanted to wear the veil was willing to submit to a retinal scan? I suppose I'd accept that.

 
At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Show up at polling station in a balaclava and explain that your religion (FSMism) requires you to wear a mask when participating in public protests such as an election.
Tell them that your identity can only be verified by a member of your own sect and when they refuse sue for billions.
Could be a fun experiment, no?

IH

 
At 10:56 PM, Blogger Metro said...

Meh ...

I beleive Elections Canada worked hard to come to that interpretation of the law. I suspect the Conservatives left the legislation vague so that it would pass without howls, and now Harper can claim that EC is undermining poor little him.

I believe the law does in fact allow for voting under a veil--I'm reasonably sure lawyers were consulted on the matter.

In fact, if all that is required is a voter registration card for anyone else, as I have heard, then I fail to see why we should force women to unveil.

However, if we demand proof of identity, then it must be provided, and I feel that special accomodation should not b extended.

However, what I have yet to hear is how many women (or men) we're talking about.

I'd suspect the number was in the tens, and concentrated in a very few neighborhoods. Perhaps if a vetted volunteer from the local mosque were to attend in each district where this might be an issue?

Of course the volunteer would have to identify herself on arrival at the polling station ...

 
At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I re-read your post a couple of times and I still don't understand the point you make about how asking a Muslim woman to confirm her identity to a female elections officer is caving into fundamentalism. To me, it just makes sense.
And as far as I know, all the election stations I've been have women election officers. So, there really isn't any special concessions that have to be made.
It is pretty much a stereotype whether or not a "veiled" Muslim woman requires her husband's approval to vote. Because she doesn't.
IMHO, I think it is a healthy sign that Muslims even bother to vote. In my mind, that shows an interest in participating in the Canadian democratic system, and really, that shouldn't be discouraged. Already many immigrant families don't vote because either they're not interested (whether or not you can make the connection between this and their interest in contributing to society is unclear and requires research), or they are uneducated in their rights or in the Canadian system.
That said I agree with Elections Canada to allow Muslim women who wear a niqab (veiled just sounds so... Orientalized), but they should be prepared to show their faces to verify their identity.
This whole issue started in Quebec, where one of the largest Canadian Muslim population resides. Does it really matter how many people it affects? What about burn victims, people who have had facial transplants? Perhaps the core issue is ... what is the most accurate way to verify a person's identity in this day and age that will not only maintain the security of our election process but also accommodate our multi-cultural differences?

Norlinda

 

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