Ever since Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the niqab a symbol of an anti-women culture back in the middle of March, the mainstream media has been in a febrile hysteria. Never mind the modest concession asked for — simply removing the blatantly patriarchal garb during the citizenship ceremony — the mainstream media cried wolf.
The Toronto Star predictably and unquestioningly championed the niqabi woman (herself not yet a citizen and with an ideology vastly different from most Canadians) who took the government to court and has thus far won the right to don the face-covering while swearing allegiance to the Queen. Of course the paper decried that Harper was up to his wily ways of fear-mongering and politicking, and its unCanadian to expect and assert that new arrivals unmask — no matter the incompatibilities the niqab imposes on our culture’s traditional custom of interacting openly face-to-face — we should all just grin and bear it on our visible faces, and trust the guest of honour at the ceremony peering back at us is returning a genuine smile (don’t you dare imagine a smirk).
The Star (the most popular paper in Canada) and The Globe and Mail (the paper that considers itself Canada’s publication of official record) both had left-leaning, off-kilter responses to Harper’s comments. They invoked the vapid argument of defending and protecting our mosaic multicultural tradition of inclusiveness, a position that, when too steadfastly held, descends into over-accommodation, cultural relativism, and — ultimately — conviction-less nihilism.
Both papers were in all likelihood shocked when they begrudgingly published the contradicting findings of a poll suggesting a strong majority of Canadians (67%) actually agree with the ban. Their image of a dastardly Harper, a James Bondesque evil genius, held true in so far as he weighed the mainstream media’s response against that of everyday Canadians before ringing the bell. The opposition leaders and media watchdogs unwittingly slobbered and obeyed Pavlov’s command.
But joking aside, the mainstream media then saw that they had an earnest duty to enlighten us benighted fools. The Star, The Globe, and CBC all cherry-picked niqabis to tell their side of the story. No ex-Islamic, secularist, or liberal Muslims were invited to the table.
The most flagrant example in the past few weeks of this pro-niqab propagandizing was the public broadcaster’s The Current‘s segment entitled “2 niqabs and a hijab: 3 Muslim women talk about the face covering.” In this puff piece the veteran journalist (talk show host?) Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed three pro-niqab women who chose to wear it of their own volition in adulthood. Tremonti started off by saying that her show wanted to give voice to an underrepresented voice within the current debate over the niqab. She then continued the softball interview by asking what their experiences were when they first decided — by their claims, completely independently — to wear the niqab. Shomylah Hammad responded, “Nobody had any issue with it.”
Tremonti instantly replied with a leading question, “What about your husband?”
“Oh my God, he was the only one that … had issues with [me]. He didn’t let me wear the niqab. We had arguments for days and days and I had to convince him … eventually he said okay, it’s your choice.”
(See benighted fools, the niqab is empowering for women. Women wear it in defiance to their husbands’ demands.)
Tremonti, ever the cheerleader, then said, “That’s really interesting because I think a lot of people make the assumption that women who wear the niqab are wearing it [because] their husbands want them to or order them to.” She later opined, “It’s interesting how many myths you can shatter if somebody asks. If we ask and you tell. And you both made the point that you are wearing this by choice.”
Who’s the one politicizing the niqab now? It’s truly amazing how Tremonti claims to believe that these carefully selected guests on her show represent the Muslim community at large, and that their three views dispel the notion that the niqab is a patriarchal symbol that’s anti-women. After listening to The Current‘s attempt at brainwashing the majority of Canadian public from its apprehensions towards the niqab, I was spurred from grinding my teeth to grinding a proverbial hatchet in chopping down these gross distortions of the truth.
I attempted to contact the staff at The Current shortly after the propagandist piece aired. Without a response to my emails, I tweeted the two producers behind the segment. Pacinthe Mattar tweeted back, ” The idea was to get women who have direct experience with niqab to speak for themselves, including woman who took hers off.”
The major problem with that statement is that the woman who took hers off only did so out of physical discomfort. Nobody was their to represent Muslim’s who face harassment, ostracism, and even death for turning away from Islam.
The other producer, Samira Mohyeddin, tweeted, ” The story was about the PM’s comment and Muslim women. Not ex-Muslim women.”
The problem with this response is Canadian niqabis Muslim women are only a small portion of Canadian Muslim women as a whole. Even tweets from non-Muslim white Canadians were included at the opening of the segment. Also, why leave ex-Islamic women out of the debate? If anyone is underrepresented in this debate, isn’t it them?
In one of my emails to The Current I suggested they speak to Eiynah, a Pakistani-Canadian woman who believes in separation of mosque and state and wrote a scathing piece entitled “An Open Letter to Niqab-Supporting Western Media.” In her article she lambasted the sheeple who trivialized the niqab debate by participating in the narcissistic slacktivism that was #dresscodePM and #doyouapprove. These two hashtag campaigns had halfwit leftists — likely to have also participated in the fads of KONY 2012, #JeSuisCharlie, and the Ice Bucket Challenge — tweeting pictures of themselves in ordinary clothing asking PM Harper if their attires were acceptable, as if a scarf compared to a full-face-covering niqab and all the patriarchal and religious baggage that accompany it.
Shortly after I sent the email and others had tweeted Eiynah’s viral blog to The Current, the show’s staff contacted Eiynah. “We spoke over the phone as they were probably wanting to see where I was coming from and learn about my views … But shortly after our conversation … I heard back and they said they weren’t pursuing an interview with me as (coincidentally) that topic had now been bumped for something else.”
I guess The Current is booked solid with segments such as “The Design Behind the Office Cubicle”, “Limited Edition Brands”, and “Peace in the House: A not-so-religious Jew and her Orthodox siblings.” (The irony of that last segment still kills me.) But CBC still has plenty of time for pro-niqab stories.
Tarek Fatah, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, believes CBC has a no-fly policy towards anti-Islamic Muslims. Eiynah’s experience and the recent coverage by the CBC suggests this is indeed the case.
Adrian Harewood, a CBC news anchor, denies CBC is prettifying the niqab with petty objections. He claims many anti-niqab voices are aired on CBC’s Radio Canada — too bad for us anglophones it’s all in French.
“I found it to be sad that they were discussing having a choice of colour in niqabs as if it was some great freedom. And it was apparent that the host was not going to ask any difficult questions. She was well intentioned and polite. But I did not feel she did a good job speaking about some of the underlying issues. It could obviously be a lack of familiarity with the subject. This is why they need to speak to someone from within the community, but on the other side,” explained Eiynah.
“Islam is a sensitive subject. And everyone seems to be walking on eggshells around it.”
Notes: 1) If you think The Current and CBC are whitewashing the niqab then please send them this article via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter (@TheCurrentCBC) and tell them you’d like to hear a segment entitled “2 Liberal Muslims and an Apostate.” Eiynah and others like her deserve better from our public broadcaster.
2) Tarek Fatah’s belief in a no-fly list for ex-Islamic guests at CBC is quite possible. CBC has a hiring policy that is overly accomodating to minorities. A recent job posting told white males they need not apply. Another policy bans the use of the word terrorism by its journalists. Here, listen to CBC’s craven ombudsman shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.