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Elliot Leven

Ezra Levant



By Elliot Leven, October 19, 2010

[ Editor’s note:  Ellliot Leven is responding to an article we recently ran article by Ezra Levant titled “Will Your Daughter’s Play with Barbie Burka. To read Levant’s article, click here. ]

It is always fun to read Ezra Levant’s comments about current events.  Most recently, I enjoyed his October 5 commentary about burkas and Canadian laws.  I actually agreed with him about a few small points. 

A burka is a garment worn by small numbers of Muslim women.  It covers the entire body and covers the face with a mesh screen.  It is most common in places like rural Afghanistan.  Very few Canadian Muslims wear one.  Muslims explain that it is not a religious requirement; it is mostly a cultural artifact.

Mr. Levant comments that “54% of Canadians want to ban the burka”. He is one of them. He argues that bank customers, witnesses in court, judges, police officers, drivers who want drivers’ licences, voters at the polls, and airplane passengers should not be allowed to cover their faces, with burkas or otherwise.

He also points out that some women who wear burkas are forced to do so by their husbands.  Some may even face the threat of violence if they refuse.

Firstly, burkas are hardly the largest problem facing Canada today.  Few Canadian Muslims wear them.  As Muslim newcomers spend more time in Canada, it is possible that the numbers of women wearing burkas will decrease to zero.

Secondly, Levant doesn’t explain what he means by a “ban”.  I assume he means some form of new law(s) with some form of penalty involved for wearing a burka.  He doesn’t say whether he is thinking about the Criminal Code or some other law.

I don’t support burkas any more than Mr. Levant does.  I think that any cultural custom that forces women, but not men, to cover their faces in public, is sexist and deserves to be criticized.  In other words, if I were a Muslim woman, I most certainly would not wear a burka.

However, I also believe that passing new laws is not the answer to every social problem.  For example, fast food contains far too much fat and salt and should only be eaten in moderation, if at all.  But I would never advocate a “ban” on fast food. I agree that school cafeterias should serve healthy food.  I also agree that educational tools, including government websites, should support healthy eating.  I support creative messages about healthy eating aimed at children and youth.  Education is the way to go.

Contrast the way our society tried to attack alcohol abuse during the 1920s and the way we have attacked tobacco use in more recent decades.  Alcohol prohibition laws proved to be a monumental failure, and eventually had to be repealed.  Our society learned from that disaster.  When it became clear that smoking was unhealthy, instead of trying to ban tobacco, we used more intelligent measures, like limiting advertising, imposing hefty tobacco taxes, and using creative educational campaigns.  These measures have been successful.. Though smoking has not gone away, it has decreased. 

All of which is relevant to the burka question.  As a society, we should focus on education.  There probably are a small number of Muslim women forced to wear burkas by their oppressive husbands.  As a society, we can use creative ways to educate these women about their legal rights (including no-fault divorce) in Canada.   A burka “ban” should not be our first choice.

I agree with Mr. Levant that full face-coverings pose special problems in a few specific contexts.  I agree that drivers’ licence photos are useless if they don’t show a driver’s face.  Driving is a privilege, not a right.  If a person wants a drivers’ licence, I have no problem telling them that their face must be visible in the licence photo.  Perhaps the option of having a female photographer take the photo in a private room should be offered.

I agree that voting also poses a potential problem, because photo identification is now often required at the polls.  Again, the option of revealing one’s face to a female poll clerk in a private setting could probably solve the problem.  After all, so few Canadian women wear burkas that very little accommodation would be required.

Similar accommodations can be considered in other specific contexts.  A pinch of creativity is all that is needed.

Mr. Levant loves to see the world in black and white, with no shades of grey.  In his world, either we must “ban” burkas or we must allow our banks and airplanes to be overrun by hoards of criminals with covered faces.  In reality, there is a huge area of middle ground.  A burka “ban” is not needed.


Time to Face Facts on Burkas

By Ezra levant, October 5, 2010

Here's my latest column in the Sun:

Some 54% of Canadians want to ban the burka, the head-to-toe shroud worn by a tiny minority of Muslim women in the West, but the common dress in medieval backwaters like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

According to a Leger Marketing poll commissioned by QMI Agency, support for a ban is highest in Quebec at 73%.

Burkas are rare in Canada. They totally obliterate the identity of the woman inside. The face is covered with a mesh grille, like a beekeeper’s hat.

But less rare is the niqab, which leaves a slit open for the eyes.

More common still is the hijab, which covers the head and neck like a scarf.

Get to know those words, as you’ll be seeing more of them in the years ahead.

Others are planning to teach your daughters about them. Last fall, Mattel sponsored an exhibition featuring Barbie in a burka.

Canada’s misguided experiment with multiculturalism pretends that all cultural ideas are equal, and Canadian values, such as the equality of men and women, are no better than foreign values like the subjugation of women.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted in 1982 when our Muslim population was tiny, is contradictory.

Section 27 of the Charter calls for “the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”

But Section 28 says that rights “are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”

Well, which is it? “Enhancing” Saudi values? Or guaranteeing women’s equality?

Because you can’t have both.

Margaret Atwood published her sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, about America being taken over by a Christian theocracy that treats women as sexual property, 25 years ago.

It has become trite to watch cultural liberals like Atwood bravely attack imaginary discrimination, while staying silent on real discrimination.

The Handmaid’s Tale won Atwood the Governor General’s Award for fiction. A book about the subjugation of women in radical Islam would win Atwood a death threat.

Atwood loves posing as a feminist at champagne receptions in her honour. But she’ll leave the heavy lifting to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

She’s the Somali refugee who wrote and narrated a movie called Submission, about the place of women in radical Islam.

The film’s producer, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered for it, but a note pinned with a knife into his body referred primarily to Hirsi Ali, who has had to live under around-the-clock security ever since.

That’s all a bit too real for Atwood, and is the reason why other feminists like the once-noisy Judy Rebick are so meek and gentle with the real butchers of women’s rights.

So, should the burka be banned?

It’s anathema for a free country like Canada to tell citizens how to dress.

The same liberty that allows the rest of us to dress as we like is the liberty that allows a woman to hide her face.

But what about in a bank?

Should masked women, Muslim or not, be allowed into a bank? If that’s okay, how about a man in a ski mask?

How about testifying in court?

Who else can hide their eyes and facial expressions while condemning an accused or swearing to their own innocence?

And why stop at witnesses — what about judges or police officers in a burka?

What about ID cards like a driver’s licence?

What point is an ID card if it doesn’t actually ID you?

Can you vote with a mask on? Board a plane?

If a burka is okay, how about a Ku Klux Klan mask?

But more than all that, is wearing a burka truly an act of individual liberty?

For some it is. But for others, it is a manifestation of tyranny — a brutal husband demanding submission; a radical imam threatening frightened immigrant women.

We know from the case of Aqsa Parvez — killed by her father and brother for dressing in western fashion rather than in traditional Islamic clothing — that defying these orders can lead to murder.

In Afghanistan, uncovered women have acid thrown in their faces.

Only 54% of us want a ban?

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