Hijab hampers employment

This one's not about Québec. Nor is it about Canada. Actually, it's not even news.

Radio-Canada radio broadcast a series of three reports [in French only] on the hopes, the successes and the broken dreams of immigrants from Morocco. The reporter interviewed a young Moroccan lady who had just obtained her visa to move to Québec. He asked her if she was aware of the additional hurdle that wearing the Islamic headscarf might represent when looking for a job in her new home country. "I'd rather not think about it." She replied. "It's actually harder in Morocco as well."

I was befuddled by the candor of her reply; it sounded almost trivial. I suddenly wondered about the appropriateness of our country's famed tolerance. I know many Canadians will move heaven and earth to provide a Muslim woman with a lady doctor, but I can't help wonder... do women in Muslim countries actually have such abundant access to lady doctors? If not, they obviously cope with it.

A young Egyptian woman has been making headlines for the past two weeks. Her getting expelled for wearing the niqab has revived the whole reasonable accommodation debate in Québec, and even Canada. The tone used to cover the story and reactions have generally been supportive of the government's decision. Although these are empirical observations, the population seems remarkably in tune "a mari usque ad mare" on the matter. Some commentators from other provinces even seem to be looking up to Québec for leadership to keep the niqab out of education.

In Egypt, the government has already taken action on the issue and announced last October that the niqab would be prohibited in many educational institutions. A report states that "the move represents a clear choosing of sides in a religious tug-of-war [...]. Whereas conservatives believe that Egyptian society has yielded for too long to western secularism, many Egyptians, including the government, see the recent rise of religious conservatism as a foreign import."

I'm not a big supporter of the conspiracy theory, but I can't help thinking that our country's no bound tolerance is greeting fundamentalists who have a hard time being accepted in their own country of origin. Is the great Canadian tolerance being exploited by extremists? What kind of citizens is the Canadian mosaic fostering? What's the proper balance?

There's a void that needs to be filled. Governments have steered clear of the issue making room for groups of interest with their own agenda. It seems fairly clear that the general opinion recognizes the need for guidelines.

In 2008, the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences submitted its final report. Its main conclusion recommended the drafting of a white paper on secularism that would clarify and formalize the implicit secularism model patiently edified in Québec. The time is ripe.

In the meantime, the young Egyptian woman who was expelled from her French class made a formal complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne. It's a euphemism to state that the adjudicator in charge of the case has an important decision to make. Let's hope the verdict, whatever it is, doesn't backlash on all minorities.


adski said...

It hinders employment, no doubt. Any employer would be put off by an applicant wearing a veil, in Quebec and elsewhere, and it would be within the employer’s rights to refuse the applicant without divulging the reasons.

The issue with the woman expelled from school for wearing hijab, to me, has two facets. One has to do with my personal attitude to this Muslim tradition itself, the tradition which I deplore. I see subjugated women every day on the streets in Montreal, some of them follow their husbands at a fixed distance like baby geese follow mother goose. The guy slows down, so do they, the guy speeds up, they do too, at all times staying behind him. An awful repression of the mind.

The other aspect is what we, as a society, do about it. How far should our tolerance go, and where should we put our foot down. I think that we should draw the line where the identification becomes necessary, like driver’s license photos, police mug shots, voter registration. Here, there is no discussion. Either show your face, or forget the license or voting.

Beyond that, we can’t do much. Do we pressure these people to drop the veils, do we pass laws that regulate these things? Where will it stop once the ball starts rolling? Next thing I know, I might be required to remove the little cross I wear around my neck because it violates Quebec’s principle of absolute secularism.

Expelling a student because the teacher can’t see the arrangement of her lips? It’s one example of where it's gone too far. I refuse to believe that it was an objective decision either. The teacher’s own prejudices must have played a role too.

As much as we don’t like some traditions of the “nouveaux arrivants”, we must learn to accept them. We can’t reasonably expect that once we let these people in, they will become the clones of us. They have their own traditions to which they will cling. A woman brainwashed by Islam during her formative years is not going to change, no matter what we say.

So, we either stem the immigration and increase our birth rates, or we look for immigrants outside of the Francophonie (how about Eastern Europeans? They look like the Quebecois, they’re fairly westernized, they’re of Christian background, they’re well educated, but alas, they are Anglophilic), or we carry on as we were, and face the Muslim “problem”.

Given the 3 foundations of Quebecois society (secularism, “Frenchness”, equality of men and women), it is evident that it is impossible to get a "perfect" immigrant that would fit all the desired criteria, unless you import all the immigrants directly from France. Otherwise, something’s gotta give.

Michel Bolduc said...

The way you summarize the integration challenge into a religious-linguistic dynamic is rather simplistic. Everybody doesn't fit into neat little boxes.

Most Muslims I know have fled religious fundamentalism and are in tune with the population's opinion on the subject. They are well integrated and, above all, certainly don't need isolated incidents to taint their rapport with the majority.

adski said...

The way I summarize the integration challenge? What has been happening over the past week or so? The hijab debacle, that is.

Didn't we have the reasonable accommodation debate recently? Didn't we talk about the Arab city, the Italian city, the Greek city, the Armenian city just a year ago? Didn't we complain about English being used as the common language between the immigrants instead of French? That they are not interested in the culture of this province? That they wouldn't recognize a famous Quebecois movie star or a singer if their lives depended on it? Aren't we talking about extending bill 101 to CEGEPs because 50% of allophone students choose to pursue college education in a language that is not this province's official language, and a lot of others join them at university?

The integration challenge exists in this society, as it would in any society which decided to sustain itself with large-scale immigration. And it’s really not surprising. You bring 50000 people a year from regions that are culturally different, you will face problems.

It's not only me talking here, it’s the Francophone press.

Problem solved.

Michel Bolduc said...

I wasn't hinting that integration doesn't come with its own set of challenges, obviously. But the press (of any language) has a tendency to exacerbate sensitivities and we mustn't forget about the immigrants who integrate successfully.

Above all, my point was that the way you were reducing the integration challenge into a religious-linguistic dynamic was rather simplistic. I insist.

adski said...

Sorry, a sentence got cut out before "Problem solved". I wrote that maybe Quebec should promote itself more in France, Belgium and Switzerland in a hope of attracting immigrants from there. But of course these people are less likely to be willing to come over, given the comparable wealth of these countries and Quebec.

Shiva-ji said...
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