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Ottawa’s ‘Hijab Day’: Is it even necessary?

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Jews do not have a ‘Wear a Kippah Day’ to support Jewish men. Sikhs never demanded a ‘Turban Day’ to support Sikh males. So why have a ‘Hijab Day’?

By Sima Goel 

An organization in Ottawa called the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) is asking Canadian women in the nation’s capital to offer support for the hijab, the head covering worn by many Muslim women. On Feb. 25, the group is holding an event as part of Ottawa Hijab Solidarity Day, and is asking non–Muslim women to wear the hijab at Ottawa’s city hall in a show of solidarity with their Muslim sisters.

As a non-Muslim woman who was forced to wear a hijab, this event brings back terrible memories for me. I was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran, and after the rise of the Islamic government, I was forced to wear a hijab. I was neither a supporter of the new regime nor a Muslim, and I bitterly resented having to hide my hair and comply with the new restrictive policies. But disobeying the rules was not an option for me. All women had to adhere to the same policy, without debate, and disobedience was met with severe consequences, such as arrest and the fear of being assaulted by acid-tossing vigilantes.

Although not all Muslim women wear the hijab, those who do wear it because they believe it is a religious obligation. I have yet to meet a non-Muslim woman who wears the hijab as a form of cultural expression in Canada. However, I have met many devout followers of Islam who say that the hijab is not a required tenet of their faith.

Canada is a diverse, multicultural society, where many religious and cultural groups live together peacefully with mutual respect for each other’s customs. Indeed, when Quebec’s provincial government first proposed its controversial Charter of Values, I spoke out against the clause that limited the right of individuals, in specified circumstances, to wear symbols of their religion. Even so, I cannot abide the idea that non-Muslim Canadian women should demonstrate support for our Muslim sisters by wearing a hijab. The hijab is a reflection of religious beliefs – it is not a fashion statement.

Jews do not have a “Wear a Kippah Day” to support Jewish men. Sikhs never demanded a “Turban Day” to support Sikh males. So why have a “Hijab Day”?

Any Canadian woman can wear the hijab if she sees fit, just as any Sikh male can wear a turban. Canada is a free country, and Canadians have the right to live according to their own dictates, religious beliefs and social customs. Our laws have clearly established this. In this context, I cannot understand why we should gather and demonstrate our solidarity for a garment that is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I have many Muslim friends and I am eager to know their customs but they never asked me to cover myself in solidarity for them.

New immigrants and refugees come to Canada for many reasons. Many find themselves caught between the traditions and culture of their homeland, and liberal Canadian attitudes. There is no question that coming to a new country can be difficult. I know. I have stood on both sides of the immigration line myself.

As Canadians, it is crucial that we remain faithful to the rights that are entrenched within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All forms of religious expressions are equal and none require special treatment. I am grateful that in Canada we have the freedom to express ourselves as we please, in contrast to the countries that make it mandatory for woman to wear religious symbols, regardless of their belief.

My personal history with the hijab makes it impossible for me to accept covering my hair. I will forever identify the hijab with the repressive tradition of the Iranian Islamic government, which used its dominance of religion to control its people. I encourage Muslim women all over the world to promote their culture and identity – and I will gladly eat at their table, sing a song of celebration, and rejoice at their success. Nonetheless, to suggest we endorse their religious beliefs by wearing a hijab is unreasonable in this country, which has so clearly promoted the rights of minority members to lives as they please.

I welcome my hijab-wearing Muslim sisters. But I refuse to wear the hijab as a prerequisite for their solidarity. And for the same reason, I would never dare ask them to remove their hijab in solidarity with non-Muslim Canadian women. In the end, my values are no more important than theirs. And after all, isn’t that the Canadian way?

Sima Goel has been a practising chiropractor in Montreal since 1994. She is the author of Fleeing The Hijab, A Jewish Woman’s Escape From Iran. The article was originally published in The Canadian Jewish News

  • Tahira Tahir

    I am a hijab-wearing Ahmadi Muslim. Our community is one that supports the separation of Church/Mosque and State; as such, I can understand why many Canadians may be weary of this hijab solidarity event. I agree that in Canada, an event such as this is not necessary as the right to wear a hijab is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That being said, I can also understand why CAWI may have decided to hold this event and that is because in recent history, out of all overt religious symbols, the hijab is the one that seems to have come under the greatest scrutiny what with the debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear face veils in citizenship ceremonies. Added to this was the attacks on a few hijab-wearing Muslim women. An event like this one that may raise awareness about the hijab might therefore not be such a bad idea. After all, it is only for those who want to participate–it’s not mandatory for anyone. However, if such an event will only foster feelings of resentment and greater prejudice against hijabi sisters, then I would not recommend it.

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  • Tahira Tahir

    I am a hijab-wearing Ahmadi Muslim. Our community is one that supports the separation of Church/Mosque and State; as such, I can understand why many Canadians may be weary of this hijab solidarity event. I agree that in Canada, an event such as this is not necessary as the right to wear a hijab is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That being said, I can also understand why CAWI may have decided to hold this event and that is because in recent history, out of all overt religious symbols, the hijab is the one that seems to have come under the greatest scrutiny what with the debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear face veils in citizenship ceremonies. Added to this was the attacks on a few hijab-wearing Muslim women. An event like this one that may raise awareness about the hijab might therefore not be such a bad idea. After all, it is only for those who want to participate–it’s not mandatory for anyone. However, if such an event will only foster feelings of resentment and greater prejudice against hijabi sisters, then I would not recommend it.

Next Story

President Donald Trump Lifts Metal Tariffs on Canada, Mexico; Delays Auto Tarrifs

By removing the metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico, Trump cleared a key roadblock to a North American trade pact his team negotiated last year

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President, Trump, Metal, Tarrifs
FILE - A worker is pictured at a steel plant in Monterrey, Mexico, Aug. 27, 2018. VOA

Bogged down in a sprawling trade dispute with U.S. rival China, President Donald Trump took steps Friday to ease tensions with America’s allies: lifting import taxes on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum and delaying auto tariffs that would have hurt Japan and Europe.

By removing the metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico, Trump cleared a key roadblock to a North American trade pact his team negotiated last year. As part of Friday’s arrangement, the Canadians and Mexicans agreed to scrap retaliatory tariffs they had imposed on U.S. goods, according to four sources in the U.S. and Canada who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement.

In a joint statement, the U.S. and Canada said they would work to prevent cheap imports of steel and aluminum from entering North America. China has long been accused of flooding world markets with subsidized metal, driving down world prices and hurting U.S. producers.

Some in Washington were urging Trump to take advantage of the truce with U.S. allies to get even tougher with China.

President, Trump, Metal, Tarrifs
FILE – Newly manufactured Subaru vehicles await export in a port in Yokohama, Japan, May 30, 2017. VOA

“China is our adversary,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “Canada and Mexico are our friends. The president is right to increase pressure on China for their espionage, their theft of intellectual property and their hostility toward the rule of law. The president is also right to be deescalating tension with our North American allies.”

Earlier Friday, the White House said Trump was delaying for six months any decision to slap tariffs on foreign cars, a move that would have hit Japan and Europe especially hard.

Trump still is hoping to use the threat of auto tariffs to pressure Japan and the European Union into making concessions in trade talks. “If agreements are not reached within 180 days, the president will determine whether and what further action needs to be taken,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

Trade weapon

In imposing the metals tariffs and threatening the ones on autos, the president was relying on a rarely used weapon in the U.S. trade war arsenal — Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 — which lets the president impose tariffs on imports if the Commerce Department deems them a threat to national security.

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But the steel and aluminum tariffs were also designed to coerce Canada and Mexico into agreeing to a rewrite of North American free trade pact. In fact, the Canadians and Mexicans did go along last year with a revamped regional trade deal that was to Trump’s liking. But the administration had refused to lift the taxes on their metals to the United States until Friday.

The new trade deal — the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — needs approval of the legislatures in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Several key U.S. lawmakers were threatening to reject the pact unless the tariffs were removed. And Canada had suggested it wouldn’t ratify any deal while the tariffs were still in place.

Trump had faced a Saturday deadline to decide what to do about the auto tariffs.

Taxing auto tariffs would mark a major escalation in Trump’s aggressive trade policies and likely would meet resistance in Congress. The United States last year imported $192 billion worth of passenger vehicles and $159 billion in auto parts.

Legitimate use?

“I have serious questions about the legitimacy of using national security as a basis to impose tariffs on cars and car parts,” Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Friday. He’s working on legislation to scale back the president’s authority to impose national security tariffs under Section 232.

President, Trump, Metal, Tarrifs
FILE – Robots swing a cab and bed into place for a new heavy duty pickup truck on the assembly line where Chevrolet Silverado trucks are being built at General Motors Flint Assembly in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 30, 2019. VOA

In a statement, the White House said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has determined that imported vehicles and parts are a threat to national security. Trump deferred action on tariffs for 180 days to give negotiators time to work out deals but threatened them if talks break down.

In justifying tariffs for national security reasons, Commerce found that the U.S. industrial base depends on technology developed by American-owned auto companies to maintain U.S. military superiority. Because of rising imports of autos and parts over the past 30 years, the market share of U.S.-owned automakers has fallen. That has caused a lag in research and development spending that is “weakening innovation and, accordingly, threatening to impair our national security,” the statement said.

The market share of vehicles produced and sold in the U.S. by American-owned automakers, the statement said, has declined from 67% in 1985 to 22% in 2017.

But the statistics don’t match market share figures from the industry. A message was left Friday seeking an explanation of how Commerce calculated the 22%.

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In 2017, General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Tesla combined had a 44.5% share of U.S. auto sales, according to Autodata Corp. Those figures include vehicles produced in other countries.

It’s possible that the Commerce Department didn’t include Fiat Chrysler, which is now legally headquartered in the Netherlands but has a huge research and development operation near Detroit. It had 12% of U.S. auto sales in 2017.

The Commerce figures also do not account for research by foreign automakers. Toyota, Hyundai-Kia, Subaru, Honda and others have significant research centers in the U.S. (VOA)