This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

 Interpreting Custom

There is a kind of dreadful irony in the fact that a woman insists she must wear a niqab in deference to her religious traditions, even when appearing in a court of justice accusing two members of her extended family of having sexually abused her and violating her childhood innocence and trust.  The niqab, and indeed all bodily coverings worn by pious Muslim women has a distinct purpose; to keep the eyes of strangers away. 

To ensure that womanly virtue is maintained. 

To ensure that lustful men cannot appraise her feminine attributes, and in this way ensure the woman's anonymity and public safety.  But, in fact, it was her uncle and her cousin, those forsworn by custom and tradition to observe the best interests of the females in a family, who abused her when she was a child.  Bad enough when young women are sexually exploited by family members; intolerable and cruel when girls are violated.

The niqab has not worked for a Canadian Muslim woman who is only identified by the initials "N.S.".  She has anonymity.  She could, if she opted, ask to be permitted to testify at trial behind a screen to further protect her identity from public scrutiny.  She has chosen instead to plead that her religious/cultural tradition of revealing eyes only, and veiling all other parts of her recognizable visage, along with her body be permitted in a court of law.

It defies reason that a woman who has allowed a tradition born of patriarchal misogyny to convince her that a hijab and a niqab  are required for the sake of female decency, cannot identify the hypocrisy involved.  A hypocrisy that keeps her enslaved to a tradition that results in her personal identity, her gender femininity to be hidden as though they were shameful and not natural attributes endowed her by her maker.

Through submission to this tradition, imposed upon women by a backward culture that relies upon quoting religious devotion to impress upon women the need to surrender their individuality to obscurity to deflect notice of herself as a woman, she also denies her native intelligence.  Intervenors have explained time and again that nowhere in the Koran is there a demand for women to wear burqas or any other coverings; the requirement is to be modest in demeanor and appearance.

Lower courts have denied the request of N.S. to permit her to testify while wearing her niqab.  The Supreme Court of Canada to whom the matter was finally deferred, brought down their divided ruling today.  Another one of those Solomonic decisions.  The majority opinion defended Muslim women wishing to wear a niqab in court, as a religiously sensitive issue. 

On the other hand, and tellingly, they also left it to the discretion of any lower court to rule individually on the issue - in a culturally sensitive case-by-case manner.

On the one hand, the ruling may encourage women to come forward who might otherwise be loathe to lodge an official complaint of wrong-doing under the law for fear of having to testify without a face-covering.  On the other hand, the issue of the right of a defendant to be able to face his/her accuser can be compromised in acceding to the request of the accuser in this regard.

This kind of complex issue can never be solved to everyone's satisfaction.  But that old saying of 'when in Rome' is as meaningful in this context as it is in most others when societal values are opposed by traditional conventions and meet in a court of law.  The prevailing social/legal covenant should be the accepted one.

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