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Furey

Niqab will become bigger problem in years to come

By Anthony Furey, Postmedia Network

A woman wears a niqab as she walks in Montreal Sept. 9, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

A woman wears a niqab as she walks in Montreal Sept. 9, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

The niqab conversation in Canada isn’t going away anytime soon. Don’t think that whatever happens with Quebec’s Bill 62, whether it lives or dies, is going to neatly solve the issue and put it to bed for good.

How could it, with the number of Muslims in Canada increasing and the extent of their religiosity showing no signs of abating?

The Quebec Liberal government’s bill banning face veils is somewhat rightly seen as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. There aren’t all that many women walking about the streets of Montreal in full niqab and burka coverings. For now.

But according to Statistics Canada, the Muslim population is going to double in 20 years to make up 7.2% of the nation, clocking in at more than 2.5 million people.

Will this demographic become increasingly liberalized and integrated, less likely to cling to intolerant old country ways? Don’t count on it.

“Muslims are one of the most religiously observant groups in Canada, and their religious identity and practices appear to be strengthening rather than weakening as their lives evolve in Canada,” notes a comprehensive report on Muslims in Canada released in April 2016 by Environics Institute.

“And moving to Canada does not appear to be having a secularizing effect: Immigrants are more likely to say their attachment to Islam has grown than waned since arriving in the country,” explains the report, which was supported by Muslim advocacy groups.

When it comes to head coverings, Environics tallied female Muslims and found a mere 3% wear the niqab. But a decade earlier, the numbers showed only 1% wore it. It could very well continue to double.

Likewise for head coverings in general: 42% of Muslim women wore them in 2006. But now that’s pushed into majority territory, with 53% donning either the hijab, chador or niqab.

Quebec society, with its unapologetic approach to cultural preservation, is wise to be having this conversation now, regardless of whether their bill banning face coverings in the public sector beats the inevitable court challenges.

It’s a conversation other provinces should be having too, especially Ontario, which is host to many new refugees and immigrants from the Muslim world.

The conversation can’t just involve naive politically correct gestures about not telling women how to dress. It should include a study of the niqab bans that exist in Muslim countries, the cases of courts upholding similar bans in Europe, and the basic fact that the niqab is just as much an extreme political symbol as it is a religious one.

“Niqab or burka should have no place in a civil society,” Quebec professor Roksana Nazneen, a Muslim woman born in Bangladesh, told Tarek Fatah in his latest Sun column. “It is neither religious nor cultural. It is an anti-West political statement introduced by radical Islamists all over the globe.”

Those jumping on the bandwagon to denounce Bill 62 in simplistic terms would be wise to first educate themselves on the issue.

“Neutrality is not enough. If feds won’t lead Canada, and this racist law passes, ON must support a Charter challenge,” Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown wrote in a knee-jerk social media post that nonsensically implies women such as Nazneen are racist.

Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of various anti-niqab laws. But what we should all agree on, though, is where the evidence points: That the niqab is a troubling garment and a liberal society like Canada needs fewer people donning it in the years to come, not more.

afurey@postmedia.com