Thursday, October 19, 2006

Freedom of religion: veil threats

A story in today's Independent about the veil debate in Britain got my hackles up - what about piercings? They make people uncomfortable! - with the first few paragraphs - as was the point, I'm sure. However, as I read further, I realized that Blair's comments were closer to that fine line than the story initially implied. And, setting aside whether he should be commenting on a case before the courts - ah, no! - he's right to watch his words: integration and multiculturalism, and their fallout, have long been divisive subjects, despite the everything-is-new flavour they have in the wake of September 11, 2001.

And Canada is no different, as the arrests of eighteen men in Toronto over the summer have shown. We're still trying to get the right balance: even Bernard Ostry, the pen behind our country's multiculturalism initiative of the 70s, has questioned whether these policies can work. As opposed to getting sidetracked by how much of our population will be made up of visible minorities in the future, however, I prefer John Ralston Saul's focus on citizenship being tied to responsibilities and obligations - engaging the immigrant, in other words, to express themselves and contribute, and celebrate the freedoms laid out in our Charter.

Which leads to Blair's comments, and the freedom of religion (deemed fundamental in our Charter, incidentally). Veils, kippahs, turbans, etc. have been in the news for years. Britons have worried about integration long before the attacks in London on July 7, 2005. The article goes on to describe how many European countries have attempted to address this problem; while it presents the U.S. as enlightened in this area, I think at least part of the reasoning behind the argument is flawed:
"We want to show our minorities that they are protected by their own people," Sheriff Bacca emphasized.

This emphasizing our differences is counterproductive, as I see it; distracting from the root causes of all sorts of problems, when people of that combative cant decide to boil it down to the 'real' issue of ethnicity, religion, etc.

I don't like reading about early experiences in my country like Baltej Singh Dhillon's, but I do feel that Canada is getting it right, with his case, and with acknowledging our immigration mistakes of the past, as two examples.

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