Canada Dry

So, is the bigot going to win again on Monday?

As Ed Kilgore recently noted, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has embraced American-style right-wing xenophobia in a desperate, and potentially successful, effort to hold on to his job after the October 19 national elections. Harper’s shameless Muslim-bashing suggests that if he loses Monday, he’ll try to audition for a job as fill-in host for Bill Maher:

[T]here has been a great deal of attention paid to the full-face veil worn by some Muslim women.

Zunera Ishaq is at the center of the controversy. The 29-year-old mother of four lives in Toronto. She was born in Pakistan and has been a permanent resident of Canada since 2008.

Ishaq says she is baffled about all the fuss over her decision not to remove her niqab during a swearing-in ceremony to become a full-fledged Canadian citizen.

“I believe in it. It is a religious duty of mine to cover my face in the public all the times. So, it is very important for me that I am covering my face when I am taking the oath for the citizenship of Canada,” Ishaq told the CBC this week.

Last year, Ishaq challenged the legal requirement that said Muslim women must remove their face veil to take part in the public ceremony for becoming a Canadian citizen. Ishaq says she has no problem removing her veil in a private setting to verify her identity. In fact, she says she has already done so on several occasions.

“I have never refused,” Ishaq said in the CBC interview. “I will go for the identity purpose and I will unveil myself to show my identity for security reasons as well. But there is no point of unveiling myself in front of the public in the ceremony.”

Certain politicians do not agree. And in the run-up to this month’s national election, they have taken dead aim at the niqab.

“Canadians are profoundly attached to their citizenship and its values,” said Chris Alexander, Canada’s Immigration Minister. “They want that citizenship to be protected. They want those joining the Canadian family to follow the rules that have existed for a long time.”

The Canadian defense minister went further.

“I think that it’s completely wrong-headed to associate the niqab with Islam. The niqab represents a medieval tribal custom that reflects a misogynistic view of women. It is not a religious obligation in Islam,” said Jason Kenney.

Kenney and Alexander are members of the Conservative Party, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The party has talked about banning the niqab for all civil servants, just as France has done. Party officials also say they would consider setting up a hotline for the public to report suspected incidents of “barbaric cultural practices.”

Harper’s critics say it’s all just dirty politics, at the expense of Muslims. But Harper counters that his party’s policies reflect public sentiment in Canada. The prime minister said the policies on the niqab are “supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians of all backgrounds. The other parties have created a difficulty for themselves by taking positions that are simply out of step with the values of Canadians.”

There’s a raw cruelty and immorality about Harper’s actions, the same raw cruelty and immorality we saw on display when Ronald Reagan signaled his support for segregation during his 1980 campaign for President. History teaches us about what happens when politicians suggest that certain lives don’t really matter. In the name of holding on to power, Harper is trying to make hatred Canada’s new national pastime.

Just as one often wonders how gay American Republicans force themselves to stick with the party of homophobia, so too does one wonder how right-of-center Canadian Muslims deal with Harper’s hostility towards their faith. The Canadian Broadcasting Company recently interviewed Yasmeen Ibrahim, a Muslim Conservative Party volunteer, about Harper’s sick rhetoric. You can tell she’s an intelligent young woman wrestling with the conflict between her political preferences and her faith. Wouldn’t you love to find out if she’s still a Conservative ten years from now?

UPDATE: More from Ed Kilgore, Zack Beauchamp and Warren Bell.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.