Originally published in Humber Et Cetera
The barbarians are coming, says an increasingly desperate-sounding Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper began his marathon election campaign down in the polls, so he hired Lynton Crosbie, an Australian right-wing political strategist who helped orchestrate victories for Harper’s pals John Howard in Australia and David Cameron in the U.K.
The BBC has described Crosbie as a “master of the political dark arts,” the reasons for which will hopefully be clear by this column’s conclusion.
First, the prime minister resurrects his government’s legal feud with Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim woman from Mississauga who does not want to take off her niqab in front of the court where she’s receiving Canadian citizenship.
Ishaq has no problem unveiling herself privately for identification purposes, but this is not enough for the Harper Cons.
“That’s not the way we do things here in Canada,” said Harper with characteristic smugness.
Shockingly, a vast majority of Canadians agree with the forced unveiling of women in public, something more common to the Shah’s Iran than Canada’s purported cultural mosaic.
According to a government-commissioned poll, 82 per cent of Canadians support forcing devout Muslim women to unveil for their citizenship ceremony. This percentage increases to 93 per cent in Quebec, where most of the NDP’s seats are based after 2011’s Orange Wave under the late Jack Layton.
The NDP is staunchly opposed to any niqab ban and their poll numbers in Quebec have plummeted since Harper made it an election issue.
One wonders whether the poll’s respondents were informed that a niqabi can privately unveil themselves to a female court official if they choose not to do so in public. The omission of this fact could skew the poll’s results.
The courts have twice ruled in Ishaq’s favour, but to the Harper Cons that just means the courts are doubly wrong.
“I don’t much like the niqab and I wish that people wouldn’t wear it. But what I like even less is telling people what to do,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, himself a Muslim.
How is forcing a woman to take off her niqab any better than forcing her to wear it?
Good question, Mayor Nenshi.
The source of Harper’s animosity towards the niqab appears to stem from his crusade against ill-defined “barbaric cultural practices.”
This began when the government announced its plan to make forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honour killings illegal. As you can imagine, these are already criminal acts in Canada.
Yet the Tories took their fear mongering a step further, pledging a hotline for Canadians to snitch on those nebulous barbarians.
The RCMP already has a hotline to report suspected extremism, but it’s not particularly useful. The National Post, a paper generally sympathetic to the Harper Cons’ worldview, reports that 92 per cent of tips were completely bogus.
Although none of the aforementioned barbaric acts is exclusive to Muslim communities, it’s clear who Harper is targeting with this pledge.
Remember, Harper says, we need to be worried about what’s going on in mosques specifically.
This explains the prime minister’s previous outright refusal, as revealed by the Globe and Mail Thursday, to allow Sunni Muslim refugees from Syria settling in Canada, hiding behind the rhetoric of helping Syrian minorities.
This is all coming from a government that’s in the process of selling $15 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a medieval theocracy guilty of “barbaric cultural practices” if there is such a thing.
Former Ontario premier Bob Rae came out swinging against Harper’s divisive rhetoric.
“Somebody says it’s a dog whistle – it’s not a dog-whistle, it’s a foghorn,” Rae told the CBC Monday.
The foghorn is only getting louder as the Oct. 19 election approaches.