My radio interview with the Tommy Schnurmacher show can be found here.
Hello Jonathan Kay,
My name is Zainab bint Younus, and I'm a Canadian Muslim woman who happens to wear the niqaab.
I was only just made aware of your piece:
The space between hijab and niqab is where our anxieties lie
I am extremely dismayed by not only the sentiments that you shared, but your 'method' of determining why hijaab is acceptable and why niqaab is not (but will be tolerated because you 'other' Canadians are 'civilized').
You begin by describing the 'hijab experience' of a non-hijabi woman whose hijab doesn't affect being "a modern, confident, well-integrated, socially engaged young woman who attends college, goes out on weekends with her friends, and works for a student newspaper. If this is your way of interacting with the world, what difference does a headscarf make?"
With all due respect, the issue of people suddenly putting on the hijab for the 'experience' is actually one which disrespects the voices and experiences of those women who wear the hijaab regularly. Here is one excellent write-up on the phenomenon, provided by the Muslimah Media Watch website:
Now, getting to the crux of the issue.
You speak about Muslim women who wear niqab as an 'other.' You describe 'them' as 'never... having a rollicking good time at pizzerias' and 'more apt to be traveling silently on the subway or unobtrusively taking notes in the back of a trade-college classroom.'
You make assumptions about why women wear niqab in the first place: 'But socially, it's a closed group: The face covering sends the clear message that that they conceive the world to be largely one of leering men and other vulgar social contaminants, against which they must protect every inch of their body - except an eye-slit just big enough to make sure they don't bump into cars and lampposts.'
You take it upon yourself to tell others how women who wear niqab view the world, and to imply that they don't really wear it out of free will:
"But even if it that is so, their "free will" obviously is informed by a paranoid and highly regressive understanding of women's place in society."
And then there's so much more, where you go on to tell us how the "Burqa" (which I have never seen worn in Canada, btw), strips away body language and so on and how that automatically makes us... what? Untrustworthy?
You tell us that if niqabi women experience friendliness, it is one born of anxiety and fear.
You tell us that the niqab accuses everyone of sexual predation in 'all of us.'
Now, where to start?!
Perhaps I should start with how you immediately 'other' women in niqab vs. those in socially-acceptable hijaab.
I, a Muslim woman who wears niqab, grew up in Canada - between Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. "Home" to me, is about Tim Hortons and hiking up Mount Doug and going canoeing and grimacing at non-stop rain and eating 100% organic Canadian maple syrup and singing the Canadian anthem off-key in the car to annoy my family.
My dad grew up in Canada; his parents moved from South African to Canada when he was just 7, and he grew up between Chilliwack and Ontario and regales us with stories of his childhood in the boonies and trekking through several feet of snow just to get to school.
So no, I am not "the other." I'm not an immigrant who can't speak English or who is foreign to Canadian culture. I am Canadian.
You say that you've never seen a niqabi woman just having a rollicking good time. Obviously, you don't know me (or any other niqabi women in Canada, all of whom I can assure you have experienced a 'rollicking good time' at some point or another during their lives).
Niqabi women aren't all 'silent' or 'unobtrusive'; I for one have a pretty loud personality that can't be hidden under any number of layers (or types) of clothing. Friends and strangers alike can attest to the fact that wherever there are raised voices, uproarious laughter, and a debate or two on all sorts of juicy topics... that's where I happen to be, and usually at the center of it (if not the cause of it). And even if a Muslim woman happens to be an introvert... so what?
You claim to know 'why' Muslim women wear the niqab. Very clearly, you don't, nor have you asked a single woman in niqab about why she wears it. Here, I'll help you out.
I wear the niqab because I believe it as an act of worship to God, and a means of identifying myself as a Muslim woman. I do not believe that men (or women) are purely sexual beings without any control over themselves. I do believe that our society has been poisoned by hypersexualization and the commodification of what should be a beautiful thing, and that Muslim or not, men and women alike are suffering on so many different levels because we've been trained to view the other gender as sexual objects, not human beings. (Just check out the research on how kids as young as 7 and 8 are being sexualized and diagnosed with various body image related disorders.)
My role as a Muslim woman is so much more than what you attempt to reduce me to, with your own shallow understanding of what my alleged view of a woman's role in society is. I am a social activist, a writer, an artist, someone who deeply cares about my country and my community and the fact that Stephen Harper's government has led to such huge cutbacks in our social welfare programs that more and more vulnerable young men and women end up on the streets without shelter, food, or safety. I am a feminist who shakes with rage when I hear about the fact that Aboriginal women face some of the highest rates of violence, abuse, and death and yet the Harper government would rather make a big deal out of so-called 'honour killings' - only 3 of which have occurred in Canada within the last 15 years (http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/why-hasnt-the-canadian-government-called-a-public-inquiry-into-missing-aboriginal-women).
As a writer and social activist, I have already written extensively about my views as a Canadian Muslim woman, which you can see in the following links.
As a woman - as a feminist - you insult me when you make the snide implication that I can't possibly be wearing it because I 'really' want to.You insult me when you say that my world view is narrow and regressive, when you know absolutely nothing about me or my worldviews. You insult me when you imply that a niqaab is enough to limit my intelligence, to stop me from living a beautiful, wonderful, rollicking good time of a life.
Actually, scratch that.
All the statements that you have made are in fact an insult to yourself, because they prove that you haven't made any effort at all to actually educate yourself about Canadian Muslim women, the niqab, or anything related to them.
I strongly recommend that the next time you take it upon yourself to speak about Muslim women, what they wear, and what they believe, you take a moment to talk to a Muslim woman about what she wears and why. If you can't be bothered to get up and meet one in person, then I'm always here.
Zainab bint Younus (Originally from Victoria, B.C.)
P.S. That bit about people only being nice to niqabis because they're "anxious" about us? Please meet all the lovely people who have been nice to me because *gasp*shock*horror* THEY'RE DECENT HUMAN BEINGS who have taken the time to be nice, and in most cases, get to know me.
My Letter to the Editor of the National Post:
I'm writing in response to Jonathan Kay's article on 'the space between hijab and niqab.'
As a Canadian Muslim woman raised in Canada, and who wears the niqab, I was extremely insulted by the sheer shoddiness of the so-called 'reporting' and the blatant fear mongering and ignorance that prevailed throughout the entire piece.
The entire article made offensive assumptions about Canadian Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab; it is clear that the author did not make any effort whatsoever to engage with such women at all, but rather took it upon himself to lecture his readers on whether they "really" wear it out of free will, and what their *actual* worldviews are.
Suffice to say that it was a load of tosh and should never have made it to print. Is this truly what journalism has sunk to? Pot shots at a visible minority, because you think no one will stand up and respond? Claiming to know them better than they know themselves?
I can tell you that nothing Jonathan Kay said holds true for me or for any Muslim women I know, for that matter, regardless of whether they wear the niqab or not.
If anyone is interested in what Muslim women believe and what they wear and why, then go ask them. Don't make assumptions... because you know what they say when you 'assume'...
Zainab bint Younus - a real, live Canadian Muslim woman who wears niqab