Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Dear Canadian Journalists...

This is the original version of my response to Jonathan Kay of the National Post. The summarized, published version can be found here
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:


 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2013/02/world-hijab-day-everyones-favourite-dress-up-day/

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.

http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/p/on-being-salafi-feminist.html


http://muslimahmontage.com/muslimah-montage-reflections-zainab-bint-younus/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/32-powerful-and-brutally-honest-tweets-from-lifeofamuslimfem

http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/2011/04/open-letter-to-mona-el-tahawy.html

http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/2011/12/jason-kenney-new-grand-mufti-of-canada.html

http://www.dangardner.ca/notes/item/232-on-faces-and-veils

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.

Sincerely,

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:

 Hi,

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'...

Sincerely,
Zainab bint Younus - a real, live Canadian Muslim woman who wears niqab

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi. This is Jonathan Kay at the National Post. jkay@nationalpost.com. Not sure how to get in touch with you, but if you condense this thing to 750 words, I can run it my newspaper. Thanks.

Tina Ivany said...

You spend a lot of time and waste a lot of words getting to the point, which is really not an explanation of why you insist on covering your face other than the same old rote - it's for religious reasons - to show that you're a muslim woman. Your reasons, then, come down to purely selfish ones - whatever works for you, never mind the people you are supposedly trying to interact with.
As for the other excuse, the sexualization of women issue, I fail to see how covering your face has any affect on this one way or the other, unless, of course, it prevents you from learing suggestively. And if Muslim men have a problem with the female face being exposed, then you have far more problems than you're trying to defend. As for your so-called feminism, the founders of the moment would laugh you off the street if they could ever figure out who is behind the veil. Your rant is just another platform for your true colours - rants about the Prime Minister and digs at the editor who, graciously, gave you a chance to air your side, or more to the point, your on-sided ideaology. Mr. Kay can certainly teach you a few things you don't know - how to construct a sentence and how to win an argument.

Aspasia Bibas said...

I for one am happy to know you, young lady. And, may I say, I enjoyed reading your article in the Post and your full article here on your blog. I don't need to tell you, you write well but I'll tell you anyway. Thank you for your article and thank you to Mr. Kay, too, because you both are fine debaters.
It's nice to know you,
Aspasia (ahs-pah-SEE-ah)

Yankee Doodle Saudi said...

Tina,

Your comment asserts that Ms. Salafi Feminist's reasons for wearing the niqab are purely selfish. You also imply that she is "selfishly" wearing the niqab, despite the fact that impairs the ability of other people to communicate with her.

Do you honestly think that you are living as a "feminist" because you are tearing apart another woman's choice of clothing? You say that she is selfish because her clothing choices do not consider the people around her.

Are you trying to say that a feminist should consider other people while choosing her outfit, making decisions, living her life?

Why does her choice of clothing offend you so much that you had to insult her and her writing?

In the beginning of your comment, you assert that she is selfish for "not considering other people", but then you imply she is wearing the niqab because, "Muslim men have a problem with the female face being exposed". When did she EVER bring up Muslim men?

I understand that you have a lot of hate inside of you, but please do us a favor and target it towards someone who has actually wronged you.

Yankee Doodle

Anonymous said...

WOW! Did you get kicked in your femnist nuts. As predited, National Post readers don't buy your Muslim bullsh..t. So now that you've had your 15 minutes of fame, it's time to move on, shut up and show your ugly face to the world. Better yet, take the scarf and shove it in your mouth.

Tina Ivany said...

To Yankee Doodle: Your arguments are as skewed as the person you're trying to defend. This has nothing to do with feminism, nor religion, nor any of the other nonsense you mention, such as "choice of clothing". It is an overt act of aggression on this woman's part. She wants to shove her agenda in our face, without having to show her face.

She is both selfish and arrogant, rejecting Canadian values while at the same time asking for and willingly taking government handouts paid for by other people. If she runs such a successful business, why does she need anyone else's help?

She has the gaul to dismiss 3 deaths from honour killings (in truth, far more) as a mere triviality and, while supposedly supporting feminism, claims that what happens to other women in Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with her.

Her arguments are complete contradictions and fabrications. Let's be real here. It's all about her - and to hell with everyone else. She is the classic example of blatant self-importance - a poster child for the "me" generation. And to defend her actions is just feeding her ego.

Yankee Doodle Saudi said...

You think it is an act of aggression for a woman not to show you her face? You think a niqab is an "agenda"? What evidence do you have to support that viewpoint?

Yankee Doodle Saudi said...

How about respecting her views? Why do you need to see her face to show her respect?

You say she is rejecting Canadian values....which ones?

Does Canada hold "the face" in higher esteem than your neighbors to the south? Because Americans don't seem to have the same violent reactions as Canadians, that is just in my experience. Again, I'm not Canadian...so I can't pretend to know what political agenda is flying behind these arguments, however it bothers me to see so much pure hatred spewed at complete strangers simply because a woman is exercising her right to live her life the way she feels is best.

I don't understand why it bothers you so much. How does her covering her face affect you in the slightest?

Anonymous said...

YD Saudi: You understand this..you don't understand that. Obviously you understand nothing because you choose not to understand anything that contradicts your own ideas. So why bother asking someone else questions when you know all the answers.

Anonymous said...

Hey there - here's some questions for the American guy who's so hot under the collar.
Why is it that Muslims are so strident and defensive? Why is it ok for them to insult everyone else, especially people who disagree with them? Why are they always so offended by anyone who questions them? But they have no problem insulting everyone else. Why do they insist on trying to bend everyone to their will instead of trying to fit in? And if they hate our values, why are they in Canada or the U.S.? They need us more than we need them.

Radha Santadharma said...

I didn't notice any strident words from the OP.

All the naysayers here are obviously seeing her words through their filters.

AnonyMouse said...

I generally don't respond to comments, especially the hate-filled kind, because they're not worth my time.

However, I'll deign to answer some of your issues here.

1) People who say "Go back to your country" - Canada IS my country, I was BORN a Canadian citizen.

2) Covering the face is NOT against Canadian values. What IS part of Canadian values is the right to freedom of religion (including to dress as I please), which is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

3) If you have the right to be offended by how I dress, then I have the right to offend you with how I dress. You have no standing or authority whatsoever to tell me to change my behaviour, my beliefs, or my dress code. As for being selfish or what have you, then go ahead - call me selfish. I'm still not breaking the law. Deal with it.

4) Canadian values are the ones I was taught in school, from kindergarten (IN CANADA) - to be respectful, to be polite, and to be accepting of others' beliefs, ideas, and actions regardless of whether or not we agree with them. So if anyone here 'hates Canadian values,' it would be seem to be you lot.

5) And finally, to someone claiming that I'm 'taking government handouts' - just because I'm concerned about our social welfare programs doesn't mean that I need them or use them. Also, your statements prove just what you think and feel about people who *do* need them and use them... that you think they are inferior or that they are 'mooches.' Sad to see self-professed Canadians who are such defenders of 'Canadian values' expressing such disdain for lower income brackets who face very real struggles.

6) Here's a Canadian website listing the statistics for violence against women in Canada. If you care so much about us, then I encourage you to donate to or at least volunteer with an organization that works against domestic violence.

http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence

Below is the link to a radio interview I did yesterday on the Tommy Schnurmacher show regarding the niqab:
https://soundcloud.com/tommy-schnurmacher-show/zainab-bint-younus-april-3

Anonymous said...

What??? You want to waste more of everybody's time spewing your own hatred? Not mine.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear, Salafi Princess, I want to thank you for taking a moment to step off your High Horse to address the rest of us poor mortals with further pearls of wisdom that drip from your preious lips. Thank you for defending our Freedoms. Most of us poor Canucks know about the Charter, but we haven’t had the time or wherewithal to study it in depth so that we can exploit it for our own purposes. Although I am a lowly peasant, I do have some familiarity with government resources. As you know, we North of the 49ers are a generous people. The welfare folks reached out to me and offered support in my time of need, but I declined. They practically insisted, assuring me that I’m entitled, but I don’t need or want to feel entitled. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone, church or state. I don’t want to belong to any type or organized religion, either of the Praise-the-Lord or Allah-be -praised kind.

Wait, my little brother wants a word (pesky little squirt who always has to get his 2 cents in). He says, it’s not your religion that he objects to. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass what you look like. It’s your FUCK YOU ATTITUDE. And when baby brother doesn’t like something, oh, boy, let me tell you, watch out…there’s no telling what he’ll do. He’s sort of a Willie Pickton/Rob Ford type of guy, not much in the looks or brain department, if you know what I mean. I’m being kind. He’s really butt ugly. I don’t know how many times I’ve told him to cover his ugly face, but he refuses to do so. Says it’s against his religion, whatever the hell that is - Korr-Anny, Corkamanie, Canuckamamie – I don’t know, but I wish he’d cover it up. No one likes to look at zits or slits. It’s just plain weird and he’s just plain stubborn. But I don’t have to tell you…I’m sure you understand…

Anonymous said...

Loved your confidence on the radio show, wish there can be something similar in the states. Also, your article was on point. I hope these comments only push you to further unlock misconceptions that others have about niqabis.

www.tarteelequran.com said...

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I don't think your reasoning is feminist (as some claim). If you truly believed in gender equality, than you would want men to cover their faces, too. I understand the desire to remove any sexual objectification from the culture, but only covering women is inherently sexist. Not covering men denies the reality of female lust and buys into the sexist model that men are sexual and women are sexy. That men are the subjects of lust and women are the objects of lust. In other words, the basis of your religion's beliefs about human sexuality is inherently sexist, therefore having women cover their faces and not men is also sexist and therefore, cannot be 'feminist." You are trying to claim "feminism" from within a sexist paradigm while ignoring the existence of the sexist paradigm.

Kiani said...

Thanks for this nice article. Keep it up. :)

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