Friday, February 27, 2015

A hijab in court: The case for sincerity...or insanity?

A Quebec judge had the audacity to treat a muslim woman just like anyone else:
Quebec judge wouldn't hear case of woman wearing hijab

In a nutshell the woman came before the court applying to get her car back after it was seized by the Quebec Insurance board.  The judge stated that the woman wasn't suitably dressed, that no head coverings were allowed, and when the woman refused to remove her scarf, the judge deferred the case indefinitely.

According to the reading I have done, there HAVE been cases of Sikhs being asked to remove their turbans and Jews being asked to remove yamulkes, so they are not immune. Neither are toques. It is not about obstructing the face, it is about removing head coverings out of respect for the court. Not only that, but the hijab has exactly the same symbolic function as the niqab or the of subservience and obedience to men and the wish to prevent men from being unable to overcome their desires. If I were a female judge, I would certainly have a problem with being faced with that symbol in my court.

But ultimately my question is this: why it is that the judge is automatically cast as the intolerant in this scenario? The woman in the hijab is being asked a very reasonable request: to remove her head scarf for a grand total of 15 minutes in a situation of cultural significance....and in a situation where she is asking the court to concede to her some favours....and yet the judge is being intolerant?

Perhaps the law itself about removing head coverings is flawed, and that should be addressed. Why shouldn't an 18-year-old skater-kid be allowed to wear his toque and jeans around his ankles in court? But until that changes, why is a muslim woman due any more special treatment than he is?

I have heard the argument, "But for her removing the head covering is equivalent to feeling naked. It would be too embarrassing for her."

However, if that's the case.....and we really have no way of going inside her head and knowing that is the case as many women shed or don their hijabs at various periods in their lives depending on their current interpretation of the scriptures....then it is her and her religion's problem. Not the court's. Exactly the same argument could be applied to a woman wearing a niqab or a burqa, having to remove it to testify in court....or pose for a driver's license photo. There are limits to accommodations that can or should be made for a person's personal comfort level.

But who are we kidding....the fact that her personal comfort is at stake is really not the issue here. The ISSUE is the fact that it is a religious garment and is therefore automatically granted immunity to these regulations.

I keep trying to come up with non-religious parallels for these kinds of cases, but to think of a man coming into a court, sincerely insisting that removing his hockey mask or toque or spaghetti strainer leaves him feeling naked and unable to function and therefore he is unwilling to do of course ludicrous, and would point to some kind of serious mental illness. But perhaps that is what we are dealing with here: society-sanctioned mental illness.