In the midst of all the stories of long lines, screw-ups and smiling politicians voting in advanced polls, we have been, I guess you could say, “treated” to a few theatrical political stunts. There was the image of a woman voting with a potato bag over her head and another one of a man voting in a full clown costume with a mask covering his face and more as the days went by.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I love a good theatrical stunt as much as the next person, even more so, probably, having taken part in a few myself over the years. I’m usually the first to champion such clever expressions of dissent. This time, though, I’m not so sure.
You’re Allowed to Do It and You Should Be
Make no mistake. Voting with your face covered is perfectly legal in Canada. As long as you show your face to an Elections Canada employee briefly for identification purposes or swear an oath; much in the same way a citizenship oath can be taken with face covered as long as proper visual identification is done prior to the ceremony.
It’s all legal and should be. There is no security issue if proper identification is provided, leaving cultural prejudice as the only reason to object to someone covering their face.
While no one has ever attempted to ban wearing clown masks at polling places, there has been talk, far too much talk, about banning Muslim women from wearing niqabs in various aspects of public life. This is all political hot air and distraction which has somehow, unfortunately, caught hold and changed the focus of this election.
Jon Keefe did it for the right reasons. The St-John’s businessman put out a call to vote in the Newfoundland Christmas tradition of Mummering. He did so because he wanted to make a statement against the predominant role the issue of face covering has taken in the campaign.
Keefe told CBC News that “it seemed like a great way to work in the point that there are already a lot of cultural customs across Canada that might seem bizarre or unusual to people unfamiliar with them, but we’ve all managed to get along pretty well so far.”
Taking the piss out of Harper’s tactics of division and mocking those who, through xenophobia or ignorance, have an obsession with Muslim women voting or taking a citizenship oath while wearing the niqab is a justifiable reason to do a theatrical stunt.
Unfortunately, most people photographed wearing some sort of facial covering in the past few days were doing it for all the wrong reasons. They weren’t protesting the manufactured obsession with the niqab, instead they were endorsing it.
Toeing the Conservative, or possibly the Bloc, party line, people like Rafik Hanna, who voted were quoted saying “truly sad that I can vote to elect a Canadian prime minister without having to show my face and prove my identity.”
If you read between the lines (and ignore the fact that he did have to prove his identity, albeit briefly), the message is clear. These people have a problem with Muslim women who choose to wear a niqab doing so in a citizenship ceremony, or when voting or taking part in any other aspect of public life.
This is even more clear when it is done by someone who shares the image of him voting on the Facebook page of known racist organization Pegida Canada:
They are effectively campaigning for Harper and his xenophobic tactics of fear and division while at a polling station. Campaigning in a poling station is illegal, by the way. Voting with a mask isn’t.
The Silver Lining
Whenever the bigoted debate over religious face covering at public events rears its ugly head, those vocally opposed always make four arguments:
1. It’s a security risk
2. It’s oppressive
3. There’s nothing in the Qur’an about the niqab.
4. What if I wore a Halloween costume when voting? Would you be okay with that, too?
Arguments two and three are easy to deflate. If the person wearing the niqab is being oppressed, then why oppress her more by denying her citizenship or the right to vote? And if you say there’s nothing in the Qur’an about the niqab, well, I didn’t know you were a scholar. If that is true, though, I’d like to point out there’s nothing in the Bible about wearing a cross around your neck, but you wouldn’t dare make a Christian take off her necklace to vote, would you?
The people wearing masks to the polling station over the past few days have defeated argument four in a way that no bit of intellectual debate ever could. Would we be okay with you wearing a Halloween costume to the polls? Yes, and so is Elections Canada.
Does it look ridiculous? Yes. Does that mean that the concept of voting with a face covering is also ridiculous? No.
A Muslim woman wearing a niqab to vote is not silly. People wearing Halloween costumes to the polls to protest her right to do it look, for the most part, like idiots.
These stunts also have the added bonus of destroying argument one, that a niqab is a security concern. It’s clearly not.
If proper identification is done, it makes absolutely no difference what you wear to the polling place.
When you take away the four main arguments, all that is left for people who think wearing a niqab should be election issue number one is to either admit their ignorance or admit their bigotry. Because if you strip away the rhetoric, they all pretty much sound like this guy:
For those of you who don’t speak French, the man wearing a fake niqab standing outside of a polling place tells the camera that he wants all Muslims out of Quebec before being schooled by a Muslim woman.
Forgive the pun, but the veil is off. The whole niqab debate is a manufactured controversy designed to boost Harper’s polling numbers by playing to people afraid of the Muslim ‘other’ above all else. The intended audience wants everyone to act like “old-stock” Canadians or Quebecois, conveniently forgets that they are themselves the descendants of immigrants and is obsessed with this issue to the point of it blocking out all other electoral concerns.
At least now, thanks to a few people who tried to make a statement while voting, that fact is now crystal clear for all to see.