David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Election Reflection: Niqabs, Religion, and Social Media

Brandon Sun, October 26, 2015 - David McConkey

That was quite the election, eh? Many of us learned a new word: niqab – the face-covering piece of clothing. Not usual to talk about religious headwear in an election. The election showed us that we could be in for more of such issues in the future. So, where are we at now?

Let’s start by getting two misconceptions out of the way. First, we can dispense with the idea that politicians used the niqab issue to dumb down this election. And that politicians used the niqab to distract us from complicated issues like aboriginal concerns, the Saudi arms deal, or climate change. Judging by past elections – without the niqab – we were quite capable on our own of dumbing down and distracting ourselves!

Second, to criticize a religious wardrobe or other religious practice is not “racist.” Race – so far as it exists at all – is what a person is. Religion is a set of customs and beliefs. People of different races can follow the same religion.

But race and religion are often confused. And they are mixed together in human rights legislation. This concept is outdated. Religion should be removed from this law.

Look at human rights legislation and the grounds where people are protected from discrimination. Examples: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion. But one does not belong here: religion. Race and the like are characteristics that people have. Religion is something that people choose.

There are thousands of religions in the world. New religions are being created every day. Everyone can think of religions that have ideas that are completely nuts! Why give every conceivable religion – no matter how crazy – special legal respect and protection?

Of course, freedom of religion is important. That means that we have the right to hold any (or no) religious belief. But we do not have the right to every religious practice. (Think, for example, of polygamy or child beating.)

Religious practices are going to get challenged more. Perhaps the most creative challenges are from the satirical / serious Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: the Pastafarians. (I kid you not – you can look them up!)

The Pastafarians – with both humour and reason – draw attention to religious privilege all over the world, including Canada. They question the teaching of creationism in schools and the exemption for religious headwear in driver’s licence and other photos. Pastafarians request the right to wear their religious head covering, which in their case is a pirate hat or a spaghetti strainer. This makes not only an important point, but also quite the driver’s licence! 

Folks, it doesn’t need to be this complicated. Take religion out of the equation. We can come up with reasonable dress codes: for driver’s licences, for workplaces, for citizenship ceremonies. But if we keep some religious clothing as a special right, then we can look forward in the future to lots more hand wringing, court battles, and other hassles.

A related feature of this past election was the exposing – and then dumping – of candidates who made provocative comments on social media. This prompted speculation that candidates in the future will be only dull, “politically correct” people. Listen to election observer Curtis Brown, the former Brandon Sun opinion page editor who is now with Probe Research in Winnipeg.

“The only people who are going to be running for office from now on,” Brown said, “are going to be the most boring people in the universe.”

Please, let’s hope not. Elections should tackle serious, controversial topics. In the future, we need election campaigns that are more interesting, not more boring!

In Canada, and throughout the world, we are confronted with an abundance of bad ideas. Like: misogyny, family violence, homophobia, and reliance on myths rather than science. Often these bad ideas are associated with religion. But if an idea is bad, we need to speak out about it, criticize it, and ridicule it. And we need positive alternatives, forcefully expressed. Even if that means questioning established religious or cultural traditions. In the political arena, we need – not fewer – but more individuals who are bold and outspoken. 

So, note to potential future candidates: think before you post on social media. And – especially – use a coffee mug only for its intended purpose!

* * * *
See also:  

Politically Incorrect Issues This Election

Don’t worry, be happy. Be a Harper voter!

Bad Behaviour and Viral Social Media

ISIS and the Terrifying Power of Bad Ideas

Religion and Values in the Public Square

U.S. Will Collapse Like Greece, Bestselling Author Predicts

Book Looks at Islamic World

Citizen Active 



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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The Atheist Muslim:
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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
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Extraordinary Canadians:
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The Greatest Show on Earth:
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