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Correspondence: "We must reject the clash of civilizations"
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Correspondence: "We must reject the clash of civilizations"

As a “fervent believer” of multicultural policy and a Canadian citizen, 23-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent Gys Weverink hopes his country does not follow the example of France in banning the niqab.

In Western Europe, multiculturalism has increasingly found itself under attack. A number of western politicians including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Dutch politicians Geert Wilders and Maxime Verhagen have denounced the policy.

Many of the policy’s detractors claim it is unsuited for European societies, and incompatible with the reality of the issues that Western Europe is facing. Much of this criticism towards multiculturalism originates from complications related to the apparent “clash of civilizations” — as former Harvard political scientist Samuel L Huntington first proposed in the mid-1990s — between Islamic minorities and the Western European cultures rooted in centuries of traditions.

It appears that this divisive theorization is gaining momentum among right-wing western politicians. The latest example of this is the French banishment of the niqab in public spaces, which entered into law officially last month.

The niqab — which the French and other European countries all-too-often mistakenly refer to as the burqa — is an article of clothing worn as a face veil by a small minority of Muslim women as a cultural preference, not a religious requirement, contrary to popular belief.

Belgium is the latest European country to announce that it is pursuing a ban on the burqa, which, of course, is really the niqab. According to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the Belgian lower house overwhelmingly voted in favour of the proposed measure to outlaw the facial garment today — 136-1 with two abstentions.

There are many issues with the outright banishment of the niqab, and as a fervent believer of multicultural policy and a Canadian citizen, I can only hope that Canada never resorts to such measures.

France’s ban allows for the institutionalized “othering” of the country’s Muslim minorities. This “othering” is exacerbated by the fact that France has allowed for exceptions to the law for Santa Clauses and carnival-goers, among others, according to New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino.

Combine the aforementioned factors, and it certainly appears as if France’s banishment of the niqab is rooted in xenophobia. France’s case represents that of a traditional European country with a rich history, which is reluctant and afraid to forfeit its culture to the rising tides of globalism, embodied, in this case, by Muslim women who are themselves clinging onto cultural traditions.

This case is just another example of Huntington’s theorization, which is seemingly gaining momentum in the Western world. There is much talk about the threat of homegrown terrorism and the failure of multiculturalism, but isn’t the selective lawmaking only abetting and exacerbating such claims? Doesn’t the “othering” of Islamic minorities only complicate these issues and further materialize such threats?

Canada is certainly not perfect when it comes to putting multicultural policies into practice. As a nation of immigration, and one of the first countries to institutionalize multiculturalism, its situation should offer a beacon of hope to other countries, rather than allow itself to be caught up in the negative spiral its ancestral European trading partners and powerful neighbours to the south are currently experiencing.

Canada has certainly proven itself more willing to cater to its ethnic and religious minorities. It is also a rather tolerant country. However, true acceptance is something that still eludes every country in the world. Xenophobia is still all-too-present.

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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please click here.

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