Friday, October 22, 2010

Veiled In Court

I read an editorial a few days ago that all but made my blood boil.  It has taken me this long to get my thoughts clear on this matter because even a single sentence written by Mr. Den Tandt is so full of absolute unwavering FAIL that it's a wonder that I could get through it once, never mind the several times that clarifying my objections to it required.

I am not familiar with the case in question, though I have read the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal which allows Muslim women to wear the niqab when testifying in court.  The background given in the text of the decision states that the woman, who was "an alleged victim of historical sexual assaults, contends that her religious beliefs dictate that she must wear a veil covering her face, except her eyes, when testifying."  The objection by the defendant in this case was that "his right to make full answer and defence requires that he, his counsel and the preliminary inquiry judge be able to see the accuser's face when she testifies and, in particular, when she is cross-examined."

Completely leaving aside the question of whether the niqab really is the oppressive symbol of female servitude and status as property that Mr. Den Tandt so gallantly wants to rescue her from, her beliefs require that her face be covered in this circumstance.  Requiring her to remove the veil may very well be an act of re-victimization—in this case, the violation would happen through forcing her to expose more of herself than she is willing to show—or in the best case it may simply make her feel ashamed of what has happened to her.  Furthermore, the way that Mr. Den Tandt phrases his oh-so-compassionate opinion makes it sound like the victim herself is the one who's on trial, not the man who stands accused of sexually assaulting her.

But then, in a culture in which women are frequently blamed for "causing" their own rapes (as if the rapist had nothing to do with it), any woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted is likely to be under even more scrutiny than her accused rapist.

Did she lead him on?  Was she drunk?  Had she consented to sex with him in the past?  Is she lying to try to get back at him for something?  Was she wearing revealing clothing?  Was she walking alone at night?  Is she married to him?  Did she provoke him?  Has she ever willingly had sex with a man?  Is she known to be a slut?


So the focus of the trial ends up on the alleged victim, not the alleged rapist.

And you know, I've lived in Canada all my life and I've never come across the perception that covering one's face is rude.  Not taking your shoes off when you enter someone else's house—that's rude.  Being late is terribly rude.  So's not pulling over and stopping when you see a funeral procession go by when you're transporting yourself from one place to another.  Not holding a door open when someone behind you is also going to go through that door is pretty bad, too, unless it's one of those doors that open and shut automatically.  Lots of people are bound to object if you stare at them, though avoiding direct eye contact in conversation is also rude.  But I've never heard that covering our faces, whether they're covered with veils or not, is considered particularly rude.  Of course it's entirely possible that this is a convention that hasn't made it to my little corner of the country, but for the most part as far as I know, people will think you're a little weird if you go around with your face covered, but they won't think you're being rude.

Overall, I think his objections to her wearing the niqab do not hold water.  It is not "rude" to wear a niqab, and it certainly doesn't stop one from seeing most of the body language of the victim he's so keen on putting on trial.  What I see here is a thinly-disguised* expression of personal disgust with the presence of Muslims in Canada and an attempt to shame the apparent victim of one of the worst crimes that can be committed against a human being.  And if he really is so concerned with maintaining our stereotypical Canadian politeness and striking a blow for the Canadian justice system, he would do well to learn some fucking respect for what other people believe, for other people's notions of modesty, and for the courage it must have taken this woman to report her rapes, press charges and see that this case was brought to trial.

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*I was about to write "thinly-veiled," but that pun would have been just a little too bad even for me.

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