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Friday, October 20, 2006

Toronto Sun Editorial: Lifting the veil of prejudice

Imagine if a Canadian political leader was to advise devout Christians not to wear a cross if they wanted to be accepted by the rest of society.

Or a devout Jew not to wear a yarmulke. A devout Sikh not to wear a turban.

There would be outrage across the country, and rightly so. It wouldn't matter if this politician then said he wasn't suggesting anyone should be forced to remove the religious symbols of their faith. Just to do so in order to "fit in."

Most Canadians, we hope, and not just those who are devout Christians, Jews, Sikhs or Muslims, would be deeply concerned about such a fundamental attack on freedom of religion.

Imagine, then, the understandable unease of many Muslims, as a growing number of male politicians overseas have suddenly started advising religiously devout Muslim women against wearing a full veil over their face.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former foreign secretary Jack Straw and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, among others, have all come out in recent days arguing that if Muslim women want to fully adapt to their societies, they should ditch their veils. Our first question is why?

Most Muslim women don't wear these veils, which cover all but a small portion of the face around the eyes.

There are varying interpretations of whether the Koran actually requires it. Muslims hold different views on that issue, just as Christians, Sikhs, Jews and others disagree internally on the importance of wearing certain types of religious dress.

Save for a few specific situations where making a physical identification of someone is vital -- say, when applying for a passport or driver's licence, or when police need to confirm someone's identity by checking what they look like against their photo-ID -- no devout Muslim woman should ever be pressured by anyone to remove her veil against her will.

It's true that a Muslim woman who chooses to wear a full veil is choosing to set herself apart to some extent from the surrounding society -- but that's her right.

The rest of us should respect that choice, just as most of us would for a devout Christian, Jew, Sikh or anyone else.
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