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Be prepared for some major eye-rolling in this article from the Calgary Herald. In it, Mahfooz Kanwar praises Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (see here for why this is a bad idea), and berates Canadians that he perceives as not having “assimilated” enough.
I could talk about Kanwar’s narrow definitions of “Canadian” identity and values, or his call for all immigrants to be unquestioningly patriotic and un-dividedly loyal to Canada, which is not a standard that most Canadian-born Canadians are ever called to adhere to. I could talk about the way he implies that Muslim Canadians need identify themselves as Canadian Muslims instead, necessarily putting their national identity ahead of their religious one, which is a problematic expectation for a number of reasons. And so on. Basically, Kanwar, a Muslim originally from Pakistan, spends the article extolling the perfection of Canada’s values and culture, and blaming all problems on those immigrants who bring foreign baggage with them into this happy utopia.
But since this is a blog that looks at Muslim women, what I do want to talk about is this part of the article:
Whoever comes to Canada must learn the limits of our system. We do not kill our daughters or other female members of our families who refuse to wear hijab, niqab or burka which are not mandated by the Qur’an anyway. We do not kill our daughters if they date the “wrong” men. A 17-year-old Sikh girl should not have been killed in British Columbia by her father because she was caught dating a Caucasian man.
We do not practise the dowry system in Canada, and do not kill our brides because they did not bring enough dowry. Millions of female fetuses are aborted every year in India, and millions of female infants have been killed by their parents in India and China. Thousands of brides in India are burned to death in their kitchens because they did not bring enough dowry into a marriage. Some 30,000 Sikhs living abroad took the dowries but abandoned their brides in India in 2005. This is not accepted in Canada.
In some countries, thousands of women are murdered every year for family or religious honour. We should not hide behind political correctness and we should expose the cultural and religious background of these heinous crimes, especially if it happens in Canada. We should also expose those who bring their cultural baggage containing the social custom of female circumcision. I was shocked when I learned about two cases of this barbaric custom practised in St. Catharines, Ont. a few years ago.
He’s not only talking here about Muslims, but many of his comments refer directly or indirectly to Muslim communities. What I find interesting is that almost all of the examples in his article of the problems that immigrants apparently bring to Canada are directly linked to gender. More specifically, it is about what “we” do and do not do to “our” women, as in “we” do not kill our daughters, or our brides.
Reading this, I get the sense that this “we” refers not only to the “good”, assimilated immigrants (and, of course, to the infallible mainstream non-immigrant Canadian population), but that it also refers, implicitly but rather crucially, to men. Women are present only insofar as their bodies can be used to demonstrate their husbands’ or fathers’ worthiness (or unworthiness) as Canadians. There are some moments where we might imagine the “we” to be potentially female as well, but all gender-specific references to the actors are male, and all of the people being acted upon are female. Moreover, they are “our” women – still possessed by this “us,” and at “our” mercy, with little indication that they are able to act for themselves.
It is ironic that Kanwar speaks so strongly against using women’s bodies to convey matters of honour, and yet proceeds to use women as a way to prove some kind of alternate “good Canadian” identity. Even if this is done only on a rhetorical level, it still constructs women as the representations of cultural identity, symbolic of the level of Canadian-ness that the men in their lives have apparently reached. The unharmed bodies of “our” women are used to support “our” claims to civilization, while the murdered and injured bodies of women from those “barbaric” communities are further used, in contrast, to demonstrate how far “we” have come. In all cases, the women are still silent and passive.
In this way, Kanwar’s strategy differs less than he might hope from the practices of those he criticises. Although he condemns violence against women, he does so without acknowledging any agency that women may have, or the fact that a society that truly values gender equality might go beyond simply listing all the forms of violence that it doesn’t commit in order to prove it’s merit. Instead, women in his article are only present to further his point, and to add to an alarmist and xenophobic analysis of Canadian society.