"Women should be able to wear whatever they want and men should shut up about it" was the line that got the most applause at the public consultation on Human Rights and the Law held by the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the University of Toronto on Wednesday evening. But the irony was that despite the feminist overtones of the statement, Winnifred Sullivan, the Director of the Law, Religion, and Culture at the State University of New York seemed to be alluding to women's right to wear hijabs, niqabs and face veils during citizenship oaths -garments used to subjugate and de-sexualize women.
And this outspoken advocacy for cultural diversity rights by feminists seemed confined to the interests of immigrants in the west, since there is no commensurate movement by them to fight for the rights of women in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan to wear mini skirts or appear in public without a hijab. This is essence is the direction that Human Rights Commissions in Canada are pushing towards, a cultural relativism they describe as "deeper equality" which would eradicate the last vestiges of the traditions that built the institutions and laws that gave birth to western tolerance and freedoms.
One of the night's speakers, David Seljak, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo reminded the audience that Canada is a secular society with elements of the Christian traditions that the country was founded upon, such as a seven day work week and Christian public holidays like Christmas and Good Friday. The implied goal of a deeply equal society would be to eliminate such traditions so that newcomers who are altering Canadian demographics have a greater stake in society.
What was not discussed during the evening, moderated by Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall, were the failings of multiculturalism.The opposite was true. Professor Seljak barely concealed his disdain for the Canadian government's efforts to retain elements of the national culture by restricting alien garb in certain situations, such as niqabs in voting booths and criminal trials.
When westerners go to eastern countries with the expectation that the natives would allow and adapt to our cultural practices, it was usually proceeded by a military conquest and came in the form of imperialism and colonialism that the "progressives" in our society despise. Yet they are enthusiastic supporters of a reverse form of cultural imperialism that lets foreigners come to Canada and expect the majority culture to change to accommodate the minority.
There is a big difference between tolerance and restructuring. It doesn't harm Canadians or diminish Canadian traditions to allow a Muslim woman to wear a hijab or a Sikh to wear a Turban, or to let someone take a vacation day on their religious holiday. But advocates for the idea that no culture is superior to another are following through with its corollary; that our culture therefore is not special nor is it particularly worth preserving.
Millions of Canadians who remain oblivious to what Human Rights Commissions want to accomplish in this area would be deeply disturbed by the cultural suicide they want us to commit in the name of Deeper Equality. Another irony is that the people who are so willing to abandon to cultures that bear little resemblance to Canada's have been so anxious to protect it from infusions of American culture, from which ours is almost indistinguishable.
America was on the minds of a few people at Wednesday's consultation. Ali Mallah, a former Canadian Arab Federation, NDP and CUPE vice president and a fixture at anti-Israel protests who is a vocal supporter of terrorist groups like Hezbollah, was there, his unkempt appearance making him look like a caricature of a union goon. Speaking in a heavily accented, lisping voice, he got up to make a speech in which he pompously pontificated about Canadians "occupying native land." Mallah was obviously more interested in the appearence of, rather than genuine, empathy for "occupied" Natives. Since unlike those of us who were born in Canada, Mallah traveled here as an adult from half way around the world to become a Canadian occupying native land, and to the best of my knowledge, hasn't given any back to them. He railed against the Islamophobia of "right-wing Christians" in the United States whom he compared to being "equal in hate to bin Laden." Mallah failed to note any right-wing Christians beheading apostates in America or strapping explosives to themselves to murder scores of heathen children, but those are mere details.
Rather than reaffirm Mallah's paranoia and hyperbole about Islamophobia, panelist Sullivan indeed corrected him. She pointed out that it wasn't just the right wing, but all segments of American society that are Islamophobic. Take that Ali, that'll teach you to bad mouth the "right wingers."
There was one question in the Q & A at the end of the night that stymied the panelists. In fact, it seemed to send their brains into a tizzy the way that a logical contradiction on the old Star Trek TV show caused a computer to overload. They refused to answer when I asked how Human Rights Commissions dealing with religious tolerance can deal with intolerant religious practices that promote the subjugation of women and the persecution of Gays. They were rendered speechless at having to contend with the idea of an oppressed group trampling on the legitimate rights of other people.
Unless Canadians are willing to participate in their democracy and speak out against the destruction of Canadian vales and traditions, having their rights trampled on is something we may see more and more of in the near future.