The story of the Toronto woman ordered to testify against her alleged attacker in a sexual assault trial without her face-covering veil continues to generate controversy. At what point do the rights of the defendant trump religious rights?
Quite the conundrum.
In today's Star, reporter Iain Marlow surveys three Muslim women's advocates on the matter.
Some edited excerpts from his interviews:
Toronto-based minority rights activist
"It really ends up being a little bit of a tempest in a teacup.
"It just ends up being a lightning rod for those people who get angry because, `Oh, we're making too many concessions for all these people ...' You know?
"I don't think it's a huge number of people who are asking for this."
President of the Islamic Social Services Association
"There's a law of necessity in Islam, where you can relax what your understanding of the requirements are." If there are reasons of security or law, exceptions can be made, "and that's why they (unveil) for driver's licence, for passports and for crossing borders."
"I've travelled with women who wear niqab and at airports they do remove it. And some will say, `Oh, can I do it in front of a woman attendant?' And some don't bother with that either ... It can be done, even in Muslim countries. When they're required to, they do it."
Since the case on trial was a sexual assault, "For her, it's her security blanket ... I would say the judge should take that into account.
"But generally speaking, exceptions can be made. The issue is, is this that case?"
Executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women
"It is not a religious requirement to cover your face. That's put very simply. Some women do this because they think it's more modest.
"It's about modesty for both women and men – don't flaunt yourself, dress modestly, etc.
"But the emphasis seems to have shifted, to focus on women rather than men. And a lot of women are interpreting it, or are having it interpreted for them, that modesty means covering yourself. That's a personal choice a Muslim woman makes. It is not a religious directive.''
One thing that bothers me here is this notion that we have to ''protect'' alleged rape victims -- usually women -- from the mechanics of the justice system which, admittedly, can be very harsh and unfeeling. Women often feel twice-raped, by their attackers and by the police and courts.
But are women to be treated as fragile flowers?
Should, say, in the case of family incest, when a male relative is charged with abuse/assault, or in the case of domestic violence, when a husband is charged with the same, the (female) victim be shielded, if she is an adult?
I don't think so.
What if it were a veiled mother charged with abusing her daughter? Should the mother remain veiled while testifying?
It seems to me that equal = equal. We can't have it both ways.
Does this doubly victimize --maybe even triply --some women? Yes. But that's the price we pay for not being confined to the kitchen and nursery.
However I can assure you that, not many feminists agree with me. In some circles, there's a fierce debate going on. I'm looking for links I can add here.