Two Solitudes and the Niqab

14 03 2010

That is the title of a piece by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail. Ms Wente makes a really interesting observations: “The Quebec-English [Canada] differences over immigration and integration echo those between France and Britain. France is contemplating a ban on the burka and niqab. In Britain, any politician who’d dare suggest such a thing would be denounced as a fascist. ”

[Shameless self-promotion warning]. Have a look at my recent paper on the British legacy in Canada. “Canadian Progress and the British Connection: Why Canadian Historians Seeking the Middle Ground Should Give 2½ Cheers for the British Empire” in Contesting Clio’s Craft: New Directions and Debates in Canadian History edited by Christopher Dummitt and Michael Dawson (Washington D.C.; Brookings Institution Press, 2009). In the paper, I argue that Canada’s colonization by the British as opposed to some other colonial power was a good thing overall. I don’t dispute that colonization involved massive losses for the First Nations and other groups, but we were lucky that Canada was part of the British Empire during its formative stages, rather than some other empire (the Spanish, French, or American for that matter).  One of the things that the British bequeathed to Canada has a firm belief in tolerance. Needless to say, tolerance is not an absolute: sometimes the virtue of tolerance needs to be moderated by other considerations. I don’t know that the right approach to niqabs in Quebec is, but I am convinced that the differences between Quebec between English-speaking Canada on this issue can only be understood by taking history into account.

There are many great essays in the Contesting Clio’s Craft book, so check it out.