In recent years there has been plenty of debate surrounding Islam’s role in Western culture. In a political climate where, for the most part, Islam is feared and blamed for the events that occurred on September 11th 2001, as the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 approaches the timely opportunity to post this felt ripe for the taking. So I’m taking it. Here’s my rewritten Accessibility Statement. Exactly where this is relevant to accessibility, at least, is the debate surrounding a Muslim woman’s right to wear a burqa on the witness stand.

Now I’ve been involved in a number of “conversations” concerning this very subject, over the past year say, and it seems there is never a shortage of excuses (I kid, it’s the exact same talking point spoken over and over and over) as to why some will argue a woman doesn’t have that right. It all appears short-sighted, in the very least.

“But it’s a women’s issue”

Make no mistake, women being treated differently (as in worse) than men, for religious or cultural reasons, isn’t exclusive to Islam, or Arabic culture more broadly. Prescribed gender roles have been a part of most religious and cultural histories, including the largely Protestant cultural infrastructure we have inherited here in Canada. Now I’m not defending the burqa, or Islam for that matter. But I can most definitely empathize with circumstances people may face as a result belief in anything not considered “run of the mill.”

Let’s pose an argument, like the one that has been directed my way several times — being “the burqa has traditionally represented a misogynistic tool of control, oppression and possession” — is correct. And I’m not arguing it isn’t. But, like it or not, some women choose to wear burqas — that’s their choice. Everyone has the right to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s rights. Why would I want one moral voice to have the authority to legislate away her (or anyone’s) freedom to choose? I don’t. Just because I’m unable to goose-step doesn’t mean I would if I could.

But every person has the right to face?(all irony is sure to be lost by the author of such a comment) their accuser, you say? How is a woman accusing a person of an injustice and wearing a burqa during testimony not infringing on a defendant’s right’s? Glad you asked. Just because you can’t see someone’s face doesn’t mean anything they communicate is incomplete. Put that argument to a Blind person. Is their interpretation of anyone “incomplete?” Not only is such an assessment absurdly problematic, it’s ableist!

Extending said argument

Say a woman experiences problems that relate to her husband. If that woman is Muslim we, encouraged by media pundits of a certain stripe (ideologues, so we’re clear), tend to make comfort rationalizations that characterize her culture as one having acceptable norms unlike our own that we find “barbaric” and “backwards.” That woman, who wears a burqa, may decide her only means of “escape” is to file a complaint in civil court. But in order to even file the complaint she must show her face in order to be taken seriously. If the burqa is banned from the court room, for reasons of “elusive” testimony, how long before it’s, not banned per se, but frowned upon in other situations? Where similar forms of “credibility” are required? Such as filing a criminal complaint in a police station?

Taking it further, let’s say the woman’s problems include regular beatings at the hand of her husband and she, under the belief that he will kill her, goes ahead with charging her husband in spite of the courtroom ban of the burqa. So they go to trial. But she must give her testimony without her burqa, before a jury. So potentially, for the first time (aside from the “interrogation” she underwent when she filed her charges, of course), since she was a child at least, has to show her face to people who would normally never see it. People outside her immediate family. Strangers.

It’s really not that hard for me to imagine she could, not only be nervous, but be completely terrified. If a person faces obstructions in experiencing “comfort,” during testimony, what are the chances that person would deliver an accurate and representative testimony? What sort of fair judgement could she expect to receive, assuming her sworn statements haven’t been dismissed?

Not only am I convinced this hypothetical represents the very definition of injustice, it reeks of sexism, too. Exactly how would this not benefit the man? And either deter or further punish the woman? The victim?

Hypothetical aside

So, with my clumsy hypothetical out of the way meant to help “paint a picture” of my concerns, if a person expects to be working from a position where they feel discriminated against from the start, not only is that extremely intimidating, it would be a pretty strong deterrent against engagement. From the accessibility point of view, if the judicial system of any country is not accessible to everyone equally, then it’s not truly serving it’s purpose. And if expectations, like banning the burqa during testimony, were allowed our courts wouldn’t be entirely accessible to it’s citizenry.

I see that as a rather significant problem.