On Being "Accommodating"

Niqabs are in the news again. Stephen Harper wants them off during the Canadian citizenship ceremony. The whole thing is surely a tempest in a teapot, as there have been a grand total of two, count 'em, two women since 2011 who have refused to show their faces during the ceremony, but it has started occasionally ugly debates on the limits of what is generally known as "religious accommodation".

First off, I should mention that I really dislike the term "religious accommodation".

It evokes entirely the wrong imagery. When someone is being "accommodating" they are doing something active, something they wouldn't normally do. So when someone says that they're being "accommodating" by allowing a woman to wear a niqab one gets the impression that this is something that they actively have to go out of their way to do - like changing lanes on the highway or something.

This is stupid. You are not being inconvenienced when a woman wears a niqab, any more than you are being inconvenienced when she wears high heels. Your rights are not being violated. No one is forcing you to wear high heels, and no one is forcing you to wear a niqab. The only onus on you is to leave her alone. Refraining from assaulting someone (physically or otherwise) is not the same as "religious accommodation". It's called "not engaging in criminal behaviour".

When I talk about women who wear niqabs, I am referring, of course, to women who, for whatever reason, have chosen to wear it. We can assume (I hope) that all rational people find any other scenario repulsive and criminal. If you find the concept of a woman choosing to wear a niqab unimaginable then, forgive my saying so, but you lack imagination.

When people voice a reluctance to "accommodate" these women, what they really mean is that they feel uncomfortable in their presence. I actually do sympathize here - I'll admit that I find it jarring to see someone wearing what amounts to a mask in the middle of summer. But the notion of an outright ban on these particular items of clothing basically boils down to the idea that one person's discomfort trumps another person's rights. That's not acceptable. As blunt as it sounds, it is no one's duty to make another person feel comfortable in their presence.

Some people are uncomfortable with gay people showing PDAs. This discomfort is irrelevant to the question of gay people showing PDAs. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of abortion on demand. This discomfort is irrelevant to the question of abortion on demand. And, yes, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of a woman choosing to cover her face. This discomfort is irrelevant to the question of whether this particular choice of headgear is allowed in a free society.

Seriously, people, there are so many better things to feel uncomfortable about. Why put all your energy into this?