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By Yassmin El-Safadi September 5, 2017

The Freedom to Wear a Hijab

Illustrated by Abigail Lee 

Project Title: Taking Action Against the Quebec Values Charter

The decision whether or not to wear a hijab should be the free choice of every individual; therefore, the issue of preventing a person from wearing the hijab is, and has been, an important one in many places and for many people. The freedom that is granted us is expressed differently by each person. Some people express it with words, others through music, and others through what they wear. As someone who wears the hijab myself, I decided to make my political action project a letter to the new Parti Québecois (PQ) representative, Jean-Francois Lisée, explaining my position on the proposition of a re-introduction of the Quebec Values Charter by Bernard Drainville (Authier) and my hope that he doesn’t carry on with it. This project has given me the chance to share my thoughts about an issue that is important not only to me but also to the people in my community. It also taught me to not be scared when sharing my ideas because no matter the outcome, the important thing is that I took action, something not a lot of people dare to do.                                                                                                                                                              

The Quebec Values Charter is a bill that increases this controversy between a secular state and the freedom to believe and practice your religion without any restriction. Presented by Pauline Marois in 2013, this bill came in between many young Muslim girls, including me, and our freedom of religion. This bill was then re-introduced in 2015 by Bernard Drainville (a member of the National Assembly of Quebec at the time) who said he wanted to have a second version of the charter which would ban the wearing of hijabs and crosses in public places to new employees (Authier). This is an obstruction to the future of many girls who want to able to work and follow their religious beliefs. Further, his proposition of renewing the Quebec Values Charter makes it okay to criticize religious decisions, normalizes Islamaphobia and allows for many false assumptions to flourish.

Now, a new PQ House Leader is in place. I can only hope that this new party leader, Jean-François Lisée, will leave the Quebec Values Charter in the past and build up a party that respects and values the differences and beliefs of others (Laframboise).

For my political action, I decided to write a letter to Jean-Francois Lisée, explaining my point of view on the re-introduction of the Quebec Values Charter (Authier). In the letter I explained the reasoning and the outcome of wearing the hijab and how carrying on with the Quebec Values Charter would disrupt a whole community’s future. After introducing myself I pointed out how I would be affected by this plan personally in that it would put me in a position where I would have to choose between my beliefs and my future plans. The charter would be a significant obstacle to the many girls who will think that their brilliant minds mean nothing because of what is on their heads. I also explained how I think it is quite surprising to want to ban religious symbols in a province where there are visible Christian symbols everywhere (crosses on mountains, Christmas trees downtown, big mosques, big churches etc.). I'm not saying that Christmas lights shouldn't be allowed in malls anymore; what I am saying is that we live in a diverse province and this is what makes us so great. The beauty is in our differences, in the way we can learn about each other while maintaining respect. Although the headscarf is in no way a decoration, it is something I identify with and I want the Parti Quebecois to understand that, too. Later on, I acknowledged the commitment his party has to certain values by comparing them to my commitment to the hijab. I also wrote about the freedom of expression that I have been taught throughout my life and how I identify with it, just like my headscarf. Further, I explained to him how I feel wearing the hijab and how I assume that other people have beliefs they hold dearly.                                                                                                                       

I got two responses to my letter. At first, I sent my letter to my federal representative called Frank Baylis, which was a mistake. My message got answered a few days later by Caroline Morchat, his constituency assistant, on his behalf. She thanked me for my letter and pointed out that I should be in touch with my provincial representative on this issue (which I thought was really nice). With that feedback, I found my provincial representative Carlos J. Leitão. Surprisingly, I got a reply the very next day. Again, the e-mail was on behalf of M. Carlos J. Leitão and it was written by his “attachée politique” Nicole Michelakis. In the e-mail, she thanked me for taking the time to express my concerns and for actively practicing my rights and she hoped that my letter will get the attention it merits. She also suggested that I contact the office if I needed additional information (Michelakis). The reply was quite nice, but I don’t feel like it made much difference to them. I appreciate that they actually took the time to reply; but I feel like they did so out of respect and not with a lot of care.

I don’t know whether it will make a change to Jean-Francois Lisée himself, but if it makes a change to my friends, maybe even to my teacher, that means something to me. As said by no other than Gandhi,

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You never know what results comes from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no results” (in Saviuc).

If I didn’t send that letter, I would be just another person complaining about the power and decisions of others. Instead, I was able to acknowledge my own power and make my own decisions.

I was born and raised here; therefore, I grew up my whole life knowing that the religion and the headscarf that my mother wore were normal things to do. Although I lived with a Conservative government, I grew up with a liberal ideology. Liberalism encourages freedom of religion, individual freedom and equality (Grimsley). I have come to the conclusion that I stand with classical liberalism which focuses most on equality of political right, free speech, liberal equality and a limited government (Butler). Reform liberalism, by contrast, is oriented towards equality of opportunity and providing people with different options and programs to ensure their well being and to offer more opportunities to succeed (Chromistek). According to Nigel Ashford from the Institute of Human Studies, one of the principles of classical liberalism is that liberty is the primary political value. He states that when governments decide what to do, classical liberals have one clear question/standard: “Does this increase, or does it reduce the freedom of the individual?” (Weeks). That is what my letter is referring to and what I identify with most. 

If I had to do this project again, I would want to try something different, like signing a petition or attending a political party meeting where I could discuss the issue that I’m engaging with and in that way, be able to get actual information on the outcomes and pros and cons of it. That being said, I hope we will all learn from this project to never stop taking action for what we believe in.

Works Cited

Authier, Philip. "Quebec Values Charter 2.0: Ban against Crosses, Hijabs Would Only Apply to New Public Employees." National Post. N.p., 15 Jan. 2015. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/quebec-values-charter-2-0-ban-against-crosses-hijabs-would-only-apply-to-new-public-employees

Butler, Eamonn. “Classical Liberalism”. The institute of Economic Affairs, 2015, pp.19-21. http://iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Butler-interactive.pdf

Canada, Parliament of Canada., Library of Parliament. Party Leaders and Standings. http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/ParlInfo/Compilations/ProvinceTerritory/PartyStandingsAndLeaders.aspx?Province=c637cf26-4cf0-4806-91c1-db45b437a0d7

Chomistek, Mr. "Modern Liberalism." Modern Liberalism. N.p., 19 Apr. 2011. http://carolinesocial30.blogspot.ca/2011/04/modern-liberalism.html

Duerr, Glenn. "Nationalism, the Parti Quebecois, and the 2012 Quebec General Election." E-International Relations. N.p., 10 Sept. 2012., http://www.e-ir.info/2012/09/10/nationalism-the-parti-quebecois-and-the-2012-quebec-general-election/

Grimsley, Shawn. "Liberalism: History, Ideology, and Influence." Study.com. N.p., n.d. http://study.com/academy/lesson/liberalism-history-ideology-and-influence.html

Laframboise, Kalina. "Parti Québécois Elects Jean-François Lisée as New Leader." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 07 Oct. 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/parti-quebecois-new-leader-announcement-2016-1.3795069

Michelakis, Nicole. “Re:Letter.” Received by Yassmine El-Safadi, 24 November 2016

Mir, Shabana. “17 Reasons Why Women Wear Headscarves.” Religion Dispatches, 3 July 2009, religiondispatches.org/17-reasons-why-women-wear-headscarves/.

Morchat, Caroline. “Re:Letter.” Received by Yassmine El-Safadi, 23 November 2016

 "Parti Québécois." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/parti-quebecois/

"PQ House Leader Bernard Drainville to Resign from Politics: Source." The Globe and Mail. QUEBEC — The Canadian Press, 13 June 2016, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/parti-quebecois-mna-bernard-drainville-to-resign-from-politics-source/article30422935/

"Quebec Values Charter Protest Hits Montreal Streets." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 14 Sept. 2013.http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-values-charter-protest-hits-montreal-streets-1.1840089

Saviuc, Luminita D. "26 Life Changing Lessons to Learn from Mahatma Gandhi." Purpose Fairy. N.p., 1 Aug. 2014, http://www.purposefairy.com/73245/26-life-changing-lessons-to-learn-from-mahatma-gandhi/

Shingler, Benjamin. "Amnesty International Warns Quebec Values Charter Would Violate 'fundamental Rights'" National Post. Canadian Press, 1 Sept. 2013. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/amnesty-international-warns-quebec-values-charter-would-violate-fundamental-rights

Weeks, Bob. "Classical Liberalism Values Liberty, the Individual, and Civil Society." Wichita Liberty. Voices for Liberty in Wichita, 19 Dec. 2011. https://wichitaliberty.org/liberty/classical-liberalism-values-liberty-the-individual-and-civil-society/

Press, The Canadian. “'Charter of Quebec Values' Will Unite Province: Marois.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 26 Aug. 2013, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/charter-of-quebec-values-will-unite-province-marois-1.1382300.

About the author

Yassmin is a 18 year old social science student who just finished her first year of college. When not too busy worrying about school, she loves buying new books and stocking her library, which she hopes one day will have books written by none other than her!

About the illustrator

Abigail Lee joined the Illustration program after completing a degree in pre-veterinary science at McGill. She decided to pursue a career in art after being inspired by the beautifully detailed textbook illustrations in her biology and anatomy classes. Her dream is to combine her love of science and art by becoming a medical illustrator.

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