“The niqab is incompatible with gender equality.” “Women are forced by the men in their families to wear the niqab.” “Wearing a niqab makes living together impossible.” This talk will examine such claims made by the majority to constrain the lives of a small minority. The rampant spread of legislation banning face veils globally has transformed niqab-wearing from a non-existent issue to a spectacular threat to the nation state. Even educated, sophisticated scholars and judges who claim to accept and even welcome diversity will “draw the line” at the niqab. Relying on interviews with niqab-wearing women from Ontario and Quebec, Bakht helps to refocus understandings of the niqab from the perspective of the wearer. Bakht then analyzes popular and legislative objections to the niqab, revealing their specious logic. By hearing some of the experiences of niqab-wearing women and analyzing objections and legal proscriptions of the niqab, the hope is that we might get to know niqab-wearing women and ourselves better.
Natasha Bakht is a full professor of law at the University of Ottawa and the Shirley Greenberg Chair for Women and the Legal Profession. Her research focuses on the intersection of religious freedom and women’s equality.Her new book In Your Face: Law, Justice and Niqab-Wearing Women in Canada (Irwin Law, 2020) analyzes niqab bans while also drawing on interviews with niqab-wearing women to reveal their complex identities and multiple motivations for dressing in this way.
U.S. officials who occupied Japan after World War II claimed that the defeated country totally lacked religious freedom. However, this tidy narrative masked a messy history. Japan’s 1889 constitution had guaranteed religious freedom, and over subsequent decades Japanese clerics had fiercely debated and vigorously defended the religious freedom clause. Yet even as Buddhists in Japan generally used religious freedom to secure privileges for themselves while excluding “foreign” religions like Christianity, Japanese Buddhists living in the U.S. Territory of Hawai`i tried and failed to get the American guarantee of religious freedom to work for them. For example, although the landmark 1927 Supreme Court case Farrington v. Tokushige upheld the right of Japanese Americans to educate their children at Buddhist-operated language schools, racist depictions of Buddhism as “un-American” made it impossible for the plaintiffs to use religious freedom law in making their case. Thomas juxtaposes competing claims about religious freedom in the Japanese and U.S. empires to show that religious freedom is never simply present or absent in any given polity, nor has “it” ever been just one thing in any time or place.
Jolyon Thomas is Assistant Professor and Interim Graduate Chair of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research on religion investigates media, law, politics, education, and capitalism in Japan and the United States. He is the author of Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan (University of Chicago Press, 2019) and Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (University of Hawai`i Press, 2012).