Several interesting links up on Andrew's blog Multicultural Meanderings.
There is, of course, the continuing controversy over the Quebec Charte des valeurs. Identity politics are a nasty business and this fight is no exception. Thus far, at least one of the casualties is the perception of women as strong and capable and able to discern their own interests and desires. Adults able to decide for themselves what they want and how they should dress. In this article there are claims that women who choose to dress a particular way (the hijab) are "crazy" and "manipulated." As a feminist may I say that this kind of discourse is not helpful to women anywhere as it portrays us as gullible infants easily swayed by men into doing foolish things.
May I also respectfully point out that having the government tells us what to wear isn't fundamentally any different from having our menfolk do so. One patriarchy (the state as "Papa") is picking a fight with what they perceive is another patriarchy (migrant men) over the hearts, minds, and bodies of women.
This is, alas, a political strategy that seems to be bearing fruit if the polls in Quebec are accurate. This argument over symbols (religious and cultural) serves no one except those who wish to make political hay.
Quebec (and other places) are trying to judge what is inside someone's head by what he or she wears on their bodies. It's matching insides to outsides - always a perilous undertaking fraught with error and misunderstandings. If one thinks it is possible to see a "message" and make judgements about a woman based on what she wears, then it follows that all women everywhere can be judged that way. So then, what does it mean, mes amis, if a woman wears a short black skirt, a tight blouse and high heels? What "messages" is she sending? And are we allowed to treat her differently because of how we interpret her intentions manifested through her fashion sense?
Do we really want to go there? For that matter, weren't we there a few decades ago?
The hijab/burka has become a symbol in two levels. In some minds it stand for a degradation of women's rights and is something that women should be liberated from for their own good. For others it is about integration: a sign that a woman and her family do not wish to be a part of, and don't share the same values as, the culture of arrival. If I may be so bold, I believe this says very little about migrants and a great deal about the insecurity of the culture in Quebec and France. The French-Canadians (and the French too) seems to have lost faith in their ability to embrace migrants and convince them that the values they find on arrival are worthy of emulation and respect.
When a few women migrants (and it is is a very few) wearing hijabs can send an entire culture into a panic, that's not a good sign, is it? It reeks of fear. And perhaps I was incorrect about the power of women since these women, just by being and putting on a few more clothes than the average native, are causing such a fuss and provoking such extreme emotions. Clearly, we are dangerous creatures and who knows what we might do if we were allowed to dress ourselves without guidance.
Here is what I know as a woman and a migrant - integration almost always comes eventually but it takes time. Yes, the culture of arrival competes with the culture of origin in one's head. It can't work any other way - a migrant does not simply drop to her knees and start genuflecting to the superiority of native culture the moment she gets off the plane. Stepping out of one world (a world that may have been the whole world for most of that migrant's life) into another is just as scary for the migrant herself. In some cases a very few things about the former life are held as precious, not because there is no desire to integrate, but because they are the things that keep us from losing our minds as we sense that we are losing important parts of ourselves. The whole process of detachment and re-attachment happens differently with each individual and some land harder than others depending on where she came from and what the new culture requires.
When the receiving culture screams at us, "Not good enough!" and demands further sacrifice - integration on their schedule, not ours - it has precisely the opposite effect. No one likes to be forced into anything or told that their culture of origin is "bad" or talked down to as if she were a small child.
Because if that is the vision we get of the native culture - abusive, intolerant, controlling, quick to judge, slow to accept - then we really have to wonder why we would ever want to be a part of such a society at all.