Issues

January 2018

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Re: “Is secularism really better for women?,” by Susan Whitney

Joan Wallach Scott’s Sex and Secularism is no doubt a nuanced and balanced book whose author has chosen a deliberately narrow focus. Certainly our world needs correctives to Western smugness about its own values. Secularists—I am one of them—can certainly use the reminder that many women choose their own religious practices and derive strength and comfort from them.

Nonetheless, I do not believe that secularism is the root of the intense emotion provoked by veiled Muslim women in some of our politicians and far too many of our citizens. English Canada has never embraced secularism with the enthusiasm of the French.

Moreover, I have also known Muslim women who wear various forms of hijab not by choice, but in fear of violence from their male relatives. Women across Iran have been removing the hijab in public to protest against their country’s dress code. On February 4, the think tank Center for Strategic Studies, a research arm of the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, finally released the results of a survey report—conducted three years earlier—showing that almost half of the population wants the veil to be a personal choice, not a mandated one.

Secular society obviously has its own history of misogyny and discrimination, but as a woman I would still prefer, were I facing an issue of divorce or custody, to appear before a secular court rather than a religious one.

Suanne Kelman
Toronto, Ontario


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