Paradigm Shift

In Seeds, our upcoming play about a landmark legal battle, we also look at paradigm shift in our understanding of genetics and the mechanisms of inheritance. After posting an amazing piece earlier this week from The Atlantic Monthly  novelist, playwright and online somebody Sean Dixon fired back a twitter about another paradigm shift that is obsessing him. Here it is:

Written By Sean Dixon

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently changed the rules re: taking the oath of Canadian citizenship, ensuring that the words would really and truly get mouthed by everyone in one of those packed rooms.

His dilemma reminds me how, when I got married in the Czech Republic, my vow included the Czech word ‘Ano’, which means yes. At the time, I recall wondering to myself: What if I’m actually thinking, ‘Ah, no’?

Kenney has embedded a similar error in judgment into Canadian law.

He asked himself: How will we know that the new-minted Canadian will really mean the words when she says them?

And he came up with the answer: Make her remove her niqab –symbol of obedience and subservience(1)– when she speaks. That way, the rest of us will know for sure.

But then there’s the idea that women should be allowed to dress how they like even if their mode of dress is seen as a function of male oppression by men who, presumably, haven’t been paying attention.

I’ve always found the subject interesting because confusing because it encompasses so many opinions and impressions and equates such iconic, seemingly oppressive imagery with its opposite, here:

Tabatha Southey: “I grew up to wear high heels fairly frequently and whatever else it pleases me to wear. The only way in which what I choose to wear is problematic for me is if it invokes any patronizing assumptions that I require liberation from my footwear. And yes, I’ve thanked my mother for the 13 years of ballet that enable me to walk fairly well wearing the very shoes that bewilder her.”

and also here:

Of course, people are entitled to their opinions. As far as I can figure, none of these opinions, for or against, could be considered wrong, certainly not unlawful. So why Jason Kenney would wish to make the shedding of the niqab a matter of law, and at the moment of most dramatic intersection between the individual and the state, strikes me as more than an unnecessary muddying of the waters.

In seeking to remove what he sees as the trappings of oppression, Kenney becomes the de facto oppressor. Me, I’d love to establish an equally binding law that would require the minister to remove his pants whenever he stood up in the House of Commons to speak.

He reminds me of the observer in The Little Prince who is convinced that the drawing of an elephant in a python’s belly

is actually a man’s hat.

Because how can you tell there’s an elephant in there? And, more to the point, how can you tell what that elephant is really thinking or feeling? How can you tell whether that elephant really wants to be a Canadian or not?

It’s an error in judgment. Spinning Ano into ‘Ah, no’ would be true if I wanted it to be, and not true if I didn’t want it to be. It comes down to me and my integrity, which is not represented by the clothing I choose to wear. What’s more, clothing and character are intertwined. Inextricably(2) Fibres in the rope tied into a Gordian knot. Jason Kenney thinks he can untie the knot by cutting it with a knife. All he’s done is destroyed the rope.

 (1) Annemarie Schimmel (the German scholar who devoted fifty years  of her life to the Sisyphean task of explaining Islam to the west) on the niqab: ”The problem of what to cover and how to interpret the Koranic statement about the attractive parts which women should veil (Sura 24:31) has never been solved completely. But even the modern Muslim woman, dressed in Western style, will cover her head when listening to the Koran, even if only with a hastily-grabbed newspaper when she suddenly hears a recitation of the Koran on the radio.”

(2)Annemarie Schimmel again: “Garments in general can be used for protective purposes: when one wraps a child in an aged person’s dress, one hopes that it may grow to a ripe old age; or when the anxious mother dresses her little boy as a girl, she wants to protect him from the Evil Eye or malicious djinns who might be more interested in a baby boy than in a girl: the dress helps to ‘change its identity’. The Evil Eye or any other danger can also be averted — so Muslims hope — by means of a talismanic shirt, which ideally would be of cotton spun and woven by 40 pure virgins and would be covered with Koranic inscriptions and invocations.”

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