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The veil is “hideous”, “odious”

Written by Sherwin, published on May 29, 2012

How not to disagree on Twitter

This is my sixth post in my series on Dan Gardner’s article about the Muslim veil. I want to reflect on the language of hate, and on having successful public disagreement via Twitter.

Having a twitter disagreement can be very difficult. It can be difficult to express your thoughts. And it can be difficult to maintain levity, civility and cordiality. I find it easier to disagree with some folks more than others.

I find it very difficult with Dan Gardner.

The day that Gardner published his editorial on veils, I decided that it was important to engage him. Probably it started when someone I follow retweeted him. Gardner called the veil hideous. Like his article, I thought his tweet showed poor judgement.

In the twitter exchange that followed, Gardner accused me of being a troll, called me snotty,  put words in my mouth, claimed my concerns were obnoxious, and then told me that putting up with his ad hominems was the “price of admission.”1

I found all of this startling because Gardner claims to value civil discourse and rigorous debate. He is, I believe, one of the better reporters, writing at one of the better newspapers in the Postmedia empire. And to his credit, he engages with random readers that don’t follow him.

But I think it’s likely that Gardner isn’t very aware of his privilege. If he was, he would have been less likely to commit repeated ad hominem attacks and then forget that he had. I think he would have been less likely to write an article predominantly about brown women and call their chosen religious practice of wearing a veil, “odious.” These are women who are members of a religion that many Canadians misunderstand; these are women for whom English might not be their first language.

I think that if Gardner was more aware of his privilege, he wouldn’t have chosen to use such strong, absolute language. And he wouldn’t have chosen to make these conclusions in a thousand word editorial and then claim that he was writing about science. If Gardner was more aware of his privilege, he would have been more concerned about convincing other Canadians to hate the religious practice of a racialized minority.

Even if, and I am not convinced of this, but even if the veil is anti-human and anti-woman as Gardner has claimed, the women who choose to wear the veil deserve more than a thousand word editorial penned in an era of widespread fear and misunderstanding of Islam.

I believe that terms like “odious” and “unnatural” and “inhuman” and “hideous” are the language of hate. Am I wrong?

  1. There were other parts of our exchange that were more reasonable, but as you can imagine, these are the parts that stood out for me.
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