Canadian laws should be changed to require women to "cover themselves" to prevent sexual assaults, says an Islamic street preacher in Toronto.
Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana, a 33-year-old Islamic convert, called for legal change in response to recent sex attacks at York University.
Atangana is connected with a group called Muslim Support Network and is one of a number of street-corner clerics commonly seen at the Yonge and Dundas Sts.
In an e-mail to the Toronto Sun, Atangana said "the reason ... these sex attacks are continuously happening is because (of) Canadian laws, which give too much freedom to women" when it comes to how they dress.
"You should take your example from the way Muslim women dress," he wrote. "Why does (sic) Muslim women who wear long dress and covers her head aren't targeted for sex attacks?"
The clash between western culture and values and the beliefs of some Muslim adherents has been a source of controversy and conflict across North America.
Atangana, who plans to distribute his views on paper in the coming weeks, went on to state that "the reason ... a woman gets raped is because of the way she (dresses)," and suggests that "Toronto (become) the first city in North America to introduce laws that would make it illegal for women to dress provocatively."
If Toronto did this, Atangana said in an interview, other Canadian cities would follow suit.
"If (women) want to prevent being sexually assaulted, they should cover themselves," said Atangana, adding that while he doesn't expect Western women to dress as Muslim women do, they should have a "dress code" and take note of the burka the head scarf and face veil some Muslim females wear.
Atangana says he began planning to distribute his views after a recent spate of sex assaults at York University's Keele campus, and praised Const. Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto police officer who ended up in hot water after telling students at a York University safety forum in January 2011 that women should avoid dressing like "sluts" if they didn't want to be victimized.
Many things can be said of this. Critical Muslim Tarek Fateh interviewed later in the article is correct to identify this view with an Islamic version of misogyny, while Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women is also correct to identify this sort of misogyny as something present in all cultures. As Josh Dehaas writing at MacLean's points out, Atangana's statements blaming female victims of sexual assault for their clothing is a more extreme echo of the statements of a Toronto police officer that started the SlutWalk movement worldwide. The American Muslim's Sheila Musaji points out that Atangana, a street preacher of no particular position, has no authority to speak for Muslims. Going to Onislam.net, the reaction from Muslim and non-Muslim commenters is one of hostility and anger, pointing out that blaming victims of sexual assault is immoral and that judging by Egypt, at least, the hijab and niqab do nothing to prevent very high rates of sexual assault. The general consensus, in short, is that Atangana may be a public Muslim, but that he's not a very good one.
This doesn't matter very much, at least not to the Sun's target audience. Toronto, like other cosmopolitan cities, isn't a city where different populations are mixed up promiscuously, but is rather a city of more-or-less autonomous enclaves. Despite the past fifty years of non-discriminatory immigration policy, the idea that most Canadians wouldn't have Muslim friends isn't even worthy of a bet. This isn't because of racism, as such, as it has to do with the fact that Canadians don't live in the cities where Muslims of whatever stripe are most common, never mind the specific neighbourhoods. I'd be willing to bet that would even be true for many Torontonians--Wikipedia's article on Islam in Canada identifies a quarter-million Muslims living in the Greater Toronto Area in 2001 out of a total regional population of 4.7 million or so, and the numbers haven't changed much since then. Especially since the category "Muslim" is so broad as to encompass any number of nationalities and even more ethnicities, so diffuse as to include people who practice different variants to different degrees or (in fact), not at all, it would be easy for most people to run into contact with someone of one sort of Muslim affiliation or another and not even recognize them.
Herein lies the genius of the Toronto Sun. Relatively few people might know Muslims, but everyone is familiar with Yonge-Dundas Square. Yonge and Dundas is one of the several intersections that lie at the core of Toronto's imagined identity. I myself have sixteen tagged entries in LiveJournal myself, and probably more besides. More, most everyone who goes to Yonge and Dundas, especially on the weekend, is familiar with the preachers--Christians on one stretch, Muslims on another. I'm tempted to think that I'd recognize Atangana if I passed him on his corner.
The front-page article of the Toronto Sun, complete with photo, just made Atangana one of the most famous and recognizable Muslims in Toronto. Atangana's theology has become one of the most recognizable variants of Islam practiced in Toronto for people who read the article. What does it matter if Atangana is not representative of Toronto Muslims? How many Torontonians--and how many Toronto Sun readers--are going to notice?
We can always have a clash of civilizations if we want to. Some of us do.