Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quebec Separatists Challenge Canadian Tolerance with Proposed Islamic-Headscarf Ban

It is a common self-deprecating joke of Canadians that their country had the opportunity to enjoy French cuisine, American industry, and British traditions, but unfortunately got stuck with American traditions, French industry, and British cuisine.  Like many such jokes, there’s some truth to it.  But now at least one corner of Canada is amending that list by indulging in a particularly French form of religious bigotry as well.  On September 10th, timed for the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, lawmakers from Quebec’s ruling separatist party, the Parti Québécois (P.Q.), announced a push for a law banning Islamic religious garb—following a trend in many parts of Europe, most notoriously France.

The proposed law, as part of the party’s so-called “Charter of Quebec Values,” would forbid any specifically religious clothing to be worn by public servants while on the job.  (Elected officials would be exempt.)  Religious symbols that could no longer be worn include Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish yarmulkes, and “large” Christian crucifixes.  (How large is not defined—Jews do not seem to be able to sneak past the law with really really small yarmulkes—but this follows the language in similar French legislation.)  Though the law has no chance of passing, the proposal offers a taste of what kind of place Quebec would be to live in if it ever really separated from Canada.

Nor is it only Muslims who would be affected ...
Similar legislation is already in play in France, where, as in the rest of Europe, there are fewer constitutional protections of free expression than in Canada (where such a law, if passed, will surely be knocked down the first time it is tested in court).  Though it is ostensibly neutral—it pertains to all such religious symbols—everyone understands that such policies are designed to target Muslims.  Before 2001 and the cresting of anti-Muslim prejudice, no one was seriously worried about the disruptive societal effects of wearing large crosses (which few French do anyway); nor was there any kind of a widespread panic over nuns’ habits.  Last year, the French president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy—who rose to power on a campaign promise to “powerhose the scum out of the ghettoes”—suddenly decided in the 2012 election season (as reported in this blog at the time) that it was necessary to crack down on animal cruelty among halal butchers (halal being the Islamic equivalent of Jewish kosher dietary rules).  Sarkozy was even such an animal sentimentalist that he took time away from his busy schedule of authorizing baton-swinging police raids on Gypsy encampments to tour halal butcheries and tut-tut over the nastiness of it all.  He did everything but pose for the camera with a quivering lamb in his arms and whisper in its ear that he would protect it from the big bad mullahs.  Everyone, of course, understood that he was playing to the Marine Le Pen vote, not the Brigitte Bardot one.  (He lost, thankfully.)

Nicolas Sarkozy, born-again animal-rights champion
The P.Q. is doing the same thing.  Such laws will never pass Canadian constitutional muster—and the P.Q. does not have enough of a majority in the provincial assembly to push through laws on its own—but the separatist party’s leader, Pauline Marois, is pandering to ignorant xenophobes and preying on fears of terrorism to revive sagging poll numbers in the face of apathy on the question of secession from Canada, the party’s raison d’être.  (See an earlier article from this blog on language politics in Quebec.)

As one might expect, civil-rights groups and Muslim organizations in Quebec are up in arms.  Jewish groups are not happy either.  (Jews and Muslims each make up between 1% and 2% of the population of Quebec, which is about 84% Roman Catholic and about 6% non-religious.)

Pauline Marois looks down her nose at minorities.
Earlier this year, Marois backed a rule barring Sikhs from wearing turbans while playing soccer, on so-called safety grounds.  The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) promptly struck down the rule—not the only time that Québécois cultural chauvinism has run afoul of more tolerant international bodies.  (Sikhs, though numerous on Canada’s on West Coast, barely register demographically in Quebec, numbering only about 8,000.)  Marois’s government has also been accused of intentionally scheduling 2016 elections to coincide with Rosh Hashanah, and thus suppress Montreal’s mostly anti-separatist Jewish vote.

Proudly Sikh, proudly Québécois, proudly Canadian—something Pauline Marois can’t get her head around
Opposition parties have reacted angrily to the P.Q.’s moves.  Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.), said, “We’re categorical in rejecting this,” adding that such discrimination is “intolerable in our society.”  But this is part of the plan.  The P.Q.’s narrow-minded electoral base already scorns Anglophone liberals as contemptibly tolerant of minorities.

Within the separatist camp, there has been discord over the P.Q. proposal.  One federal Bloc Québécois member of parliament, Maria Mourani, spoke out strongly against the religious-garb ban.  But within days she was ejected from her party because of so-called irreconcilable ideological differences with the party line.  Mourani, a Lebanese-Canadian born in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), who has in the past been outspoken on such issues as Tibet (as reported in this blog), will now sit as an independent.

Maria Mourani (left), excommunicated for her tolerance
But how much of a danger to society, and to the ruling party, are Muslims really?  Ironically, at her victory rally after winning office almost exactly a year ago, Marois survived a probable assassination attempt (as reported at the time in this blog) when a gun-toting lunatic was arrested after killing one person and wounding another; police think he may have been gunning for Marois next.  Who was this killer?  Was he an immigrant jihadist?  A turban-wearing Sikh terrorist?  Nope—the gunman, Richard Henry Bain, an Anglophone fishing-lodge owner from northern Quebec, is a born-again Christian who (as reported here) told media after his arrest, “I’m a Christian soldier, and we will never surrender to fight the evil separatists.  I fight for freedom, democracy, justice, and to speak one’s mother tongue.”  He said Jesus Christ had told him to embark on his shooting spree.  Gee, and he wasn’t even wearing a “large crucifix” to warn people that he was a nut.  You just never can tell who the problem people will be, can you?

Richard Henry Bain, who murders for Jesus (not covered by pending legislation)

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

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