August 17, 2019

Bill-21 tells the world more about the mindset of the Quebec government than the minorities whose constitutional freedoms they are oppressing.  

By framing the debate using stereotypical expressions such as the oppression of women, resistance to assimilation and public safety, the proponents of the bill have sacrificed objective reasoning, pragmatic rationalism and pluralism at the altar of populism. They have purposely stocked up on demagogic culturalism under the auspices of nationalism. 

Quebecers have always seen themselves as different. But this bill accentuates their self-perceived cultural superiority. There is a clear and aggressive pattern at play. 

This bill is more than just about religious symbols; it is, rather, about any cultural or religious outlook that is at odds with the majority.  Back in 2014 Quebec wanted a ban on religious attire. The language is telling, not just symbols of religion but the attire itself. So what would be next? The chador, the dupatta or the shalwar kamiz — all attires that are both cultural and religious?

This bill is yet another attempt at forceful cultural assimilation. It is ideological cultural racism backed up by the state under the guise of secularism.

This all came to a head in 2015, when a divorced single mom of three, Rania El-Alloul, appeared in a court in Quebec in an attempt to get back her car, which had been impounded because of her son. The judge, Elina Marengo, asked El-Alloul to take off her headscarf in the courtroom if she wished to have her case heard. 

 The rationale given by the judge was standard rhetoric — that the courtroom was a secular space, not suited for religious attire. The precedent was alarming. Even for access to justice, minorities had to be dressed in a certain manner and were at the mercy of the interpretation of the law made by the proceeding judge on what constituted an acceptable secular attire. It would take three years before El-Alloul finally got justice from the supreme court of  Quebec. 

 The Liberal government of Quebec tabled Bill- 62 in 2017. It banned the niqab and burqa while receiving public service. The reason presented by the government was to facilitate communication and ensure public safety.  

In February, Isabelle Charest, newly appointed minister responsible for the status of women, said that the hijab was a form of oppression.  The statement merits observation. It basically implies that Islam by its nature is oppressive and there can be no accommodation made with oppression. 

Now in 2019, Bill 21–An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State was given unanimous approval. The term “laïcité” has its origins in France. It was first used in its present meaning in 1871. Back then the Church was in revival after the French Revolution and such thinking might have been necessary, but this is the 21st century. Even though the world has changed drastically since then, the belief in this ideology has not.   

This is a unique form of secularism, which, according to author Joan Wallach Scott, means the separation of church and state through the state’s protection of individuals from the claim of religion.  

It is this idea of laïcité upon which the foundation of the Quebec nation rests. This idea of a superior Quebec culture is rooted in a historical political discourse, which at its core has this mythical, delusional image of a Quebec nation, whose modernity, inclusion and tolerance excludes minorities that intend to practise their faith in accordance with the Canadian Constitution. 

This militant cultural conformism and extremism under the guise of secularism distorts the meaning of the term secularism as well. Secularism had always been a political ideology; its intent was the absence of religious influence from political discourse, not the disappearance of religion from public life. Now secularism has come to represent culture. 

Laïcité is an exact opposite of multiculturalism. The so-called equality that the ideology boasts is actually about similarity — repression through illogical and irrational ideology, hatred is legitimized under the abstract terminology of “values.” It is safe to argue that the Quebec mindset is of a bygone idealized era, where the empires of Europe reigned supreme and were on a mission to “civilize” the rest of humanity in their own image. 

After all, it is the soil of Quebec that gave refuge to a terrorist like Alexandre Bissonnette — on the rationale of public support. History is littered with examples of the tyranny of the majority.  A majority of Germans did not have a problem sending Jews to the gas chambers, the white South Africans had no problem with apartheid. The majority of Chinese do not mind putting their fellow Muslim Uyghurs into concentration camps. But does that make it right? Does this not point to the bankruptcy of the moral character of a society? 

Muslims predominately don’t have a problem with these laws, but rather the hypocrisy that underpins them. If Islam could survive 70 years behind the Iron Curtain, centuries of European oppression in the Middle East and Africa, there is little chance these laws would make much of a difference to the broader Islamic culture.  

But it is the mindset that has to be accentuated. A mindset that truly believes that Quebecers can be oppressors and bigots, yet still think of themselves as accommodating and civilized human beings. This is the primary mindset of the majority of the Quebec nation. It leaves little room for responsible debate. After all, who can argue with hate?

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