Antipathy towards Quebec and anti-secularism often go hand in hand in Canadian politics. They are, or should be, unrelated issues, but as republican secularism is more popular in Quebec and multiculturalism more popular outside Quebec, they become intertwined. I give some examples of this harmful attitude, from comments on an atheist web site to a Globe and Mail article.
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Une antipathie pour le Québec et une prise de position antilaïque sont deux attitudes souvent confondues dans les débats politiques au Canada. En principe ces deux questions n’ont rien directement en commun, mais deviennent entremêlées puisque la laïcité (républicaine) est plus populaire au Québec et le multiculturalisme plus populaire hors Québec. J’en présente quelques exemples tirés d’un site web athée et d’un article du journal torontois Globe and Mail.
One day during the campaign leading up to the Quebec provincial election of April 2014, I visited the web site Canadian Atheist and found, to my initial surprise, that the most recent post consisted mainly of a very brief video, only a few seconds, configured to run in an infinite loop, showing Pauline Marois—premier of Quebec at the time—standing before a cluster of microphones at a press conference and, with the palm of one hand, gently but firmly pushing Pierre-Karl Péladeau away from the microphones. Péladeau, a rich businessman and owner of media giant Québecor, had recently become a Parti Québécois (PQ) candidate in that election and has since become leader of the party, replacing Marois after the party’s defeat in that 2014 election.
Clearly the video was meant as a mocking embarrassment to the PQ, showing a conflict between two leaders—current and future—of that separatist party. But why would such a video be posted on an atheist web site? It had no relevance there. What could some alleged power struggle within a provincial political party have to do with atheism? The video sequence was obviously meant to be humorous but succeeded merely in being adolescent and bizarre.
Furthermore, by any reasonable standard, an atheist web site would be expected to adopt a serious, even sympathetic attitude towards that political party. After all, a major aspect of the PQ’s platform in the 2014 election was its Charter of Secularism which, if adopted, would have officially declared the Quebec state to be secular and would have instituted separation of religion and state as official policy in Quebec. All atheists and secularists could be expected to support such a measure enthusiastically and to be favourably disposed towards whoever proposed it.
However this is Canada, and as I have learned to my great chagrin, expecting Canadians—in particular Canadians who claim to be secularists—to behave reasonably and in accordance with their own best interests is a recipe for disappointment. Despite the valiant efforts and the perseverance of my friend and colleague Veronica Abbass, editor-in-chief of Canadian Atheist, the postings and in particular the comments on that site sometimes degenerate into a fetid cesspool of anti-secularism and hatred of Quebec, the two currents being very much intertwined. That, in a nutshell, is the explanation for the video posting described above. For technical reasons it has unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—since disappeared from the site, so I am unable to name the author who posted it.
Indeed, that site is infested by a small but very vocal number of ethnic bigots—the poster of the video just mentioned being one—whose extreme antipathy towards Quebec nationalism greatly exceeds any attachment they might have to secularism. Several of them avoid using a full name. Their comments vary in length, from a simple specious insult like “Islamophobia!” to interminable diatribes thousands of words long. Here is a representative sample from one of those comments:
[…] the pq charter […] had nothing to do with secularism and everything to do with repressive nationalism.
The PQ hates multiculturalism because it implies québécois culture is no more special than any other, and therefore not deserving of special status and protection. True secularism is about not privileging one religion over any others, it is not about bullying religious minorities out of the public sphere/service.
The author of the above comment needs to pulls his/her head out of his/her gluteal sphincter and recognize a few obvious facts:
- The Charter, whether one agreed with it or not, was certainly about secularism.
- Quebec nationalism in general has been, for the last half century, resolutely secular in orientation.
- Putting Québécois culture on par with a religion, as he/she does, is absurd.
- French-language culture in Canada, concentrated in Quebec, is certainly “deserving of special status” and indeed, constitutionally so, as French and English are Canada’s two official languages.
The reality is that the avant-garde of secularism not just in Canada but in all of North America—indeed in the entire western hemisphere—is in Quebec. The crucifixes that used to be omnipresent there are mostly gone, while the crucifix still hanging in the National Assembly is an annoying remnant whose continued presence was formally guaranteed not by the PQ but by the Quebec Liberal Party which vehemently opposed the Quebec Charter of Secularism, in collaboration with Islamists.
The irony of the comments by “Joe” is that he/she correctly identifies the situation—that multiculturalism reduces the French language and culture to a status no greater than any other non-English culture—and then draws precisely the wrong conclusion: that this situation is justified.
Canada was founded as an ostensibly bilingual nation, a partnership between two founding cultures and languages: the English and the French. In practice, it did not quite work out that way, with English having far greater dominance, while French gradually receded almost everywhere. The British imperial power, at its apogee, was notorious for its arrogance, ethnocentrism, paternalism and racism. The fact that the French (and to a lesser extent the Scottish) tended to intermarry with First Nations people a little more than others gave the English yet another excuse to look down their noses at them. In the 1960s, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism studied this linguistic imbalance and proposed policies to attempt to correct it. However, within a few years, the concept of biculturalism had been forgotten and was supplanted by multiculturalism.
Whether intentional or not, this replacement of “bi-” by “multi-” led to further devaluation of French language and culture, already in an inferior position. With multiculturalism, French culture became just another in a mosaic. The dominance of English culture became overwhelming. Multiculturalism thus became a vehicle for Anglo ethnocentrism. An ideology which claims to be a solution to racism (it is not) became a vehicle for devaluing one of Canada’s two founding cultures.
Multiculturalism thus became a vehicle for Anglo ethnocentrism. […] The arrogance and paternalism of British imperialism have been recycled and repackaged as multiculturalism.
And that is one major reason why multiculturalism is so popular in Canada outside Quebec, and less popular in Quebec. It allows Canadians to pretend to be anti-racist, while simultaneously providing a convenient excuse for their ongoing antipathy towards French-speaking Quebecers. The arrogance and paternalism of British imperialism have been recycled and repackaged as multiculturalism.
Anyone who claimed to be a secularist could not in good conscience oppose the PQ Charter unless they were honest about what they were opposing, and on what basis they were opposing it. They were in fact opposing a law inspired by the French tradition of republican secularism, and their opposition was based on a defence of religious privilege as guaranteed by Lockean pseudo-secularism as explained in a previous blog. Charter opponents rejected the Charter because it represented a more coherent form of secularism. They preferred the inferior Lockean form, but rarely had the clarity to say so. However Quebecers prefer the republican form, as is their right.
The tendentious habit of opposing secularism by vilifying those who propose it certainly did not disappear when the party which proposed the Charter was defeated in April of 2014. It continues unabated. We saw it recently during the federal election of October 2015, when anyone who pointed out the foolishness of allowing face-coverings during citizenship hearings risked being accused of “intolerance” or worse. Anti-Quebec memes were freely recycled for this purpose. For example, Sheema Khan, writing in the Globe and Mail during the federal election campaign trotted out that old chestnut of Jacques Parizeau’s “money and ethnic votes” comment as an excuse for supporting wearing the niqab, while comparing the 1995 pro-Canada, anti-separatist rally in Montreal to a “noble” pilgrimage (i.e. the “hajj”). Does this mean that Allah condemns those damn separatists?
It is a tenet of Canadian mythology that Parizeau’s comment was “racist” but in reality he was just being a sore loser, angry that his side lost the referendum by a very narrow margin whereas the federal government had subsidized the rally in violation of Quebec legislation limiting campaign spending. Without such federal overspending, the “Oui” side might have won. As for the “ethnic” part, Parizeau was simply referring to the well-known phenomenon of federalists seeking electoral advantage by encouraging new immigrants in the Montreal area to assimilate to the English-language community rather than the French. Parizeau’s comment, made in the heat of bitter disappointment, was foolish because an intelligent politician such as he should have known that his political enemies would use such a comment to make unfounded but damaging accusations. That is indeed what they did, and continue to do even after his death.
Another irony: Parizeau was among those sovereignists who expressed strong reservations about the Charter of Secularism. But that does not stop enemies of secularism from using his example to denigrate secularists.
The demonization of Quebec nationalism harms all Canadians because it jeopardizes the fight for secularization.
Next blog: The Cult of Impotence