A discussion of how the “woke” mentality of the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left has converged with pro-religious prejudice and ignorance of secularism to create a fanatical opposition to Quebec’s Bill 21, a progressive and landmark piece of legislation which partially implements secularism in that province.
A slightly modified version of this article appears on the British website SP!KED under the title “Now even secularism is ‘Islamophobic’”.
Sommaire en français Une discussion de l’influence, sur le débat autour de la Loi 21 au Québec, de la mentalité dite « woke » (réveillée), soit celle de la pseudo-gauche anti-Lumières. Cette mentalité, en convergence avec des préjugés pro-religieux et une ignorance de la laïcité, a créé une opposition féroce à la Loi 21, une législation progressiste et historique qui réalise partiellement la laïcisation de l’État québécois.
Une version quelque peu modifiée du présent texte paraît sur le site britannique SP!KED sous le titre « Now even secularism is ‘Islamophobic’ ».
The Canadian province of Quebec recently adopted a new secularism law, Bill 21, which bans civil servants in position of authority, including schoolteachers, from wearing religious symbols. It also bans face-coverings for both employees and users. Yet, this progressive legislation has been met with extravagant denunciations from uncomprehending media and politicians outside Quebec, accusing the population of that province of a plethora of dastardly sins: xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, etc.
These accusations sound familiar. They belong to the vocabulary of the woke. I am of course referring to those ostensible leftists sometimes called regressive leftists, although the term anti-Enlightenment pseudo-leftists is more appropriate, militants who adhere to an admixture of dubious ideologies including intersectionality, multiculturalism, postmodernism and various degenerated forms of Marxism.
Two aspects of “wokism” are especially problematic: (1) privileging religious identity; and (2) conflating race and religion, i.e. confusing a person’s innate, intrinsic attributes (such as race) with acquired, extrinsic attributes (such as religion or opinion).
Bill 21’s definition of secularism includes the crucial principle of separation between State and religions, a principle which is poorly understood in the English-speaking world, although many pay lip service to it. For example, if a police officer is allowed to wear a visible crucifix, a kippa or a hijab while on duty, then obviously there is a lack of separation.
Quebec, on the other hand, has chosen the French model of secularism, a model which, unlike the English, includes the separation principle explicitly. The Anglo-Canadian elite is not amused. Nevertheless, polls show that many Canadians outside Quebec support the law, whereas inside Quebec the law enjoys massive support.
By European standards, Bill 21 is moderate, even timid. Religious symbols are banned in public services and/or schools in France and parts of Switzerland, Belgium and Germany. Face-coverings, including the full veil, are banned in many European and African countries, including some Muslim-majority countries. Quebec’s legislation is neither exceptional nor unreasonable.
By requiring that teachers and civil servants in positions of authority remove religious symbols while on the job, Bill 21 protects pupils and users from the passive proselytizing which such symbols operate. It is a matter of professional ethics. Thus, Bill 21 extends and protects rights, i.e. the freedom of conscience of users and students.
The reaction of the woke “left” has been especially, well, reactionary. As Muslims constitute a minority in the countries where intersectional theory originated, they are considered an oppressed group. Intersectionality is notorious for its simplistic concentration on between-group oppression while ignoring within-group oppression. Few reasonable people would disagree with the famous Ernest Renan quote “Muslims are the first victims of Islam.” Yet intersectionalists would have to reject such an idea. If a Muslim is a target of oppression, the cause must inevitably be located outside their religious group. To fit the theory, any problems caused by a person’s Muslim identity must necessarily be caused by anti-Muslim animus and not by other Muslims or by Islam itself.
The wokish habit of conflating race and religion, especially if that religion is Islam, amounts to the negation of freedom of conscience and, with it, secularism. If being Muslim is a “race” then it is innate and immutable. Apostasy is a major sin in Islam and a crime—with severe consequences—in many Muslim-majority countries. The person born into a Muslim family is thus a prisoner of Islam, deprived of freedom of conscience, denied any possibility of apostasy, i.e. freedom to leave the faith to adopt another religion or none. This is precisely what Islamists aim for, and the woke hand it to them on a silver platter. The multiculturalist attitude that a hijabi “must” wear her hijab at all times is the soft version of that taboo against apostasy.
Secularism, on the hand, sends the opposite message: You are not defined by the religion forced upon you as a child.
Several well-funded organizations are challenging the law before the courts, claiming that it discriminates against Muslim women. But many Muslim women do not wear the hijab. To say that a ban on religious symbols discriminates against hijabis is like saying that speed limits discriminate against owners of high-performance vehicles. Those who defy the law are self-selecting, targets by their own design. These laws do not target anyone; rather, they target certain behaviours. If a woman wears the hijab not by choice but because she is pressured to do so by husband, family or community, then a ban in certain contexts will help her to resist that pressure.
Fortunately, the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left failed to stop Bill 21 from being passed into law. But it has done enormous damage, eroding support for secularism, even among many who hypocritically claim to be secularists. We will have to work very hard to repair that damage. In particular, we must assert the importance of freedom of conscience (which includes both freedom of and from religion) for all citizens; reject the conflation of race and religion; and insist that professional ethics take precedence over religious privilege.