Three Examples of Cultural (Mis)Appropriation

Christianity, Islam and Canada


In this blog I present three instances when a idea or a set of concepts was appropriated from an existing culture by a newly forming religious or political entity. Should we call it cultural appropriation, or cultural misappropriation?

Sommaire en français Je présente dans ce billet de blogue trois exemples d’une idée ou d’un ensemble de concepts qu’une nouvelle entité religieuse ou politique s’est approprié à partir d’une culture existante. S’agit-il d’appropriation culturelle ou de « mésappropriation » culturelle.

In a previous blog, I argued that the taboo against so-called “cultural appropriation” is irrational and harmful, because intercultural borrowing is not only very widespread—being practically the norm rather than the exception— and furthermore because it enriches human cultures and improves the general quality of life. I also suggested, in those rarer cases when such borrowing is harmful in some way to the orginating group and may thus be reasonably considered a sort of plagiarism or even theft, that the term “cultural misappropriation” be used instead. Of course, determining the category into which a particular case should be classified often leaves plenty of room for debate.

In this blog, I give three examples of borrowing where the resulting concept is so well known, so commonplace, that most people are probably unaware, or have forgotten, that any borrowing had occurred.


It is well-known that Christianity is basically a rip-off of Judaism. I call it Judaism for ancient Greeks. The religion of the Hebrews, Judaism, was just another of countless tribal religions among various peoples of antiquity in and around the Roman Empire. It was not even a monotheism until rather late in its history, starting first as a polytheism, then evolving into a monolatry (worship of one god while recognizing the existence of many others) and finally emerging as a monotheism, where all gods were subsumed under their one god Jehovah. (This last step was a rationalization used by the defeated Hebrews to explain how the god of a rival tribe could defeat theirs—at least that is the explanation put forward by author Jean Soler to explain the origins of monotheism.)

Then along came Paul of Tarsus, a rather dysfunctional individual, especially his views on sexuality, whom Christians venerate as “Saint Paul.” Paul took an obscure Jewish reform movement and turned it into a new religion Christianity, and the rest is history. Paul was the founder of Christianity, not Jesus, because the existence of Jesus is uncertain, and even if he did exist, we know almost nothing about him. Christianity borrowed heavily from both Judaism (a large chunk of the Christian bible is lifted directly from the Hebrews) and from the religion of the ancient Greeks (for example, the concept of hell is an extension of Hades, but much worse). Of course Christianity also borrowed from Egyptian and other religions, in particular the concepts of virgin birth and the son of god.

Christians were persecuted for centuries by the Roman authorities, because their dogmatic monotheism was so intolerant that they refused to recognize the gods and authority of Rome. Constantine put an end to that persecution in the early IVth century C.E. and later that century the spectacularly intolerant Theodosius Ist made Nicene Christianity the empire’s state religion, while banning all other religions including the traditional cults of the Roman and Greek gods.

Thus, in creating the new religion of Christianity, a tribal religion was transformed into one with universalist pretentions and which persecuted anyone, regardless of ethnicity, who refused to adopt it. In particular, Jews who refused to convert to the new fashionable religion were particularly reviled, and the crucifixion story, an essential part of Christian mythology, was used as a convenient excuse for that persecution on the pretext that it was Jews who had murdered Jesus Christ. It is amusing to note that the word “pagan” is derived from the Latin “pāgānus” meaning “rural” or “rustic” (and related to “peasant”), as non-Christians were apparently considered country bumpkins not yet hip to the cool new religion of Christianity which was all the rage in urban centres of the empire.


Several centuries after the Christians plagiarized Judaism, along came Muhammad, calling himself a prophet of the one true god—indeed claiming to be the last prophet of god for all eternity! He borrowed heavily from Judaism and Christianity, the so-called religions of the Book, which he apparently envied for their scriptures which gave them an aura of wisdom and sagacity. His new religion Islam is sometimes considered to be a derivative of Arian Christianity. Arianism was a non-Nicene variant of Christianity (i.e. no trinity) which was rejected as heresy by the First Council of Nicaea, convoked by Constantine in 325.

I call Islam Judaism for Arabs. Muhammad initially attempted to convert some Jewish tribes, living in the Arabian peninsula, to his new religion, but when they refused, he had them massacred. Basically, Muhammad took two bad ideas, Judaism and Christianity, combined them and put himself at the centre of the result, which became arguably even more intolerant than the two already very intolerant source religions. The quran contains many expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment, as well as lots of misogyny and violent hostility towards unbelievers and polytheists.


According to the Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism by James Stuart Olson, “The name Canada probably is derived from the Huron-Iroquois kanata, meaning a village or a community.” So we can consider the use of the word Canada by Europeans to be a form of cultural appropriation, although a rather trivial one, as many languages borrow heavily from others. However, a far more significant form of cultural (mis)appropriation occurred centuries after Europeans overran the Americas.

Until the British conquest of New France in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), Canada was basically just another name for New France. This territory was divided by the British into Upper and Lower Canada (« les deux Canadas ») and its inhabitants, « les Canadiens » or « Canayens », were of course mainly French-speaking and descended from settlers from France with some intermarriage with native peoples. The two Canadas were re-united by the Act of Union of 1840-1841 into a single colony known as « Canada-Uni » or the “Province of Canada” in an attempt by the British to assimilate francophones into the anglophone majority.

Then in 1867, year of Confederation, the two then became distinct provinces, Ontario and Québec, in the newly founded nation which we call Canada. By that time, only Quebec was majority French-speaking, because immigration into Upper Canada, a.k.a. Ontario, had made it mainly English-speaking. At Confederation, Canada was composed of four provinces (with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), and since then six more have been added to make ten today.

The point of this brief historical review is to explain that the name “Canada” and the adjective “Canadian” refer primarily to New France and its inhabitants, but those terms have been appropriated by the country Canada founded in 1867 in which English was and remains the dominant language. That dominance increases with each passing decade, for a variety of reasons. Thus, the word “Canadian” should properly refer to the Québécois who are the descendants of the inhabitants of New France.

Of course, that is not how things have worked out. The name “Canada” now refers to a country which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and from the Arctic islands in the north to the U.S. border in the south. Those who once referred to themselves as « Canayens » now prefer, or at least have become habituated to, the term « Québécois » and have abandoned the now quaint-sounding « Canadiens français ». However, even after all these years, the two language groups in this enlarged Canada, English and French, are still divided by some major differences in culture and values.

So, the next time you hear some Canadian ideologue complain about how Quebecers are so stubborn and backward (or worse) and fail to worship fashionable Canadian ideals such as so-called “multiculturalism” (i.e. communitarianism) or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, just remember that Canadians appropriated the term “Canada” and now, using that plagiarized name, wish to impose forcefully on Quebecers values they do not agree with. It must not be forgotten that the Charter is part of the 1982 Constitution which has never been approved by Quebec and was indeed foisted upon it against its will. If anyone gloats about the fact that Quebec is legally required to obey the Charter, what they are basically saying is that “Might Makes Right”—ethics and democracy be damned. This whole scenario reminds me of how Christians plagiarized Jews and polytheists, then vilified the former as Christ-killers and denigrated the latter as pagans.

Appropriation or Misappropriation?

Should the three cases explained above be considered appropriation or misappropriation? I think it is clear that the borrowing in each case ended up being rather harmful to those who were plagiarized. This is especially the case with Christianity and Islam, both of which have been, and often continue to be, very anti-Jewish. The final example, that of Canada, is much less extreme, but nevertheless harmful to the plagiarized Québécois. I consider all three examples to be cases of misappropriation. However, I do not think that any kind of corrective re-appropriation, for lack of a better expression, is in order. That would be akin to rewriting history. It would absurd to ban the use of the Pentateuch by Christians because they copied it from the Hebrews. It would be equally absurd to require that Muslims stop referring to Abraham and Jesus as (lesser) prophets of Islam. And it would be ridiculous to insist that the country we now know as Canada change its name.

Rewriting history, in the sense of erasing parts of it, is for fools and demagogues. What we do need to do is to remember history, to preserve it, to enrich our knowledge of it, to learn from it and to use it as one resource among many as we face the future. We can learn two lessons from the above historical considerations: (1) neither Christianity nor Islam had anything particularly original to offer; and (2) Canadians have no right to feel self-righteous and superior to the Québécois.

Next blog: Décision de la Cour d’appel du Québec, 2019-12-12

Sinéad O’Connor: A Metaphor for the Degeneration of the Left

From courage to capitulation.


There is a strong parallel between the evolution of Sinéad O’Connor’s religious views and the degeneration of the modern political left in its attitude towards religion.

Sommaire en français Il existe un fort parallèle entre l’évolution des opinions religieuses de Sinéad O’Connor et la dégénérescence de la gauche politique moderne quant à son attitude à l’égard de la religion.

On the 3rd of October 1992, Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live and, at the end of her performance, scandalized both the show’s producers and its studio audience by tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II to protest child abuse in the Catholic Church. O’Connor was vilified by many, but her gesture proved to be completely justified by what we now know about sex abuse perpetrated by so many Catholic priests. Her protest was also an act of enormous courage. A quarter-century later, in September of 2018, journalist Niall O’Dowd asked Do we owe Sinéad O’Connor an apology for speaking the truth about church child abuse? and journalist Kerry O’Shea reported that Atheists think Sinead O’Connor is owed an apology, and then some.

Seven years after the SNL incident, O’Connor was ordained a priest in a Church in Lourdes, France, which had defected from the Catholic Church (which of course did not recognize the ordination). Then, in September of 2018, she announced her conversion to Islam, stating that it was “the natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian’s journey.” She subsequently announced that she won’t associate with white people, whom she apparently finds “disgusting.” Referring to non-Muslims as “white” is bizarre, and the intensity of her hostility was enough to attract criticism from some fellow Muslims, to their credit.

O’Connor ripping a picture of the Pope
Click to enlarge
O’Connor ripping a picture of the Pope
Source: Wikipedia

I consider these two events in O’Connor’s life to be a fitting metaphor for the degeneration of what is left of the political left. A critical approach to religion is a major and standard aspect of left-wing politics, inspired by Enlightenment principles. Karl Marx is probably the most famous name associated with left-wing criticism of religion, but he was certainly not alone in observing that belief in a fictional sky-cop and an afterlife—where rewards and punishments will be meted out—is one of the most effective scams used by the dominant classes to convince the poor and the persecuted to accept their lot. It should also not be forgotten that Marx, even as he denounced the “opiate of the masses” in that famous quote from the introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, also showed a great deal of compassion for the plight of the victims of this scam.

And yet, in the XXIst century, much of the political left, if it can still be called “left,” has abandoned that approach and has even embraced religion, or at least some religions, especially one in particular (guess which one!). The reasons for this are complex, and I have discussed them in previous blogs such as The Identitarian Left. Suffice it to say that, in the name of minority rights, the current left, or at least part of it, shows a total lack of discernment by classifying very different minorities as worthy of defense (while being selective about which minorities make the cut).

Thus, we have the ridiculous spectacle of so-called progressives (who in reality are reactionary and regressive) supporting the “right” of fundamentalist Muslim women to wear the hijab or even the niqab (which covers the entire face except for a narrow slit for the eyes) anywhere and everywhere, even during a formal citizenship ceremony! We see a campaign, held annually on February 1st, to promote the hijab, as if it were a symbol of freedom, when in reality it is a flag of political Islam and a symbol of the enslavement of women. As Djemila Benhabib observes, “Pro-hijab activists […] try to convince us that the hijab is just so TOTALLY cool! What courage does it take to wear a hijab under the protective dome of Western democracies[…]? The truth is, pro-hijab activists risk nothing. They are protected by laws from which they benefit greatly, but without ever contributing to their advancement.” Thus the need for the #NoHijabDay, #FreeFromHijab campaign to counter this pro-hijab folly.

We see a similar degeneration in the behaviour of Sinéad O’Connor. From being a courageous critic of religious obscurantism and misogyny (in the form of Catholic sexual abuse of children and women) by the Roman Catholic Church, O’Connor has become an apologist for the most misogynistic major religion on earth.

But arguably the worst aspect of O’Connor’s descent into obscurantism, besides her denigration of non-Muslims, is her reference to them as being “white.” The racialization of religious affiliation, which many on the so-called left also do regularly, is completely unacceptable. Race involves innate and immutable attributes of the individual, whereas a religion is an ideology and a belief system which the individual can adopt or reject at will. O’Connor’s conversion to Islam does not make her any less white, obviously! To conflate race and religion is to essentialize religious affiliation and rob believers—especially children born into a religion through no choice of their own—of their freedom of conscience. This ploy is especially harmful in the case of Islam because of that religion’s taboo on apostasy.

Two dirty tricks which are favourite strategies of Islamists and their de facto allies are:

  1. specious accusations of being right-wing or bigoted; and
  2. obfuscation, by conflating race and religion.

The first strategy is particularly ironic and hypocritical, given that political Islam is itself an extreme right-wing ideology. We have a duty to criticize it assiduously and with determination. The purpose of this trick is censorship: whenever anyone dares to criticize Islam or Islamism on social media for example, someone spews venom in an attempt to bully them into silence. In the long term this will not work, but in the short term it succeeds in poisoning the necessary debate about Islam.

The second dirty trick is even worse, because it essentializes religious belief as if it were immutable. “Once a Muslim, always a Muslim” could be the slogan of this strategy. Given the Islamic condemnation of apostasy—punishable by prison or even death in several countries—such conflation is a betrayal of those unfortunate enough to be born into that religion, a denial of their freedom of conscience. Anyone who confuses race with religion lacks the competence to discuss either.

Sinéad O’Connor is a tragic figure. Her comment about non-Muslim’s as “white” is an endorsement of Islamists’ dishonest strategy of racializing religion. But let us not forget her courageous denunciation of Pope John-Paul II back in the early 1990’s.

Next blog: Support #NoHijabDay #FreeFromHijab

How to Reassure a Concerned Citizenry … and how NOT to

A Thought Experiment


Sommaire en français

J’évoque l’exemple d’un pays hypothétique dans lequel un petit groupe d’intégristes chrétiens a obtenu, par des moyens purement légaux, le privilège de faire une courte prière au début de chaque séance journalière de l’assemblée nationale. Je compare cet exemple fictif avec le scénario tristement réel où des intégristes islamistes ont obtenu le privilège de se soustraire à une règle gérant les cérémonies de cityonneté et ce, pour des motifs religieux.
La solution évidente et nécessaire : modifier la loi pour que cette exception ne soit plus permise.
Ce qui est totalement ridicule dans cette affaire, c’est que les gens qui veulent mettre fin à ce privilège religieux et osent appuyer l’idée d’une prohibition sont traités d’« intolérants » et même de « racistes ». C’est le monde à l’envers.

In the fictional country X, a small group of fundamentalist Christians has just taken advantage of a loophole in X’s legislation and won a legal victory which allows them to hold a brief prayer at the beginning of every day’s session of the country’s legislative assembly. Although perfectly legal according to the laws of X, this is clearly a violation of everyone else’s freedom of conscience and a privilege granted to a particular religion, Christianity. The population of X is, in a very large proportion, opposed to this situation. So-called moderate Christians are divided on the issue: some sympathize with the fundamentalists, but many recognize that this situation is unfair and reject this unwanted privilege. A degree of hostility towards Christians begins to manifest itself in public opinion. Although no recent cases of anti-Christian hate propaganda or violence have been confirmed, there is fear—among both authorities and the population itself—that such incidents may in the near future begin to occur. What is to be done?

The answer is obvious. Doing nothing is not an option. The government must introduce legislation which will put an end to this privilege by removing from the laws of the land whatever it was that allowed the fundamentalists to win it. At the same time, it must make sure that the new legislation in no way threatens the freedom of Christians or any other sect to practice their religion as they always have—in private, with co-religionists, or even in public, but NOT in public institutions such as the legislature. The media also have a duty, the same duty they have always had, to report events and facts objectively. They may very well be sceptical of any new legislation which the government proposes, so they should examine it in detail, of course, in order to determine whether it is as fair as promised, or whether it goes too far, or not far enough. As for those “moderate” Christians, any who sympathize with the fundamentalists must be made to understand that they are part of the problem because their support enables their more radical co-religionists.

Canada has just gone through a situation very similar to the hypothetical one described above. In our real scenario the religion is fundamentalist Islam, not fundamentalist Christianity, and, instead of a brief prayer, the privilege accorded is the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. Now some might argue that prayers and full veils have nothing in common. They would be wrong, because each is being imposed on a civic event by an appeal to religious privilege: the Christians demand the privilege of reciting a sectarian prayer before an assembly whose purpose should be to represent all citizens, whereas the Islamists insist on a special exception, for religious reasons, to a rule against face-coverings during official ceremonies. Each of these demands involves a religious manifestation in an inappropriate context. It is true that wearing the niqab does not necessarily take up other participants’ time (although it might, because of extra time required to verify identity). However the niqab is worse in that it imposes a serious barrier to human communication and interaction, indeed it is a refusal to participate fully with other citizens.

As I write these lines, the 2015 federal election campaign is drawing to an end. Today, October 19th, is election day. By the time you read this, it will be over, but the niqab issue will almost certainly not be resolved. And even if it were, similar issues are sure to rear their ugly heads in the months and years to come. This controversy is no isolated incident. The problem will not go away on its own.

So how did authorities react in this real situation? The government’s response went in the right direction—i.e. they plan to appeal, yet again, the court decision ending the niqab ban—but inadequately so. The appeal cannot succeed because the ban is based on a mere ministerial directive. What is really needed is legislation to modify the Citizenship Act at least, and probably other laws as well. On the other hand, the response of both opposition parties was worse: a promise to do NOTHING, to capitulate to religious fanaticism and religious privilege, to allow the niqab. End of story.

As for the media, their response to the crisis was much worse still. Most English-language media, as far as I could tell, failed to evaluate and criticize objectively the government’s action and fell totally into line with the complacency of the Trudeau Liberals and the Mulcair NDP. Furthermore, the media undertook a campaign of denigration of supporters of a ban on the niqab, accusing them of intolerance and even racism (since when is Islam a “race”?), painting them all with the same brush as the Conservative government. This campaign was directed not only against the government party but also against anyone who did not tow the line that wearing the niqab anywhere and everywhere is an inalienable “right.”

The campaign became so intense that we can legitimately qualify it as hate propaganda against secularists and against anyone who holds that religion has no place in state institutions. Instead of championing the voices of Muslims or ex-Muslims who understand why the niqab must not be allowed to become commonplace, the media have given priority to those who play the victim—often hidjab-wearing women—and sympathize with the radicals. The example of three recent articles (See “Three Examples of Inflammatory Nonsense in the Media” at the end of this blog) is sufficient to establish this point. One author even made the utterly surreal claim that the niqab ban is like the residential school system where First Nations children were mistreated.

Returning to the hypothetical example of the Christian prayer for a moment, it is as if anyone who opposed the prayer were accused of “racism” against Christians, whatever that might mean. Christianity is a “race”? Totally ludicrous.

This is obviously NOT the way to reassure the Canadian population. Because of this overwhelming attitude of hostility towards taking any reasonable measure to resolve the niqab issue, the anxiety among the population is not only left to fester, indeed it has been actively inflamed. The Canadian citizenry, especially in Quebec where secularism is more solidly supported, is understandably very upset about this situation, they are sick and tired of being insulted and vilified for their eminently reasonable anxiety about radical Islamists, and they are taking creative measures—such as wearing bizarre face-coverings at advance polling stations—in order to protest and express their outrage.

In summary, both the two opposition parties and the media have failed miserably to do their duty. Instead, they have made a difficult situation even worse, and have increased the danger that acts of hateful violence may occur.

Recently the Conservative government indicated that, if re-elected, it will consider legislation to require removal of any face-covering when working as a public servant or receiving public services as a citizen. This is obviously a good idea, especially for employees on the job. It would be unacceptable for a public servant to hide his or her face, especially behind a symbol of a religious sect. But why is the government proposing this now, at the very last minute of an election campaign, when they could have done so years ago? The media, rather than ask this necessary question, have instead reacted with ever more specious accusations of persecution of Muslims.

Have we gone down a rabbit-hole and entered some crazy parallel universe where up is down, in is out, green is pink, and religious privilege is a “right”? Canadians who have been duped by the pro-niqab propaganda of the Liberal Party and the NDP—and the media who malign any reasonable constraint on religious fanatics—need to return to reality.

All federal politicians must do the right thing: reassure the public by taking reasonable measures to stem the tide of fundamentalist influence, including banning face-coverings in official ceremonies and public services, and by banning blatant displays of religious symbols by public servants while on duty.

Three Examples of Inflammatory Nonsense in the Media

  1. Can Stephen Harper stoop any lower on the niqab?, editorial, The Toronto Star, 2015-10-07.
  2. ‘Little Mosque’ creator says niqab ban repeats mistakes of Canada’s past, CBC News, 2015-10-07.
  3. Fifty years in Canada, and now I feel like a second-class citizen, Sheema Khan, The Globe and Mail, 2015-10-07.

Next blog: Secularists Have Nothing to Celebrate