Secularists Have Nothing to Celebrate

2015-10-26 @ 21:30

The recent electoral defeat of the Harper Conservatives is good news, but the election of the Trudeau Liberals is not. Indeed, for secularists, the new government is even worse than the previous because it is obsessively attached to the anti-secular ideology of multiculturalism.

Sommaire en français La récente défaite électorale du Parti Conservateur de Stephen Harper est une bonne nouvelle, mais l’élection des Libéraux de Justin Trudeau n’en est pas une. Au fait, du point de vue de la laïcité, le nouveau gouvernement est pire que le précedent, car attelé de manière obsessionnelle à l’idéologie antilaïque du multiculturalisme.

On election night last Monday, October 19th 2015, Canadians received some good news and some bad news. The good news: the odious Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) went down to defeat. The bad news: the dubious Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) led by Justin Trudeau has taken power, the LPC, the party notorious for its corruption scandals, led by the very son of the inventor of Canadian multiculturalism.

Thus the leader and party who seem to think that all Muslims are terrorists has been replaced by the leader and party who apparently consider all Muslims—even the fundamentalists—to be warm, fuzzy and innocuous, or, if they are not, it is our fault for not being sufficiently nice to them. The closed-minded neanderthals of the Harper Conservatives have been replaced by the air-headed accommodationists of the Trudeau Liberals. A traditionalist party, representative of some of the most backward evangelical Christians, has been replaced by a multiculturalist party which flirts with Islamist fundamentalists.

This is not good news. We now have a government which takes the position that wearing a face-covering anywhere and everywhere, even during an official state ceremony, such as a citizenship ceremony, is a “right.” And why is such a ridiculous privilege considered to be a “right?” BECAUSE RELIGION. This is the antithesis of secularism. Religious freedom, already greatly privileged in the past, has been elevated to a status above all other freedoms, trumping even the most basic considerations such as communication, gender equality and security.

The closed-minded neanderthals of the Harper Conservatives have been replaced by the air-headed accommodationists of the Trudeau Liberals.

We now have a government led by an islamophiliac, totally besotted with the ideology of Canadian multiculturalism which is indistinguishable from cultural relativism, an ideology which shields itself from criticism by accusing anyone who disagrees with it of “xenophobia”, “intolerance” and even “racism.” We now have a government which, ironically, shares with the previous government the inability to distinguish between ordinary citizens who just happen to be Muslim on the one hand, and, on the other hand, Islamist fundamentalists who constitute a clear and present danger to our security and democracy—the difference being that the previous government apparently considered them all suspect while the newly elected government considers them all hunky-dory.

From the point of view of secularism, the Liberals are worse than the Conservatives. At least the Conservatives attempted to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies, although they did so in a way that was destined to fail, i.e. by a mere ministerial directive followed by legal appeals when federal courts invalidated that directive, when in fact what is needed is a modification of several laws, starting with Citizenship Act. At the eleventh hour, only days before the election, the Conservatives floated the idea of banning face-coverings in the public service if they were re-elected, an obviously good idea which any secularist would support. And yet the Conservatives are no proponents of secularism: they were merely opportunists exploiting the citizenry’s legitimate concerns about Islamist radicalism and doing so in ways that converged conveniently with their Christian hostility towards a competing religion.

But the position adopted by both the Trudeau Liberals and the Mulcair NDP was even worse: they agreed with the court decision striking down any ban on face-coverings, and supported the idea that wearing the niqab must be allowed, apparently anywhere and everywhere. If the niqab may be worn at citizenship ceremonies, then how can judges or police be prevented from wearing such face-coverings while on the job? Any hope of a secular public service is completely destroyed if this court decision is allowed to stand. And under the newly-elected Liberals, it will stand.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not saddened that the Harper Conservatives have gone down to defeat! Any government which shows such contempt for basic science deserves to be summarily kicked out of office. Any government which appoints an apparent creationist to a major position—as it did in appointing Gary Goodyear to the post of Minister of State for Science and Technology—merits our rejection.

Thus, as much as I respect and indeed admire both Ayaan Hirsi Ali, celebrated author of Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now and the memoire Infidel, and Tarek Fatah, writer and founder of the secularist Muslim Canadian Congress, I could not agree with their call for Canadians to vote for Harper. Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in a tweet sent out on election day, “Dear Canadians, If you are in doubt before the polls close please vote for Stephen Harper. He is the strongest on fighting radical Islam.” whereas Tarek Fatah indicated in a Facebook post, shortly before the election date, that he would be voting Conservative for similar reasons.

Although Christian evangelical fundamentalism in Canada—which is a major underpinning of the Conservative Party—is not as retrograde as international Islamism, nevertheless both are resolutely obscurantist and anti-science fundamentalisms. Neither has any qualms about utilising the fruits of science, i.e. modern technology, when those fruits can be exploited to serve their agenda.

Broadly speaking, there are three general approaches to the question of religion and the affairs of the state. These are:

  1. Traditionalism, which promotes the continued dominance of the traditional majority religion (in Canada: Christianity), allowing it considerable privilege and influence on laws and state affairs.
  2. Multiculturalism, or ethnoreligious determinism, which broadens traditionalism by extending religious privileges to a plurality of religions, giving each religion an influence either equal to the others or weighted according to its demographic importance.
  3. Secularism, which opposes all religious privileges and and promotes universal human rights, in particular freedom of conscience, and involves complete separation between religion and state, so that the state is autonomous and independent of religious influence.

Zunera Ishaq […] exploited Canadian multiculturalism in order to promote an essential tenet of Islamic fundamentalism, the segregation of women. Ishaq is what I would call a “legal jihadi,” i.e. a fighter for Islamism who uses strictly legal means […] her objective role as a promoter of Islamist values is patent.

Both the traditionalism of the Conservatives and the multiculturalism of the Liberals are anti-secular ideologies. However, multiculturalism, although more modern, is also more dangerous because it is currently the dominant ideology in Canada and in other countries. Indeed, even the traditionalists (like Catholics, Islamists, etc.) rely increasingly on multiculturalism to disseminate their ideologies because traditionalism is out of fashion and often cannot be imposed directly as it was in the past. That is exactly what the niqab-wearer Zunera Ishaq did when she exploited Canadian multiculturalism in order to promote an essential tenet of Islamic fundamentalism, the segregation of women. Ishaq is what I would call a “legal jihadi,” i.e. a fighter for Islamism who uses strictly legal means because extra-legal means are not yet feasible. Although Ishaq has apparently been linked to radical Islamist organizations, even in the absence of such ties her objective role as a promoter of Islamist values is patent.

Multiculturalism is much easier to sell than traditionalism, especially as it often masquerades as a form of pseudo-secularism (c.f. so-called “laïcité ouverte”). Furthermore, multiculturalism also masquerades as a solution for racism, when in reality it tends to preserve and deepen divisions by identifying each individual with the ethno-religious community into which he or she was born.

The victory of the Trudeau Liberals (and the poor showing of the NDP) is probably much more attributable to anti-Harper sentiment than to any love for the winning party. Do not forget that BOTH hatred for Harper AND opposition to the niqab (and disgust for Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s opposition to any ban) were very strong in Quebec during the campaign. In fact, polls indicated that the majority of Canadians, not just Quebecers, favored a niqab ban, and yet Harper was still defeated despite his opportunistic exploitation of that issue.

Next blog: Secularism: Lockean and Republican

Thoughts on the Niqab

2015-10-13 @ 13:00

A collection of observations about the current controversy surrounding the niqab, which recently received legal recognition in two Canadian federal court decisions. Wearing the niqab while taking the citizenship oath is now a “right.”

Sommaire en français

  • Parler du niqab comme un vêtement “musulman” comme font constamment les médias anglophones Canadiens, c’est déplacer le centre de la diversité des musulmans vers l’extrémisme. C’est une insulte faite aux musulmans plus modérés.
  • Il y plusieurs raisons (chacune étant suffisante) d’interdire le niqab dans les cérémonies officielles : (1) Le niqab entrave la communication. (2) Il symbolise l’asservisement de la femme. (3) Il compromet la liberté de conscience des autres participants de la cérémonie. (4) Il est une forme de militantisme politique fasciste, totalement déplacé dans le contexte. (5) Il nuit à l’identification de la personne et à la sécurité de tous.
  • Le seul argument pour permettre le port du niqab dans les cérémonies est l’ensemble des lois fédérales canadiennes qui sont défectueuses car elles accordent une priorité indue à la religion. Il faut modifier ou abroger ces lois.
  • Les autres pseudo-arguments pour permettre le niqab sont d’une nullité totale et souvent mensongers. On essaie de culpabiliser les gens qui s’opposent au niqab pour une opinion tout à fait raisonnable.
  • Le « débat » sur le niqab—qui n’est pas un débat mais plutôt une campagne toxique de dénigrement de la laïcité—est une reprise de la controverse autour de la défunte Charte de la laïcité en 2013-2014, avec la différence qu’on ne peut comparer le Parti Québécois (qui a pris une position pro-laïcité) aux Conservateurs de Harper (qui n’ont rien de laïque).
  • La reconnaissance légale du port du niqab en tout lieu et en toute cironstance est une grande victoire pour l’islamofascisme et une grande défaite pour la démocracie.
  • Comble d’ironie, ce n’est pas Harper qui est en train de mettre le dernier clou dans le cercueil de la bonne réputation internationale qu’avait le Canada avant le début de son régime en 2006. Non, ce sont ses adversaires Mulcair et Trudeau qui s’opposent sottement à l’interdiction du niqab qui font maintenant du Canada la risée de la planète.

Moving the Muslim Mainstream Towards Islamism

By refering to the full veil—such as the niqab—as “Muslim” clothing, as the media repeatedly do, they effectively move the “centre” or mainstream of Muslims down the spectrum towards extremism. This is because the niqab is not just plain Muslim dress, rather it is a form of clothing imposed by a particular radical fundamentalist fringe of Islam, usually referred to as Islamism. If the niqab is now considered representative of Islam, then Islam is now centred around radical Islamism. This does a serious disservice to moderate Muslims, because it colours them with the same radical brush as the extremists.

The Arguments for Banning the Niqab During Official Ceremonies

Of course the wearing of face coverings during official ceremonies must be banned. It is utterly absurd to even consider allowing such accoutrements in the context of a solemn occasion such as a citizenship ceremony. There are several arguments to be made, any one of which is sufficient to justify a ban:

  1. Communication In human interaction, non-verbal communication via facial expression is a major component (about half) of the total communication. By hiding the face or most of it, the niqab-wearer refuses to communicate effectively. That individual is cut off from other humans by the virtual wall she or he is wearing, seriously undermining interactions with others. Human beings are social animals. A person who covers her/his face is a person not to be trusted.
  2. Rights of Women The full Islamist veils such as the burka and the niqab are blatant symbols of the subjugation and inferiorization of women. It is a flag of gender inequality and transmits the message that women are the property of men.
  3. Freedom of Conscience of Participants By allowing one particular group to display blatantly one of its sectarian symbols during an official ceremony, the freedom of conscience of all other participants is compromised by having a particular religious belief system imposed on them. Allowing such religious advertising in a context which is a state occasion totally unrelated to religion is similar to having large displays of commercial advertising in the classrooms of public schools.
  4. Political Activism in an Inappropriate Context Islamist fundamentalism is not just a religious tendency. It is a major and very dangerous political ideology with an anti-democratic program. Wearing the full veil constitutes implicit promotion of this fascist ideology. While this may be tolerated, for reasons of freedom of expression, outside of public institutions, such promotion is unacceptable during an official ceremony (or, similarly, if the wearer is a public servant on duty).
  5. Identity and Security Of course face-coverings make identification difficult and are thus a major security issue. No further explanation is required on this point.

There may be other arguments missing from the above list.

The Argument Against Banning the Niqab During Official Ceremonies

There is only one argument against banning the niqab, and it is not really an argument but rather a set of legal constraints. Canadian federal law is severely flawed and unjust because it grants many privileges to religions and to religious institutions. That is why judges have recently struck down the niqab ban, i.e. because Canadian law strongly supports such an interpretation. Freedom of religion is given a higher priority than other freedoms. The obvious solution is to change the law.

In the case of the niqab, the following modifications are required or highly recommended:

  • Repeal 17.1.b of the Citizenship Regulations, part of the Citizenship Act, which stipulates that the oath must be administered with “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.”
  • Repeal (or greatly revise) the Multiculturalism Act, and remove references to it from other legislation, because Canadian multiculturalism is basically equivalent to cultural relativism. As writer and secular activist Djemila Benhabib has pointed out (in a Facebook post, Oct. 10), “Multiculturalism quite simply legitimizes, in the political, judicial and social spheres, inequalities which originate in the culture and religion of one’s birth. Given that it is founded on the recognition of religions and the assignment by default of each individual to his or her immutable birth identity, any constraint on religious expression is usually interpreted as a hindrance to freedom of religion per se, as discriminatory, or even as racist. From that perspective, the various fundamentalisms have found an ideal vehicle and an open road to advance their cause!” (Translation: D.R.)
  • Revise the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to remove its pro-religious bias. For example, the Charter lists freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of belief as three of several fundamental freedoms. However, the last two are NOT fundamental; rather, both are part of freedom of conscience, which also includes freedom FROM religion and freedom of NON-belief. Thus, freedom of conscience should be listed as fundamental, while freedoms of religion, irreligion, belief and non-belief should all be listed as corollaries of it.

The last of these three modifications would be very difficult to achieve because it involves amending the Constitution. The first two would be less difficult, but not easy. Once again, the above list may need to be expanded. For example, the Criminal Code needs to be revised by removing both the blasphemy ban and the religious exception for hate propaganda. And of course the mention of “God” must be removed from the preamble to the Canadian Charter.

Some Pseudo-arguments Against Banning the Niqab During Official Ceremonies

The Binary fallacy

This fallacy, called the “either-or” fallacy and other names, describes the false notion that there are only two possibles responses to a situation. In this case, you must either oppose Harper (and support the niqab as a “right”) or oppose the niqab, but not both. We can succinctly summarize this fallacy using the following pseudo-syllogism:

  1. Harper is evil.
  2. Harper hates the niqab.
  3. Therefore, the niqab is good

That sums up rather well the intellectual acuity (i.e. vacuity) of those who claim that the wearing of the niqab is a “right.” It makes as much sense as opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen.

Religious “Freedom”

The court decisions striking down the niqab ban and the discourse of those who support those decisions are riddled with references to freedom of religion which elevate that freedom above other considerations. This privilege must be refused. But to do so will require modifying legislation as explained above.

Specious Accusations of “Intolerance” etc.

Accusations of “divisiveness”, “identity politics”, “intolerance”, “xenophobia” and even “racism” are regularly thrown at supporters of a niqab ban. These accusations are pure bullshit, a smokescreen to distract from the speciousness and vacuity of arguments against the ban. In response to the fact that polls have shown that a majority of Canadians, and an overwhelming majority in Quebec, support a niqab ban, opponents of a ban blather about a “lack of understanding” of other cultures and a “lack of exposure” to diverse cultures, as if this majority were motivated only by ignorance. Yet these accusations come from those who never mention the very dangerous aspects of some very prominent variants of Islam; it is the accusers who display ignorance. Furthermore, the niqab itself is a barrier to knowledge of and interaction with others.

The Politics of Guilt

Closely related to the previous point is the tactic of trying to silence secularists—and anyone else who would try to put reasonable constraints on the excesses of religion—by instilling feelings of guilt. This is often phrased as “the politics of fear” as if fear were irrational or even a horrible sin. In reality, to fear religion in general and Islam in particular is in no way irrational. On the contrary it is a matter of due diligence, a necessity. When that due diligence is performed, when we make the effort to examine various religious doctrines and movements objectively, we find many of which we should indeed be very afraid, and Islam is currently at the top of that list. A particularly disgusting example of this strategy can be found in the Toronto Star Editorial Can Stephen Harper stoop any lower on the niqab?. They even manage to slander Quebec.

Extreme Libertarianism

The dangerous meme which states that wearing a full veil anywhere and everywhere is a “right” is related to an extreme version of the ideology of libertarianism or right-wing anarchism. This ideology holds that the only good government is basically no government, or the smallest and weakest possible. Consequently, it leads inevitably to the tyranny of the rich and powerful. For example, if a country has no legislation preventing foreign powers from financing religious institutions, then that country is a sitting duck for the Saudi Arabian government (which internally is certainly not libertarian!) and its very well financed campaign to use petro-dollars to establish mosques in many countries and use them to preach a Wahhabite version of Islam.

The Niqab “Debate” is a Repeat of Opposition to Quebec’s Charter of Secularism

There is a strong parallel between the currently proposed niqab ban and the Charter of Secularism proposed in 2013-2014 by the former PQ Quebec government. In both cases there is no real debate, but rather toxic hostilities and moralizing from those who oppose any dress code. Supporters of a dress code are vilified, accused of the usual plethora of imaginary crimes (“intolerance”, etc.) taken from the familiar arsenal of Canadian multiculturalists. In both cases opponents elevate “freedom of religion” to a status having priority over other freedoms and then call this privilege a “right.”

Of course there are also differences between the two situations. The separatism (or sovereignty or independence) promoted by the PQ is an innocuous political program compared to the anti-science, anti-environmentalist and anti-democratic policies pursued by the current federal government. Antipathy towards the PQ is largely just a matter of hatred of Quebecers, i.e. ethnic bigotry (which in other contexts many people would imprecisely call “racism”) against Francophone Quebecers, whereas antipathy towards Harper’s Conservatives has a much more rational basis. Voting for the Parti Québécois in the April 2014 provincial election was an eminently reasonable option for secularists, whereas in the current federal election the niqab issue does not justify voting for Harper, especially given that his government’s attempts to ban the niqab—although laudable and certainly preferable to the cowardly and retrograde position of the two opposition parties—have nothing to do with secularist goals.

Nevertheless, it must be recognized that these questions of secularism—i.e. the Charter in April 2014 and the proposed niqab ban currently—must be distinguished from other, unrelated issues and evaluated on their own merits. A good idea is a good idea, even one coming from the much hated (and for good reasons) Harper government. There are many good reasons to vote against Harper, but the niqab issue is NOT one of them.

Democracy 0, Islamofascism 1

The recent success of Zunera Ishaq in obtaining the “right,” as ruled by two federal courts this year, to be sworn in as a Canadian citizen while wearing the niqab, is a major victory for Islamofascism and a major defeat for secularism, and hence a defeat for democracy, because it enshrines in Canadian jurisprudence an important religious privilege. Indeed, the courts’ rulings imply that Ishaq’s religious affiliation is more important even than the citizenship she is obtaining. By elevating religious privileges, the rights of the non-religious are demeaned; indeed the rights of everyone not belonging to the particular religious sect enjoying the privilege is similarly demeaned.

The niqab, like the burka, is a sort of flag of international islamofascism and Ishaq, whether she realizes it or not, is in the vanguard of that movement. The niqab is of course a Muslim symbol, but promoted by the most fundamentalist, radical and extremist of Muslims. To trivialize the full veil, to make it commonplace, a mere choice of clothing, while simultaneously elevating it to the status of a “right” which must be protected in the name of freedom of religion—even in a solemn ceremony having nothing to do with religion—is a major victory for fundamentalists. It is a victory won without physical weapons, using only legalities, to destroy rights using “rights.” It is a victory made very easy by Canadian multiculturalism, which leaves the door wide open for abuse.

The Islamists must be laughing all the way to the mosque.

Canada’s Ruined International Reputation

After a decade of government by the Harper Conservatives, Canada’s formerly enviable reputation in the international community is almost destroyed. But, ironically, the final nail in the coffin of that reputation is being hammered not by Harper but by the fools who oppose his policy of attempting to ban the niqab. By supporting the ridiculous idea that a religious fanatic and political activist for an international fascist movement has the “right” to wear a symbol of her or his movement, anywhere and everywhere, even during a solemn state ceremony, Mulcair, Trudeau and other niqab-defenders have made sure that Canada is now the laughing stock of the planet.

Suggested reading:

Next blog: Trudeau & Mulcair Can Easily Resolve the Niqab Issue

Secularism Versus the Multicultis

2015-07-23, last modified 2015-07-24

Sommaire en français La diversité culturelle est un fait incontournable de la vie et, comme la diversité biologique, une richesse. Il y a plusieurs façons de gérer cette diversité, les deux principales — distinctes et mutuellement incompatibles — étant le multiculturalisme et la laïcité. Le multiculturalisme se fonde sur le relativisme culturel, sur ce qui divise les gens, et associe l’individu à la communauté ethno-religieuse dans laquelle il est né. Il favorise les traditionalistes dans chacune de ces communautés, au détriment des croyants plus modérés, des incroyants et de la société en général. L’affaire du niqab dans les cérémonies de citoyenneté en est un exemple. La laïcité, par contre, accorde la priorité aux libertés et valeurs humaines, à ce que nous avons tous en commun. Elle rejette le privilège religieux. Elle n’accorde aux croyances religieuses aucune préséance. Les islamistes, ou plus exactement les islamofascistes, prônent la théocratie pure et dure dans les pays où ils ont suffisamment d’influence politique. Mais ailleurs, ils instrumentalisent le multiculturalisme, adoptant frauduleusement le langage des « droits » et de la « liberté religieuse » afin de s’approprier des privilèges religieux. Juste avant le début du processus de l’adoption formelle du multiculturalisme, il y a plusieurs décennies, le terme « biculturalisme » était très à la mode, mais dans l’espace de quelques années il a été totalement éclipsé par le multiculturalisme. Cherchait-on à noyer la culture de la moins dominante de ces deux cultures fondatrices du Canada dans une mer à multiples cultures ? Le comportement des multiculturalistes durant le débat sur la Charte de la laïcité, défaite en 2014 par une alliance de circonstance — c’est-à-dire une convergence d’intérêts et de propagande — entre eux et les islamistes, nous a fourni la réponse définitive à cette question. Le multiculturalisme, idéologie dominante au Canada, est devenu un outil de choix pour étaler son mépris pour le Québec et pour les Québécois. De plus, le multiculturalisme est l’arme la plus importante dans la lutte contre la laïcité.

According to Wiktionary, the term multiculti is an informal, derogatory word for “one who pushes multicultural beliefs and values in a politically correct way.” The derogatory connotation is certainly appropriate, because multiculturalism is highly problematic and a major obstacle for secularism.

By the way, Wiktionary defines “multiculturalism” as “The characteristics of a society, city etc. which has many different ethnic or national cultures mingling freely; political or social policies which support or encourage such coexistence.” I disagree with this definition. The first half (the free mingling of cultures) is closer to a definition of “cultural diversity” (confusing the two is a common mistake), whereas the second half is just false in my opinion. Indeed, multiculturalism as practiced in Canada does a rather bad job of supporting or encouraging such coexistence, as I shall explain.

Cultural diversity is an essential part of the human experience. It has been with us since the dawn of time. Ever since neighbouring hominid tribes found themselves with overlapping territory — which probably occurred long before our current species homo sapiens evolved into existence — we have been rubbing shoulders with others of the same species but different races, different languages, different cultures. We will, I assume, continue to experience similar diversity as long as humanity survives. Or at least I hope we will, since cultural diversity, like biological diversity, is a source of enrichment. Nevertheless, managing such diversity — whether cultural or biological — has its challenges.

Multiculturalism and secularism are two distinct and incompatible ways of managing cultural diversity. Trying to reconcile multiculturalism with secularism is like trying to make religion and science compatible. It is an impossible task.

Multiculturalism stresses cultural relativism. It gives priority to what divides us, associating the individual with the particular ethno-religious community into which he or she was born. The ultimate expression of multiculturalism is Lebanon, where even the national philharmonic orchestra must respect religious sectarian quotas when hiring musicians. Multiculturalists pander to such communities, thus favouring and empowering traditionalists and fundamentalists — to the detriment of moderate believers, non-believers and society in general.

One particularly egregious example of how multiculturalism and its multiculti cheerleaders empower fundamentalists — of both minority and majority religions — is the Federal Court decision to allow the niqab, a blatant symbol of a powerful international fascist movement, to be worn during Canadian citizenship hearings. Just as even a broken clock displays the correct time twice a day, the anti-science and pro-Christian-fundamentalist Harper government did the right thing and decided to appeal that decision. They undoubtedly did so for the wrong reasons — probably religious bigotry, in this case a pro-Christian, anti-Muslim prejudice. Nevertheless, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is still better than doing the wrong thing, which is precisely what the opposition did. The leaders of both major opposition parties — T. Mulcair of the NDP and J. Trudeau of the Liberals — made the spectacularly stupid decision to support the court in allowing the niqab and criticized the Harper Conservatives for its appeal. Thus, the political “left” (if we can still call it that, given its betrayal of secularism) and the political centre united in handing a huge gift to the Christian right. Harper will in all likelihood garner many votes from frustrated Canadians who are justifiably outraged that religious fanatics are being allowed to show such contempt for Canadian citizenship and that Mulcair and Trudeau are helping them to do so! Both Christian and Muslim fundamentalists benefit.

Multiculturalism and secularism are two distinct and incompatible ways of managing cultural diversity.

Secularism, on the other hand, stresses universal human rights and values. It gives priority to what unites us, our common humanity. It rejects religious privilege. In public services it refuses to accommodate traits which are mere choices, such as political opinions or religious beliefs — but of course it must and will accommodate more innate characteristics, i.e. objective factors, such as genetics, gender, health status, sexual orientation, etc.

There are other ways of managing cultural diversity. Perhaps the most common (other than the two ways which form the subject of this blog) is the traditional method — or rather methods — of theocracy. These can range all the way from brutally repressive theocracies such as Saudi Arabia which “manages” diversity basically by crushing it, all the way to soft neo-theocracies such as constitutional monarchies which were very repressive in the past but have evolved towards multiculturalism.

It is important to understand that islamists — whom we may also call islamofascists — favour the most draconian form of theocracy possible wherever they hold sufficient power, but pretend to support multiculturalism — or rather they use it as a tool to advance their cause — in countries where their power is not yet sufficient, deceitfully employing the language of “rights” and “freedom of religion” in order to accumulate what are in reality religious privileges. The multicultis are the dupes of the islamists, as the example of the niqab amply illustrates.

Many secularists have written extensively about multiculturalism. (Read a few articles by Maryam Namazie for example.) Its inherent dangers have been discussed and documented for years now. Anyone who still refuses to understand is being wilfully ignorant.

The important distinction between cultural diversity and multiculturalism is often deliberately blurred in order to justify vilifying anyone who criticizes the latter.

The history of formalized multiculturalism in Canada goes back nearly half a century. The government of P. E. Trudeau declared in 1971 that Canada would adopt it as policy. In 1982 it was recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and finally the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was enacted by the government of B. Mulroney. But what many Canadians forget, or are too young to remember, is that just before that process began, the terms “bilingualism” and “biculturalism” were on everyone’s lips in political discussions. In 1963, the L. B. Pearson government established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to inquire into the situation of Canada’s two founding cultures, the English and French. But within a few years, the term “biculturalism” had practically disappeared, having been supplanted by multiculturalism. It certainly looked like the recognition of a multiplicity of cultures had been engineered in order to drown the less dominant of the two founding partners in a sea of competing cultures.

In 2014, the Quebec Charter of Secularism, one of the best pieces of secular legislation ever proposed in any jurisdiction in Canada, was defeated by an alliance of multiculturalists and islamists. I am not talking about any formal, organizational alliance, but rather a simple convergence of interests and propaganda. Both groups engaged in specious accusations of “racism,” “xenophobia,” “intolerance” or “islamophobia” whenever they encountered opposition. During the Charter fiasco, the overriding tone of Charter opponents, especially outside Quebec, and a favourite strategy of both multicultis and islamists, was a fanatical hatred of Quebec nationalism. This strategy served to distract from the real issue, which of course was secularism.

The main ideological weapon of anti-secularists today is multiculturalism.

And that is the dirty little secret about multiculturalism, or at least its particularly noxious Canadian variant: it is a weapon very frequently used to “bash” (figuratively speaking, of course) Quebec and Quebeckers. Multiculturalism is very popular — so much so as to be a sacred cow — in Canada outside Quebec, but much less popular inside Quebec where secularism enjoys greater popular support. As multicultis typically flatter themselves about how non-racist and tolerant they claim to be (because they fail to understand that multiculturalism is not a solution for racism but rather a close cousin of it), they easily slip into a habit of denigrating Quebec secularists for their “intolerance,” etc. The important distinction between cultural diversity and multiculturalism is often deliberately blurred in order to justify vilifying anyone who criticizes the latter. In other words, multiculturalism has become a vehicle for ethnic bigotry directed against French-speaking Quebeckers. If there were ever any doubt about this, it was completely erased by the obnoxious behaviour of multicultis during the Charter debacle.

Multiculturalism is not only incompatible with secularism. Multiculturalism is the principal expression of anti-secularism in the 21st century. The main ideological weapon of anti-secularists today is multiculturalism. And it is, unfortunately, the dominant ideology in Canada.

Next blog: “Thoughts on the Niqab

Secularism Betrayed, Epilogue and Update


Sommaire en français Deux développements récents, dont l’un très positif, sont venus modifier la situation suivant la défaite de la Charte péquiste. Premièrement, la décision de la Cour suprême du Canada, rendue le 15 avril 2015, a interdit la prière lors des séances de conseils municipaux, mais a des implications beaucoup plus vastes car elle spécifie que l’État doit protéger la liberté de conscience des incroyants autant que celle des croyants. La Cour prend donc au sérieux la liberté de s’affranchir de la religion, non seulement la liberté de religion. Elle impose ainsi un devoir de neutralité religieuse aux représentants de l’État, c’est-à-dire les fonctionnaires des services publics, durant leurs heures de travail. Cela constitue un appui à la prohibition du port de signes religieux telle que stipulée dans la Charte de la laïcité proposée par le gouvernement péquiste en 2013. Le deuxième développement est beaucoup moins heureux. Le gouvernement Couillard (Parti Libéral du Québec, PLQ) qui a défait le gouvernement péquiste, vient de proposer plusieurs projets de loi et un soi-disant plan d’action pour contrer la radicalisation. Le projet de loi 62 sur la « neutralité religieuse de l’État » ne mentionne ni la laïcité ni la séparation entre religions et État ; il ne fait qu’interdire le port du voile intégral dans la fonction publique. Le projet de loi 59 « contre les discours haineux et les discours incitant à la violence » est carrément liberticide car elle compromet le droit de critiquer les religions. Le plan d’action manque complètement sa cible en visant la soi-disant « islamophobie » au lieu de lutter contre la vraie cause de la radicalisation, soit la propagande islamiste.

The previous three blogs form a series entitled “Secularism Betrayed” recounting the story of the defeat of the Quebec Charter of Secularism, i.e. how mindless conformism led some ostensible secularists, in a shameful betrayal of their espoused principles, to oppose legislation which by any reasonable logic they should have supported, thus squandering an opportunity of historic proportions. That series was written in January of 2015. This current blog is an update dealing with relevant recent developments.

In recent months, two major developments have occurred. One is grounds for great optimism, a major victory for secularism. The other tends to confirm the pessimism expressed in Parts I, II and III. Both developments, in their own way, underline just how important the Charter was, and the enormity of having squandered the opportunity that it represented.

The Supreme Court defends secularism …

On April 15th 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the Saguenay prayer case. The Court ruled against the practice of prayer at Saguenay city council meetings and, by extension, implied that all municipalities which engage in this practice are violating the freedom of conscience of anyone who does not adhere to the religion expressed by the prayer. However the decision goes much further than the mere question of prayer and rules clearly on the state’s duty to protect the freedom of conscience of non-believers, not just that of religious believers.

[84] …because of the duty of religious neutrality with which it is required to comply, the state may not profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others. Obviously, the state itself cannot engage in a religious practice, so the practice would be one engaged in by one or more state officials, who would have to be acting in the performance of their functions. Where state officials, in the performance of their functions, profess, adopt or favour one belief to the exclusion of all others, the first two criteria for discrimination mentioned above, namely that there be an exclusion, distinction or preference and that it be based on religion, are met.

The decision thus supports the duty of discretion, imposed on public servants when on the job, included in the PQ’s Charter. The justices also declare that:

[74] …I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals…

The distinction between institutions and individuals was used frequently during the Charter debate by Charter opponents who concluded from it that public employees must not be subject to a dress code, even while on duty. However it is crucial to recognize that in the above quote the individuals to whom the justices are referring are “private players,” i.e. NOT on duty. Indeed, later in the decision the judges make this very clear:

[119] …what is at issue here is the state’s adherence, through its officials acting in the performance of their functions, to a religious belief. The state, I should point out, does not have a freedom to believe or to manifest a belief; … it goes without saying that the same restrictions do not apply to the exercise by state officials of their own freedom of conscience and religion when they are not acting in an official capacity. Although they are not entitled to use public powers to profess their beliefs, this does not affect their right to exercise this freedom on a personal basis.

Thus, when individuals are not on duty the state must not restrict their freedom. However, when state officials are on duty, they must be neutral, because they are the state when they are working. The state has no existence except through its agents.

We can draw two major conclusions from this decision by the Supreme Court of Canada:

  1. The Court clearly defends freedom from religion as being just as important as freedom of religion; in other words, the Court takes seriously the rights of atheists and other non-believers, not just the rights of the religious. We can expect this to have widespread positive consequences for the future of secularism, both in the short term and probably for many years to come.
  2. The Court takes a more consistently pro-secular position than either CFIC or CSA.

… while Couillard undermines it.

Unfortunately, another more recent development is decidedly negative. The current government of Quebec — i.e. that of the Quebec Liberal party (PLQ) led by Philippe Couillard — has recently proposed legislation dealing with “religious neutrality” (Bill 62) which constitutes a sort of response to the Charter (Bill 60) proposed by the PQ government defeated by the PLQ in April of 2014. However, this new legislation covers almost nothing that the PQ’s Charter did, having all the shortcomings of the latter and practically none of its advantages. Bill 62 does not even mention secularism or separation between religion and state. It does little more than ban face-coverings in the public service.

Even worse is draft Bill 59, released on the same day, whose declared purpose is to combat “hate speech” and grants new powers to the CDPDJ, powers which, as feared (see Part III), threaten freedom of expression, especially criticism of religion.

Finally, an action plan put forward by the government to counter “radicalization” fails to address the problem of Islamist rhetoric which nourishes jihadism. In the document of over 30 pages describing the action plan, there is no mention of fundamentalism or Islamism, while Islamists are mentioned only as located in Syria and Iraq. Yet “Islamophobia” is mentioned repeatedly:

La radicalisation peut être renforcée par les préjugés, la discrimination et le racisme, des phénomènes qu’il faut combattre avec autant de fermeté. Les préjugés et la discrimination briment les droits et libertés de la personne auxquels la société québécoise est attachée et peuvent constituer un terreau fertile pour l’émergence de la radicalisation qui, à son tour, renforce des préjugés, dont l’islamophobie.

(Translation: Radicalization may be reinforced by prejudices, discrimination and racism, all phenomena which must be fought with equal determination. Prejudices and discrimination infringe on human rights and freedoms to which Quebec society is committed and may constitute fertile ground for the emergence of radicalization which, in turn, reinforces prejudices such as Islamophobia.)

The following phrases also occur in the document:

  • « la présence de préjugés racistes, parfois islamophobes » (“the presence of racist prejudices, sometimes Islamophobic”)
  • « déconstruire les préjugés, notamment islamophobes » (“deconstruct prejudices, in particular Islamophobic ones”)
  • « contrer les propos haineux et islamophobes » (“combat hateful and Islamophobic speech”)

Clearly the authors of the document are obsessed with “Islamophobia” and tend to confuse it with racism, which is irrational because Islam is a religion, not a race. One can quite legitimately be concerned about the dangerous nature of the religion Islam without being prejudiced against some particular ethnic group. Indeed, the document evidently blames radicalization on “prejudice” in general and “Islamophobia” in particular, while not even mentioning the obvious cause which is the extremist politico-religious ideology of Islamism. This is completely backwards: if prejudice against Muslims exists, it is caused by Islamist radicalism more than the other way around.

Among the measures proposed in the action plan — and codified in Bill 59 — is the addition to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms of a provision against «hate speech and speech inciting violence» based on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, of which religion is one. This provision would allow a person to lodge a complaint even though not oneself a target. Furthermore, Bill 59 allows for the suppression of such alleged speech by court order during the investigation period, i.e. before a ruling has been made.

Objectively, the PLQ led by Couillard are not fighting radicalization; rather they are enabling radical Islamism. The traditionalists and multiculturalists of the PLQ allied themselves with Islamists in order to defeat the PQ’s Charter. And now, they continue to facilitate the Islamists by promoting the false theory, so vehemently promoted by Islamists, that any problems are caused by so-called “Islamophobia.” In reality, that term is just a code word used to neutralize any criticism of Islam. And now the PLQ is proposing legislation which would use the power of the Quebec state against such criticism.

Next blog: “The Myth of Religious Obligations

Secularism Betrayed, Part III

How Conformism Trumped Principle and Set Secularism Back Decades in Canada
Part III: An Historic Opportunity Squandered

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This three-part blog was written in January 2015 and intended for an international readership. Its tone is pessimistic. Since then, the Supreme Court of Canada decision of April 15th 2015, banning prayers at municipal council meetings, has major implications for the future of secularism in Canada and has renewed optimism among secularists.

An Historic Opportunity Squandered

Sommaire en français Avec la défaite du gouvernement péquiste dans les élections du 7 avril 2013, la Charte de la laïcité est morte. Une occasion exceptionnelle et historique a été ratée. Cet échec a été, en partie du moins, la conséquence de la sottise de ces prétendus laïques qui, par conformisme écervelé, se sont opposés à la Charte principalement par simple antipathie pour le parti qui l’a proposée. Ils ont ainsi semé la confusion chez les Canadiens au sujet de la laïcité et fait reculer cette cause de façon considérable. Ceux qui ont rejeté la Charte à cause de sa prohibition du port des signes religieux par les fonctionnaires doivent expliquer pourquoi ils n’ont pas appuyé les autres dispositions de Charte. De plus, ils doivent expliquer par quelle logique ils peuvent permettre le port de ces signes religieux sans permettre également les symboles politiques — y compris les plus extrémistes comme les croix gammées. Des analyses démographiques indiquent que, lors de cette défaite électorale, c’est le projet souverainiste du PQ que l’électorat a rejeté, plutot que la Charte. La laïcité, la vraie, la républicaine, demeure bien populaire au Québec, tandis qu’au Canada hors-Québec cette option est dépréciée au point d’être frappée d’anathème. Malgré ce rejet de l’option souverainiste, cette élection a souligné les différences profoundes entre les deux solitudes canadiennes. Les souverainistes qui prônent la laïcité ont l’habitude de dire que la laïcité au Québec serait impossible sans d’abord faire l’indépendance. Durant la campagne électorale, les anti-Charte ont tout fait pour valider cette thèse. Depuis l’échec de la Charte, les anti-laïques, en particulier les islamistes, se comportent avec l’arrogance de la victoire et ont intenté plusieurs poursuites-bâillons contre des militantes et militants laïques. D’ailleurs, la Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ) a récemment proposé un ajout à la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne qui interdirait les propos jugés haineux à l’égard de certains groupes et il est à craindre que cette nouvelle disposition réprime la légitime critique des religions.

The results of the April 7th 2014 Quebec election were a resounding defeat for the Parti Québécois. At the beginning of the election campaign the Charter was the predominant issue of debate and a solid PQ victory appeared plausible. But at mid-campaign the debate was diverted onto the question of independence and the PQ’s rating fell. Analyses of voting demographics suggest that in general it was the PQ’s sovereignty plans and not the Charter which the electorate rejected.

The death of the PQ’s Charter project means that an historic opportunity has been squandered. If those who purport to support secularism had in fact done so, rather than foolishly opposing the Charter, it might not have been enough to change the results. Nevertheless, by behaving like mindless conformists and falling shamefully into line with popular anti-Quebec prejudice, joining their voices to the din of vilification, pseudo-secularists have deepened confusion in the minds of Canadians about the issue of secularism and have set the cause back decades.

Some readers may be of the opinion that I am overstating my criticism of those whom I call pseudo-secularists. Can we not — they might argue — agree to disagree on this one issue, this particular piece of legislation, while emphasizing our common opposition to religious privilege? To this I reply that the situation is far too serious to “agree to disagree.” If anyone thinks that wearing blatant religious symbols on the job in the public service is a right, then they can have no objection to the wearing of political symbols too, up to and including the Nazi swaztika or the insignia of any other political ideology. If one nevertheless continues to insist that the ban is excessive, then the only acceptable position for a secularist to take would be critical support for the Charter — i.e. support on the condition that the ban be moderated. But CFIC and CSA did not even do that. They simply rejected the Charter out of hand.

The proposed Charter was an exceptional opportunity which, if adopted, would have significantly advanced the cause of secularism. At this critical moment, when their support was needed the most, pseudo-secularists betrayed their espoused principles and took a stance in favour of religious privilege. To put it simply, they committed an enormous gaffe. How can they be trusted unless they take serious measures to correct that gaffe as soon as possible by issuing public statements correcting their error?

While the recent electoral defeat of the Parti Québécois marks a major setback for the independence movement, in the short term at least, nevertheless the Charter controversy has underlined and reinforced those qualities which make Quebec unique and distinct from the rest of Canada, in particular, popular support for a republican form of secularism. Quebecers who support both independence and secularism often speculate that secularism can never be achieved in Quebec without first separating from Canada. During the Charter fiasco, Charter opponents (inadvertently) did everything they could to validate that hypothesis. By maligning one of the best ideas to come out of that province because it was proposed by a separatist government, Charter opponents have, in my opinion, strengthened the independence movement in the long term.

Expressing a similar sentiment, writer and broadcaster Tarek Fatah, a secularist from a Muslim background, penned an article entitled “I say ‘Vote PQ to save Canada’!” which appeared in the Toronto Sun during the election campaign.

The Arrogance of Victory

With the defeat of the Charter they hated so intensely and fought so hard to defeat, anti-secularists, including Islamists, are currently displaying the arrogance of victory.

The proposed Charter was an exceptional opportunity which, if adopted, would have significantly advanced the cause of secularism. At this critical moment, when their support was needed the most, pseudo-secularists betrayed their espoused principles and took a stance in favour of religious privilege.

Philosopher Louise Mailloux is a secularism expert who has published several books on the topic and is the 2014 recipient of the Condorcet-Dessaulles Prize for promotion of secularism and freedom of conscience. She ran unsuccessfully for the PQ against a leader of the anti-Charter QS. During the campaign she was vilified for having written in one of her books (La laïcité, ça s’impose ! or Secularism is Essential!, Louise Mailloux, Les Éditions du Renouveau québécois, 2011) that forced circumcision for religious reasons and forced baptism are violations of the freedom of conscience of children. Playing on the ambiguity of the French word “viol” which can mean either rape or violation, sensationalist journalists opposed to the Charter condemned Mailloux as a fanatic.

But Mailloux’s declaration is obviously true and in line with observations secularists have been making for years. Forcing a person, especially a child, to join a particular religion without informed consent is indeed a violation of that individual’s freedom of conscience. In the case of circumcision involving genital mutilation without valid medical justification, the abuse is physical and the word “rape” arguably becomes appropriate. Female genital mutilation is even more serious and must certainly be considered a form of rape.

Islamists have filed several SLAPP-style lawsuits aimed at silencing those who supported secularism. Mme Mailloux and two pro-secular web sites are currently being sued by a veil-wearing Charter opponent, Dalila Awada, for “defamation” because they alleged that Mme Awada promotes a fundamentalist Muslim agenda. In addition, Djemila Benhabib, herself recipient of the 2012 International Prize for Secularism, is being sued by a Muslim school for claiming that their program resembles the indoctrination one might encounter in a military camp. You are invited to contribute to their defense funds.

Perhaps even more disturbing is a recent proposal put forward by the Quebec Human Rights Commission (CDPDJ, Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) that a new provision be added to the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms prohibiting public incitement of hatred of groups based on a forbidden ground of discrimination. There are several such grounds and religion is one of them, given the same status as gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and race. Furthermore, the new provision would allow a member of a targeted group to submit a complaint in the name of the group, even if that individual is not personally a target. There is a very real fear that this would seriously compromise freedom of expression. Article 296 of the Canadian Criminal Code already criminalizes blasphemy and secularists have of course called for its repeal for years. Would the CDPDJ’s proposal effectively institute an anti-blasphemy law at the provincial level? Two weeks later the CDPDJ issued a letter to reassure the population that it does not wish to limit freedom of expression and that “freedom of religion protects persons rather than their beliefs.” This is indeed reassuring, but what is the provision’s exact wording and how will it be interpreted by human rights tribunals? Clearly, continued vigilance is required.

Perhaps no issue illustrates the hypocrisy of Charter opponents more than that of the crucifix in the Quebec National Assembly. The Charter did not mention the crucifix, neither stating that it should remain nor that it must be removed. Almost all Charter supporters insisted on its removal. The PQ wavered on the issue. However, many Charter opponents used this issue to dismiss the Charter as insufficiently secular and gave the false impression that the Charter had specified that it remain. Pseudo-secularists repeated ad nauseam that government buildings must be free of religious symbols but that on-duty public servants have an inalienable “right” to wear such symbols. Yet during the election campaign the Quebec Liberal Party — which vehemently opposed the Charter and defeated the PQ — adopted an explicit policy to maintain the crucifix in the legislature and they did so in order to attract traditionalist voters. Thus, ironically, Quebec now has a government which took an explicitly anti-secular position but was brought to power partly by those who said the Charter was not secular enough, in alliance with those who conflate religion with race.

Nothing has been resolved. The Rassemblement pour la laïcité continues to organise. The future promises to be difficult, tumultuous and fascinating.

Next blog: “Secularism Betrayed, Epilogue and Update

Secularism Betrayed, Part II

How Conformism Trumped Principle and Set Secularism Back Decades in Canada
Part II: Independence and Separatism

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This three-part blog was written in January 2015 and intended for an international readership. Its tone is pessimistic. Since then, the Supreme Court of Canada decision of April 15th 2015, banning prayers at municipal council meetings, has major implications for the future of secularism in Canada and has renewed optimism among secularists.

Independence and Separatism

Sommaire en français Le débat autour de la Charte de la laïcité proposée par le gouvernement péquiste a été rendu plus difficile par le projet souverainiste de ce parti. Le PQ étant une formation centre-gauche qui a formé des gouvernements plusieurs fois depuis 1976, son souverainisme est devenu de plus en plus hypothétique avec le passage du temps. De tous les principaux partis politique provinciaux et fédéraux au Canada, le PQ est parmi les plus progressistes et est certainement le plus laïque. La laïcité et la souveraineté sont deux questions indépendantes l’une de l’autre, en principe du moins, mais le fait qu’un parti propose les deux à la fois brouillait les cartes. Quoique l’on puisse penser du programme souverainiste, les termes « raciste », « fasciste », etc. employés par ses plus féroces opposants ne sont que diffamation. Des calomnies semblables ont été librement recyclées pour vilipender les pro-Charte aussi. La situation a aussi été compliquée par le fait que plusieurs éléments de la gauche, traditionnellement laïque, trahissent depuis quelques temps leurs propres principes en s’accointant avec les communautés religieuses, surtout la musulmane, même de tendance islamiste. Cela a permis aux anti-Charte d’accuser faussement les pro-Charte de sympathie avec la droite politique. Malgré un appui important pour la Charte parmi la population québécoise, l’opposition des médias était souvent virulente. Au Canada hors-Québec, la réaction a été encore pire, l’angoisse et l’hostilité suscitées par le projet souverainiste du PQ se transformant facilement en haine pour sa Charte et pour les partisans de la laïcité. Deux associations supposément laïques ont pris position contre la Charte, trahissant ainsi le « secularism » qu’il prétendaient prôner.

So far this article has not yet mentioned an issue which should be irrelevant for any debate on secularism but which became unavoidable in the context of the Charter: the question of Quebec independence. The government which proposed the Charter was that of the Parti Québécois (PQ), a party which promotes the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada to form an independent republic.

The PQ can be described as a centre-left formation, with social-democratic leanings. It first came to power in the province in 1976. In the intervening four decades it has been the elected government several times. It has held and lost two referenda on Quebec sovereignty, the second one only narrowly. With the passing years the PQ has become rather mainstream, its independence project pushed ever further onto the back burner, becoming increasingly hypothetical. Nevertheless, this core element of the PQ’s program continues to generate enormous anxiety and hostility among many Canadians. That hostility was expressed with a vengeance during the Charter “debate” although that word is far too refined to describe the caustic uproar which ensued.

Among all parties elected to government at the provincial or federal level in Canada in the last few decades, the PQ is arguably among the most progressive and certainly the most secular. For example, it was a PQ government which, in December 1977, only a year after winning its first election, made Quebec the first jurisdiction in Canada to add “sexual orientation” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in its human rights legislation. A more recent example is the low-cost flat-rate day care program instituted by a previous PQ government (and now scrapped by the newly elected Liberal Party government).

As secularists we should not have to deal with a question such as whether Quebec should become independent or remain a member of the Canadian federation. The issue of separating Quebec from Canada is of no direct relevance to the question of separating religion from the state. But in the context of the proposed Charter that distinction quickly proved to be a luxury. Secularists were unavoidably confronted with the conflation of the two issues.

Now, one might consider the idea of Quebec independence to be unrealistic, misguided or utopian. One might consider it to be a dangerous and even reprehensible pipedream because of the political and economic instability that could very well result. However it is not racist, xenophobic, fascist nor any of a myriad of similar colourful adjectives used rather too often by those too lazy to attempt a rational response. Furthermore, anyone who uses such extreme language to denounce Quebec separatists is, in my opinion, a fanatic engaging in hate propaganda against a recognizable ethnic group, a behaviour which, in any other context, many would not hesitate to call “racist.” Indeed, this must be constrasted with the totally inappropriate and dishonest use by Charter opponents of the term “racist” to denigrate secularists.

The idea of Quebec going it alone is arguably a natural consequence of the coming-of-age process which began with the Quiet Revolution a half-century ago, a process of which secularization was and remains a key aspect. Thus, within Quebec there are many who support both independence and secularism. It is only natural that they would link the two and indeed that is to their credit because it indicates the progressive nature of their vision of an independent Quebec. Hence the conflation of the two issues.

So how should secularists have responded to this situation? The answer, I think, is obvious: the conflation must be resisted; the two issues must be distinguished. (Indeed, both the Quebec independentist camp and the federalist, i.e. anti-separatist, camp were divided in their opinions of the Charter.) Those who are secularists first and foremost must evaluate the Charter on its own merits, regardless of the independence question.

The Left, the Right and Secularism

Another issue which muddied the waters — and was dishonestly used by Charter opponents — is the disturbing ambivalence to secularism displayed in recent years by some left-wing organizations. Some on the left have abandoned the left’s traditional support for secularism in order not to offend “anti-imperialist” elements which are often Islamist. Two examples of this are Québec Solidaire (QS), a small independentist political party to the left of the PQ, and the Quebec Federation of Women, both of which oppose the ban on religious symbols in the public service.

The left has thus created a political vacuum — i.e. a lack of voices in support of the often popular secular program — which some right-wing political parties, especially in Europe, have opportunistically filled by pretending to support secularism. This has strengthened the far right by providing a pseudo-secularist veneer hiding an anti-immigrant or pro-Christian agenda. Even worse, it has allowed anti-secularists to misrepresent secularism and slander secularists by associating them with that right-wing agenda.

… secularism is a progressive and noble undertaking, … criticism of religion is a necessary and salutory aspect of both freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Each and every religion must be subject to criticism, whether it be that of the traditional majority or of a minority, immigrant or otherwise.

Clearly, it is the duty of secularists to remind everyone that secularism is a progressive and noble undertaking, to explain that criticism of religion is a necessary and salutory aspect of both freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Each and every religion must be subject to criticism, whether it be that of the traditional majority or of a minority, immigrant or otherwise.

To associate secularism with the political right is an obvious instance of the binary fallacy (or “either-or” fallacy), i.e. the misconception that a complex political question can be simplistically summed up as a conflict between two and only two camps. There are not two sides to every story; rather there are many “sides,” perhaps an infinite number. The spectrum of political positions with respect to secularism includes at least three principal camps (and even this is a simplification):

  1. Traditionalists who oppose secularism and support the traditionally dominant religion. An example: Mayor Jean Tremblay of Saguenay, a Catholic fundamentalist who insists on starting municipal council meetings with a prayer.
  2. So-called multiculturalists, i.e. ethnoreligious determinists who support extending religious privileges to a plurality of religions. The majority of Charter opponents, including pseudo-secularists who claimed to oppose it as secularists, fall into this camp. Indeed, this is very much the dominant ideology in Canada, especially outside Quebec.
  3. Secularists, such as member groups of the Rassemblement pour la laïcité, who oppose religious privilege and promote principles of universal human rights, including those principles which may conflict with religious tenets.

It must be noted that members of the first two camps, i.e. anti-secularists, sometimes present themselves as favouring some form of secularism. An example from the first camp would be the Front National in France, and, from the second, proponents of what is called in French “laïcité ouverte,” i.e. so-called “open secularism,” where the adjective “open” serves to negate and misrepresent the noun.

The Rest Of Canada

In Canada outside Quebec, media hostility to the Charter was even more virulent than within Quebec. Demonizing the PQ being a long-standing national sport in Canada for the reasons explained above, all-too-familiar accusations of intolerance and identity politics were freely recycled to denounce the bill. Nevertheless, a survey (“4 in 10 Canadians approve of Quebec charter of values, Similar number are uncomfortable with religious symbols”) conducted at the end of the summer of 2013 indicated that 43% of Canadians approved of the Quebec Charter and 64% agreed that “there are circumstances where an employer could restrict the wearing of religious symbols or clothing” as the government of Quebec was planning for its employees. In addition, a few weeks before the election, three secular organizations outside Quebec, including Humanist Canada, expressed some support for the Charter and for the ban.

However, two organizations with pretentions of representing secularists across Canada took a very different approach. In a press release dated September 13th 2013 (but which seems to have since disappeared from their web site), CFI Canada (CFIC) rejected the Charter, claiming that it “has the wrong aim, to take religion away from people” which was apparently their somewhat bizarre way of alleging that the Charter would threaten freedom of religion. Then, two months later, two CFIC spokespersons co-authored an op-ed piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail accusing the Charter of being “anti-religious bigotry” and a “threat” to Muslim veils! They then made the utterly surreal assertion that banning religious symbols and clothing for civil servants on duty would be comparable to discriminating against atheists in advertising. In a fundraising letter at the end of 2013, CFIC voiced its “concerns about the Quebec government’s misinterpretation of the principles of secularism.” Clearly they have things backwards. It is CFIC which misunderstands secularism and needs to learn a few basics from those Quebecers who have been working diligently towards that goal for many years, starting decades before CFIC even existed.

For its part, the very inaptly named Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA) issued a press release in November 2013 opposing the Charter because of the ban on religious symbols, claiming that religious displays by employees on duty are of no significance. CSA also faulted the Charter for not addressing various exemptions and subsidies which benefit religions, thus studiously ignoring the fact that the Charter established principles which would have greatly facilitated such measures in future, indeed setting the stage for the repeal of such privileges.

Next blog: “Secularism Betrayed, Part III

Secularism Betrayed, Part I

How Conformism Trumped Principle and Set Secularism Back Decades in Canada
Part I: The Charter

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Sommaire en français La Charte de la laïcité (projet de loi 60) a été proposée par le gouvernement du Parti Québécois en automne 2013. Cette charte, quoique loin d’être parfaite, aurait fait un pas très important sur le long chemin vers la laïcisation de la société québécoise, un processus déjà entamé par la Révolution Tranquille. Elle jouissait d’une grande popularité et un Rassemblement pour la laïcité s’est organisé pour appuyer le projet. Mais l’opposition était féroce, venant surtout des partisans du soi-disant multiculturalisme qui accorde une priorité à l’appartenance ethno-religieuse — aux dépens des principes universels —, et des islamistes. L’aspect le plus controversé de la Charte était la prohibition du port de signes religieux par les fonctionnaires publics durant leurs heures de travail ; pourtant, une contrainte semblable existe déjà dans la législation québécoise car les fonctionnaires ont un devoir de réserve en ce qui concerne leurs opinions politiques personnelles. Mais les opposants de la Charte ne tenaient pas compte de cela et dénonçaient le projet de loi comme une menace pour la liberté de religion, allant parfois jusqu’à accuser les pro-Charte de racisme et de xénophobie.

This three-part blog was written in January 2015 and intended for an international readership. Its tone is pessimistic. Since then, the Supreme Court of Canada decision of April 15th 2015, banning prayers at municipal council meetings, has major implications for the future of secularism in Canada and has renewed optimism among secularists.

In late 2013, the government of the Canadian province of Quebec introduced major draft legislation — a Charter of Secularism — which would have formally and officially declared Quebec to be secular. Unfortunately the proposed legislation died when that government was defeated in a provincial election in April of 2014.

One could be forgiven for assuming that all those who claim to favour secularism would have supported the bill wholeheartedly and worked hard to ensure its adoption, and this is indeed what occurred inside the province. But such was not the case outside Quebec. Indeed, two ostensibly secular organizations even went so far as to oppose the Charter publicly. This is the story of that shameful betrayal.

The Charter

The Charter or Bill 60 carried the unwieldy title “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests” and contained provisions which:

  • formally declared separation between religion and state, the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of its institutions;
  • imposed on public servants a duty of discretion and neutrality with regard to religion, prohibiting religious symbols in the public service;
  • reaffirmed gender equality; and
  • established clear guidelines to regulate so-called “reasonable” accommodations which in the past had resulted in granting certain privileges to various religious groups and should instead be called religious accommodations.

All of these measures would have formalized the secular nature of the state and ensured its autonomy and independence from religion.

The Charter, if adopted, would have been a natural next step in Quebec’s remarkable progression over the last half-century from a priest-ridden backwater of Roman Catholic obscurantism to a modern, open and secular society, a process which is known as the Quiet Revolution. Virtually every secularist, humanist, atheist and/or freethought group in Quebec supported it enthusiastically (but not uncritically) and rallied to form a coalition, the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL or Alliance for Secularism) which held various events including a march in October 2013 when some 26000 individuals braved the cold and rain in Montreal to declare their earnest desire for state secularism. Several member-organizations of the Rassemblement, for example Atheist Freethinkers (AFT), submitted briefs to public hearings on the proposed legislation in early 2014. The Charter should have inspired other provinces to consider similar legislation.

The Charter was not perfect. It failed to mention several important issues such as the following.

  • It did not end the current 60% public funding of private schools, many of which are religious.
  • It did not end tax advantages for the religious and for religious organizations.
  • It addressed neither the issue of cruelty to animals resulting from ritual slaughter nor the related issue of the wide distribution of religiously certified merchandise.
  • It did not explicitly prohibit religious ceremonies and manifestations in government buildings, such as prayers at municipal council.
  • It did not replace the Ethics and Religious Culture programme currently taught in primary and secondary schools and which violates secularism in that it is mandatory, fails to address atheism and other forms of non-belief adequately and implicitly teaches that religious belief is a prerequisite for ethics.
  • It did not address the issue of the crucifix which has hung above the speaker’s chair in the legislative chamber (the National Assembly) in Quebec City since it was installed there in the 1930s to symbolize the alliance of the government of the day with the Roman Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, the Charter set the stage for continuing secularisation. As a quasi-constitutional document its role was to establish general principles rather than specify implementation details, and those principles would have greatly facilitated future secular measures, including those listed above.

The Reaction

The proposed Charter enjoyed widespread popular support and yet opposition to it was fierce. The most vociferous opposition came from so-called multiculturalists who place religious privilege above universal human rights and thus empower religious community leaders, and from a small but very vocal gang of Islamists — in particular the Collectif québécois contre l’islamophobie (Quebec Collective Against Islamophobia) and the Muslim Council of Montreal — who pretended to speak for all Muslims. In reality, many persons from a Muslim background were sympathetic to the Charter, for example the Quebec Association of North-Africans for Secularism which is a member group of the Rassemblement pour la laïcité.

The term “multiculturalism” must be deconstructed. It sounds warm and fuzzy, and its proponents present it as a synonym for cultural diversity and a solution to racism. However it is more fairly described as a close cousin of racism. Well-known Quebec author and secularist Djemila Benhabib describes it as “multiracism.” An accurate replacement of the term “multiculturalism” would be “ethnoreligious determinism” — i.e. religion as destiny — because it is an ideology which tightly associates each ethnic community with a particular religious identity and labels members of that community with the associated belief system. It is thus a denial of freedom of conscience because it insists on assigning individuals to the religion of the community into which they were born. By conflating an innate characteristic (ethnicity) with a question of choice (belief), the latter is made to appear as if it were innate as well.

The most controversial aspect of the Charter was undoubtedly the prohibition on public servants wearing conspicuous religious symbols while on duty. Yet, there already exist regulations requiring that Quebec public servants refrain from obvious partisan political displays while on the job. Indeed, articles 10 and 11 of the Public Service Act (PSA) state that “A public servant shall be politically neutral in performing his duties” and “shall act with reserve in any public display of his political opinions.”

Ostentatiously displaying one’s political or religious affiliation while on duty as a public servant must be considered a privilege, not a right, a privilege which may legitimately be restricted in the interest of state neutrality.

In practice this means, for example, that if you go to the motor-vehicule bureau to renew your driver’s license, the agent at the counter may not wear a t-shirt emblazoned with “Vivre le Québec libre !” (a classic separatist slogan) or “Vote Liberal!” The new ban proposed in the Charter would have been a reasonable extension of that existing rule, given the partisan and often political nature of religious symbols, a modest constraint on freedom of expression for state employees during working hours. Ostentatiously displaying one’s political or religious affiliation while on duty as a public servant must be considered a privilege, not a right, a privilege which may legitimately be restricted in the interest of state neutrality.

Unfortunately, rather than concentrating the debate on this all-important job-related principle of restraint and neutrality, the government proposing the Charter made the mistake of allowing the discussion on this issue to slide into implementation details such a specific religious symbols, their size, etc., thus allowing Charter opponents to set the tone and open the door to portraying believers as victims of repressive legislation. Opponents of secularism alleged that this rule would constitute a serious threat to freedom of religion and a vehicle to persecute ethnic minorities. Indeed, opposition was so extreme that it sunk into defamatory language, accusing secularists of xenophobia, racism and similar epithets (as if race and religion were synonymous, a confusion in which multiculturalists regularly indulge), thus demonizing any support for a republican form of secularism.

It must be understood that, although the Charter was undoubtably inspired by the French tradition of laïcité, it nevertheless did not go nearly as far as current legislation in France: the Charter’s ban on ostentatious religious symbols applied neither to students nor to the public in general, but only to public employees and only while on duty.

Surveys indicated that the population of Quebec was largely sympathetic to the proposed legislation, which led some Charter opponents to denigrate Quebecers in general, accusing them of being inbred fools obsessed with identity politics.

Next blog: “Secularism Betrayed, Part II