So the bullshit of the week was that a leaked copy of the Parti Québécois’ ‘secularism charter’ indicates the PQ will attempt to ban public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols as part of its broad effort to define the nature of the province’s social values.
It’s not much of a story in my opinion, but seeing as it’s a slow news week and everyone would rather debate public policy on Facebook and Twitter in lieu of working, it suddenly became the topic du jour for a couple days til outdone by Trudeau Jr.’s admission he smoked the devil weed marijuana. At first glance there was widespread condemnation, and playing into Pauline Marois’ lap, a lot of ‘Québec bashing’ on newspaper forums and social media Canada wide.
Premiere Marois is hoping to push through a ‘sovereignty-lite’ social policy while riding higher-than-expected approval ratings thanks to what was solid leadership in the wake of the Lac Mégantic disaster. The secularism charter is what Quebecers will get instead of a referendum on sovereignty.
Yay, I suppose…
Let’s call it for what it is – the above image is what Quebecers don’t want. We don’t want to see women covered from head to toe like in the image above. Though I don’t have the numbers to prove it, I’d still guess the overwhelming majority of Quebecers, like Canadians, would want some kind of a law to prevent this from happening.
I think most of us find this abusive to the woman underneath, oppressive to society in general and threatening too. Decontextualized face-coverings (i.e. everything that falls outside of halloween costume and masquerade balls) make people feel ill-at-ease inasmuch as the guy dressed in mis-matched army camouflage hanging around large gatherings of people, or someone wearing a balaclava in a bank or near an armoured car.
Or riot cops for that matter…
A hijab is different, seems to be more broadly accepted and I think a far better way of demonstrating one’s modesty. The human face is a brilliant and complex machine – one which shouldn’t be hidden. See the work of psychologist Paul Ekman in the field of facial expressions and you’ll get an idea of why, scientifically and psychologically, it would be a very bad idea indeed to permit individuals in a society to cover their faces.
Granted it’s done elsewhere; it doesn’t need to be done here too. We can be smarter.
As to turbans, well, they never hurt anyone and every Sikh I’ve ever met who wears one takes great care to make sure it looks good and matches whatever else they happen to be wearing. A turban certainly won’t prevent a child from playing soccer safely, or any other sport for that matter. We should’ve learned our lesson twenty years ago when Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first turbaned RCMP officer; his turban didn’t prevent him from doing his job properly, and (as we realized) a turbaned mountie not only looks cool but is about as Canadian as hockey, universal healthcare and a university education. The turban can be integrated into an intercultural society. As can a hijab, or yarmulke.
The Kirpan is another issue. I understand the symbolism but our society cannot in good conscience allow one group of people to carry a weapon when the general public wouldn’t be allowed (i.e. I can’t carry my great-grandfather’s trusty switchblade that helped him escape a German POW camp for ‘symbolic reasons’ – if stopped and frisked by police I could be charged with carrying a concealed weapon).
So Québec should take the lead on coming up with solutions to this predicament – such as stitching an unsharpened kirpan into its sheath and wearing this under the clothing or replacing an actual knife with a some kind of knife-life jewellery.
As to kippas and yarmulkas, refer back to the point about hijabs and turbans – ultimately it’s just a symbolic hat, and a very subtle one at that. It doesn’t hurt anyone, leave it alone.
The major problem with the Québec secularism charter is that many of us suspect it will be applied ‘with extreme prejudice’ towards everyone but the lay Catholic majority.
And that’s really, really wrong.
If we’re to have a fully secular state, then secularism must be applied universally.
This means the crucifix in the National Assembly and the disco variant atop Mount Royal have to go. And every school named after a saint or religious concept has to be renamed.
And while we’re at it, why not redesign the provincial flag too?
That’s the problem – if we do this right it’ll be both expensive and confusing (for a while at least).
But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue the idea.
In an era of unimaginable religious conflict and the ‘re-evangelization’ of an unfortunately large part of the American and Canadian population, Québec is right to continue separating the state from any manifestation of the church. We need to get religion out of the public sphere.
As it is personal, it belongs at home and in the temple, not in the streets. We should outlaw proselytizing too.
We already accept that religion has no place in school or healthcare, even if some schools still have religious bas-reliefs or metal crucifixes and some hospitals still have chapels inside. Fine, it’s not really that big a deal. No Muslim has ever been refused treatment at the Jewish General, no WASP has ever been turned away at the door of Saint Mary’s. And no one’s being refused an abortion or birth control for religious reasons.
These are all good things, this is growing up. We ought to be proud of this. This is positive secularism. We’re better off with public and secular education, healthcare and social services. We also benefit from a government and judiciary which is fundamentally secular.
But up until now accommodation of religious minorities and the demonstration of their affiliations in the public sector has been managed on a case by case basis, with most of the state moving towards increased secularism ever since the beginning of the Quiet Revolution more than fifty years ago.
I suppose the only way to really make this work is for the government to lead from the front. Stop hiding behind the whole ‘it’s a part of our history’ argument and start tearing down crucifixes.
The Catholic Church was only, ever, a profoundly destructive force in Québec society. We have no business holding onto any of their symbols – indeed, they are the symbols of a foreign and imperialist power, one which is directly responsible for nearly eradicating First Nation’s society and culture to say nothing of the unspeakable horrors committed against Québécois during the Duplessis regime under the supervision and cooperation of the Catholic Church.
The Parti Québécois owes its existence to rebels who turned against the hegemony of the Catholic Church. The roots of the PQ lie in a secularism derived from its opposition to the Church. Thus, their current arguments about what should be permitted and what shouldn’t are grossly hypocritical to say the least. So I’ll reiterate, in my opinion, the very best thing the PQ could do is to lead from the front and remove the symbols of Christianity from the public sphere.
Unfortunately it doesn’t seem as though the PQ is going to do the right thing, thus giving secularism a bad name in Canada.
Sometimes I swear it seems like Pauline Marois is doing everything she can to help Stephen Harper along with his Christian evangelical social agenda. What hope does the rest of Canada have in becoming more secular if Québec defines secularism as a back-handed way to establish lay Catholic supremacy?
What hope does secularism have when it’s applied vindictively to minorities to limit their opportunities working for the public (especially when considering getting a job in the public sector is a remarkably good way to integrate immigrants and minorities into the greater whole)?
Québec is the petrie dish of Canadian progressivism. And right now the governing party, which claims to represent the progressive left, is using the state secularism issue to motivate its socially conservative, reactionary base into thinking we need to take ever more punitive steps to repel invasive ‘Canadian multiculturalism’.
So to recap – yes, in my opinion we should be a more secular society, but if the PQ wants to go after public displays of one’s religious affiliation, then they have to go after all symbols in the public sphere, and this means removing a metric shit ton of crucifixes, renaming everything, making a lot of new street signs etc. etc.
If we don’t want burqas and naqibs and kirpans, then we need to explicitly forbid those particular items and explain why in a way people understand and can appreciate.
Going after subtle signs of modesty like a hijab or turban is too far. Going after knives and garments designed to dehumanize women – this I can get behind.
Ultimately, we need smarter less politically motivated people to address this issue. What we have right now is the PQ trying to shore up an element of its support base before they go mano-a-mano with Philippe Couillard and the rejuvenated Quebec Liberal Party.
But let’s be really clear here – this ‘charter in the making’ is not about secularism, it is about developing an ‘us vs. them’ political rhetoric that posits the PQ as the best defender of the evasive and apparently constantly threatened Québec identity (much in the same way Stephen Harper claims he’s the only leader capable of preventing a local economic collapse and how the Tories say they’re the only party that supports the troops and ‘real Canadian values’ – it’s all a gigantic steaming pile of political bullshit).
And given the amount of commentary this story has generated, we as a people are remarkably unsophisticated when it comes to avoiding getting ensnared in manufactured ‘hot button’ issues.
We’re literally just driving the gears of social, digital and print media.
Feed the beast eh?