Those of you outside of Canada are probably unfamiliar with the Quebec Charter of Values. It’s a controversial new law introduced by Premier Pauline Marois that would ban public sector workers from wearing any religious symbols or dress.
The caveat to all of this is though muslim women would be prohibited from wearing their veils, christians are permitted to wear their crucifixes. Amnesty International, and other bodies have criticized the ban, stating that it would violate the rights of Canadians to religious freedom.
Quebec is often a thorn in the rest of Canada’s side, constantly demanding more attention, and claiming that its culture is under attack from immigrants, and Anglophones. The Parti Québécois’ chief mandate is to protect Quebec’s distinct culture and French language, a fight the political party has been having with the Federal government for decades.
I’ve stated before that each of the ten provinces in Canada, and its three northern territories are distinct cultures. Anyone who has travelled across this great country will clearly see how different we are from one another, and how our diversity, rich in history, makes us so similar.
So it constantly strikes me as odd that Quebec thinks that it is MORE culturally distinct, in part due to the French language. I’m not making light of this difference, I’m simply suggesting that rural Quebecers venture outside of their province to notice how they’re not as dissimilar as they think.
I say rural because the charter’s chief supporters are from farming communities, but this is not anything shocking. Most rural communities in Canada are often ignorant to diversity because they live outside of urban centres where diversity thrives. Again, I say most, not ALL, there are individuals in farming communities who hold progressive values.
The rest of Canada is embarrassed that this a debate in Quebec. We are a nation of immigrants that boasts proudly about its multiculturalism. When a person enters into Canada for the first time we assure them that our society is a mosaic, and they are free to retain their culture, but encourage them to adopt Canadian values, and respect that everyone is equal.
Anyone who chooses to make Canada home does so with the understanding that we are a multicultural society; they will have to coexist with people from nations whom they have experienced conflict with before.
That is not to say that racism, sexism and homophobia does not exist in Canada, because they do. Much of it exists because of immigration, people who come to this country and hold steady to the beliefs of their mother country.
Growing up in Brampton, Ontario I know how religion can affect a large number of people. I went to Catholic school up until the age of 19. Brampton is a very multicultural city, built by Jamaican, Italian, Portuguese, Indian, Pakistani immigrants. I am the son of an immigrant.
In high school these sects did not mix. One only had to visit the cafeteria at lunch to witness the racial, cultural and religious divides. Not everyone who went to my high school was Catholic, in fact there were many students of different religions including Hindus, Sikhs, muslims and so on.
I could never understand how little influence our religious teachings had on my classmates. This hostility was certainly not in accordance with our curriculum, which focused on world religions. I wasn’t raised to believe that the Catholic faith was the one and only true faith. Tolerance of other people’s spiritual beliefs is what I learned from my lessons at school.
The inter-faith tensions in high school provided me a first glimpse into reality: ignorance, bigotry, fear, uncertainty and distrust in other cultures, places, religions, colours, sexualities, cannot be easily undone through education. It doesn’t matter how much a person knows, if they’re unwilling to think for themselves, there’s no helping them. Just look at anti-apartheid South Africa as evidence of this.
Based on all that I’ve laid out, it’s obvious where I stand on the Quebec Charter of Values. Yesterday there was a demonstration in Montreal for people who support the ban. A young muslim woman in a veil walked by the demonstrators, oblivious to what was happening. The supporters began to yell at her, demanding that she remove her veil and if she didn’t, to go back to the country from where she came. Quebec values indeed.
The majority of the supporters at the demonstration were white, which confirms my suspicions that this has more to do with racism, and religious intolerance of brown people, than anything else.
As a Canadian I believe in religious freedom, and the freedom of expression. A woman wearing a veil may or may not be facing oppression at home. She may not be forced to wear the veil by her husband, it may be her choice. Which is what much of the Charter and those who support it don’t understand. The freedom to choose to express yourself however you please. It’s really none of my business.
Believe me, I’m a secularist, but I don’t want to force anyone to practice my beliefs, just as I don’t want their beliefs to be forced on me. We need to be empathetic to where individuals are coming from, and their personal histories, which are as diverse as their ethnicity, and their religion.
I’ve taken to Twitter to complain about the Charter, because I question whether it is fair, or racist for that matter. For the most part people have ignored me, but there was one woman from “Truth”, USA who took me to task for my opposition on the ban of religious clothing.
However, her arguments were not constructed in a manner that I would consider healthy. The basis of her argument was derived from the anger that she felt from a previous sexual assault. She has every right to her anger, but I felt that she was channeling it in a way that was destructive. She accused me of “dehumanizing” her, of being a “jihadist” and made the argument that all muslims are women-hating rapists and that all veils, no matter their type, are a symbol of oppression.
I tried to rationally explain to her that her generalizations do not apply to the people whom I know. I lived with a muslim in university, and he was definitely not a racist, or a misogynist, in fact, he was a tolerant, caring and loving person with a tremendous respect for life.
I have worked with many muslim women who choose to wear their veils, and are not coerced by their husbands to do so. I have also worked with many muslim women who do not wear veils, but admit that their daughters do.
In addition, I expressed to her that the christians in her own country have staunchly, and viciously rescinded the rights of gay people for years, and that perhaps she should tackle the internal problems in America before “liberating” muslim women. Gay people need liberation from fundamental christians who are constantly dehumanizing them, and their relationships.
Well that just got her riled up even more. She began calling me a “leftard” which made me laugh, and then proceeded to send me photographs of muslim children in Africa chained to fences, as well as this video:
She also sent me more photos that made me laugh out loud, not because they were not serious in nature, but because of the absurd leaps in her argument.
After she accused me of being a jihadist who thought cultural diversity included wearing swastikas and yellow stars I had to end our correspondence.
I wrote, “Whoa. U’ve kind of lost the plot. Ppl stay angry out of habit. Enjoy your nihilist view of the world, it’s clearly working well.” I then added, “I can’t engage with you any longer, your world is black and white and we can’t have a conversation about it.”
These type of debates are enlightening on many levels. I have often found while debating Americans about world issues that they routinely slip into making inflammatory, rhetorical comments, and are not shy about yelling, hollering, and insulting the people whom they are debating.
I guess if you’re raised on FOX, MSNBC, CNN and whatever other God awful news outlet for your source of information, it’s possible that if the news is yelled to you everyday, you’re going to emulate the same behaviour. There was a time when the news was simply reported to us, but now it’s saturated in personal opinions from reporters and journalists who have become more interested in being celebrities than professionals.
But being the loudest doesn’t make anyone right. Neither does making irrational, illogical connections in an attempt to intimidate those who disagree with us into silence.
I couldn’t believe that this woman believed that her behaviour was appropriate, and lumped all muslim people into one category: a jihadist. There was no middle ground, no ability to see from someone else’s perspective, no consideration of any argument opposite of hers, it was just a black and white depiction of the world where all religions are bad, but none as terrible as Islam.
I am not religious, in fact I consider myself an atheist, but I would never expect anyone to be an atheist because I am one. I believe it is important to defend everyone’s right to choice, the freedom to choose to create a life that is right for you.
Clearly I do not advocate hate, or bigotry of any kind, but to focus on one religion like Islam, and say that it is the worst religion in the world, and ignore the fact that christians have been responsible for more deaths in the history of civilization, is pure lunacy, not to mention wilfully ignorant.
Again, if the woman who I was debating with on Twitter wants an example of how religion corrupts freedom, she only has to look to her own country to see how actively christianity has politically, and economically restricted the rights of gay people.
There is nothing more hostile than the defence of marriage act, the ban on same sex-marriage in countless states, the ban on allowing gay people to adopt or foster children, the refusal to provide social security to individuals whose same-sex partners have died, and the list goes on and on.
The excuse that christians, and other religious organizations provide for their anti-gay views is that they are defending the definition of marriage, and the nuclear family. This is the same argument that they used in the 1960s when they attempted to make interracial marriage illegal. It is wrong, it is hateful and those who support such measures will always be on the losing side of history. It’s also flawed, because all one American has to do is look at the 15 other countries around the world that have embraced marriage equality to know that it does not lead to the end of a nation’s morality. Quite the opposite.
There is too much rage in America at the moment. So much willful intolerance makes it impossible to take their credibility as an agent for good seriously. It is a divisive, polarizing place to live where over 30 million people (the population of Canada) are without health care, and countless others without basic civil rights. And yet they attempt to convince the rest of the world that all Americans are born equal. Unless of course you’re gay, or muslim, or not a white older man with deep pockets.
America has shown me how lucky I am to be Canadian which is why I oppose Quebec’s Charter of Values so much. Based on everything I have written about regarding the pursuit by christian Americans to restrict the rights of gay people, it does not mean that I believe all christian people are bad, or have the same warped, regressive views. No, of course not. Just as not all muslims are 9/11 apologists who want to blow up all of America. How retrograde and narrow-minded is it of someone to believe in such a thing? This generalizing of groups of people is maddening. Individuals who actively attempt to rescind rights are surprisingly in the minority, but they’re very good at organizing themselves and making lots of noise, giving the illusion that they’re the majority.
I can’t stomach that a province in Canada is going to vote on a charter that has nothing to do with values, and everything to do with exclusion and fear. The fear that immigrants are threatening their “distinct” culture in a nation that thrives on immigration. It all seems so senseless.
But as a friend of mine said, “If you think about it, it only makes sense that a society built on “protecting” their culture will reject all others. Scary.”
Indeed. We’ll see how this all plays out.