Off all the asinine comments made by Mme Marois in defense of her fatally flawed ‘Québec charte des valeurs’ (daycare workers wearing hijabs are threatening our children, comparing it to Bill 101, etc.) I think the one I want to discuss here is her rather unfortunate using of the French model of “laiçité” as an example for Québec to follow in integrating its Muslim population.
The notion, that French secularist traditions have led to some sort of social harmony between French society and millions of Arab speaking Muslim Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan immigrants, the vast majority of which arrived in France during the post-war period at the invitation of previous French governments to help fill jobs created by the boom of recovery in Europe’s war-torn economies, is simply laughable.
Anyone who has been paying attention to recent French history knows that unemployment rates among the Arabic Muslim minority (one in every 13 French citizens describes themselves as Muslim) are much higher than they are among the general population. There has also been a rise, though not due only to socio-economic conditions, of homegrown terrorism and racial tensions in France’s major cities (for example the riots of Clichy-Sous-Bois back in 2005).
French secularism is very different from North America’s, or even Quebec’s version of the institution, owing to the dramatically different historical, political and legal contexts in which it evolved. Even Marois seems to vaguely grasp this fact, saying that “Quebec will develop its own model based on our values and experiences.”
For starters, France has essentially been thoroughly secular at the governmental level since the French Revolution in 1789. But, more to the point, their version of secularism makes no exceptions for Christian symbolism in the public sector (i.e. no cross hangs in their National Assembly). Also, it should be said, that the measures being proposed by the PQ are not as drastic as those that were imposed in France, where there are no niqabs allowed in public whatsoever, and female students are not even allowed to wear hijabs at state schools.
But Marois’ ignorance of the French model that ostensibly inspired her bill is not confined to French history. She also spectacularly misreads British multiculturalism as a main cause of British terrorism, in the process unwittingly spewing the same claptrap as such noble political parties as the racist British National Party and the ultra-right wing UK Independence Party. I suppose it has never occurred to her to look at the rest of Canada as a successful model of multiculturalism?
Marois either doesn’t appreciate the obvious differences in context between Western Europeans societies and ours with respect to integrating religious minorities, or doesn’t care to. Irrespective, she will pursue her destructive agenda to the bitter end.
Perhaps we on the federalist side of the political spectrum should rejoice. This could be the final nail in the coffin for an already out-of-touch government with no economic or job creation strategy to speak of. Maybe one day we will look back on this moment as the kind of desperate gamble to remain relevant that resulted in the Republican Party in the US becoming beholden to the overwhelmingly white lunatic fringe of right wing politics that the Tea Party represents in that country.
But when we see the hatred, taking some of its cues from the rhetoric of the Parti Quebecois, starting to poison everyday life the way it did for the victim of a racist tirade on a bus in Montreal recently, it’s awfully hard to feel smug about the situation.