The Quebec elections are over and we are about to have a new government. People fed up with Philippe Couillard and wary of the sovereigntist messages of Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois took their votes elsewhere, putting François Legault and his party, Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), in office.

Many people are scared, and they have every reason to be. The CAQ ran on an aggressively secularist, anti-immigration, right-wing nationalist (within Canada) platform.

The day after the election, people’s worst fears were confirmed when Legault announced that he would use the Canadian constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to bar civil servants from wearing religious symbols. To use a popular Quebecois expression, ça commence ben mal (we’re off to a bad start).

For all those in despair, I want to give reasons to hope. This article will look at a couple of the CAQ’s more controversial policies, the legality of them, and the ways we can fight back within the system.

Immigration

One of François Legault’s most controversial statements during the election was that he would expel any immigrants Quebec that failed to pass a French and “Quebec Values” test within three years of their arrival.

Here’s the thing: Quebec cannot legally do that.

The decision on whether or not to expel immigrants is federal jurisdiction. This is not to say that Quebec has no discretion in matters of immigration. One of the ways people can immigrate to Canada is via Quebec’s immigration programs such as Quebec Skilled Worker, Quebec Investor, or Quebec Experience, all of which have limits set by the provincial government on how many people they are willing to accept.

These programs do not guarantee you permanent residence (PR). Once you have a Quebec certificate via one of these programs, you can apply for permanent residence.

The application for PR will be assessed by a federal Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) officer and they get the final say as to whether or not you get permanent residency, not Quebec. It is also the CIC that has sole jurisdiction to issue expulsion orders.

Notwithstanding Clause

As previously stated, François Legault announced on Tuesday that he would be willing to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to ban government employees from wearing religious symbols. In Quebec, that would apply to everyone from teachers to doctors to public transit workers, cops, and civil servants.

It should be said that if the new government is truly committed to secularism, they need to take down all the crosses in public buildings, a gruelling and expensive task given Quebec’s history with the Catholic Church. It must also be said that their rules should include forbidding anyone in civil service from wearing a cross or crucifix.

Fortunately for people whose faith dictates the wearing of visible symbols, the Notwithstanding Clause is not the magical failsafe Islamaphobes and anti-Semites seem to think it is and it will not allow a government to do what it wants indefinitely.

The Notwithstanding Clause is Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Section 2 of the Charter deals with freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the press, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Sections 7 to 15 deal with such rights as “life, liberty, and security of the person” and protection from arbitrary detention, search and seizures, and other rights in criminal and penal proceedings.

Most importantly in this case, article 15 entrenches the right to equality before and under the law “without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to keep a law in place that violates these rights provided they expressly declare that the legislation in question applies notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This declaration by a government would not apply indefinitely. According to paragraph three of the Clause, said declaration “will cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.”

There is good reason for this entrenched delay.

The Notwithstanding Clause is generally applied by provincial governments in the face of the courts striking down controversial legislation on constitutional grounds. The five-year delay allows said governments to rework the law so it conforms with the Charter in cases where the courts do not give them such a delay.

Quebec, for example, used the Clause to keep Bill 101 in place after the Supreme Court struck it down, using the five years to rewrite the law to fit the Charter. Once the five years is up, the government can choose to re-enact a declaration as per the Clause and the delay restarts.

That said, there is a catch, because guess what else happens every four to five years? Elections.

Using the Notwithstanding Clause is a hugely unpopular move. Canadians have embraced The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a way of using the courts to protect them from, for example, xenophobic laws enacted by governments.

A legal challenge to Bill 62, the law enacted by the Liberals barring the wearing of religious symbols by government employees and people using government services, is currently underway and will likely be struck down by the courts. The CAQ can use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep the law in place if they wish, but it might cost them a second term.

The CAQ officially take office once Quebec’s Lieutenant Governor, J. Michel Doyon swears them in and names François Legault as our Premier. Many of us are scared and angry so let’s turn this anger into action and use our power as the people to curb their worst ideas.

* Featured image of François Legault on election night via YouTube

One of the cornerstones of any liberal democracy is a judiciary that is independent, fair, and free from bias. Unfortunately, judges are human beings and therefore vulnerable to having the same prejudices many of us have.

An ideal government will name judges that can separate their own preconceptions from what is fundamentally right and legal in rendering their decisions. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the case of former Alberta judge Robin Camp, and it is clearly not what happened in the case of Judge Eliana Marengo.

Her story is one that shows the dangers of aggressive Quebec Islamaphobia and racism masquerading as legal secularism.

In February 2015, Rania El-Alloul went to court to get her car back after it had been seized by the SAAQ. The issue was a simple one, but Judge Marengo turned a molehill into a mountain by refusing to hear El-Alloul’s case unless she took off her headscarf, inappropriately comparing the hijab to hats and sunglasses which are not permitted in court.

El-Alloul was not wearing a headscarf. She was wearing a hijab mandated by her faith, which she politely told the judge. Judge Marengo in a recording of the proceedings said that the court is a secular space, mentioning that there is no cross on the wall of the courtroom. She then reprimanded El-Alloul, refusing to hear her case because she was “not suitably dressed” as per the regulations of the Court of Quebec.

As there is no record of Judge Marengo denying others their day in court due to them wearing visible crosses, clergy collars, or a kipa, it is most likely she refused El-Alloul because she is Muslim.

Judge Marengo gave El-Alloul two options, she could take off her “headscarf” or request a postponement and consult a lawyer. El-Alloul refused to remove it and thus far, her case has yet to be heard.

When the story broke, numerous complaints were made to the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature (“the Council”), the organization responsible for disciplining provincially appointed judges in Quebec. The complaints came not just from El-Alloul herself, but from many others unrelated to the case who felt the judge’s conduct was inappropriate of her high office.

Prime Justin Trudeau expressed his disapproval of Marengo on Twitter, saying:

In February 2016, the Council decided to form a committee to investigate Judge Marengo’s conduct. Marengo, for her part, tried to block the investigation into her conduct by challenging the legitimacy of the Council itself. She claimed that the refusal to hear El-Alloul amounted to a judicial decision that must be addressed in an appeal and that to investigate her via the Council would be a violation of judicial independence.

Fortunately, the Superior Court of Quebec sided with Council the following year. Marengo appealed the decision but the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court.

An investigation into Judge Marengo’s conduct is now underway or will be soon.

How exactly does the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature work?

It’s a lot like the Canadian Judicial Council responsible for investigating federal judges.

In addition to administrative duties and a general responsibility to improve the justice system in the province, the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature is responsible for investigating the conduct of judges sitting on the Court of Quebec, the Professions Tribunal, and the Human Rights Tribunal. It has 16 members consisting of eleven judges, one justice of the peace, two lawyers, and two members of the general public.

They generally conduct investigations in response to complaints filed with them. Complaints to the Quebec Council can be filed online via their website.

Like their federal counterpart, the Conseil cannot overturn judicial decisions or verdicts as those have to go through the appeals process. All the Quebec Council can do is reprimand a judge or in the worst cases, recommend to the government that the judge be removed from the bench. In their investigations, the Council must consider the Judicial Code of Ethics, a set of rules governing the behavior of judges in Quebec.

Judge Marengo will likely be investigated with regards to whether her conduct violated articles two and eight of the Judicial Code of Ethics which have been used to reprimand the racist behavior of judges in the past. They read as follows:

  • 2. The judge should perform the duties of his office with integrity, dignity and honour.
  • 8. In public, the judge should act in a reserved, serene and courteous manner.”

Judge Eliana Marengo’s behavior towards Rania El-Alloul was unacceptable. Not only did it deny an innocent woman her day in court, but it is also against the values of diversity and freedom from discrimination Quebec supposedly embraces.

Here’s hoping the Council agrees.

* Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.

It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.

It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.

With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.

The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.

That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.

The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.

As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.

Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.

Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:

  • “The request is serious”
  • The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
  • The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
  • The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution

Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:

  • The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
  • The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
  • The consequences of the person’s absences
  • The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
  • Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body

More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.

The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.

Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.

The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.

This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.

The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.

Let’s take comfort in that.

* Featured illustration by Samantha Gold

This is not the time for nuance. This is the time to feel embarrassed as Quebecers and angry at our government for removing any illusion that we are one of the most progressive places in North America with just one letter and two numbers: C-62.

The National Assembly just codified bigotry and intolerance by passing amendments to Bill C-62 denying government services to people with their faces covered, in particular by a niqab or burqua. Once this goes into effect, women wearing the niqab will have to uncover when riding the bus, visiting the public library, the doctor or even their kids’ teacher.

As I said before it was passed, it’s like the Charter on steroids, even though it was passed by a government elected primarily as a protest vote against the Charter.

Quebec is the only place in North America with such regulations. That’s right, we not only beat other Canadian provinces to the punch but even the reddest of red states like Alabama and Arizona.

We did it all under the guise of supposed “religious neutrality of the state” in a room where a crucifix hangs front and center for all to see. The most ironic part being that a state imposing a dress code that targets one religion is being anything but neutral.

This denies essential services to women on the basis of what they wear. The government is telling women what to wear.

Claims that this has something to do with identification are about the dumbest defense I can think of. The only ID I need to ride public transit is my Opus Card proving I have paid. It should be the same for everyone.

Montreal Knows Best

The Quebec Government made this law, but it’s Montreal which will have to enforce it. Yes, Quebec City, Laval and other cities will be stuck with this task as well, but I’ll focus on Quebec’s official metropolis where opposition is the most fervent.

Our bus drivers, our teachers, our doctors and nurses and even our librarians will be tasked with implementing this hate-filled law. The only time a librarian should ever have to get restrictive is when someone is being too damn loud.

I can take a bit of solace in the fact that both major parties vying for control of the city are opposed to this monstrosity. Yes, Projet leader Valérie Plante had a bit of a political hiccup earlier today but swiftly clarified her position.

Here we ride on the bus and metro next to women wearing the niqab and it doesn’t phase us, it’s just a part of life. Here, women who wear the burqa send their kids to school like everyone else and have the right to meet with their kids’ teachers like anyone else.

Are there issues with public transit in this city? Absolutely. With education? Sure. With public libraries? Well, it’s called the internet and it’s causing them problems everywhere.

None of these places need a new problem tacked on, and that’s exactly what C-62 is. It’s turning an issue that really only people who have never seen someone wearing a niqab in real life or have an obsessive belief in assimilation in theory or are members of La Meute (our very own neo-Nazi group) care about into something everyone has to deal with in real life.

C-62 is a disaster that turns Quebec, known as a battleground for progress, into a backwater embarrassment that turns bigotry into law. Is it any wonder the Couillard Government also chose today to rename its council looking into systemic racism? Maybe they realized they had just taken part in that systemic racism themselves in a profound way.

Something needs to change and it starts with all of us. Post, contact anyone who voted for this, do anything you can. This may be embarassing for many (and it sure is for me) but it is also disastrous for some.

On March 23, 2017, M- 103 on “Systemic Racism and religious discrimination” passed in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP from Mississauga Ontario and is considered to be Canada’s anti Islamophobia motion, though it has little worth beyond its symbolism.

The motion met opposition on both sides.

On the one hand you had white supremacists using the good-old “slippery slope” argument in which they claimed that passing the motion was one more step towards forcing Canada under Sharia Law. On the other side you had liberal Canadians – secular and religious, white and people of colour – decrying the gesture as being frivolous.

The motion is not a law.

The motion uses convoluted wording demanding that the government “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism, and religious discrimination” when the motion has no power to do so. Believed to be a politically motivated act to get some pats on the back in wake the Quebec City Mosque massacre, the motion is also completely redundant.

Canada has a lot of protections against discrimination, and they’ve been in our legal system at least thirty years.

First, there’s the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the brain child of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau when he repatriated our constitution from Great Britain in 1982. The Canadian Charter is entrenched in our constitution, which means that it has primacy over all other laws in Canada and any law deemed to be incompatible with it can be struck down.

The Canadian Charter lists our fundamental freedoms which include those of conscience and religion, of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It also contains our legal rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, and to equal protection before law without discrimination based on race, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or physical disability.

The Charter only applies to government entities which include everything from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to public schools to hospitals. If a law is discriminatory, the Canadian Charter allows us to go to court to seek redress for the discrimination. Once one side proves the violation it’s up to the government to prove that the law is within reasonable limits as per the Charter’s main failsafe that allows legislation to survive in spite of itself because the ends justify the means.

Then there’s the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Enacted in the 1970s, the Quebec Charter applies to both private and public entities. The Quebec Charter prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, colour, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, disability and the use of any means to ease it.

The Quebec Charter not only prohibits harassment based on those grounds, but also has provisions against discrimination in everything from access to public spaces, employment, and housing. It also prohibits the distribution or publication of notices, symbols, or signs authorizing discrimination. People whose rights have been violated as per the Quebec Charter can also seek redress via the courts and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Last but not least, we have the Canadian Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code has laws about hate propaganda and public incitement of hatred. Publicly advocating for genocide could result in a prison term of up to five years. Publicly inciting hatred and willfully promoting it in a circumstance other than in a private conversation could result in up to two years in jail.

Perhaps the most significant way our Criminal Code punishes hate crimes is via its sentencing guidelines. When the court must determine the sentence of an offender, it must consider a bunch of aggravating circumstances in order to decide whether to give the maximum or not. The first of these aggravating circumstances is:

“evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,”

Since our laws already punish hate crimes, what is it that the federal government could do to further fight racism and discrimination?

Here are a few ideas that would have greater impact than any frivolous motion at a time in which Canada’s visible and religious minorities are asking for more than symbolic acts to prove the government will protect them.

First, the federal government should make transfer payments to the provinces for education conditional in part on the inclusion of a history or social studies course at the primary or secondary level about Canada’s different cultural and religious communities and their contributions.

It is widely acknowledged that racism is a learned behavior. Education is the key to enlightenment and such a course could prevent kids from becoming hate mongering adults while giving provinces the funds to create the curriculum and fix existing courses that leave people other than the French and English out of Canadian history.

The federal government should also demand that the Implicit Association Test be mandatory for law enforcement as part of their entrance exams.

The Implicit Association Test was created by Harvard University and is useful for determining people’s hidden biases against, for example, a particular ethnicity or gender. Any candidates shown by the test to have strong prejudices against a particular group should be made to undergo training about the groups they’re biased about as a condition for their admission to law enforcement. This would help to tackle racial profiling and police brutality and weed out some of the racists from law enforcement.

Candidates for judicial appointments should be subjected to the same test as a condition of their appointment. Strong negative biases would result in mandatory training as a condition of their appointment. This would not only help with discrimination towards religious or visible minorities, but would also prevent judges like former Judge Robin Camp from ever hearing a rape trial.

Last but not least, the federal government could increase its support for organizations that actively fight discrimination. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations would be a good one to start with.

Talk, like that in Motion 103, is cheap. The need for symbolism is over. It’s time the government took real action against hate.

On Monday the Orange Administration released a new Executive Order. We all knew it was coming, for no sooner had courts struck down the original Muslim ban when the White House promised a new and improved version. It was supposed to be signed and released last week, but then something strange happened.

In his first joint-address to Congress, the Lint-Covered-Cheeto President surprised everyone by acting like a gentleman. There was no blustering, there was just a man-child giving a speech. Reporters hailed his behavior as being truly “presidential” and the White House opted not to ruin the wave of good faith by releasing the new ban immediately afterward.

No matter what the new travel ban says, it will never outshine the atrocities committed in the first ban’s name. It will never outshine the baby who was denied entry for life-saving surgery (a lawmaker intervened on the child’s behalf when the story leaked so she was saved in the end), or the child separated from his mother for hours, or the old lady who was denied a wheelchair under the enforcement of the first Executive Order. It will never undo the widespread outrage from ordinary citizens and the legal community.

Now it’s time to look at the new Executive Order.

This order replaces the previous one and provides something the first order was sorely lacking: clarifications.

The first Executive Order was so vague no one seemed to know how to enforce it. As a result, people in positions to abuse it did and people with valid documents to enter the US from permanent residents to workers to famous authors and ex diplomats with legit visas were denied or delayed.

The new Executive Order provides a list of people deemed exceptions to its travel restrictions. Among the exceptions are lawful permanent residents, foreign nationals with valid visas or other documents allowing them to legally enter the US, people with dual citizenship, and those on diplomatic visas. Also exempt are foreign business people and workers, foreign nationals granted asylum or refugee status, children needing urgent medical care, and people legally admitted to the US to stay with family.

The new Order also does something the other did not: it condemned Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, the new Order does it in the most petulant way possible by defending the previous Executive Order with a none-too-subtle “we didn’t mean it that way!” response to the displays of Islamaphobia that had ensued.

Section 1 of the new order says:

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion. While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion. That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities — whoever they are and wherever they reside — to avail themselves of the USRAP in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

This petulant tone is consistent throughout the beginning of the new Executive Order as section 1 is full of justifications and excuses for the first ban.

On the bright side, it also includes a subtle acknowledgment that the White House would never succeed in the courts had they continued to try and enforce the first Executive Order. The provision that replaces the first order with the current one says that it is “in order to avoid spending additional time pursuing litigation”.

People generally back out of legal disputes to due amicable resolutions, lack of funds, or the fact that they know they can’t win. The former two do not apply here.

Then there’s the list of countries banned.

One would hope that a new improved travel ban would include limitations on some of the countries that actually produce terrorists. Those states widely acknowledged as such include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, Turkey, and Kuwait. Sadly, none of these countries are on the list of limited countries as the new Order maintains limitations on Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia from the previous version.

However, this new Order tries to back up this list with facts cherry-picked in part from the Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 (June 2016). The Order does not state where the rest of its justifications come from.

It maintains the discretion of the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to make exceptions to the ban and like the previous Order, gives them extra responsibilities. The Order requires them with the Director of National Intelligence to review and identify countries from which more information is needed about their people before they are admitted to the US. Once they make the list, they have to ask the countries for information and if they don’t get it in a certain amount of time, the country’s people won’t be admitted to the US.

The new Executive Order was an opportunity for the White House to redeem itself. They could have limited nationals from countries that actually produce a lot of terrorists. They didn’t. They could have used actual facts to back their rules and claims, but they didn’t.

The White House did however do one very important thing which to specify who the ban does not apply to, leaving less room for racists and xenophobes with rubber gloves and metal detectors to arbitrarily bar or detain people they don’t like. In that sense, this new order is new and improved.

Anti-Muslim hatred and domestic right-wing terrorism has hit close to home for many Montrealers late this morning/early this afternoon. Concordia University has evacuated two buildings on its downtown SGW Campus, the EV Building and the Hall Building, after receiving a bomb threat targeting Muslim students:

A group calling itself the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada sent the threat in letter form to news outlets including the Montreal Gazette, claiming that “now that President Trump is in office south of the border, things have changed.”

Concordia is currently hosting Islamic Awareness Week until Thursday. The letter threatens bomb detonations every day until Friday unless Concordia bans what the bigots call Muslim activities (including prayer spaces in the Hall Building).

For now, these buildings are being evacuated. Classes may resume at 6pm if no explosives are found.

* Featured image from Periscope Live video via Global News

Panelists Ellana Blacher and David DesBaillets discuss Montreal’s new official status as a sanctuary city and the Oscars with host Jason C. McLean. Plus News Roundup. Community Calendar and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: New Montreal flag, M-103 and Islamophobia, Milo’s downfall and trusting the mainstream media

Panelists:

Ellana Blacher: Spoken word artist

David DesBaillets: Law student and blogger

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Reports by Hannah Besseau

Recorded Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 in Montreal

LISTEN:

WATCH:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

M-103, the Private Members’ Motion introduced in the House of Commons by Iqra Khalid, Liberal MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills, to fight Islamophobia in Canada has sadly and predictably sparked anger and debate. While most of the venom being spewed in comments sections and at rallies comes from Islamophobes afraid they may have to stop hating Muslims in public, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is fighting it in a different way, at least officially.

The CPC’s Religious Freedom Critic David Anderson introduced a counter-motion which doesn’t use the word Islamophobia and instead calls on the government to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities.”

Looks like this was the kind of “doesn’t sound that bigoted” cover some were waiting for. I’m now seeing arguments on social media that start by asking why Muslims should be singled out for protection. Of course these are made by some of the same types of people who have no problem singling them out for criticism.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Iqra Khalid

Generally, a few comments later, or sometimes even in the same paragraph, their cover drops and they show exactly why we need to take Islamophobia seriously. As if the recent Mosque attack in Quebec City, Friday’s “anti-Islam” blockade in Toronto and the threats received by Khalid and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly over this motion weren’t each enough to do just that.

The CPC approach sounds very familiar to that employed by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and here in Canada as well. Instead of speaking out against police indiscriminately murdering people in communities of colour, some opted to promote the All Lives Matter narrative instead.

Basic deflection. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t whereas insisting that people say All Lives Matter instead means that you want everyone to ignore the disproportionate amount of young people of colour being murdered by police. No one counters a Stop Cancer fundraiser by saying All Diseases Matter.

And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Yes, there are hate crimes against other religions, too. Here in Montreal, synagogues get vandalized on a regular basis. Antisemitism is a problem that needs to be dealt with and people are trying to fight it. That doesn’t mean Islamophobia shouldn’t be attacked as well.

When there is a real and present danger to a specific group of people within a society, that danger needs to be admitted, addressed and fought. I’m not sure if a motion in the House of Commons is anywhere near enough to fight Islamophobia, but admitting that it is a problem that needs to be dealt with is essential.

The CPC would stop us from performing even that most basic of civic duties. Meanwhile, some of their leadership candidates are openly campaigning for the Islamophobic vote. It’s two sides of the same coin, like the All Lives Matter crowd and the open racists.

Defending the right of the special snowflakes in their base (two can play at that particular name game) to be bigots is no justification to block fighting Islamophobia. Muslims are a target and no amount of defensive re-wording of language will change that, only action.

* Featured image of David Anderson in the House of Commons

Last night news broke that a gunman had opened fire in a mosque in Sainte-Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, as people were starting to pray. The casualty toll started to climb, eventually settling at six dead and five injured.

Before the details came in, it was pretty easy to guess at what had happened. Quebec’s far-right groups, which we have been hearing about quite a bit in the media lately, and the spate of racist attacks across the US following the Trump victory emboldened some racist loner to the point where he committed a hate crime. Turns out the easiest guess anyone paying attention and not blinded by their own willful ignorance would have made was absolutely correct.

Quebec Police identified 27 year old Alexandre Bissonnette as their suspect. He is white, from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, an admirer of French ultra-nationalist politician Marine Le Pen and a defender of Donald Trump. His Facebook profile was removed following his arrest, but people who knew him and members of immigrant rights groups in Quebec City described him as someone who posted anti-refugee and anti-woman’s rights views quite frequently and was also a troll.

FOX and Islamophobic Friends

Some online commenters, rather incorrectly and incredulously, jumped to a different conclusion the night of the shooting: that the attacker must have been Muslim. You see both Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had labelled it a terrorist attack, and I suspect that if you are brainwashed enough to equate an entire religion with terrorism, then a terrorist attack carried out by someone who isn’t of that religion just does not compute for you.

It didn’t help matters that Quebec Police had also brought in Mohamed el Khadir, one of the worshipers at the mosque to question as a witness. He was of Moroccan origin and FOX News had no problem mentioning that and calling him a suspect:

Screengrab of the original FOX News tweet which has since been deleted, presumably at the request of the Canadian Government. Also, likes? Really?

They later corrected their story, but the damage was already done. Now Islamophobes could blame Muslims for an Islamophobic attack.

Enter Donald Trump

When a major event like this happens, it is customary for leaders of foreign countries to offer condolences to the leader of the country where the incident took place. US President Donald Trump did just that when he called Justin Trudeau. Fine. That’s protocol.

If Trump had wanted to go further and apologize for any effect his policies and rhetoric had on the shooter, that would have been a welcome change of tone. But he didn’t. What his administration did instead is absolutely appalling.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spîcer, after going through the protocol, tried to use the attack on the mosque as a justification for his boss’ ill thought out and wholly terrible Executive Order concerning immigration, the so-called Muslim Ban:

No, Mr. Spicer, it is not. I’d say nice attempt at being an Orwellian asshole, but this is far to serious for that. Trying to turn this horrific hate crime inspired, in part, by your boss’s policies into a justification for those policies is as absurd as it is incredibly insulting, predominately to the victims, but also to any rational thinker.

Speaking of the victims, and we should speak of the victims, they were mainly immigrants, immigrants from predominately Muslim countries. They were looking for a better life in Quebec and have been profiled in The Globe and Mail as such. These are the people Trump’s Executive Order targets. These are the victims of right-wing white supremacist anti-immigrant obsession.

The fucking nerve Sean Spencer. The fucking nerve Donald Trump. You, Marine LePen and our local hatemongers here are to blame, too.

Now, as vigils take place across Canada, solidarity from other communities is expressed and everyone agrees that this was a terrible hate crime designed to terrorize Muslims and all Canadians, we must not forget how we got here.

President Trump. President Donald Trump. Yes, a few months from now that will be an actual thing people say. For now, he’s President Elect, but sadly, he is no longer a joke and he never should have been. We need to keep fighting Trump.

The over-the-top reality star will soon be Commander-in-Chief of the largest military in the world. Islamophobia, racism and misogyny have been part of American politics for a while, but they just went uber-mainstream with Trump’s win a little over a week ago.

What’s now frighteningly apparent is that his alt-right (really a fancy way to say white nationalists with computer skills) base, emboldened by his win, are voicing their bigotry and hatred and scaring the crap out of immigrants, visible minorities and anyone that doesn’t fit into their white supremacist, misogynistic and anti-Semetic worldview.

Swastikas are showing up all over the US, people are being attacked, middle schoolers are even chanting “build that wall” and making school a frightening place for some of their classmates. Buzzfeed has even put together a tracker of racist incidents in the US since the Trump victory.

While Trump did tell his supporters to stop it with their racist attacks and graffiti, his early staff choices send the opposite message. He just appointed Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart “News” as CEO until joining the Trump campaign, his top policy adviser. Bannon had proudly declared Breitbart to be a “platform for the alt-right” and oversaw the publication of articles with incredibly nasty headlines.

Just a taste of the nastiness (image: gizmodo.com)
Just a taste of the nastiness (image: gizmodo.com)

There is also now word that Trump will, in fact, be creating a Muslim Registry. One of his supporters even cited American internment of citizens of Japanese origin as precedent.

Throw in promises to break US climate agreements and the prospect of a second Supreme Court pick after he fills Scalia’s seat and you get a picture that is terrifying for people of colour, the LGBT community, women and the planet.

How Did We Get Here?

President Trump is bad news, that much is clear. But why is this now a reality? It’s because no one took his candidacy seriously. Comics thought him running would produce gold for them, but no worries, because, of course he wouldn’t win. Pundits, same thing. Even I didn’t take him seriously at first.

But we’re not the only ones. The establishment of the Democratic Party clearly didn’t consider Trump as a serious threat, either, despite their public rhetoric. They even tried to push both him and Ted Cruz to the top of the GOP heap thinking they would be easier candidates to beat than Jeb Bush.

clinton-sanders

It’s true that Trump’s core support came from xenophobic racist misogynists and they’re now the ones strutting and scaring the shit out of everyone,  but this “basket of deplorables” weren’t the only ones who voted for him. If they were, the electoral map would have looked quite different. The bigots are still a minority.

It’s white working class voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and now Michigan that tipped the balance this time around. It’s not that their privilege blinded them to what a Trump Presidency could mean, it’s simply that Trump’s obvious bigotry meant less to them than the prospect of losing jobs due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) did. Some lifelong rust belt Democrats who voted Obama twice and supported Bernie in the Primaries switched to Trump in the General.

A truly selfish act, to be sure, and an ultimately counterproductive one. Stopping the TPP is probably the first campaign promise Trump will break.

There was also a real feeling of dissatisfaction with the political establishment which Trump, posing as a populist, was able to tap into. If the choice had been between a right-wing, xenophobic pseudo-populist and a real left-wing populist like Bernie Sanders, Sanders would have easily won.

This election also proved that standard political tactics like a good ground game and mainstream media support are now less important than huge rallies and a solid social media strategy. Trump ran an unconventional campaign, so did Sanders. Clinton played it business as usual and lost.

What Needs to Happen Now in the Democratic Party

It’s all water under the bridge, now, but that water is what people need for drinking and bathing, so we can’t ignore how we got here and Democrats can’t ignore the mistakes they made. If they do, they are bound to repeat them.

The party establishment didn’t just lose. They lost to a third-rate PT Barnum who only ran to get a better TV deal with NBC. They lost to a man who admitted to being sexual predator during a national radio interview and who has bragged on tape about sexual assault. They lost to their dream opponent. They lost to Donald Fucking Trump.

If that’s not the impetus Democrats need to show their leadership the door, I don’t know what is. Now is the time to replace everyone at the top who pushed for Clinton over Sanders in the Primaries. Progressives need to take over the Democratic Party…soon!

If there is pushback, and there will be, fight it. If the pushback from the DNC establishment succeeds, it might be time to think about a new party. Even as President, Trump may end up destroying the Republican Party and there could be room for a new party in the two-party system.

What Needs to Happen Now Outside of the Echo Chamber

I had thought, as did many, that if he won, protests against Trump would start on day one of his Presidency. I was wrong. They started less than 24 hours after he won the Electoral College vote and became the President Elect.

From mass marches in New York City, Chicago and around the country to high school students walking out of class, people are voicing their displeasure with an impending Trump Presidency and what it will mean for them and their communities. This needs to continue.

Anti-Trump Protest NYC (image CBS)
Anti-Trump Protest NYC (image CBS)

No, the whole “just accept the election results” line or the “give him a chance” attitude don’t fly in this case. First, he’s already shown us by appointing Bannon that he blew his chance to change the tone to a more President of all Americans one. Second, protesting the government, or even an incoming government is never wrong, in fact, it’s a right.

If Clinton had won and stepped too far to the right with her picks, I would expect progressives, even those who voted for her, to be challenging her every step of the way. Now with Trump living up to the worst nightmare scenario fears and his most fervent bigoted supporters having their day in the sun, protesting has become a necessity.

An  election does not give the winner immunity from protest in a democracy. When the President Elect is promising to usher in a downright dangerous environment for marginalized groups, those groups and their allies should challenge the President Elect any way they can.

As for tactics, hitting the streets, boycotting Trump-aligned brands and calling out racism and misogyny can all be effective. Right here in Montreal, there is a Stop Bannon Phone-a-Thon putting Americans living here in touch with their local elected officials. There is also a solidarity action in the US encouraging people who aren’t the target of persecution (ie. white people) to register as Muslims if Trump enacts a registry.

While I like the idea behind the move to impeach Trump, I’d like to remind those behind it that success would only lead to President Mike Pence, who, in many ways, is just as bad if not worse.

I would recommend aligning anti-Trump protests with other groups fighting against the things that this incoming President stands for. Solidarity with the #NODAPL protesters, for example, would be a great first step.

Politicians, other people and the mainstream media not taking Trump seriously during the Primaries and the General Election is what got us here. We can’t afford not to take the threat of a Trump Presidency seriously now. It’s time to fight.

 

If one thing that can be said about this Conservative government, it’s that they are very tactful and savvy when it comes to selecting  picturesque Orwellian names for the proposed pieces of legislation they put before the house. The more exuberant the title, the more ludicrous the bill and perhaps the more terrifying the potential consequences of its passage.

Even in his wildest dreams, Orwell couldn’t have imagined some of the stuff emanating from the Ottawa bubble nowadays… A “FairElections Act that disemboweled the body of democracy, a First Nations Control of First Nations Education that completely disempowered First Nation communities and blackmailed them into accepting a white man’s education, and last but not least, Vic Toews infamous omnibus crime bill, Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act that was actually a cover to quell any ”Un-Harperish” activities.

But the Palme d’Or of newspeak goes to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander’s Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices. It isn’t for the feeble hearted.

Another thing that isn’t for the feeble-hearted was the the violence used against protesting students in front of Quebec’s national assembly last Thursday. The images of a canister-armed SPVQ officer shooting Naomi Trudeau-Tremblay in face from a distance of barely a meter or less, was horrifying.

A Tale of Two Barbarians

In response to all of this, a wired cacophony emerged on mainstream media within the past week. On one hand images of the reckless hoards of ”radical” student protest and the other the senseless violence of those that ”hate us,” those that ”hate liberty” and our most cherished principles and freedoms. Through the lens of the mainstream media civil society, the silent peaceful, idle, majority is caught between the menace of radical Islamists on one side and by radical anarchists–they use it as if it was pejorative– on the other.

When it comes to violence perpetrated by ”radical Islamists” that violence couldn’t be more heartfully condemned. Grandiose tirades and lyrical waxing are used to put the emphasis on the need to defend the ”values of occidental society” against barbarian practices. We’ve since yesterday extended our mission to make sure ”barbarism” and obscurantism won’t engulf the Middle East. Yet another chapter of the West bring the light of civilization, by way of the lightning of aerial bombardment, to the dark corners of the globe!

On the other hand there’s the ”good” violence, the violence used to protect civil society and the silent majority from within. The violence that was used in such an exaggerated manner by law enforcement in Quebec City and Montreal in the past week.

The Silent Majority?

Once again in name of the silent majority of hard working families who agree with sacrificing their public services and their children’s future for the sake of rapacious tax credits to billionaire multinationals, the use of ”barbaric” tactics is justified. It’s self-evident that, for the silent majority to be heard, a little bit of violence is necessary.

What this underlines is that ”barbaric practices” are not the monopoly of exotic foreign cultures. With the perspective of what has happened within the past week, I do see barbaric practices, but they aren’t perpetrated in the some foreign land in the middle of sand-dunes, I do see inherently anti-women practices, but they aren’t perpetrated in the name of one god or another, except maybe the deity of balanced budgets and relentless growth.

When 18 year-old Naomie Trudeau-Tremblay was struck to the head with a gas canister, she was struck because she was protesting something. She was struck because she was student, because she was women, because she refuted the austerity agenda that this government has put forward. She was struck because this government wanted her to be silent.

This practice of police brutality is a widespread one, a practice that has been put forward to quell any form of resistance towards the dogma of austerity. Every time an exaction is committed by police officers against peaceful demonstrators, every time dispersion tactics kill a protest, every time a Naomie, a Maxence, a young student, is brutalized, their physical integrity violated, because of their political opinions, every time their voices are silenced or we attempt to silence them, a victim is born, a victim of ‘terrorism’ of ‘barbaric practices. This begs the question: maybe the “real” barbarians are here, not overseas? Or at least maybe, in many ways, we are barbarians as well… One thing is sure, austerity is barbaric!

As for the notion of silent majority, that keyword that’s swung around right and left, used to justify everything and its contrary, here’s a newsflash: the silent majority isn’t constituted by those that are idle in the face of injustice, it’s those that stand-up and fight back and that are silenced for doing so that make-up the true ‘silent majority’.

The silent majority isn’t about those who are silent, rather it’s about those who are silenced.

See you in the streets!

A luta continua!

Last week, my colleague Niall made a very interesting observation: Harper’s Bill C-51 was designed, among other things, to attract Quebec voters who supported the Marois government’s ill-fated Charter of Quebec Values. For a few days, it seemed like that strategy just might pay off. After all, there was a poll done by Angus Reid that said 9 in 10 Quebecers supported the bill, and the current major Quebec parliamentary real estate holders, the NDP, were very much against it.

Now it looks like Harper’s Quebec roadmap may have hit two significant bumps. First, it looks like that poll wasn’t the type of broad-reaching, reliable, accurate and representative survey Angus is famous for. Instead, the 82% support nationwide approval for the bill, and the nine-in-ten Quebecer approval comes from an internal poll Angus did of members who signed up to its forum.

The second obstacle came last Thursday in the form of a backhanded endorsement of the Conservative government’s plans to appeal a court ruling permitting Muslim women to wear niquabs at citizenship hearings. The Bloc Quebecois released an ad online, depicting the House of Commons as seen through a niqab, and attacking Thomas Mulcair for coming out against Harper’s decision to appeal the ruling. It asked the question: “Do we have to hide our face to vote NDP?”

Bloc: Learning from the Wrong History

Desperate times call for dumbass measures, I guess. Since Mario Beaulieu (I seriously had to Google his name to make sure I had it right) took the reigns of the Bloc, he has made it clear that the way forward and back to relevance was through a hardline separatist approach to policy and messaging. Now, it seems like he has added xenophobia to the party platform in equal measure.

beaulieu

You can see the logic behind it: trying to be a progressive federal party with the interests of Quebec at heart didn’t cut it in 2011, and that’s why Gilles Duceppe lost in such a big way. To rebuild the Bloc, they needed a completely different approach.

If Beaulieu and company had looked, instead, to the defeat of the Parti-Quebecois in 2014, they would have realized that their new approach was the exact same mix that brought down Pauline Marois. And she was a sitting premier with considerable backing and exposure. What makes the Bloc think that they, with just two seats in the House of Commons and a general feeling of irrelevance, are in a better position to make this approach work?

It Could Have Worked for Harper

Appealing to the bigotry of some Quebecers by scapegoating the Muslim “other” is a strategy that took another Mario, the ADQ’s Dumont, all the way to Quebec Leader of the Oppositon in 2007. His party’s ambiguity on the national question along with an openly gay PQ leader (Andre Boisclair) made it easy for him to scoop up the right-wing nationalist part of the PQ’s base, leaving them with only the other half, the progressive sovereigntists, and a third-party placement. Marois appealing to the bigots produced an almost identical result.

If opposition status in Quebec is what you’re after, then xenophobia is the way to go. The problem for the Bloc is their goal isn’t that. It is (or at least it should be) to sweep most of Quebec and be the opposition, or close to it, in Ottawa.
Harper, on the other hand, isn’t looking to sweep Quebec. He just needs to bring out enough of the people who supported the Charter and get them to vote Conservative. For him, a Quebec roadmap that leads to opposition status in the province is perfect, as it may help him secure a second majority overall.

Now, though, it looks like the Bloc may be throwing a spike into those plans. No matter what side of the political spectrum they find themselves on, Quebecers generally don’t like Harper. If he pushes the right xenophobic buttons, though, some may hold their collective noses and vote for him. The Bloc is giving them a way out.

By effectively competing for and possibly splitting the hard-right xenophobic vote in Quebec, they may be helping out the NDP and Liberals in ways they hadn’t planned to. Planning, though, doesn’t seem to be the Bloc’s strong suit these days.

The Sad Truth

While my instinct might be to laugh and cheer, it’s actually really sad. Regardless of what you think of a separatist party running federally in Canada, the Bloc, at least under Gilles Duceppe, was a party that wanted to be on the right side of history.

coalition

I liked Duceppe as a leader and always enjoyed his role in English debates. He didn’t care, so he said what he felt. He was willing to form a coalition with the NDP and the Liberals, when it was the right thing to do. He stood up against Harper’s more damaging ideas.

I’m not saying I would have voted for him, in fact I once lived in his riding and was very proud that my vote was against him, which seemed like a wasted ballot at the time, helped unseat him during the Orange Wave. But at least he had integrity and stood up for progressive ideals, when they didn’t conflict with his ultimate gameplan, that is.

Now, that Bloc is dead. The Bloc of ex-Mulroney MPs that Lucien Bouchard started is dead, too. While Bouchard’s Bloc was economically conservative, at least they weren’t Harperite right-wing reactionaries. What we’re left with is an ultra-nationalist version of the ADQ operating at the federal level. It’s a joke, sure, but it’s also a sad end to a party that did have a purpose.

If blocking Harper (pun unavoidable) from gaining any type of tangible foohold in Quebec is their legacy, so be it. It’s just a rather undignified end for a party that once stood for something other than the lowest common denominator of bigots in Quebec.

In their latest and possibly final attempt at relevance, the Bloc just killed its soul.

“Indeed, both Jews and Arabs are the Children of Abraham; Jews descended from his second son Isaac (peace be on him) and Arabs from the first son Ishmael (peace be on him). To Moses, God Almighty revealed the Torah, as He revealed to Jesus (peace be on him) the Gospel.” – Shahul Hameed, onislam.net

Some very tragic events took place over the past few weeks. Several people were killed in a Kosher supermarket in the suburbs of Paris. A shooting took place around a synagogue in Copenhagen. Following these, a video titled “10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew” appeared, which, considering the neo-conservative ties of the journalist who shot the video, was a nothing more than a PR stunt for those who absolutely want to promote the Aliyah of European Jews.

And the tragic news kept on coming. A Jordanian pilot slain by ISIS, increased ISIS presence in Libya, the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and the ever-present situation in Gaza… The only glimmer of hope came from Oslo this weekend, where Muslims and Jews joined hands in a very mediatized show of solidarity. In the face of all this madness and insanity, some have responded with even more madness and insanity.

marine-le-pen

The witch hunt that started in France against those were identified as “enemies of secularism,” and the birth of “radical” secularism – which in fact isn’t secularism at all, but just xenophobia in disguise –  are just a couple of examples of the “madness” that is in the air. The madness culminated in its apex yesterday in a report by the president of le Conseil répresentatif des institutions juifs de France (CRIF). In the report, the supposed voice of the majority of French Jews stated that Marine LePen – the leader of the fascist Front National, the most anti-Jewish of all French political parties – was herself irreproachable, that the only problems were caused by “some members of the FN,” and that, in fact, most violence perpetrated against the French Jewish community were the acts of “Young Muslims.”

Recently, the so-called peak in ‘extremist religious’ violence has allowed “anti-terrorism” legislations to be passed throughout the world, at the cost of civil liberties and of democratic rights. On the other hand, this violence has also empowered fascistic sections of Canadian and Quebecois society, allowing bigoted and xenophobic discourses to go unopposed, and garner mainstream coverage.

The same has happened within the Jewish community, as well. The violence perpetrated against people of Jewish descent, or of Jewish faith, has empowered a scary xenophobic discourse, which doesn’t draw a line between Islamism and Islam; between a fundamentalist minority that receives much more attention than the fundamentalist segments of other religions, and the overwhelming peaceful majority of Muslims. On the 70th anniversary of the Shoah, of the liberation of Auschwitz, we must stand firm against such kind of discourse – it’s a moral duty.

Pro-JDL-rally-2011-
French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrating in Paris, 2011. (Ligue de Defense Juive)

 

This, in no way, excuses anti-Jewish discourse or actions – they are despicable and must be fought. But those who perpetuate the most prevalent anti-Jewish discourse today, claim to to be the defender of our faith, and consider themselves the sole voice of the Jewish people. The political consequences of this is slowly showing itself, even here in Montreal, not more than a few blocks away from where I am writing this piece. The Jewish Defense League (JDL), considered to be a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU and the United States, and whose slogan, ironically, is “never again” has set up shop in Montreal this past week. To those in the JDL who stress the motto “never again” and the need to “defend the Jewish community from the Islamist threat” I have but one thing to say: The antisemitism of the 1930s and 1940s is the Islamophobia of today, and if we really want “never again” to be more than a slogan, we must fight discrimination against any and every minority. We must fight discrimination in every shape and form.

The JDL’s discourse and the true notion of “never again” are antithetical. “Never again” is a universal call for tolerance, acceptance, solidarity, peace, and, most importantly, resilience against the horrors of xenophobia. Thus, if we truly want to follow the creed of “never again,” we must make sure we fight the presence of the JDL. We must fight all those who resort to a discourse that uses violence as a justification to perpetuate even more violence, that tries to justify one form of racism with yet another. It’s a discourse of hatred that disseminates itself in the disguise of religion, or of some higher moral ground, or in the drapes of secularism. It’s a discourse that is prevalent within the neoconservative movement across the globe right now. It’s a discourse that is at the backbone of the hatred that fuels ISIS, and other such Islamist organizations. It’s the ideological foundation of fascism and of fascist movements. It’s this discourse that links them all together.

We are all sisters and brothers. Either we fight together, or we will perish together as fools!

A luta continua.

Foreword: Following the publication of my most recent article, there were accusations that I was being an apologist for the so-called “racist rag” that is Charlie Hebdo, and absolving them of their ‘racism.’ It’s funny to see reactions from both sides. If you try to take a nuanced position, you’re either writing an apology for terrorism, or an apology for racism. Saying that I don’t believe Charlie Hebdo is a “racist rag” per sé, doesn’t mean I agree with everything that they have ever published – unlike what some believe. As I said in my previous article, I think their depictions of the prophet of Islam were senselessly hurtful, adding to an already toxic environment. It also doesn’t mean I absolve them of their responsibility, when it comes to publishing such cartoons in an era of mounting Islamophobia. On the other, this also doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to the racist environment prevalent in French society. In fact, quite to the contrary… The attack against Charlie Hebdo was merely the latest manifestation of France’s underlying problem with bigotry, xenophobia, and racism. A manifestation of how France like most Western societies – and Canada is no different – creates the so-called ‘other,’  the ‘non-French.”

The January 7 Massacre was the manifestation of that, but CH was the wrong target!

This article is about the systemic racist violence that is perpetrated on a regular basis against French citizens of Muslim heritage or faith, and how the mainstream discourse in the aftermath of January 7 continues to perpetuate the estrangement of the ‘other.’  Here is another article, which in my view should be read by all.  This article is the perfect answer to those that say that CH is a “racist rag.” 

marine le pen
Marine Le Pen

 

The name of the game in France now is “National Unity.” Politicians from all walks of life have called the French people to unite, in a joint effort to defend the principles and the values of the French Republic: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. This being said, one has to ask: Unity against what? Unity in the name of what?

In the wake of the attacks against CH, the mainstream media, the French Left, right, and extreme-right put the emphasis on the fact that the Cherif brothers were Muslim. The French mainstream, just as most of the media in the world, portrayed the assailants as violent Muslims, thereby paving the way for the French political elite to jump, right away, onto the bandwagon of France’s ‘Muslim problem.’ France’s problem of ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ which subliminally suggests that the French nation has to defend itself against the ‘Muslims’ among them, perpetuates the same racist and xenophobic discourse that suggests that if you’re a Muslim, you can’t truly be ‘French’. The same racist and xenophobic discourse, which alienates French youth from the banlieues on a daily basis, and produced the revolt of 2005 is at the origin of all of this affair now.

By overemphasizing the fact that the four assailants were Muslim, the mainstream French media and the French political caste are attempting to absolve France and the French society of all of the racist and xenophobic crimes it has committed against Arab, Muslim, North African populations in the past and even today.

There isn’t a ‘Muslim problem,’ there’s a French problem; a crisis of French integration, which underlines the hypocrisy and voidness of the French national slogan: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. There’s a French problem which is manifest in the way the mainstream media depicts the assailants. The Cherif brothers are French citizens; they grew-up in France, lived all of their lives in France, were discriminated against in France, and were alienated by the French society in France. Their ‘radicalism’ was not a product of Islam, but of the shortcomings of French society, of the systemic and institutionalized racist, and symbolic violence omnipresent in French society that treats French muslims citizens or French arabs citizens, as ‘non-French,’ and as second degree citizens.

But this is nothing new. In 1950s and 1960s, during the French occupation of Algeria, white French colonizers were considered as fully-fledged French citizens, with the right to vote, the right to hold public office etc… The majority of Arab, Berber and Kabyle Algerians were also de facto French citizens, yet didn’t have any of the rights held by the colonizers. Still, they had to pledge their allegiances to the motto of the tricolour: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

islamophobia cartoon

The French problem stems from the fact that the French society has never recognized the crimes it has committed during the Algerian War – the millions of “French citizens” of Arab, Berber or Kabyle descent, who were brutally murdered, tortured and mutilated by French forces. Up until recently in French schools, the war of Algeria didn’t even exist. It was called ‘the Events of Algeria.’ France also never recognized the massacres committed in France during that time against French citizens of Muslim descent. Consider the infamous affair of Le Pont de Neuilly, where more than forty Muslim French citizens were kettled by French law enforcement and pushed into the frigid waters of Seine River and drowned to death. The doubled edged economical oppression of French Muslims in France during the War of Algeria is depicted amazingly in the movie Ici on noie les Algeriens.  And thus French society has in many ways perpetuated this état de guerre against its Muslim population – everyone is equal in France, but some more than others.

The rhetoric of national unity is used as a weapon against “Freedom of Expression,” which it ironically is supposed to defend. French comedian Dieudonné, along with more than fifty others have already been charged for making the ‘apology of terrorism,’ or, in other words, for daring to make comments critical of CH. Although I don’t necessarily agree with Dieudonné, in the same way that I don’t agree with everything CH said or depicted, I have to say: If you defend “Freedom of Speech,” you must defend Dieudonné’s right to speak.
National unity is the French take on the Bushian concept of, “You’re either with us or against us.” And while all of France is focusing on national unity, mosques are being torched throughout France. Marine LePen and Sarkozy are on every airwave, making Islamophobic and anti-Muslim comments under the cover of national unity. Thus ‘National Unity’ is just a magical wand of rhetoric, which allows racists to become the sole defenders of free speech, and on the other hand enables any deviant speech to be banned and silenced.

FRONT POPS

It’s interesting to study the usage of the concept of national unity in French history. First, during the War of Algeria, the French government called for national unity as a tool to unite the French nation in its colonial oppression of Algeria. Second, it was used in the 1930s, a time during which anti-Judaism – not anti-Semitism, since not all Semites are Jewish – was rampant. The extreme-right staged several coup attempts, all of which culminated in a march on the National Assembly that almost overthrew the French government. In 1930, like today, the political caste called for national unity – a union of the right and the Left forces to fight the threat of fascism. The Left refused to make alliances with the centrists and the right-wing, complacent, in many ways accommodated the rise of fascism. Instead, the Left decided to form a Popular Front, made up of Social Democrats, Socialists and Communists and won a majority, bringing along with them the first Jewish head of government in French history: Léon Blum. The Front Populaire is a period that is occupies a significant place in the imaginary of the French Left. Today, instead of a Union Nationale, France needs a Front Populaire to fend off the xenophobic, and racist Islamophobic onslaught that is under way.

Unless French civil society can look its demons in the mirror, and stop projecting its problems onto its minorities; unless France comes to terms with its colonialist past, the massacres it perpetrated in its colonies; unless France stops its neo-colonialist interventionist foreign policy; unless France can strike a balance that truly respects its Muslim and Arab citizens as French citizens first and foremost, equal in every way to their non-Arab counterparts; unless all of this happens, tragedies such as CH Massacre will happen on a regular basis. Until then “Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité” will remain a hollow slogan.

A luta continua.

Did you hear the one about the Muslims who went to Paris? No, and I don’t want to. The surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo, however, is banking that seven million people do, and unfortunately they may be right.

They’re printing up more copies of their last issue, the first since the terrorist attack at their office which left twelve people dead. Last week, the first run of the issue, three million copies, sold out.

While I get that people want to mourn the dead, maybe feeding a machine which profits off the mockery of disenfranchised and oppressed minorities isn’t the best way to do it. Murder is wrong. What happened at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and subsequently at a Kosher Bakery was a tragedy. Full stop. While nothing can justify these killings, these killings don’t justify supporting racist imagery.

Yes, Charlie Hebdo is racist. Some may argue that it is satire and technically they’re right. You can punch up or down and it’s still satire, but punching up is gutsy while punching down is pretty much bullying. While Charlie may have started off as a champion of the oppressed, they aren’t that anymore. They stopped punching up years ago and now their pen-holding fists clearly punch down.

islamophobia cartoon

Some may argue that the humour of Charlie Hebdo is uniquely French. Well, the minstrel show is uniquely American and you don’t see people in blackface these days, unless, of course, you go to Théâtre du Rideau Vert in Montreal, but at least it is understood by most progressive or moderately aware people to be wrong.

Some, like my colleague Niall Ricardo, argue that what Charlie Hebdo does is use racist imagery to transcend and ridicule racism and those perpetrating it. The example most often cited to prove this point is the depiction of French justice minister Christiane Taubira, who is black, as a monkey. Charlie’s defenders will say that there is enough in the image to prove it is clearly intended to criticize the racism of the Front National and their leader Marie Le Pen for their positioning of an image of Taubira next to that of a monkey.

That very well may have been their intent and Taubira herself seems to agree with them. But beyond those in Paris political circles or with strong knowledge of them, who will instantly see the reference? Instead, many, including most people in North America, will just see a black woman depicted as a monkey, because that’s what the image is.

Call it a lack of understanding of French politics and culture, if you will, but then remember that if you have to explain a joke, it’s probably not a good joke to begin with. In this case it is extremely offensive to many. If you want to offend with comedy, it has to at least be funny and you’d better make sure people aren’t laughing for the wrong reasons.

Beyond that, it is not the Charlie illustrators’ culture to mock, unless that cartoonist happens to be a person from the group being mocked, which, in this case, he wasn’t. Intention doesn’t matter. A much better approach, instead of appropriating the racist imagery itself, would have been to draw a Front Nationale meeting with Le Pen suggesting juxtaposing a monkey with Taubira and the rest of her followers depicted as very white sheep.

Now that would be funny. It would also be punching up instead of down. It would have made it clear to everyone who saw it just who their targets were. It wouldn’t be appropriation and denigration of another race by the cartoonist. The problem is it probably would have sold fewer copies.

Controversy sells. So does making fun of the proverbial other. For all the claims that they are against the capitalist system by attacking austerity and against the French elite, they sure know how to play ball on that field. It’s easy to understand how the likes of Sarkozy, Le Pen and a collection of world leaders with dubious-at-best free speech records can “co-opt” a “movement” and a hashtag that wasn’t all that different from them already.

No, I don’t want to hear the one about the Muslims who went to Paris. I don’t care if it may make me laugh; it’s not my culture, heritage or history to laugh at. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the ridiculed and see how it feels.

I won’t be among the supposed seven million people heading out to buy the latest Charlie Hebdo and I hope you’ll join me. I won’t use a hashtag just because it’s trending. I won’t promote hate and racism.

True, #jenesuispascharlie but I think it’s also important to note that I am also hashtag pour equality, respect and comedy that is truly funny, not at the expense of someone who has been beaten down already.