Secularism Is Not Homogeneity: Why We Must Oppose the Quebec Charter of Values

09/18/2013 11:20 EDT | Updated 11/18/2013 05:12 EST

Dearest comrade,

You may have noticed that amid the babbling and gurgling emanating from Quebec City these days one often hears mention of secularism as the driving force behind the Quebec Charter of Values. And maybe a respect for family values drives homophobia. Perhaps reverence for Allah drives men to marry 11-year-old girls. Or is it possible that tyrants and despots and oppressors will always cast their motivations in such a light, even when their perversions are obvious?

Secularism is necessary for a just and democratic society. We can only claim to have legitimate governance that rules in the interests of all if said government is free from the influence of those who would tarnish democracy for their own gain. The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this for American citizens (though the wall between Church and State has become dilapidated in some sectors). Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises the same for Canadians.

What the Parti Quebecois wants, however, is not secularism, it is homogeneity. Only a fear-monger would attempt to convince a population that what another person chooses to wear is a danger to one's culture and values. Multiculturalism has been gifted to us by globalisation and Pauline Marois seeks to use it to spread mistrust and discord.

Mme Marois truly desires (and needs, politically speaking) a population that thinks, speaks, acts and apparently dresses as she does. It is reverse democracy. Instead of representing her people, she wishes to push and prod her people until they become representative of her. This, I hope you will agree, is abhorrent.

Secularism requires freedom of thought - the ability and willingness to decide for oneself on questions of value. Pauline Marois does not want to institute a culture of free-thinkers - who would vote for her atavism then?; she wants to institute the State religion (A term I believe Noam Chomsky misused, though perhaps a subject for another day), whereby citizens of the Democratic Republic of Quebec - for we are now in her wonderland - derive their conceptions of justice, freedom and morality from, and only from, the state. In short, Pauline Marois has all the affectations of a demagogue.

Still, beloved reader, you will meet on your travels the occasional Quebecer who, though normally reasonable, has given in to the urge to say 'we have given them too much already'. The 'them' to whom he refers is, as it always is, those who are different. Do not be afraid to ask this man or woman (I will persist in using the masculine pronoun for the sake of simplicity) just what it is he has given up. You will find his arguments usually revolve around the inability to say 'Merry Christmas' or some other such form of pseudo-multiculturalism. At this point you can remind him that the inability to wish someone a Merry Christmas (or Eid Mubarak, incidentally) is perfectly analogous to the proposed Charter of Values refusing public servants their pendant or headwear of choice.

As you delete each item from his list of perceived sacrifices you may notice that your interlocutor becomes frustrated, perhaps irritable and nonsensical; he has been shorn of every excuse he had for his mistrust. You have shown him that he has no reason to fear immigrants. If he persists in his fear, you may call him a racist. Do not shy away from the term; however pejorative it may be, it is the correct one: your adversary has shown that he is victim to an irrational fear of other races and cultures. This is the fear on which the arguments you may hear in support of the Charter are founded. Do not hesitate to say so.

Forever yours,


PS. A more educated (though still mistaken) interlocutor may bring up the issue of the hijab. This time, she will assume the moral high ground (a desiccated plateau riddled with the skeletal remains of bad arguments). She wishes to rescue Muslim femininity from the false virtue of modesty and the yoke of mandatory headwear. In so far as she wishes to see women emancipated, she is correct. If we lived in Saudi Arabia, where all women, regardless of creed, are forced to hide their faces or hair, she would be right to campaign for equality. However, in Canada, when a woman chooses to honour her customs and don the headgear of her people, she does so freely (though I will concede that judging the extent to which a woman is coerced by her family can be problematic). She will not be prosecuted for refusing to do so. This difference is important.

Tangentially, the hijab (or niqab, depending on region) usually ranks quite low among the concerns of Saudi women. Enforced marriage, male guardianship and the refusal of basic privileges should not be forgotten simply because we do not notice them in the West.

PPS. Anyone who brings up the idea of immigrants taking jobs from Quebecers is changing the subject, and should be warned not to do so again.