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Tahir Gora Headshot

Would Quebec be Able to Deliver True Multiculturalism?

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There is no conservative government or liberal government in Quebec that is seeking restrictions on Islamic radicalization in the province. Rather, it is the Parti Quebecois government which wants to introduce a new secular charter ASAP.

If it had been a current Conservative Party seeking for such legislation at federal or provincial level there would have been such a hue and cry, and there would not be a shortage of Islamist-left alliances for calling them the puppets of "American NeoCons," despite the fact that there is no 'NeoCon' government in the U.S.

Quebec is known for its socialist stance, and currently the majority of the Federal MPs are NDP, but not many of those MPs are opposing the Parti Quebecois government's stance to ban religious symbols and on cancellation of Muslim Youth conference by the Palais des congres.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau are denouncing the Quebec government's move but their MPs from Quebec are not as vocal as the leaders themselves are.

Because polls suggest that the proposed ban on religious symbols got a majority support.
Quebec's minister responsible for the Status of Women, Agnes Maltais, said in the media that PQ government is against the sexism of speakers. She was probably implying to a French Islamic Cleric, Nader Abou Anas, who was invited in the conference and who happened to made comments in the past stating that a woman refusing to wear a headscarf was worse than having cancer or AIDS.

Quebecers have reacted swiftly to such ideologies in the name of Multiculturalism.

Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paille accuses Mulcair and Trudeau of denying the Quebec nation in the name of federal multiculturalism policy.

Here the question arises: what is multiculturalism? And what is the Canadian version of it?
These are among the hottest debates in our society these days. Does multiculturalism mean to blend all cultures in one pot or to keep all ethnic communities separated from each other?

According to the Department of Canadian Heritage definition, "Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging." But belong to what? To one's own ethnic community or to Canadian society?

This definition states further, "The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding, and discourages ghettoization, hatred, discrimination and violence."

How does it discourage ghettoization? It is hard to explain this part while saying the multiculturalism also encourages the "sense of belonging" to one's own ethnicity.

Critics often attack this contradiction, saying this is a particularly Canadian form of multiculturalism.
Visible ethnic communities, such as Chinese, South Asian, Arab, Black and South American communities are all across Canada, congregated mainly in big cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Hamilton.

But the Canadians from (or descended from) European Caucasian nations, who have long had a strong feeling of "owning" this country, raise the questions and concerns.

"Hey, we have made the rules of laws of this land. Hello newcomers, welcome. But make no mistake: stoning or burning women alive won't be tolerated and faces are not to be covered except at Halloween."

Such were the social "norms," that the small town of Herouxville, Que., delivered in 2007 to potential Muslim immigrants. They also cautioned them "We drink alcoholic beverages". So don't be offended. Frankly, this caution doesn't affect anyone except Arab or South Asian Muslims.

I visited Herouxville recently and met my friend Andre Drouin, a man behind those 'social norms' and asked his position on Quebec government's proposed charter of values. Andre thinks that Quebec is still struggling as how to reconcile reasonable accommodation of some of the ethnic groups and their values with the Quebec values.

In our multicultural mosaic, none of the ethnic communities except Muslims have fundamental clashes with "Canadian values" such as women's liberties, openness, separation of religion from community or questioning religious scriptures, etc. Drinking alcohol or sexual freedom is equally shared by the majority and most other minority communities.

Muslims' clash with multiculturalism is not due to cultural reasons: It is on the basis of mixing up of Islamic religious orders with cultural values.

In our definition of multiculturalism, though, we didn't endorse religious scriptures. We needed to make it clear that our model of multiculturalism should be structured on the basis of multiple cultures not multiple religions. There is a separate debate to be had on how religion reflects in culture and to what extent. But religion had to be made separate from culture; otherwise it is hard to reach a harmonious and practical model of multiculturalism.

Our multicultural model shakes when we try to introduce religious ethnicity into it. That's the point where we don't understand why things don't go smoothly. Instead of blending different religions, the mixing up of cultures could be the right path to multiculturalism.

When someone proposes Shariah law for the sake of multiculturalism or one-sided organizations start talking about the obligations or rights of women to wear veils on their faces, our multiculturalism advocates become confused and try to figure out what's gone wrong.

In fear of being accused of racism, they don't speak out. Neither Shariah law nor veils are a requirement of multiculturalism. Concealing one's identity is not a part of the Canadian mosaic.
True multiculturalism can only flourish when cultural values -- not religious restrictions -- come together.