"We need, together, to show Canada and to show the world that here in Calgary it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter what you worship, it doesn't matter who you love."
Those were the words of Canada's favourite mayor, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, this past Sunday, at Calgary's 23rd Annual Pride Parade, where Nenshi addressed a crowd of thousands. Mayor Nenshi criticized the Parti Quebecois' proposed Charter of "Values" and encouraged Canadians in Quebec to move to Calgary to escape the proposed ban on visible religious symbols against those working in the public sector.
In fact, Mayor Nenshi, who was elected on a strong economic platform, described the plan as "short sighted." He added:
The charter is "an absolute violation not just of Canadian morals and ethics, but of what has made our country successful. If we are not able to attract the very best people from around the world to want to work and learn and invest and raise families in this country, we don't have a future as a country."
Short sighted indeed.
An image, released by the Quebec government, specifically The Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, Bernard Drainville, yesterday, illustrating the religious symbols to be banned, reveal the shocking ignorance of the PQ party leading Quebec.
The PQ is unable to distinguish between religious zealotry that overtakes the public sphere and individuals who, though they exhibit their faith publicly, continue to work peacefully, alongside their neighbours of other beliefs, without difficulty.
Who exactly has a problem here?
The religious secularists who work in Quebec's public sector or the secular fundamentalists who lead its government?
What Nenshi sees clearly that Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and the PQ don't, is that what you wear doesn't tell the whole story.
Is a woman wearing the hijab "submissive," as described by Premier Marois?
Submissive is not the word I would use to describe another Muslim woman, a young university student, who never left the house without her hijab and who led the mixed gender congregational prayer, as Imam, at our Iftar dinner, two years ago. Men prayed behind her.
Nor is it the word I would use to describe the numerous strong Muslim women I have met in my lifetime who wear it -- not out of fear or inequality -- but to simply to identify themselves as Muslims and who regard it as part of the faith, by their reading of the scripture.
Not all Muslim women wear the hijab. I wear it only in prayer. According to my interpretation, it is not compulsory.
There are many believing Muslim women who share the same view here in Canada and in the Muslim world as well. And in countries where the hijab is mandatory, the law must change to give women the choice.
But our interpretation respecting whether the hijab is mandatory makes no difference to the issue at hand.
The law must allow choice for a variety of beliefs, including different interpretations.
It must protect the individual's freedom of conscience -- because in a secular society that freedom is its underlying foundation. Without it, without human rights, everything else falls apart.
Make no mistake -- everyone in Quebec will be affected by the Charter of "Values." The entire society will be subjected to change as a result.
What is Quebec without a Charter of "Values"?
It is a secular society with freedom of conscience that allows harmony that would otherwise be unseen. It allows people to meet and congregate from all faiths. It allows for the exchange of ideas. It allows a Muslim woman to meet with a Jewish woman and ask her, as a sister in solidarity, "how long do you think it will be before women can pray at the wall?"
It allows Muslims to pray side by side with other faiths, or share a moment of silence in the public sphere.
It allows for integration of visible religious minorities and stops ghettoes from being built.
Do we want people to be forced to choose their faith over integration in the public sphere?
Do we want to see neighborhoods in any province of Canada where there are only Muslims working and so there are only Muslims living? Do we want "Muslim only" sections of cities?
Do we want to strengthen extremists in Muslim communities by giving them a greater share of power over individuals? Where no Muslim child will ever see a Christmas tree? Or get an A from a teacher wearing a big, fat cross?
That will be the result of ghettoization. That will be the result of failing to allow the integration of visible religious minorities in the public sphere.
It is apartheid.
Thank you Premier Marois. Welcome to the New Quebec.
Je me souviens.