Secularism: Here We Go Again!
Comedian, storyteller, biologist and host
I look forward to this issue being resolved so that we can simply return to the extremes of the debate on this subject that has divided Quebec for so long.
I am talking about people who very often wrongly associate everything that disturbs them with xenophobia by mixing religion, culture, race and identity in episodes that often make the headlines. But I am also talking about these xenophobes who almost absurdly believe that secularism should be a program to ban religions in the public space of a country where freedom of conscience is a fundamental right.
It is true that at the heart of the tension, it is above all the small groups of fundamentalists who aspire to mix religion and politics, who confront [one another] in social networks, with the complicity of traditional media; people whose intolerance or militant atheism suggests that religion is an epiphenomenon that simple reason and scientific argument should be enough to annihilate. It was the famous Voltaire syndrome that predicted that it would take no more than a century to find the Bible only in antique shops. It can be said that he was royally mistaken, because the Bible is still a timeless international bestseller.
Chase away the supernatural and it returns to the bungalow! This is what Quebec, which thought it had put religion in its place, is discovering with the opening of borders.
[This is] a situation that causes excessive panic among some people. What do you expect, when you have rowed so hard to get [Quebec] out of the clutches of a form of religious totalitarianism for much of its history? It is absolutely normal to be suspicious of any other form of cabal. He who has already been bitten by a snake sometimes distrusts his shoelaces, my grandfather used to say. Unfortunately, if we are too suspicious, we sometimes end up jumping needlessly at lures carefully manipulated by those who benefit from making us overreact.
We must put an end to this duel of extremes where nuance and restraint are rarely applauded by the most bellicose. In one corner, there are people who falsely think that to immigrate is to give up who you are and become identical to the other who welcomes you. And at the other end, there are those who ask everyone to adapt to the introduction of their culture in its entirety, because the slightest compromise is not an option for them. Between these two extreme, small groups that tear the social fabric apart, there is the silent majority who are called xenophobes or insulted in their sincere and deep beliefs.
Yet, with all due respect to extremists on all sides, living together is a search for consensus. Therefore, it requires walking towards each other. It is therefore a big mistake to allow the most radical to proclaim themselves as the spokespersons on such an important and divisive issue. The only way to remove the spittoon is to draw a clear line for everyone.
Secularism is a movement that was on the march in Quebec long before its borders were massively opened to immigration. I am one of those who believe that it is an important pillar of “living together” that wishes to celebrate “together” more than simply “living.” This separation between state and religion does not erase anyone’s belongings and beliefs. On the contrary, it arranges the terrain such that it is sheltered from representations, because no ostentatious sign of belonging is as banal and innocent as its wearer would have us believe.
Imagine if Richard Henry Bain found himself in front of a judge wearing a Parti Québécois badge. Would the magistrate succeed in convincing him that this sign would have no effect on his final decision? The same logic applies to conspicuous religious symbols among state employees with coercive powers. What would an immigrant of Palestinian origin think, for example, if he contests his conviction by a judge wearing a yarmulke?
On the other hand, what would a young motorist wearing a yarmulke think when a police officer in a hijab gives him a questionable ticket?
In the three previous examples, we can bet that the signs displayed will, rightly or wrongly, be automatically associated with an anticipated feeling of injustice.
For 13 years, all elections in Quebec have been haunted by secularism and it is clear that it is the irresponsibility of the PQ and the PLQ that has led to the widespread deterioration of the situation we are now facing. Largely mandated by the population to draw a demarcation line, the Legault government courageously decided to take the bull by the horns. But Legault will have to hang on tight, because a storm is coming, and I am not just talking about the victimization campaigns sponsored by the self-righteous left, whose cultural relativism seems to have become the only social project.
Premier Legault may tell his troops to exercise restraint, but the storm will be big and inevitable, especially if he himself continues to make the link between secularism and the protection of Quebec’s identity. Secularism is a simple principle of separation between the State and religion, and associating it with the protection of an identity is just ammunition to those who say that this project is against them.
In addition to the rebellion within Quebec, which is being organized on a massive scale, the Legault government will also have to deal with missiles from the media and intellectual elite of Canadian multiculturalist anglophones, who will call French-speaking Quebec every name in the book. It will also demand that the Trudeau government respond with guns ablaze as well. In other words, after the SNC-Lavalin affair, a new Quebec hot potato is emerging for the Trudeau government, which will have to deal with this issue – and which has all the potential to turn into an electoral dynamite fatal to the LPC.
The Quebec Liberal Party would also be wise not to demonize this project too much if it does not want to drag a heavy weight into the next election campaign. For good reason – if the PLQ demonizes the CAQ initiative, it will have no choice but to tell its traditional electorate what it will do with this law once it returns to power. In short, the PLQ will have to promise during the election campaign to change everything once again. This would be the beginning of its final crucifixion with respect to the French-speaking vote, because those who believe that this issue will die quietly are royally mistaken – it touches too deep a fiber in Quebec. Fortunately for the PLQ, the floor on this issue is given to a person of restraint and discernment named Hélène David.
Between British free-for-all multiculturalism and French-style secularism, Quebec has every right to find a fine line of social consensus.
In England, multiculturalism is a boiling pot with a tightly screwed lid, pressure is building up and we refuse to see that the explosion is imminent. In France, the boiling pot is uncovered and the hot splashes emanating from it cause irreparable burns to the idea of “living together.” In Quebec, what we need is a simple valve to relieve the excess pressure from our formula – which we wish to be more intercultural. Of course, the whistling of hot steam will silence people abundantly by summer.
I look forward to when discussion on this subject will be exhausted, so we can talk about the issues that are much more important to the vast majority of immigrants. I am thinking here of the recognition of prior learning and diplomas, the lack of openness of professional orders to graduates from elsewhere. There is also the very high unemployment rate in some immigrant communities, discrimination in employment, the representativeness of minorities in state institutions and the lack of investment in francization and employability programs that help those who manage to see the light that illuminated their dreams of expatriates.