Something’s in the air. A layer of invisible dust has settled throughout our institutions, cafes, even the buses and métro. And with falling temperatures, its toxicity has only risen.
Since its springtime introduction, the Quebec Charter of Values has us all vigorously debating, disputing, protesting — and questioning its underlining motivations. But more profoundly, it has let loose a poison that lurks deep within our subconscious – fear.
For the PQ and its backers, this push towards institutionalized secularization is simply an echo of its old school patriarchal clerical dogma. Lacking subtlety, there’s not even an elephant in the room. Brèf, this bill is the blatant response of a xenophobic government’s disenchantment with female Muslims donning hijabs and niqabs in the Quebec workplace.
“Muslims are the real target of the proposed charter of Quebec values, while kippot and turbans are ‘collateral damage,’” says McGill University law professor Daniel Weinstock.
Historically, legitimizing discrimination is nothing new. African slavery was justified through insular biblical readings of the “Curse of Ham.” Nazi Germany justified anti-Semitism through alleged deceptive Jewish financial practices. British, French and Spanish colonialists justified the massacres and forced displacement of the indigenous by viewing them as “merciless savages.”
Islamophobia is simply the new kid on the block, largely a result of simpletons relying on their fears rather than tackling them.
Certainly and sadly, Islam, like other great religions, has and continues to partake in elements of patriarchy and misogyny. But does this understanding alone suffice to completely discredit Muslims? A more comprehensive understanding would require questioning the spectrum of Islam and with that, Muslim female attire. Is there not a hijab of coercion, oppression, and deception as there is a hijab of choice, liberation, and integrity? What are the Islamic interpretations and analysis from hijab-wearing Muslim feminists intellectuals such as Amina Wadud?
Of course, the PQ has not only not taken the initiative to understand and answer these complexities, but has added to them.
Fear of the other
All too often, these fears are mitigated by solidifying a relatively narrow sense of identity. And of course, the inevitable Catch-22 is that this identity excludes others who are “different.”
But by tackling our fears head-on we can avoid being complicit in our false identities and attain the true autonomy and individualism that is each and every person’s right. The right to question our being and to practice a religion is our self-determining right. No state, neither Saudi Arabia nor Quebec, has a right to tell its inhabitants what to wear or not wear.
Heaven…. or hell?
The dispute over faith is a cloak-and-dagger game in this debate. Instead of creating a neutral environment for all, the PQ has ensured that all who are different can not count themselves part of Quebec society. Seized by their fears, a devil within them has been unleashed.
Furthermore, it’s nauseating to witness the hell they have created for numerous Muslim women — and for what? Wanting to dress modestly? Since the proposal’s introduction, hijab/niqab wearing Muslim women have been spat on, harassed, threatened and ridiculed, and Islamophobic incidents have reportedly risen by 300%.
Pro-charter supporters should be ashamed. They accuse Muslims of wanting to rewind the clock if the bill isn’t passed; yet they’ve already taken the clock back in time. Supporting such a discriminatory bill maintains the age-old relationship of discrimination in this province – between the ones who “belong” and the ones who don’t.
This ignorance and fear is downright nasty, lacks any sense of humanity, and contaminates the air we breathe. I’d put on a breathing mask, but that’s probably not allowed.