Birds of a feather can’t flock together

Residents of Hérouxville, Quebec, are a little xenophobic when it comes to Muslims. Yesterday someone implied that women might one day be stoned in Quebec, if precautions are not taken. That’s according to a report in today’s Globe and Mail.

The Government of Quebec is currently holding public hearings to address a contentious issue:  how can the rights of minorities be accommodated within a province that has its own distinctive culture?

It’s a problem. Francophones in Quebec are deeply committed, even militant, about preserving their culture. Muslims are likewise deeply committed to preserving their culture. Birds of a feather, one might say.

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in a politically incorrect moment, said that Quebecers need to get out of the wigwam.1 In other words, they need to engage the big, wide world out there — strive to succeed in the global economy — instead of huddling in a defensive posture lest the world swamp them.

The political winds in Quebec huffed and puffed against Trudeau’s opinion and blew it down. One provincial government introduced a law requiring businesses to ensure that French is more prominent than English on their signs. Another required that immigrants send their children to Francophone schools, to ensure that they are assimilated to the mother tongue. Never mind that English is the international language of business:  many Quebecers are unilingual Francophones.

Whether such measures are justified, I don’t presume to judge. It is certainly true that Quebec has a distinctive culture — one that I find attractive. It is also true that Quebec is surrounded by les Anglais, so perhaps the culture is genuinely at risk.

But measures like the sign law inculcate intolerance toward “the other”. Judges who uphold minority rights inevitably become the enemy:

Several [interveners] said Quebec cannot be fettered by religious minorities invoking the federal Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] if the province is to remain French-speaking and secular.

Canada is now run by lawyers and judges, said Hérouxville resident Bernard Thompson. … “These are the new unelected gods.”

In Hérouxville, the irresistible force (public policy that says Francophone culture trumps all other cultures) is up against the immovable object (a Muslim community that, like a rock in the belly of a snake, will not be digested).

The stupid thing is, there are virtually no Muslims in Hérouxville. It’s xenophobia, pure and simple.

Regardless, the provincial government is feeling a need to respond, for political reasons. Government isn’t always a rational actor, because citizens aren’t always rational actors.


1To be precise:

The truth is that the separatist counterrevolution is the work of a powerless petit-bourgeois minority afraid of being left behind by a 20th century revolution. Rather than carving themselves out a place in it by ability, they want to make the whole tribe return to the wigwams by declaring its independence. (From a 1964 Trudeau essay)

Trudeau’s “wigwam” reference wasn’t exactly complimentary to First Nations! It alludes to stereotypes about aboriginals which may or may not be grounded in reality. In any event, Trudeau fancied himself a “citizen of the world” in his youth, and he had no patience for insularity — or Quebec separatists.


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