February 07, 2007
Little Town Hall on the Tundra
In this dull Aqoul moment, I thought this piece of very provincial news would be worth a small entry. Canada, by any standard, is a very tolerant society, welcoming to its immigrants and respectful of its minorities.
But it also has its stupid hicks, like any other society. Separatist French Catholics from the godforsaken Quebec backwoods don't lack such examples. The last pearl comes from the mayor of the remote village of Herouxville, 1300 inhabitants. Trying to educate those international bumpkins of Muslim background who'd chose to settle as his next door neighbor instead of heading to metropolitan areas, he emitted a tailor made code of conduct for them. Among the rules, women should not be lapidated or burnt, and they should have the right to drive or write checks...
Now the phenomenon is spreading. Interestingly, Quebec governments are whining all the time about not being able to attract enough immigrants - which they badly need because they depend on their skills and their babies. Knowing how influent separatists are in Quebec, and their reputation of how they'd love to model their society on France's exemplary tolerance rather than their neighboring Anglo-Saxon environment's, one cannot but wonder why immigrants aren't flocking at their doors...
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"Lapidated" -- excellent word!
But let's be fair, the article doesn't say the code bans stoning, it says that women "should also not be killed in public beatings or burned alive." Quite a difference, really.
I shudder to think what the Herouxville natives get up to in the privacy of their own homes.
Posted by: Anonymous at February 7, 2007 09:04 PM
The media in Québec right now are completely "accomodation-mad". There's a kind of bidding war going on about who will find the most outrageous accommodation and who says the most racist stuff out there, all in the name of fair journalism.
The whole thing started a couple years ago when a Sikh boy was caught carrying a ceremonial knife, the kirpan, under his clothing at school, and was subsequently expelled. His parents sued the school and won. While I think banning ceremonial knives is not going to increase safety in schools (actually knives are banned and are still carried around in schools all the time), the religious persistence of this family to carry around this symbol that most Sikhs don't seem to embrace (those who do usually wear a miniature version of the knife as a pendent, apparently) rankled a lot of people. The case kinda went away but something started simmering.
The "YMCA window-frosting incident" set the whole situation aboil again. Orthodox Jews didn't like seeing women sweating at their treadmills in the YMCA gym building across the street, complained to the YMCA, and the latter thought that they would be good neighbours and got the windows frosted. Then it was revealed that Montréal police circulated an internal memo that stated that when dealing with calls from orthodox Jews, that female officers, when possible, where to let male officers deal with said Jews, due to religious sensibility. Other cases like female-only swimming lessons set for Muslim women and more orthodox Jewish accodomation has come forward. I'm starting to lose track of the inventory.
In the case of the YMCA, I think the public clearly has no business there. That one was a matter of one private association dealing one another, and private associations are entitled to take whatever arrangements they believe are right for them.
Most of those expressing their intolerance seem to be doing so out of a sense of cultural insecurity. The media have blown this so much out of proportion that many are feeling like they are being invaded by hordes of Dark Peoples, ready to re-instate gendered schools, and "unfairly" claim extra religious holidays. Oh the heresy!!
In most of these cases, a certain concern for gender equality is invoked to express outrage. Which is rather interesting, because on one side, you have the rural Catholics mentioned by Shaheen, but I would actually say that the largest contingent are actually people using their secularism to justify discriminatory opinions. French Québecers used to be strongly under the grip of the Catholic Church, and the Quiet Revolution that happened in the 1960s turned many into rabid atheists. So for many who see that struggle as one where we shed the blinds of religion to embrace liberalism and social-democracy, this sudden claim for religious accommodation feels like a step backwards.
What's quite telling about this is that most of the people doing the complaining live in white-dominated areas where few encounters with immigrants or anyone else from a different cultural background actually happens. The people in Montréal, the province's only real multicultural city, express nowhere as much outrage about this.
I think this is a dialogue that has already happened (more peacefully) elsewhere in Canada and that Québec, in part due to the language barrier, has been sheltered from. Even though a big racist stench is emerging from this debate, I think it's a good thing that it's happening, so that these opinions are put out in the open and get challenged. It would be much easier to sweep this racism under the carpet and not talk about it, but then who would suffer from these unchallenged opinions?
As a side note but not unrelated, there was a poll that came out a few weeks ago where 59% of people in Québec declared to pollsters to being racist. I think such a degree of frankness is quite constructive and bides well for the future. It's easier to deal with racists that know themselves than with those which even deny their existence.
Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at February 7, 2007 09:54 PM
Here's the source (radio canada) mentionning the lapidation ban.
Excellent summary, very accurate. A small disagreement: I don't think the language is the barrier, not when information flows from English to French in Quebec. I really think it's rooted in the very provincial mindset of the majority of French Quebeckers who happen to be rurals and/or have a very backward tribal/ethnic perception of their identity (the biggest city outside Montreal, Quebec, is only half million people and is a seperatist stronghold). Unfortunately, I don't share your optimism about where this debate might lead.
dull Aqoul moment, you said it. I thought about trolling just to get the boards warmed up. Am suffering from total outrage fatigue at the moment, seems so many things go in circles right now.
And in this case; I thought about the accomodation in Britain, as usual, and the lack of a balanced, sensible approach. The piggy banks that were removed because banks thought they would be offensive to Muslims is a prime example. Pigs are not offensive to Muslims (or Jews), they just don't eat them. The Mozart opera debacle in Germany is another example: There never was any threat made, but some police officer thought it might not be safe to portray a decapitated head of the Prophet, and so the opera decided to cancel. Much media merriment ensued.
These are cases where accomodation is as removed from reality as Shaheen's example. Both seem to adhere to a cartoon version of Muslims that the imported imams are keen to validate, should anyone stoop to ask them...
Posted by: Klaus at February 8, 2007 12:22 AM
Those Quebecois just ended up making fools of themselves. Concern about excessive multiculturalism is all well and good but that was simple ignorance and bigotry masquerading as "concern" for the rights of Muslim women...I wonder if any of these people would care to examine the status of women in their own families and that of women in immigrant families.
Is nobody going to talk about the Charlie Hebdo/Muhammad cartoon resurrection? Those heroic French intellectuals, going on about Voltaire and the right to criticise religion, when the lawsuit is about promoting hatred towards a community, not at all about blasphemy....
Posted by: SP at February 8, 2007 02:10 AM
I cannot believe that they have forgotten about a ban on binding little girls' feet, and on human sacrifice. Does it mean it's OK?
Posted by: sanaa at February 8, 2007 04:13 AM
the lawsuit is about promoting hatred towards a community, not at all about blasphemy....
the lawsuit is what is provoking hatred towards the community. You can't in all honesty say that Charlie Hebdo has singled out Islam for satire, a charge that might be levelled with more weight against Jyllandsposten.
I think there is a problem when people religious sensibilities impact on other people's freedoms. Those Jews didn't have to look through the gym windows, they could have averted their eyes. The Sikh child could have perhaps carried a replica knife.
If people want to live in Western countries they have to respect equality between men and women and be prepared to deal with either in civic matters.
Having lived in the Middle East for several years now, and put up with the restrictions here, I think that the freedoms we have in the West are all the more worth protecting. Freedom to practise ones religion means being able to follow the faith of your choice, congregate with others of the same faith, and not suffer discrimination because your beliefs are different to anothers.
It does not mean you have the right to walk down a road and expect everyone to be behaving as though they were in Muslimworld or Jewworld or Baptistworld. If Muslim women want their own segregated swimming times they can hire a pool during hours already set aside for private hire (such as school lessons) but they should have no right to expect to hire that pool during a time when it would otherwise be availabe for public use. If this isn't possible, then they need to raise the funds and build their own pool if swimming is so important to them.
And I am not a "rabid atheist", I am not even an atheist. I just believe that it is worth supporting non-religious people's right not to have to bow and scrape and accommodate something that should be a personal, private matter for the religious.
Posted by: secretdubai at February 8, 2007 07:35 AM
Klaus, what I find silly about the French intellectual response is that they're going on about this like the lawsuit is about blaspheming the prophet or denying the right to caricature or whatever - it's not, it's making the argument that the cartoons were racist (the lawyer in the case explicitly said it was not about the issue of depicting the prophet, though it's entirely possible that's part of what rankles for the plaintiffs, they aren't suing on that basis). Now I don't think there's much value to the lawsuit and it will likely be thrown out, and free expression is more important to safeguard. But to go on about Voltaire and guarding against totalitarianism and Wahhabis when what you've got here is a silly, tasteless cartoon that was meant to be offensive (the bomb-turban one is, I believe, the one the lawsuit focuses on) as if it's the same thing as a critique of religious belief? They couldn't have picked a better issue to defend freedom of conscience? No consideration of how freedom of conscience gels with their rather over the top hate speech laws (I mean, you can be officially fined for sexist speech too)? Wish they'd spend half the time they do on the "threat" posed by "intolerant Islam" to "the Republic" on debating the value of hate-speech laws to begin with.
Posted by: SP at February 8, 2007 08:03 AM
Here's the petition I had in mind: http://www.liberation.fr/rebonds/232993.FR.php
It's a stupid, vicious circle - the fundies claim to speak for the whole religion, the soi-disant Voltaires agree with them and stigmatise the whole religion for the work of the fundies, and convince the non-fundies that the liberal project is actually about opposing their religion in all forms.
Posted by: SP at February 8, 2007 08:42 AM
Just a bit of persiflage. I find it amusing that these people are railing against specific methods of killing women "in public" as opposed to just generally frowning on killing women.
"Am suffering from total outrage fatigue at the moment, seems so many things go in circles right now."
Outrage fatique, indeed. Going in circles has been one of the defining charactistics of the Middle East for decades now. I chanced across a thirty-year-old stack of Time magazines a while ago and many of the stories on MENA could have been written last week. Thoroughly depressing.
Part of the heritage of the Enlightenment is the idea that problems can be solved rather than merely endured. It means that the West is willing to devote enormous resources and energy to an issue -- even if the issue does not affect it directly -- but only in relatively short bursts. If no progress is made, westerners/western governments will grow bored/frustrated and focus their efforts on a more tractable problem.
Contrast, for example, the Balkans with the Middle East. The Balkans went from having a bloody, awful, genocidal civil war to participating in the Eurovision contest -- all in a decade. That's just the way the West likes it. Get in, pour money, influence and, if necessary, smart bombs, on the problem and get things moving in the right direction.
Contrast the continued Western engagement in the Balkans with the more-or-less total disinterest the West displays in, say, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Been there. Done that. Didn't work. Fuck 'em." pretty much sums up the West's attitude.
BTW, the proposed Charlie Hebdo lawsuit is asinine on a level only previously reached by Fox News. The only way any good will come out of it is if some Muslim groups actively intervene on the side of the defendant.
Posted by: Anonymous at February 8, 2007 12:50 PM
yeah, I find it quite amusing too, which is why I posted about it in the first place. I mean, this is some lost village, with a total of 10 people born outside Canada, not one single immigrant since at least 1991, not a single non Caucasian Christian inhabitant and depopulating.
All of a sudden, those culturally insecure yokels start panicking about the possible invasion of immigrants, and with all the noise about Muslims, it's them they fear the most. It's not anything about gender equality, or immigrants integration, or freedom, or any other stuff those folks have missed during the last couple of centuries.
On TV, one of the town representatives justifying the existence of that code of conduct was saying that it was possible that Chinesians - Chinoisiens (sic) in French -, right, Chinesians would be likely to chose their village as a destination. Speaking on Radio France International, another counselor (or the same, I don't know), was very angrily schrieking about how immigrants had to adapt to Quebec culture, that in Quebec people eat pork and immigrants should therefore adapt and eat pork too. No kidding, that was the content of his concern.
If that's the intellectual level of that icehole's democratically elected representatives, I can barely imagine how funky the populace must be. A heaven not just for immigrants, but for any urban dweller in fact - living there must be quite something.
those culturally insecure yokels
Some folks'll never lose a toe, but then again some foke'll - Like Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel!
If I'm not mistaken, a lot of Canadians are rednecks, yes? They have the world's biggest rodeo show after all.
That lawsuit, if it's about racism, shouldn't it be directed at Kurt Westergaard, the guy who drew the cartoon? How does one distinguish between documenting and disseminating? Leaving aside the issue of whether it's racist or not.
Shaheen - the Canadian yokels sound hilarious! The Chinoisiens would likely be only too glad to oblige with the pork-eating. Perhaps then the Quebeckers would require them to drain their food of all flavour....
This immigration scaremongering is actually vaguely similar to the French outcry over this cartoon lawsuit, in that dozens of intellectuals and politicians start crying Wahhabi and grandstanding about free expression to defend a cartoon that basically says "Muhammad was a terrorist, na-na-na-na-na" while a lawsuit a year or more ago by Catholic bishops against an ad/billboard playing off the theme of the Last Supper actually succeeded, and there were no cries of "inquisition" then, no grand intellectual petitions about freedom of speech.
I personally don't think either of the lawsuits should have any value in a free society, and it should not be about protecting religions one likes or thinks are less dangerous while encouraging critique of those one considers a threat. Offence over the cartoons has nothing to do with Wahhabis and totalitarians like the idiotic posturing intellectual petition says (signed by the usual suspects, of course), and everything to do with people feeling their religion, and they by association, have been stigmatised.
Documenting vs disseminating - hard to distinguish here, since it's a newspaper. Now I bet if it were a far-right group that was circulating prejudiced material about Muslims they wouldn't stand a chance under French hate laws. But till you can show actual injury due to that dissemination, I don't think you should be able to stop it. I prefer the American approach to free expression, by far, to this nonsense about values that are worth defending ("ours") and values that aren't ("theirs").
Posted by: SP at February 9, 2007 02:17 AM
The Mozart opera debacle in Germany is another example: There never was any threat made, but some police officer thought it might not be safe to portray a decapitated head of the Prophet, and so the opera decided to cancel. Much media merriment ensued.
Der Spiegel later ran an article about the opera company which casually mentioned that ticket sales in general were down prior to staging that particular performance. What an AMAZING coincidence.
Posted by: Ms .45 at February 9, 2007 04:23 AM
the Canadian village story is, of course, a classic example of the mindset of (mostly rural) people who live rather isolated. In this, those Quebequois aren't much different from villagers in France, Italy, or Egypt, Iran, China, Brazil ... etc.pp.
On the cartoon lawsuit, I cannot believe that it took almost one year to have it filed. Legal action should've been one of the first responses by the offended groups. I am no expert in French law and thus do not pretend to know whether Charlie Hebdo violated any laws. But that's for a court to decide and the plaintiffs can, if the court says that CH didn't do anything "bad", THEN still point at the verdict the Catholics got & cry wolf. It's all a question of wether you're seriously interested in getting the public on your side or not ...
That Mozart opera thingy ... well, the truly interesting thing about that story is that the police NEVER said that there was a danger. The Berlin Department of the Interior had received an anonymous phonecall from a German citizen living abroad, then produced an internal (& secret) "danger analysis", which then someone leaked to the press (and there is a investigation and pendind courtcase about that breach of security), which then caused the theater manageress to call Berlin's interior minister, but during the conversation she misunderstood the minister, panicked and canceled the play.
Needless to say - this all caused a big hullaballoo, with most commentators (me included) not quite understanding just why the director of the opera changed the ending and had the heads of the religious figures cut off, thereby pretty much completely turning one of the central statements of the opera around. It did look like wanting to be particularly "outrageous". The public's reception of this production has been muted at best.
Posted by: MSK at February 9, 2007 07:14 AM
May be the Cree, Montaignais, MicMac and Ojibway First Nations of Quebec should tell all the white Quebecers how to be tolerant of each other. After all the real and true Quebecers used to wear animal skins and use bones as arms and they didn't impose their way of life on the occupiers :-(
Posted by: Anonymous from QC at February 9, 2007 11:03 AM
most commentators (me included) not quite understanding just why the director of the opera changed the ending and had the heads of the religious figures cut off, thereby pretty much completely turning one of the central statements of the opera around.
Then, sir, you do not know modern opera! Oh, the things they do, the things they do...
...and I don't even like opera. But I digress. I'm surprised that Catholic offenderati have that power in France, I understand Houellebecq fled to Ireland because of Catholics, and not Muslims. So France is only secular with respect to Islam. Hijab debate etc. bah.
I have no issues with modern opera, I just dislike claiming to produce a classic opera and then changing key scenes. If they'd called it "Religion sucks - a modern adaptation of Mozart's Idomeneo" it would've been different.
Posted by: MSK at February 9, 2007 05:04 PM
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Posted by: egyptiankangaroo at February 10, 2007 05:46 AM
don't you die on me, thread! Don't you quit. I'll resuscitate you with troll voltage. Clear! *wump*
I just dislike claiming to produce a classic opera and then changing key scenes
The cartoon version of Animal Farm has the animals gang up on Napoleon in the end in glorious revolutionary solidarity. I suppose it's for the children.
In other news. I may be more of a white racist prick than others here, but I do understand it when pundits talk about Europe's lack of confidence and self-assertion. Not so much in the face of Islamocommufazism, but in the face of US terror hysteria. I think both points are valid. A terror plot in Denmark was recently uncovered, and the minister of justice called it the worst crisis in recent Danish history. She was, politely, reminded of the WWII occupation. Also, Merkel has been diligent to remind Germans of the grave, grave threat of terrism, and the Idomeneo debacle should be viewed in that light. That the opera manager freaked out is really far less a concern than the Kansler freaking out. Also, John Reid's hyping of the terrist threat is not for domestic political gain as in USA, but to defend the British cabinet's anti-terrorism laws that many have accused of being a hysterical reaction. And so he hypes away.
So, in closing, stand up straight.
Except that, standing up means opposing. Europeans are no longer defining themselves in opposition to each other, but in opposition to 1) Muslims - whoever they are, and 2) Americans. A bubbler would be 3) Far Eastern Europe, incl. Russia. I am still of the negative persuasion that cultural, communalist self-confidence is inevitably tied to opposition to and derision of other communities.
Posted by: Klaus at February 11, 2007 03:47 AM
Check this out - delegation of headscarved Muslim women visited the poor little village in the tundra to show them what Muslim women look like, in all their un-lapidated cheque-writing glory:
Posted by: SP at February 12, 2007 05:05 AM