Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Québec mayor channels French-Canada’s embarrassing tribalism

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Mayor Jean Tremblay (Saguenay, Qc)
Mayor Jean Tremblay

I generally try to avoid talking about local politics because A) they’re usually a lethal bore, and B) I don’t pay enough attention to regional happenings to develop much of an opinion, anyway. But one thing about the cultural climate here that’s been driving me up the wall over the last few years is the steadily growing undercurrent of tribalistic thinking that reduces any discussion about immigration to a reactionary debate about “us (true citizens) vs. them (filthy minorities)”. There’s something peculiar about living in a universal-healthcare-receiving, gay-equality-espousing liberal quasi-utopia where people still complain about all those foreign savages taking our jobs and how they should just return to their hellholes and leave our precious traditions alone. It’s like Arizona, if the Republicans were Left-wingers.

As a perfect representation of this phenomenon, I’ll let Mayor Jean Tremblay from the local town of Saguenay illustrate just what I’m talking about. Here he is just this past August, reacting to Parti Québécois (a quasi-separatist Québec-first political party) then-candidate Djemila Benhabib’s proposal for a truly secular Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that prohibits the display of religious symbols on government property (sound familiar, U.S.ians?):

“What shocks me, is to see us, the gentle French-Canadians, being told how to behave by someone from Algeria whose name we can’t even pronounce,” Tremblay said.

Told that Benhabib has been in Quebec 15 years, Tremblay laid out the perceived threat posed by “them.”

“They are quietly, and with nice language, eating away (at our traditions),” Tremblay said. “They quietly start by removing the prayer in city hall, then they’ll remove our religious objects, then they’ll take away the crosses in cities and after that they’ll go into the schools ...

“They’ll do away with our religion and culture everywhere, and you won’t notice.”

Not so much “latent” xenophobia as “blatant”. As in, “So blatant, you’d think it were a parody of discriminatory bigotry if it didn’t actually represent a virulent mentality espoused by a prominent faction of the population.”

But Tremblay wasn’t done making a ridiculous scene over an obvious non-issue. He’s now upset that the Québec Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Saguenay city council to stop wasting time with sectarian prayers before meetings and to take down a crucifix from the chamber wall, and is determined to keep shaking his little fists at those darned secularists for casting symbols of religious oppression out of the government:

Tremblay says he's also fighting to preserve the province's Roman Catholic heritage. He launched a fundraising drive to raise money for the court case, which started after a complaint from a local resident.


The Quebec Court of Appeal is now hearing the case.

Tremblay says many Saguenay residents support his fight and have given him money to fund the legal battle: "For sure, when you go to court, you expect to win," he said in an interview Sunday. "But it is not only the trial of Jean Tremblay. It is more than that: it is about the whole culture of Quebec."

The mayor's legal team is arguing that the ban threatens traditions and institutions such as Canadian currency, the national anthem, oaths, monuments and religious holidays.

I fail to see how any of those are a real concern. Removing the Queen of England’s face and its sectarian motto (“D. G. Regina”, or “By the Grace of God, Queen”) would be an improvement. National anthems are a ritualistic expression of jingoism, a creepily fascistic exercise that’s unneeded to express one’s loyalty to or pride in their country. Oaths are invariably broken, and thus meaningless. Monuments don’t need to be religious. And faith-based holidays have long ago stopped being religious in practice for the overwhelming majority of their celebrants, so stripping their religious meaning in the context of the city council will affect exactly no-one.

This sort of thing is particularly aggravating to me, given how extensively I read and blog about these very issues as they occur in the U.S. It’s always a little disheartening to be reminded that even this near-secular paradise still has a number of regressives who refuse to give up the mantle of religious heritage, especially given Québec’s particular history of being dominated by the Catholic Church’s iron grip all the way until the Quiet Revolution of the ’60s.

And the crux of the matter is that it isn’t even about religion in itself; after all, only one in three Quebecers put any stock in religion anymore (though 62% still believe in God). It’s about the mark that organized faith, specifically the Catholic brand, has left in Québec’s collective psyche – a mark that, as an atheistic secularist who’s aware of the Church’s track record, I’m more than eager to see heal over and disappear.

Another one of Tremblay's lawyers, Richard Bergeron, said Monday that the country is loaded with religious symbols and he warned that the case against the mayor could lead to an aseptic public space.

He said it could eventually lead to the iconic crucifix atop Montreal's Mount Royal, and a large statue of Virgin Mary in Saguenay, being removed.

Good. Tear it all down. It will have vastly greater use as scrap metal, to be repurposed into construction material for worthwhile endeavors, than it ever will serving as both a relic from the dark, repressive days of religious rule and a constant reminder to non-Christians and immigrants that they are considered second-class citizens by virtue of not espousing the appropriate faith or cultural habits. Houses of worship and other religious establishments are private entities and may do as they wish, but the government has no duty or business endorsing them or upholding the memory of their bloody history of bodily and intellectual subjugation.

Enough of this bullshit war on minorities and hysteria over inane “reasonable accommodations”. Enough pretending that foreigners pose any sort of a threat to anyone’s way of life beyond forcing people to come to term with their own latent (or blatant) bigotry. And especially, enough trying to defend the legacy of an archaic institution whose deleterious teachings and practices necessitated a fucking cultural revolution to get rid of in the first place.

(via My Secret Atheist Blog)