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Monday, January 24, 2011

A Canadian Value

A Pequiste punctures a Canadian illusion:

A group of Sikhs was turned away from the Quebec legislature for carrying ceremonial daggers in an incident Tuesday that served as a flashpoint in the province's emotional debate about multiculturalism.


Louise Beaudoin, the PQ's designated critic for secularism, noted that the province's politicians have never subscribed to the charter vision — in fact, many here view it as a threat to Quebec's culture. Quebec is the only province that has never supported the Constitution.

"Multiculturalism is not a Quebec value," Beaudoin told reporters.

"It may be a Canadian one — but it's not a Quebec one. 

Some conservatives might be impressed by Louise Beaudoin's militant rejection of multiculturalism. They should not be. Mme Beaudoin is not rejecting the cultural relativism offered by the multiculturalists. Instead, as a Quebec nationalist, she is asserting the superiority of her tribal culture over others.

The PQ is a party dedicated to the independence of Quebec on the basis of ethnic nationalism. While expressed, and practiced, in a far more civilized form than that seen in the Balkans, or the Middle East, it has as much intellectual validity as the primitive tribalism of those regions. An independent Quebec would be no freer, no strong, no safer and no richer a place than a Quebec within the Canadian union. There is no reason for it but ordinary chauvinism. 

Superficially, Quebec nationalism may seem little different from the patriotism of the Rest of Canada. My tribe is better than your tribe. While there have been aspects of tribal collectivism in English speaking Canada, they were a minor element overall. Canada is a nation of ideas.

A deeply tribal - and therefore genuinely bigoted - English Canada would not have tolerated the enormous role the Scots played in this country's early developed. Nor have grudgingly welcomed the waves of Irish who reached Canada after the  Famine. An English Canada completely blinded by race hatred would never have elected - as far back as 1896 - a French-Canadian as Prime Minster, not once but four times. 

At its best anglophone Canada was a community of ideas and ideals. It often fell short of those ideals, yet it had very few peers, both in principle and practice, through out the world. We are not going to fight the tribalism of the Quebec nationalist by asserting some mythical English Canadian tribalism. If it ever existed, it is now impossible to resurrect in modern multi-ethnic Canada. Instead we must recover that community of values and ideas that transcends ethnicity.

The great majority of English speaking Canadians are weary of multiculturalism, while at the same time broadly accepting of our multi-ethnic society. They do not mind so much people who look, speak and act differently. They are, however, quietly terrified of immigrants who seem to bring a whiff of old world barbarism into Canada.

Our national self-image is that of a peaceable kingdom; a safe refugee from an often poor, primitive and violent world. A Lockean island in a Hobbesian world. A woman wearing a burqa, or a Sikh wearing a kirpan, seems to be a bit of that Hobbesian world creeping in. It frightens them. The fear is not rooted so much in bigotry - which is a minor element- but in what it bodes for Canada.

The hijab is not so different in form or function to a nun's habit. Generations of North American schools boys were given pocket knives as gifts, and many took them to school. They were often about the same size and lethality as a Sikh's kirpan. To modern Canadians, most of whom are quite secular, the habit and the hijab are both alien garments. The squeamish nature of modern child rearing views anything sharp - from scissors to knives - as dangerous. 

When any two cultures meet - to say nothing of dozens at once - there is always friction. In a civilized society that friction is kept to a peaceful minimum. Ceremonial daggers allowed in some circumstances - public safety permitting - and not in others. Excessively modest clothing tolerated as a cultural relic, whose wearers - or their children - will in time adapt to the Canadian norm. The give and take of a diverse society.

Under the rubric of multiculturalism this friction is not seen as inevitable and understandable. Instead it is viewed as a product of deep seated bigotry. To the multiculturalist all cultures - and therefore all cultural values - are seen as equally valid. To object to one set of values is not ignorance, or a difference of opinion, but racism. The accusation of racism is tool, used quite often, to silence those making even the most innocuous comments about other cultures.

The fear of what some immigrants might bring to Canada, fuses with anger felt toward the informal (and with Human Rights Tribunals formal) code of censorship in cultural matters. There are things you can't say in Canada today. This fear and anger expresses itself from time to time. Sikh ceremonial dress is just one flash point. Twenty years ago it was the wearing of the turban by RCMP officers. More recently it has been wearing of the kirpan in public places. 

In the coffee shops - purely a personal observation here - there has been a low-level grumbling over Louise Beaudoin's remarks, and the bum's rush given to the Sikh delegation at Quebec's pretentiously named National Assembly.  If only - so many say, looking over their shoulders - an English speaking politician would have the same guts. This is not a reasoned objection to the wearing of the kirpan, a ceremonial dagger whose historical origins is one of self-defense in a dangerous region of the subcontinent. 

There should be common ground here. Conservatives anxious to preserve their right to self-defense, fearful of a nanny state elite taking away their personal and religious freedoms, should find ready allies among the Sikh community. Neither side will get everything they want. There is a perfectly reasonable public safety concern about people carrying knives at certain times and in certain places. The fanatics won't care to yield. Individuals of good will can and should. 

A debate is needed here. Over public safety. Over the limits of religious toleration in a society where separation of Church and State is jealously guarded. Very little of that needed debate is going on. Fear prevents it. The fear among the old stock Canadians of being accused of bigotry. 

The vital precondition of trust is, if not exactly complete truthfulness, at the very least frankness. So many are afraid of saying what they really think. Rather than openly saying that they find a particular group's values offensive and irrational, they hide their opinions. Instead they gripe quietly to themselves over the double double in the morning. What is not being said might be genuinely bigoted, or simply perceived as such, but its public airing would allow for debate and discussion.

Ronald Reagan famously told Mikhail Gorbachev why he didn't trust the Soviet Union. The Gipper understood that stating an obvious - and unspoken truth- would help develop trust between the two superpowers. We are some ways away from cultural cold war. Yet it could happen, if the cult of multiculturalism is not challenged.

The Left has drawn the cultural battle lines to their advantage. Too many conservatives (and a few libertarians) have accepted its terms. We cannot fall for the trap. The Left has decreed that to oppose multiculturalism is bigotry. The instinctive reaction of some will be: "Fine, I'm a bigot. Make the most of it."

Finding non-western cultures strange is not bigotry, it is human. What we do not know, or agree with, we find strange. This is only natural. Only transforming that anxiety into violence and hatred is evil. Asserting universal values, though of western origin, such as political and economic freedom, rule of law, equality between the sexes, is certainly not an expression of bigotry. If anything it is a duty. Expressed politely and firmly, it will go a long way to building trust in our multi-ethnic society. It will do much to silence the fanatics of all sides. The Sikh with the kirpan is not your enemy. Louise Beaudoin is not your friend. The real enemy is multiculturalism and its high priests.


Posted by Richard Anderson on January 24, 2011 | Permalink


"The Sikh with the kirpan is not your enemy."

You're dreaming pal. He's my enemy. He'd cut my head off with that thing, if he had the balls. Sikhs are the most un-trustworthy people on earth. Just ask the Ghandi family.

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-24 7:49:50 AM

Ifg Quebec is different why do they adopt tyrannical
English laws , like firearm licensing and the war on drugs?

Posted by: don b | 2011-01-24 10:12:05 AM

Statist differentiation leads to a divisive society. Indian Reserves, other ethnic ghettos (projects), "sovereignty-association", and ethnic exemptions to rules (turbans for special RCMP officers) all highlight what divides all the tribes within the blend. The melting pot analogy is preferable to the multi-culti charade, if for no other reson than to minimize societal stress.

Some tribes are not very amenable to the "melting pot". I disagree with old Publius when he equivocates between the Habit and the Hijab. One is a non-replicating, self-sacrificial follower of her "reformed" Church and the other, more a soldier (whether active or reserve) in a retrograde political-theological movement of biblical proportions (a fecund version, otherwise more similar to the Nun of the middle ages).

Immigration, currently another responsibility of Leviathan, is an example of politically driven statist differentiation as they decide the blend of tribal influx whether or not accountable for the results.

The alternative (libertarian dreaming) is one where the private sector determines immigration through private property rights, reflecting a dynamic collective discrimination based on markets, self-interest, enlightenment, and cultural makeup. Not necessarily a Kumbaya moment, but one that would more likely eventually conform to the melting pot.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-24 11:44:44 AM

Multiculturalism is anticulturalism.

You either have a culture or you don't.

Posted by: GeronL | 2011-01-24 12:07:40 PM

What a biased text. How can one lecture Quebecois on their lack of openness to other cultures (and their so-called feeling of superiority) and at the same time call Quebec National Assembly "pretentiously named"? Harper himself declared Quebec to be a nation, didn't he? This double standard is typical of the ROC's arrogance towards Quebec. How can you not realize that Quebec feels threatened by multiculturalism, in the sense that in the long run, the french-canadians wouldn't be one of the two founding peoples, but rather an ethnic minority like any other in this english-speaking country?

Posted by: Schmo | 2011-01-24 2:58:01 PM

"This double standard is typical of the ROC's arrogance towards Quebec."

This is not typical of the ROC.
Read the comments related to the exact same topic in the Globe and you'll see...
This is the Western Standard and as you can see, it is dying. Thanks to "Publius".

Posted by: Marc | 2011-01-24 5:28:35 PM

Bottom line should be all laws apply equaly to all citizens. When in Rome do as the Romans do. Alternative is get the hell out of Rome.

Posted by: peterj | 2011-01-24 9:47:48 PM

Schmo and Marc

Your sensitivity would have more credibility if Quebec wasn't a fiscal basket-case, beholden to Alberta and the ROC for transfer payments and other benefits to prop-up your "nation" status. Maintaining your "nation's" cultural identity is fine but I'm confused about why it must be subsidized by all those Anglos from the ROC. If you are going to use independent-sounding names like "nation", where's the independence?

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-25 11:02:16 AM


I think you should concentrate on your own sensitivity so we could stick to the debate.

Of course your views on Québec’s fiscal challenges and Québec’s aspiration for independence would be debatable but the intellectually fraudulent WS is certainly not the ground for it.

Painting Quebecers as “Nazis” where the kirpan is the issue doesn’t get traction for the gigantic majority of Canadians. Only a handful of extremists, obscure commentators and biased journalists support Iggy on this and none seems to support “Publius”.
Even the Sikhs community does not seem to agree on the validity of this debate.
It’s simple: A knife doesn’t belong in public institutions, whatever your religion is.

At least, do as “Publius” does and present yourself as a champion of a multiculturalism that enables every kinds of religious accommodations on the population.

John, here are simple questions for you…
What’s in it for you…? You’re afraid to lose what…for derailing a simple security issue to “quebec independence”, when all Canadians seems to agree with Duceppe and Quebecers?

Posted by: Marc | 2011-01-25 3:09:42 PM

Perhaps I am a minority in failing to see the problem, mainly due to being of the belief that the law/regulation should apply equally to everyone. To be opposed to the special exemption for Sikhs concerning the BC bicycle helmet law does not make me anti-Sikh, much less racist. Now discussing whether the law or regulation is just and appropriate is a completely different issue, and I am no supporter of the PQ.

Posted by: Alain | 2011-01-25 7:08:49 PM

To be opposed to the special exemption for Sikhs concerning the BC bicycle helmet law does not make me anti-Sikh, much less racist.

Posted by: Alain | 2011-01-25 7:08:49 PM

Exactly Alain. The come to a new country and drag all their baggage with them and expect the government to bend over backwards to accomodate their demands. Unfortunately our government does. I wonder what would happen if we tried to join the east indian police force but demanded to wear a stetson. I can guess.

Posted by: peterj | 2011-01-25 10:02:19 PM

The fact is that they look ridiculous and this costume represents a backward cultural religious practice that belongs in the 18th century

We don't burn witches, we moved beyond

Think of all that long greasy stinky hair with all sorts of dandruff under layers of unwashed cloth

Hello What a joke,

I know lots of modern sikhs who don't have to run around looking like they came from a time capsule, and who don't practice the backward barbaric gender inequality cultural norms are lock stock and barrel of the rest of the multiculti feast that goes along with adherence to extremist fundamentalists

They got their legislation passed while all of us were sleeping years ago

Ever hear about anyone wanting to move into Surrey anymore????? Just people leaving as it is no longer a community that represents anything close to what Canada is, a modern free democracy with people of all backgrounds integrated and living together practicing Canadian values in a free democracy

Instead we have multiculti ghettos,

When I see the number of religious costumes that are worn in all the service industry it makes me cringe,

The one thing I can do so far, is turn right around and go some where else, I refuse to be served by anyone wearing religious costumes,

Today in Canada, I am free to do this, who knows about tomorrow

Posted by: morticiaa | 2011-01-29 6:46:05 AM

The idea that Mrs. Beaudoin is asserting the "superiority" of her culture is total nonsense.

We, nationalists, believe that nations are built around a culture or a set of native cultures. Our culture(s) has(ve) weaknesses and strengths. But they are ours. We respect the rights of nations to protect their culture. We do not respect the rights of inviduals or groups to impose their culture on ours--- irrespective of whatever superior attributes their culture may have over ours.

Multicuturalism is a capitulation by both English and French Canada to defend their own identity. It will kill us.

Posted by: Etienne Forest | 2011-02-02 12:44:52 AM

5:00 AM on January 31, 2011

This comment has been removed from our system.
(Globe and Mail) Article on quebec seperatists
This comment is hidden because you have chosen to ignore Bill. Show DetailsHide Details

Yes all this Nation of quebec, and they dominate our federal government, get the lions share of transfer payments, run the military, RCMP and it,s just so underservered. What does English Canada, oh, I mean the rest of canada get? Forced bilingualism, multiculturalism, English as a second language and the tax bills to pay for it all. How many millions I mean billions, over a TRILLION DOLLARS really (so far) are wasted on bilingualism while quebec institutes Anti English Languge police? If you want to fight in the armd forces you'll take your orders from the "bilingual only" officers club. Many people that call themslves "Canadian' believe in todays canada about as much as the forieners that are always protesting in Canada about problems in "thier homelands". Canada, just isn't what it used to be and it's so easy to see. So few people are voteing, in BC one Canadidate admitted on TV that a majority of the minority elects our governments and suggested we have a "pay no provincial tax lottery", entered if you vote and he thinks kids that can't drink alcohol or get a drivers liscense with out a co signer should vote. The truth hurts and then we get another spin. How many community groups have been refused money but you can play online casino games and they will legally take up to 10,000 dollars a week from you. That's our government. Doesn't make me proud, makes me mad.

Posted by: Bill | 2011-02-06 12:53:53 PM

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