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Article by Samer Majzoub,
The word “religion” in the context of the Western contemporary societies that originated in Europe is more of a theological doctrine, while in some societies originating in other part of the world, it reflects cultural identity, rituals, conviction and social habits….
The concept of radicalism that leads to violence through history has always, similar to all other philosophical doctrines, sought to justify its movement based on mainly social, economical and political reasoning.
“Religions” have been, in recent times, added to the catalogue that violent radicals use to legitimize their acts, and as mean of delivering their objections to what they consider “injustice.” This addition of “religious” reasoning to violent operations has made the subject much more sensitive, confusing and complicated.
By Samer Majzoub:
Recently, the Quebec provincial government tabled two long-awaited bills to the National Assembly.
Bill 62, on religious neutrality, proposes a number of measures that must be taken into account when considering whether to grant an accommodation on religious grounds and, provides that public services must be both delivered and received by persons with their faces uncovered.
Bill 59, proposes the prohibition of hate speech and speech inciting violence that is engaged in or disseminated publicly that targets people sharing a common characteristic identified as prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms.
The Liberal provincial government has aimed to address very controversial subjects that have been dominating Quebec politics for some time, including reasonable accommodation, youth “radicalization,” and increasing incidents of hate speech. Both bills, 62 and 59, include vast measures and action plans. Topics covered in the two bills are so numerous that it appears as if PLQ, the governing Liberals, are aiming to tackle all divisive issues within Quebec society.
In the last few months, about two dozen Quebec youth have been reported to have left or attempted to leave to war zones in the Middle East. Those reports have raised concerns of what has been called radicalization of youth Quebecers. Calls to deal with the subject have dominated official statements and airwaves. While the general reaction to the anti-radicalisation measures proposed by the government has been positive to a large extent, serious concerns have been raised on how the plan will be implemented.
Taking into consideration not to mix between religiously practicing individuals and signs of radicalization is one of the main challenges that will face the civil servants who will be at the forefront of implementing the anti-radicalization action plan. This will require extensive training and knowledge for all the employees involved in the action plan. The employees should not be treating such sensitive cases based on their personal judgment which may lead to failure of the entire intervention action plan.
Another point of concern in the proposed bills is the mandate given to the police to detect signs of radicalization. A question that will arise include, what defines the physical signs of an individual’s radicalization, is it his or her appearance or dress? How do you detect on the street that an individual carries signs of extremism? A major fear is falling into religious profiling. Our societies already suffer from racial profiling; certainly, no one would like to add another hardship to our Quebec communities by poor implementation of such a security mandate.
Hate speech has plagued many aspects of Quebec society for long periods of time. This toxic phenomenon has witnessed a surge recently. One of its worst times came within the period of the previous Parti Quebecois government with the proposed Quebec secular charter. Quebec society witnessed a very dangerous trend of continues smear campaigns against cultural, ethnic and religious groups. Moreover, concerns of extreme speech that may incite violence came as an additional reason for the need to have clear anti-hate speech laws. Such a measure would fight all sorts of discriminatory discourse, such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racial talk. It’s hoped that such an act, if it’s fairly implemented, will heal division, reunite and create harmony within Quebec’s social fabric.
The Quebec Liberal party has been blamed by some for not addressing what has been known as neutrality of the state or the secular charter. Whatever name is given, the concept came down to the prohibition of women from receiving or offering public services while their faces are covered. Depriving Quebec women from public services such as health and education because of their face cover is considered very discriminatory against women’s basic right of being treated as human beings and not discriminated against because of their choice of dress code. Such a provision is a blow to Quebec’s claim to be a pioneer on women’s rights.
Although there are no official statistics, the number of the face covered Quebec women, many of whom are French Quebecer converts, does not exceed a handful. Does this very small number of women, none of whom work in public service, deserve to be put in the spotlight? Is it worth to have the government tabling special laws against their choice of dress code?
Furthermore, the fact that the Provincial government tabled both Bills 59 and 62 at the same time, although, with totally different subjects and topics, has given the impression that the move is targeting one Quebec community — Muslims in particular. Although officials try to deny that they are targeting any group or religion, the way both bills are presented, debated and covered in the media leaves no doubt in the minds and hearts of many Muslim Quebecers that here they are, again, being used as a political football within the province’s political arena.
No one argues for the great need to have bills, laws and social action plans to address important issues of Quebec society such as hate speech, discrimination, extremism, and neutrality of the state. However, it’s not fair to target one group or the other. Although the Muslim community at large doesn’t believe that the provincial government meant to target their population in the province, the government should be working very hard to avoid giving the perception that those bills are targeting Quebec Muslims.
The opportunity and the possibility are still there for officials to remove the impression that such proposed bills are targeting one community by carefully working and avoiding religious profiling in the process of implementing the relevant action plans.
Muslim Quebecers have become victims of an increasingly dangerous Islamophobic environment. Recently, Quebec has witnessed very alarming anti-Muslim and anti-Islam rhetoric that has led to moral onslaught against citizens of Muslim faith. Such toxic atmosphere has been reflected in incidents of violence against Muslim Quebecers youth, women, men, community centers and mosques.
Since the establishment of the Commission on Reasonable Accommodation in 2007 followed by Bill 94 tabled by the PLQ in 2010, than bill 60 (charter of values) presented by the Parti Quebecois in 2013, the planned PLQ programs and measures to fight what is called “religious radicalism” in 2015 and finally the promised new charter of Quebec values to be presented by the provincial government during its current mandate ending in 2018. Running contenders from different political parties in addition to existing elected officials do not hide their intentions to join their peers in either introducing or supporting regulations that target Muslims’ culture under diffident labels and excuses.
The motto that secular Quebec is in opposition to all religious beliefs due to its history of social clash with the church is not quite correct in this context. While it’s an open highway for media outlets, politicians and others to offend, insult and attack the Muslim Quebec community by degrading its public figures, religious rituals, and tainting its institutions with shrouds of rumours, these smear and hatred campaigns are rarely targeting other citizens’ groups and cultures within the society. This fact brings the bitter reality that Muslim Quebecers have been under tremendous pressure with the evident lack of political will to stop the moral onslaught against noticeable segments of Quebec society.
The continuing violation of the basic human right to security and dignity has witnessed a surge in chauvinistic media campaigns against Quebec Muslims lately. Some media reports allege that the community’s schools and places of worship are related to “terrorist” organizations! By doing so, the level of prejudice against Muslim Quebecors has reached its peak in recent history in the province. Such rumours have crossed ethics and principles of honest media reporting putting children, pupils, employees and ordinary citizens at danger by associating them with institutions that are connected to alleged “fanatics”.
The exaggeration of incidents, twisting of facts and the discriminatory campaigns against any group of citizens due to their religious or ethnic background will lead to unhealthy social harmony within any society. In Quebec, Islamophobia, has become a strong trend that needs our attention as Quebecers from all stripes of the province’s elite, politicians, media, public figures and the general public to unite to defeat unfairness and racism. Quebec human rights values are great tools to fight all sorts of bigotry and intolerance. Islamophobia should have no place in Quebec.