Pauline Marois’s Secularism Charter
A recurring topic in provincial politics has come up again. Cynics say Pauline Marois and her minions are using the politics of division in order to gain votes and support by creating a false divide between pure laine Québecois and les éthiniques. While I generally despise cynicism and I would rather assume Hanlon’s Razor in cases like this, I can definitely see the source of their cynicism. Rather than infer purely bigoted motives on the part of the PQ and Marois, I do believe that they are seeking an inclusive (and unfortunately singular) society. Whatever their true motives are, the end result is division, intolerance and xenophobia.
The ‘Atheist/Skeptic Community’
Bias Disclaimer: I find the idea of an ‘atheist community’ patently absurd. I’m a strong anti-theist, but I have no desire to embrace group-think or be in an ideological echo chamber to validate my own opinions. I would rather be the single voice in a group of religious apologists pointing out the absurdity of their position. So, even though I can sympathize with the position and views of this ‘community’, I have no desire to be counted as a part of it, nor do I feel inclined to support them.
Lately, I have become increasingly disappointed with a rather vocal component of the atheist community both inside and outside of Québec who are championing Marois’ position. Some even wishing that this charter would be exported to other provinces or even federally. They seem to believe that their dislike and distrust of religion (something I share) is grounds for them to infringe on the freedom of expression of those who have a different world/metaphysical view. I find it terribly hypocritical and sad to see a group claim to be victims of oppression from a theocratic government and society (especially in the US, but also from the Tories here in Canada) are now openly willing to inflict this same oppression on an even smaller subset of our society. Let’s be honest here, the bulk of this charter is focused on Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and conservative Jews — a very tiny segment of Canadian and Québec society — who are compelled to wear specific clothing that identifies them with their religion. For Christians and most progressive Jews, a ban on wearing religious symbols or religiously identifiable clothing has virtually no impact on their expression of their identity — this is not the case for Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and conservative Jews.
Again, I would rather assume Hanlon’s Razor, but it’s hard to not feel that these atheists and skeptics are too insecure in their own view and feel the need to inflict their perceived bullying on others. Instead, I’ll just conclude that the bias from their perspective is blinding them to the fact that they are imposing an ideology on others. The irony of this shouldn’t be lost on us, considering the motivation behind many atheists and skeptics is the imposition of ideology on society.
The absurdity of the charter
The supporters of the charter make a number of claims. Let’s look at the validity of a couple of them:
– Religious garb is divisive/non-inclusive
This argument, often used publicly by Marois, is not even a weak one, it’s ridiculous. People wear clothing as a means of expression and to distinguish themselves from others. Otherwise, why aren’t we all wearing the most efficient and practical uniform? If the said garb happens to also identify someone as part of a religion or ideology, who cares? Freedom of expression should be paramount. I can’t imagine any context where a turban, kippah or cross would intimidate me or make me feel excluded. This should be rejected outright as a non-issue.
– Religious garb by government officials implies tacit endorsement of religion by the state
Another statement that is obviously facile and vacuous. If I wear flamboyant and mismatched clothing or stripped pants with a polka-dot shirt, does this imply endorsement of bad fashion by my employer? This argument makes even less sense if there is diversity in the workplace. If a turban-wearer standing next to a kippah-wearer and a hijab-wearer is deemed an endorsement of anything, it is an endorsement of diversity and inclusiveness. How is this a bad thing?
– Religious garb is proselytizing/converting others, especially children
In principle I am not at all opposed to proselytizing. In fact, I believe that provided there is respect for opinion and open dialogue, proselytizing is generally a good thing. In an educated society, this is how the marketplace of ideas weeds out bad ideas and promotes and propagates new and better ones.
I agree that proselytizing to children other than your own outside the environment of school, is a violation of the parents’ rights to raise their children how they see fit. This should not be acceptable to anyone. However, I really can’t see how symbols and clothing can be considered proselytizing. If anything, this exposes children to the fact that there is a diversity of ideas out there, including many bad ideas. In my own context, I like to use this as a tool to teach my children about these other ideas, to talk about their weaknesses (and possible strengths) and why some people might hold them. Just because someone might feel intimidated by the (non violent — there are some acceptable limits) views of others does not justify violating their freedom of expression. As Louis C.K. put it: “it’s your shitty kid[…] Why is that anyone else’s problem?”
– Religious garb is a symbol of women’s subjugation
I agree religious garb is often a symbol of the subjugation of women. I’ll go even further than that — you would be hard pressed to find a religion that doesn’t have the subjugation of women as a cornerstone of it’s ideology. This definitely includes all sects of Christianity and Judaism. However, with the exception of the niqab in some contexts (more on this below), I believe that banning this garb is wrong and even counter-productive to the defense of women’s rights. Women are already marginalized and excluded by many factors in our society, the last thing that we should be doing is adding yet another barrier for women in a small segment of our society.
On the subject of the niqab: Yes, I do find it abhorrent, and I find the rules of a society that insists women should be stripped of their identity and forced (or even suggested) to wear such a thing disgraceful. I also feel the same way about all religious garb that is gender based. However, this is not my reason for supporting a ban on it in some contexts. I would certainly not support a ban on refusing services (medical, educational or otherwise) to women wearing the niqab, as this only further isolates and harms them. I do support a ban on any garment that covers someone’s face (niqab, hockey mask, bandanna, etc.) when they are in a position that provides services to the public. It can often feel intimidating having to deal with some state services, being unable to see the face of the person that you’re communicating with only further exacerbates this problem. I feel that the state must and any private business can reasonably demand that employees show their face when talking to clientele — despite the fact that it will exclude a small number of women from certain jobs.
Most of what I just said is moot
The defense or criticism of the claims above however are moot. As Slavoj Žižek said in his usual part brilliant, part crazy and part incoherent talk quite nicely:
“When you treat ideology as a discourse with pretension it’s truth[sic] and you combat it at that level, you lose. … The moment you do this, you’ve already sold your soul to the devil, you totally missed the point.”
Jump to 1:17:00 until 1:22:00 for this part, which is my favourite 5 minutes of the talk
Žižek’s point is that we shouldn’t be arguing against the truth or falseness of the arguments of the ideology. Instead, we should be doing what Henry David Thoreau wrote — “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” (a quote that Lawrence Lessig used as a defining statement for his Rootstrikers organization) and actually attack the root of this problem, which is this:
The freedom of expression is a true charter right, and other than in very specific or extraordinary circumstances (libel, slander, threats of violence, etc.), it is of paramount importance that we protect this right and freedom for all. This includes defending opinions and views that we disagree with. Even if all of the points above were granted in favour of those who support Marois’ view, none of them do more harm than the state violating the freedom of expression.