My latest in the Christian Courier, found here.
Quebec has been in the news again over recent weeks. And again it is in relation to questions of religious tolerance and religious accommodation. In this latest round of political and cultural controversy we are in the news because the government of Quebec has passed legislation that prevents those with covered faces from receiving government services.
Arguments against this legislation have been widely rehearsed over past weeks, and most opposition to the law is well founded. The Minister of Justice Stéphanie Vallé tried to argue, for example, that the law applies to anyone with a covered face, including masked protestors – as if the government is addressing a question of public security. But it is more than obvious that the government is targeting niqab-wearing, Muslim women.
It has also been pointed out, rightly, that Muslim women who wear the niqab are very few in Quebec – and, that this marginalized group will only be further marginalized by a law that cuts them off from public services. If there is a question about the wearing of the niqab in Quebec, presumably there were constructive ways to approach this as a social question, other than with the full weight of the law. Conversations with women who wear the niqab might have been a good place to start.
All of this is to say that I am in very real sympathy with those who object to this law. I think it should be retracted. But having said that, I also want to suggest there may be two important intuitions beneath the surface of this legislation – intuitions worth attending to. Continue reading
Ok – that’s not about to happen – on top of which, no one wants it to happen!
But based on events of this past week, perhaps you’ll know I’m referring to the recent Femen protest in the Quebec National Assembly. If you’ve heard anything about Femen, you will know that this protest followed their usual modus operandi:
In a public place, in the presence of politicians and/or other person’s of power, rip off your shirt to reveal your breasts and a political message painted in black on your body. Simultaneously, you begin screaming your political message. There may be an anti-religious method to your madness/message, or it may be more secularly inclined (“don’t legalize rape” or “my body”).
The Quebec protest was religious in nature. The slogan painted on the torso of one woman, as far as I can make it out under the grasping arms of security guards, insisted that the crucifix prominently displayed in the Quebec legislature should be re-located to a museum. Another body-painted slogan was “crucifix décâlisse”, which apparently means “crucifix go to hell.” Continue reading
What am I supposed to feel when I stand across from a government employee at the SAAQ (the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec)? This employee might ask for my expired registration papers. She will tell me how much it costs to re-register my car. She will probably point out that there are unpaid parking tickets to be dealt with before she can renew my registration. “Ok, ok, I knew those tickets would catch up with me eventually.”
But what am I supposed to feel or experience when I stand across from this employee?
Apparently Bernard Landry thinks that there is something particular I should be feeling or experiencing. Specifically, he seems to think that I should be experiencing some kind of dissonance or distress on account of the hijab she is wearing.
Landry, who is the former leader of the Parti Québecois, and the former premier of the province, has recently become the point person in publicly defending Quebec’s yet-to-be released charter of secularism – a charter that would apparently prevent this nameless Quebec employee from wearing her hijab.
And from his comments on the subject, I gather that M. Landry thinks there is something deeply problematic when I stand looking at this muslim-woman-employee through the plexiglass. There she is in her colourful scarf and with her professional demeanor. And here I am with my impatient “I need to get back to work” attitude. There is a problem here, apparently.
We were out at Terre Bleue, the organic farm of Jamie and Nora Quinn (through which we have participated in community supported agriculture this year). Each year they invite their customers to a harvest celebration with a pot luck supper. It was great to show the kids where our vegetables have been coming from – and to see them get their hands dirty picking a few potatoes. It’s not exactly getting them close to the land, but it’s better than nothing for now.
Some pictures from our beautiful harvest afternoon: