As a francophone, a North African and a veil-wearing Muslim woman, I felt deeply concerned by the debate around the Charter of Values that created turmoil in la belle province since last fall. This debate suddenly died after the crushing defeat of Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois.
Moreover, as someone who first migrated to, then lived and studied in Quebec, I always had a special place in my heart for Montreal. I have emotional memories there. Somehow I left my heart there in one of its streets.
Last fall, I even started writing a regular column in French for the Huffington Post Quebec where I shared with readers my worries, my opinions, and even good advice that Pauline Marois chose to ignore…
The Charter of Values, or de la laïcité, was portrayed by Pauline Marois and her accomplices as a charter to fight women’s oppression and promote values of gender equality. Noble principles, indeed! The Charter was supposedly targeting the main religious symbols kirpan, yarmulke, the cross (depending on its size and place) and of course, the famous veil.
It wasn’t a very well-kept secret that the Charter was mainly targeting Muslim women who chose to wear the headscarf. Their increasing number in daycares, as educators, and in the public space in general, was apparently creating a malaise according to Bernard Drainville, the minister who initiated this charter.
So, in the name of gender equality, women wearing the veil were going to be fired from their jobs to preserve the secularism of society. What an irony!
Moreover, what Drainville kept as secret are the hundred of thousands of comments from individuals and organizations opposing the Charter as well as the legal advice he received about the Charter’s constitutionality. Maybe transparency and accountability weren’t as important for him as gender equality…
But beyond all the heated debates, and the false arguments used by Pauline Marois and her friends, two concerning phenomena became apparent:
- a social rift between mainstream society and ethnic groups.
- normalization of hateful comments directed towards Muslim women and Islam, not only on the Internet by also by some media commentators and, of course, by Janette Bertrand, the self-proclaimed head of the pro-Charter camp.
In the 2007 Quebec election, the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), headed by Mario Dumont, a small political party at the time, won 41 seats in the National Assembly and against all odds became the official opposition, sending the Parti Québécois into third position.
The secret of that sudden victory? The ADQ played the political wedge card of identity. Not the veil as much as the sugar bush serving a halal menu or orthodox Jews asking that YMCA glass be covered as the poor men can’t support the view of almost naked women jogging on treadmills.
The ADQ didn’t go as far as bringing in a charter of values; they were testing the waters and it worked wonderfully. But only temporarily — and in the next election, the party was almost decimated.
After “printemps érable” and the student revolution against the Liberals and their tuition fee increase, Pauline Marois came in as the saviour of the Parti Québécois. Her strategists thought they could be smarter than the ADQ’s. They saw how lucrative the identity issue can be in terms of voting and they wanted to replicate it in order to make gains in the election. They didn’t take into consideration that the ADQ bitterly lost in their next election; they didn’t think that playing with fire can be a lot of fun until the fire catches their hands and clothes.
When I was a little girl, one of Lafontaine’s fables that impressed me was the one about the frog and the ox. The frog once saw the ox near a pond and wanted badly to become as big and as beautiful as him. So she started drinking the water until she exploded. This old French fable is taught to children and I am not sure if Pauline Marois — who claims to be a defender of French language and culture — read it.
Marois’s strategists thought that by raising the spectre of the “Muslim invasion” they would succeed as the Front National in France did. But Quebec isn’t France and North America isn’t Europe, a fact they seem to have forgotten.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee, turned into an acclaimed politician in the Netherlands espousing the cause of the extremist right-wing. It worked so well for her. Old conservatives loved her, people who didn’t want the Muslim neighbourhood to grow in their backyards quietly approved her comments, and then one day her dangerous game exploded in her face as it was discovered that she lied with respect to her refugee claim. The same people who once were her friends end up stripping her of Dutch citizenship.
She didn’t learn her lesson though. She went to the United States and started touring the American universities, repeating her same hateful speeches. Some people listened to her but many ignored her. She even scornfully admitted in one of her books that North American society was not as receptive to her message as the Europeans were.
Did Pauline Marois and her candidates hear about Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Or was she only looking at her navel, to use a French expression?
One thing is sure: Quebecers punished Marois badly for being so arrogant. Today, the challenges for all Quebecers are tremendous: economic, social and cultural. Let’s hope that the time of division is behind us. I can only hope that Pauline Marois and her clique are just a bad dream. Au revoir, Pauline!