Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pandora's box: to open or not to open..

 conclusion of previous article: Left wing populism in Québec?

              Straw polls in the Province suggest strongly that the population at large supports the PQ charter of values. In playing the populist card the PQ may have played cleverly - but did it play wisely? Qui vivra verra - time will tell..

             Even though the charter is only a "proposed" piece of legislation, many voices are rising to claim that the cure is worse than the illness (and what, exactly, was the illness that needed treating anyway?) 

             PQ Minister for Democratic Institutions, Bernard Drainville, claims that a priority is to affirm the equality of men and women in Québécois society. Fine! but if the religious headgear is banned then many Muslim women working in day care centers will either lose their jobs or be forced to conform to a law which insults thir religion. How is equality of sexes being promoted when women will, most likely, be affected more than men?

              The PQ like wisely claims to favor integration of the immigrant into the host society and its values. Fine! but the Muslim women - and there are not a few - who work in day cares and risk losing their jobs are, at least partly, integrated already. How will firing them, forcing them into social isolation (and perhaps welfare) improve their degree of integration?

             The more one looks at the charter proposals, the flakier they seem - strengthening the hypothesis that this is an electoral ploy on the part of the PQ.

             Case in point. Jewish professionals in universities and hospitals are used to wearing the kippah. These upper middle class professionals aren't going take the headgear ban lightly. En passant, middle class professionals are one of the traditional target groups the PQ tries to appeal to and recruit from. What was Madame Marois and her team thinking? Did they think - before shooting themselves in the foot?

             Thus hijab wearing Muslim women, kippah wearing Jewish men and turban / kirpan wearing Sikhs are all antagonized by the proposed legislation. Cross bearing christians could be too - if the law were to be equitably applied. A ban on "ostentatious religious signs" in public institutions seems a simple enough proposition but the devil is always in the details. And there are lots of devils and details in this one to go around liberally..

             Case in point. Headgear is out but what about beards worn as a religious sign? How, exactly, do you tell if a guy wears a beard out of religious conviction? Do we start measuring beard lengths as well as crucifix width to determine if they are ostentatious or not? The link below examines some of the confusing potential ramifications of the proposed charter.

 religious symbol police?

              There is also a seeming hypocrisy in the ban: religious signs in public spaces are  out but not the crucifix in the Assemblée Nationale itself -!sic! - because of its "historical" value. Stooping to splitting hairs like this is not a good sign, definitely not good for social harmony. Sophistry is often a sign of intellectual or moral decadance.

             And it gets weirder: representatives in the Assemblée may end up being exempt from charter provisions and free to wear religious signs at work, yesss..

              In short, the charter promises to generate more problems than it solves (this is my personal issue with the legislation). It muddies the waters of social interaction and pits one social group against another. 

              Case in point. Some institutions are allowed to opt out of charter provisions - why? Such arbitrariness is a sure path to social strife and corruption. It is a generator of bureaucratic Red Tape, the same Red Tape our neo-con inspired leaders are so keen on cutting (when it comes to safety regulations or programs to assure social equity for the disadvantaged..) The proposed law says that wo/men are not all equal before it. This is in violation of our sacrosanct principle of Universal Justice. In the long run, stupid or arbitrary laws are unenforcable and breed contempt for the law: the best law is the simplest!

             In defense of the PQ. Their actions are understandable if one considers the situation of Québec in North America: a francophone island in an English speaking sea: no better way to cultivate a streak of latent pranoia in the collective psyche. Québec is by nature a defensive or guarded - some say inward looking - society. In practice, such traits do not make for a closed or hostile society; they merely favor closure and hostility but do not assure them. Coming to Québec from outside, I have found Québécois society (generally) a bit less xenophobe than the anglophone surround, more open on gay and gender issues. Being demographically challenged, though, does establish an increased need to defend boundaries, physical, linguistic, cultural. These "personality" traits will remain as long as Québec continues to exist.

            In addition, some "reasonable accomodations" have been abusive and require remediation: Sikhs refusing to wear a hard hat on construction sites (because of the turban). I contend that such an accomodation is not reasonable because of the (foreseeable) consequences: society will end up paying for the keep of brain damaged vegetables injured by refusal to wear legally required safety gear. Friction and conflict between groups is inevitable but is the charter of values a sensible way of addressing it? Is the cure worse than the illness it purportedly treats..

           As a sociological experiment, the PQ charter of values project is fascinating (if disquieting). It is turning out to be a stunningly divisive issue. One could not have predicted the variety or the intensity of divisiveness.

1- Everybody has a fairly elaborated opinion, rare enough in these politcally apathetic (or cynical) times  

2- Opinions are passionate and, interestingly, highly polarized. Nuancers exist: those who want stronger, more universal restrictions on those who are different or moderates who want weaker, more circumscribed restrictions. But even the nuancers are relatively passionate..

3- Most fascinating: one can be either for or against the charter, no matter where one stand on the politcal spectrum! This is quite an accomplishment - a sort of "uniting Left and Right in their disunity".. :-0    

              I fear, not so much the charter itself, as what it may be saying about our society. Have we engaged ourselves on a slippery slope to a very bad place?        

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