Monday, June 5, 2017

Bleeding Québec

January 29, 2017. Québec city, Québec. Around 8 pm, at the conclusion of prayers at the Grande Mosquée, a lone gunman stormed into the men's section, killing six and injuring around a dozen. Alexandre Bissonnette, age 27, was captured by police the same night. He has been indicted, so far, on six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted firearm. He had no previous police record but had recently gained a reputation as a xenophobic, misogynist troll.

         Why? Why did this happen in tolerant, liberal, easy going Québec. Such horrors are only "supposed" to happen elsewhere, in present or defunct empires: the United States, France, Belgium, Russia.. , or in the Third Word and Israel, societies riven by ancient ethnic and religious hatreds. But not here, not in peace-loving Québec. No. Never..

          Of course, it is always easy, in retrospect, to tease out an infinity of plausible causes and links. Some are immediate and obvious.

           Hate waves. "La radio poubelle", trash radio, spewing bigotry, anger, hatred, frustration against all that is not conform with their populist reactionary world view. Radio-poubelle is popular in the ethnically homogeneous provincial capital. With a population of 1.1 million Québec city "boasts" of no less than 5 hate radio stations. Bigotry apparently sells! At least in Québec city. Radio poubelle, one notes, failed to take root in cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse Montréal. This being said, even Montréal mosques have noted an uptick in vandalism and hate graffiti recently. 
             World going to hell in a handbasket. The neoconservative "Free Market" globalized economy is patently broken. Wildlife is going extinct at a rate that matches or exceeds extinction rates at the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs. Essential ecosystem services that humanity depends upon for its very survival are being destroyed. The gap between rich and poor is growing, generating irresolvable social tensions. The planetary climate is going to hell due to greenhouse gas emissions (which never cease rising).Worse, our "leaders" have nothing new to offer. The dominant ideologies (or what is left of them) are impotent even to formulate the challenges we face or have been instrumentalized to maintain ruling elites in power for as long as possible (fundamentalist religion is a case in point - think of ISIS). To hide their nakedness, our "leaders" resort to the cheapest electioneering tricks: witness Donald Trumps' presidential campaign or the Brexit campaign that took the UK out of the European Union. Increasingly, the powers-that-be are forced to appeal to the baser instincts of increasingly frightened, frustrated publics. Consider the rise of xenophobic, proto-fascist populism around the world: Trump in the US, Le Pen in France, Putin in Russia, Duterte in the Philippines, the rise of the New Right in Hungary, Poland, Scandinavia, Holland, Italy, the UK..

            Québec, alas, is not immune from the general distemper. Last summer, Jean-François Lisée, the current Parti Québécois leader, stated:

«Nous avons un ennemi déclaré, l'État islamique, qui recrute ici des gens pour poser des bombes. Notre seul choix est de débattre de l'interdiction de la burqa AVANT qu'un jihadiste s'en serve pour cacher ses mouvements pour un attentat, ou APRÈS.» 

"We have a declared enemy, the Islamic State. They recruit members in the province to plant bombs. The only choice we have is to debate the banning of the burqa BEFORE a jihadist uses one to hide his preparations for an attack or AFTER the attack"

                           burqa clad women: a picture is worth 1,000 words..

             One may indeed find the psychology behind the burqa repugnant but Lisée's words go much further, too far. They constitute a thinly veiled incitement to hatred and fear of all muslims by association with "islamic" or "jihadist terrorists". This is vintage populism! Meanwhile, real issues concerning the integration of immigrants and the numbers of immigrants accepted annually are conveniently swept under the rug by Lisée's simplistic knee jerk associations. In reality, the number of burqa wearing women in Québec is vanishingly small. I have yet to meet one! (The hijab, the head scarf or hair covering, yes but burquas, no.

            When one looks at religious fanaticism dispassionately, one is about as likely to encounter fanatics among Christians and Jews (not to mention atheist neonazis). The statistics from muslim communities in Québec are rather revealing on this point. Concerning mosque attendance:

15 % ont dit y aller assidument.
25 % ont dit s'y présenter de façon plus ou moins récurrente.
60 % des musulmans au Québec n’ont jamais fréquenté une mosquée.
10 % des femmes musulmanes portent le hidjab.
60 % des femmes converties à l’islam par choix revêtent le hidjab.

15% - one out of seven - attend mosque "assiduously"
25% - one out of four - attend "more or less regularly"
60% of muslims in Québec never attend mosque
10% of female muslims wear the hijab (head scarf)
while 60% of native female converts to Islam choose to wear the hijab.

           The last two stats are interesting in their own right, given Lisée's fear mongering attacks on female attire. Québécois women coverted to Islam are SIX times more likely to wear the hijab than muslim women who immigrated here: 60% versus 10%!! 

              Politicians who whip up xenophobia to gain cheap votes are playing with fire (or dynamite). Once out of the bottle the genie of race hatred is not easily controlled or calmed. Québec's recent flirtation with xenophobic populism goes back at least four years to the infamous debate on a proposed "Quebec charter of values". This "debate" was launched by Parti Québécois minister of Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, Bernard Drainville and proposed, among other measures, baning the "ostentatious display of religious symbols" by employees of public institutions: hospitals, schools, daycare centers, public offices.. The debate had the effect of fanning the flames of racism, always lurking in the human psyche's depths - a legacy of our tribal past. Racism became "legitimized", no longer muzzled by political correctness. Muslim women wearing the hijab reported verbal insults while walking the streets. A few were spat upon. A new automotive sport was born: playing chicken with hijab wearing women pedestrians at stop lights. As she approaches, you gun the motor, then hit the brakes. Scare the hell out of her, ha, ha.. funny, funny. (This is what I referred to above as "appealing to the baser instincts". Not all of human nature is pleasant..) 

             Recently, on a late night Montréal radio talk show, I heard a caller claim that when she sees a woman wearing a hijab, she feels fear. Interesting - and dangerous - reaction. The "reptilian" - more primitive - part of the brain which regulates basic survival instincts doesn't distinguish between fear and aggression. A cornered rat - or human - will fight like hell to save itself, out of fear. Hitler's anti-Semitic propaganda always emphasized the threat that Jews constituted to the German people and to the German's "superior" values - a past echo of our recent Quebec charter of values debate. We note that a certain Donald Trump is employing the same tactic to whip up a lynch mob mentality in the US against Muslims, Islam, Latinos and "immigrants" in general. With the expected results:

"Get out of my country!" shouted the gunman 

"Jewish centres and schools across the U.S. coped with another wave of bomb threats Monday as officials in Philadelphia made plans to repair and restore hundreds of vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery." 

          But there are causes and there are causes, some causes are deeper, more fundamental. One of the major, rarely - if ever - discussed, causes of our recent "immigrant and refugee problems" in Europe, Australia, North and South America is the failure to achieve Sustainable Development in the Third World in the seven decades following World War II. Small scale, participatory, community based development employing local resources, supplying local markets and employing simple technologies, these are the key elements of true Sustainable Development. This is the road not taken. Not having taken the road of Sustainable Development is the source of much of our troubles today, along with overpopulation, climate change and rising socio-economic inequity. (In reality, these challenges are interconnected and mutually reinforcing which means that solutions to one challenge will often - not always! - have positive spillover into one or more of the other challenges.) Simple, sustainable, locally based technologies are founded on renewable energy sources: sun, wind, biomass (plants, organic wastes of all sorts), tidal and wave force energy, geothermal energy. Such Sustainable Development would, on the whole, not have required much more than mid-ninetheenth century to early twentieth century technology to get off the ground and drastically improve the standard of living and life opportunities of billions of people living in the Third World: metallurgy, electric motors and generators, early 20th century vacuum tube technology. The road not taken would also have required a massive reduction in birthrates in developing countries which implies assuring universal female education (the factor most correlated with reduction in birthrate). Rapid Sustainable Development post-WW II required free or accessible public primary and secondary education, sex education with access to contraception and universal old age pensions. One reason people in countries with high infant mortality rates have lots of children is to assure that a few of them will live to care for their parents in old age. Sustainable Development would require that this vicious circle of poverty - high mortality - high natality be broken.

Robert Frost, the road not taken 

              The Road actually Taken. Such a developmental trajectory - one in which economy serves humanity - did not fall in favor with the Masters of the World, the multinational corporate elite and their servitors in government and the professions. In today's world, the objective of economic activity is not - except as a pious, aspirational goal - "the Common Good". The true objective of economic activity is to maximize profit (or, at least, to build the infrastructure required for future profit maximization). In a sense, the Road Taken inverts the logic and logistics of the road not taken wherein economy and technology exist to serve wo/man. On the developmental trajectory the world has followed post-World War II, wo/man serves the economy and her servant technology

            Cheap mass produced goods designed to be replaced often (planned obselescence) require massive inputs of fossil fuel and mass transport (ship, truck, rail, air) and thus have highly negative environmental impacts: greenhouse gases, acid rain, acidified oceans, fine particulate matter, carcinogens.. The production of such goods has been offshored to third world countries with poor environmental and worker safety regulations. Working conditions border on slavery. Outmoded, highly polluting technologies - China is a case in point - are usually employed. The real costs of mass industrial (multinational) production are conveniently swept under the rug by the accountant's / economist's trick of "externalized costs": one simply ignores costs that cannot be easily entered in a financial ledger. The family devastated by the death of the breadwinner who died from workplace cancer does not count in the unreal, abstract world of profit margins and Free Market "laws".

              The following draft article contains an outline of what a really sustainable economy would have to take into consideration. Please note that this is a draft article. We would appreciate any suggestions you leave in the Comments section.. 
           It is my argument that, because the West (and the now defunct Communist World) failed to launch the Third World on a Sustainable Development trajectory, we now face a rising tide of refugees. Refugees from failed and failing states, from poverty, war, famine, environmental degradation, ecosystem collapse and climate change. Quite a litany of failures to lay at the feet of non-sustainable "development"!

           In short, if we are faced with immigrant and refugee "problems", we should ask who created those problems in the first place..

           It is possible - quite likely - that another cause of Islamophobia in Québec is the proliferation of right wing extremist groups in the province. Québec, as a French speaking cultural and linguistic minority in North America, may be more prone to fits of xenophobia and intolerance when we feel ourselves under threat. That is, feeling ourselves to be a vulnerable minority on the continent, we may over-react to percieved collective threats. And this, despite the fact, that on the whole, Québec is seen by immigrants as an open and welcoming society for those willing to make the effort to learn and speak French.

Some food for thought: 

"I don’t think people are more racist than they were,” Maxime Fiset, a reformed neo-Nazi who now works with Montreal’s Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, told CTV News earlier this week. “I think they’re just more outspoken -- and social media gives them a perfect platform to organize.”

And part of the reason they are more outspoken is that the Inner Baboon has been given permission to act out by hate-mongering populists on the podium and the (anti-)social media..

"Couillard acknowledged the province has its "demons" in terms of attitudes toward Muslims and that "xenophobia, racism and exclusion" are present in the province." 

profile of a mass murderer? 

“We were good friends. He was a really good guy, and his parents were great,” said Kingma-Lord, now an international business consultant in Quebec City.
Bissonnette, who has a twin brother, Mathieu, was bullied at school for being a “nerd” with “unpopular tastes,” he said. Together they used to go looking for quartz rocks at recess. Bissonnette also played chess.
“People were mean to him, and called him a weirdo. Your popularity is important as a child,” Kingma-Lord said. “But he would be mean back at them. He developed a very thick skin.”

"Debroise described Bissonnette as a boyish, skinny young man who didn’t make an impression.

“If he wasn’t there, you might not notice,” he said. “So it’s hard to understand that he could become so violent.”

                    Actually, from the description you provide, I find it rather easy to understand that he became so violent. He was primed to explode and the current unsettled, anxiety generating times provided the spark..


             Mass murderer? Said to have been regularly bullied in school for being a nerd.

"He was known in the city’s activist circles as a right-wing troll who frequently took anti-foreigner and anti-feminist positions and stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump." 

               manifestation of solidarity with Muslim community after the shootings

                  Rising tide of racism? Pig's head left on steps of the Grande Mosqué during Ramadan in June of last year 

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