Quebec’s Distraction Politics – A Dangerous Trend
On February 5th, Isabelle Charest – Quebec’s newly appointed Minister for the Status of Women – spent her first press conference attacking the Hijab as a symbol of oppression. She stated:
“For me, the Hijab is not something women should be wearing because it does have, at some point, significance of oppression of women and the fact they have to cover themselves.”
Charest – whose qualifications for her prestigious role consist of speed skating in the 2002 Olympics – back-pedalled on her values by the next day after facing backlash. She claimed that she was only talking about women who are forced into Hijab, and that she had respect for women who chose it for themselves.
This cannot be dismissed. Issuing racist comments and then walking them back feeds into a tactic known as “dog whistle politics,” where the racists hear the racism and then support the candidate because of it. Charest failed to explain how she now sees as a respectable choice, nor did she explain why she would use her first moments in power – being responsible for all women in the province, – to attack the religious practice of the most vulnerable minority in Quebec: Muslim women.
But the loosely held values of Charest are not the point. Rather, we must investigate how democracy encourages elected officials to exploit religious minorities by ridiculing their practices with ignorant bigotry disguised as concern for women.
A history of bigotry
The use of Muslim women as a talking point is nothing new in Quebec. Since the publishing of the Bouchard-Taylor Report in 2008, xenophobic demands that Muslim women be uncovered by force of law gained political traction, starting a protracted battle between our Muslim sisters who wish to practice their Deen and the xenophobic, self-serving politicians who will use them as cannon fodder for their own petty political ambitions.
They failed to convey their liberal secularist way of life through rational arguments, and are therefore resorting to force. Here is a brief recap:
- Parti Quebecois (PQ) introduced a similar concept with the controversial “Charter of Values” that sought to forbid civil servants from wearing religious symbols.
- Quebec Liberals who succeeded the PQ continued to support anti-Niqab legislation, going as far as attempting to deny public services to women who wear the niqab.
- CAQ party (currently in power) appointed Isabelle Charest as a minister, and since then we have seen a proposal to ban civil servants who are in a “position of authority” to wear any kind of religious symbols, including a Hijab, a cross, a turban, or a kippa. This is the political oxygen that nourishes the casual bigotry in Quebec.
But why the obsession with the Islamic dress?
Why Muslim women?
In their quest for power, opportunistic politicians are ready to exploit any avenue to gain an edge, regardless of its cost on people. All too often, this leads to “scapegoating.” Scapegoating is where a person tries to blame someone or something for a problem that they did not cause, and it occurs in liberal democratic systems primarily for one main reason:
Capitalism creates economic misery for the masses, and because of this misery the elites must redirect the anger somewhere. Where do they direct it? To the powerless minorities, while emphasizing differences of the ethnicity, culture, or religion as a xenophobic distraction.
For example, the CAQ party is siding with the corrupt SNC Lavalin company in their bid to not be criminally prosecuted for their $48 million dollars in government bribes.
And Quebec’s economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, continues to advocate for more aid to Bombardier while owning Bombardier stock and having previously been on the board of a company that supplies to it. And yet they focus on blaming minorities for the problems of society, rather than their own corruption.
Clearly, elected officials in Capitalist (i.e. liberal democratic) societies have a keener interest in their own corporate profits than the welfare of the citizens under their care. As a result, elected political parties, such as the CAQ in Quebec, are incapable of solving the problems of the people of Quebec, but they are more than capable of emotionally exploiting the fears of Quebecers in order to maintain their popularity.
Defending Hijab based on freedom?
It is a reflex for Muslims, when attacked for the practice of our Deen, to point out that Canadian society is supposedly built on individual liberty, and that Muslim women should be free to dress as they please.
And while it is valid to point out the double standards that exists in Canadian culture, defending our Islamic practices based on the idea of personal freedom is contradictory. All Muslims should have the courage to clearly articulate the real reasons why we practice our Deen.
Being a Muslim is founded on a conscious decision to submit to the commands of the Creator of the universe, whose existence has been determined through a rational understanding of the nature of the universe. Therefore, the practice of Islam is a rational choice that must be respected by society.
Capitalism will defend personal freedom and freedom of expression so that their fashion and marketing industries can continue to profit from objectifying the bodies of women and girls, regardless of what effects this may have on their mental health or feelings of self-worth.
And Capitalism will defend freedom of ownership so that multinational corporations can extract and exploit the natural resources at home and abroad, hoarding the profits within the hands of a small group of private owners rather than protecting its status as public property and sharing this public wealth and bounty of Allah (swt) with all the people of that land.
This is the true meaning of freedom under liberal secular Capitalism. And defending our Deen based on such corrupt ideals is a mistake.
Responding to hate
The climate of fear created in Quebec is having a tangible effect on the Muslims living there, with the sharp rise in hate crimes and the growing numbers of xenophobic thugs. And this climate is not restricted to Quebec alone, rather there is a rise in both trends nationwide.
In such an environment, it is vital for Muslims to point out the futility of “distraction politics,” and to convey to the various segments of Canadian society the unique vision that Islam provides for how to structure our personal and collective lives.
We need to talk about the real issues facing Canadians, such as the breakdown of the family unit, the decline of secure and meaningful work, and the loss of a collective identity that is based on compassion and a shared purpose, and we should begin conversations on how Islam addresses these issues.
This requires us as a community to take time to understand the basis of our Deen, which is the Islamic Aqeedah and the solutions to man’s problems that emanate from it, so that we can call to Islam in its complete form with confidence and clarity.
This also requires us to hold the leaders of our community to account to work more effectively to convey this message to the larger Canadian society. How else can we answer Allah (swt)’s call when He commands us:
“Let there arise from among you a community of people who invite to the good, and order what is right and forbid what is wrong. And they are the successful ones.” [3:104]