National Post Barbara Kay: PQ drops the mask from its bigotry

National Post - Tuesday March 18th, 2014

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec minister for values Bernard Drainville: Intolerant? Never.

In democratic countries, tribalism cloaked as a respectable political party can’t hope to bend the population to its will by reason. The only way tribal leaders can get themselves voted into power today in the West is to encourage their ethnic constituency to look at the world through race-coloured glasses. All peddlers of a utopian future need an “other” who is standing in the way of the utopia the tribal vision projects, a scapegoat on whom they can pin the blame for the failure of this perfect world to materialize.

Separatist minions have always played the blame game well, but their leaders have usually been careful to present a face of enlightened moderation to the world.

René Lévesque would have been appalled at Louise Mailloux’s hateful utterances

The gloves are off now, and the mask hasn’t just slipped, it is lying tattered on the floor. Desperate for that last chance to grab the brass ring, with only weeks to go until the election that will or won’t provide auspicious terrain for a third referendum on sovereignty, and with the merry-go-round accelerating, the signal has gone out to the Parti Quebecois faithful that toleration will be granted for anyone viewing the world through race-coloured glasses,  speaking racist words and turning one’s eyes away from racist deed.

It should come as no surprise that people like Ms. Mailloux and Mr. Carrière feel at home in the PQ, considering the climate the party has succeeded in creating since it introduced its values charter last summer.

The charter, which was undergoing public hearings when Ms. Marois called the April 7 election, would prohibit public-sector workers from wearing such religious symbols as the hijab, turban and kippa. Ms. Marois suggested Monday that private companies would be welcome to follow the government example and prohibit their workers from wearing religious symbols.

A CROP poll published Sunday in La Presse offered a sobering look at the attitudes underpinning majority support for the charter among Quebecers, support that the PQ hopes will carry it to a majority.

The poll found that 57% of respondents had a negative view of Muslims and 56% had a negative view of Hasidic Jews. The feelings were most pronounced among francophone respondents. La Presse reported that 72% of non-francophones had a positive opinion of Muslims but only 36% of francophones did. The poll found that 79% of francophone respondents agreed that “immigrants have to set aside their culture and try to adopt to that of Quebec.” The figure was 47% among non-francophones.

Oh, there is still a line that cannot be crossed. One cannot, for example, post the words “F-ck Islam,” or praise the far right French politician Marine Le Pen on one’s Facebook page, as PQ candidate for the Montreal riding of Lafontaine Jean Carrière did. Carrière withdrew after the postings were reported in the media.

But one can voice often-discredited falsehoods about religious Jews and Muslims: that there is a “kosher/Halal tax” levied on all consumers to satisfy Jewish and Muslim dietary obligations; and one can say that circumcision and baptism are a form of “rape,” a stunningly disgusting indictment of Judaism and Quebec’s heritage religion, as did PQ candidate and philosophy professor (it would be an academic, wouldn’t it!), Louise Mailloux.

We know it is now open season for hateful speech because Ms Marois pronounced herself satisfied with Ms Mailloux’s “apology,” which in fact was not an apology for her odious beliefs, but an apology for having caused offence, effectively saying she is sorry if her version of the truth hurts some people.

Since Ms Marois has lowered the bar so far on open expressions of bigotry, and is clearly desirous of profiting politically from it; and since a CROP poll finds that negative attitudes toward Muslims and religious Jews are far higher amongst ethnic québécois than non-francophones: can we finally stop pretending that ethnic québécois are as inclusive and tolerant as other Canadians? They are not. At least they are not outside of Montreal.

Ethnic québécois are not by and large racists, which implies hatred of others, but they are indeed disproportionally xenophobic, xenophobia implying fear of other cultures. A 2006 Compass poll compared attitudes to Jews in Quebec and the rest of Canada (ROC). In response to the question, “Do you think Jews have too much power?”  10% of ROC answered “yes”; in Quebec 28% did. These are the people to whose fears Ms Mailloux is appealing, with the blessing of PQ mandarins.

The politics of fear is a staple of movements based in grievance rather than on a positive vision. As Harvard University literature professor Ruth Wisse puts it:

“Any ideology or movement, right or left, that is organized negatively – against rather than for – enjoys an inherent advantage in politics, mobilizing unappeasable energies that never have to default on their announced goal of cleansing the body politic of its alleged poisons.”

What a disgraceful decline we have witnessed in the integrity of the PQ leadership. René Lévesque would have been appalled at Louise Mailloux’s hateful utterances and banished her on the spot. Lucien Bouchard went to the mat to extirpate overt signs of anti-Semitism in the PQ, when he orchestrated an official censure in the National Assembly of longtime PQ supporter Yves Michaud for his public anti-Semitic remarks. Even Jacques Parizeau, whose reference to “money” (shorthand for Jews) “and the ethnic vote” revealed him for the chauvinist he is, had the grace to melt away from office in the interest of the PQ’s honour.

There is no honour to uphold any more. Wagering all on the mobilization of unappeasable energies, the PQ is wallowing in irredeemable shame. Sadly, always the danger with tribalism, shameful behavior may succeed where honorable behavior failed.