The values of a privileged few


(Contributed photo)

We have a comfortably generic image of Europe as deeply liberal — multicultural, cradle-to-grave, tolerant, progressive.

It’s nice to think, especially for the young liberals that populate much of higher education, that somewhere in the world there’s a liberal dream state to hold up against the US.

Canada typically gets lumped in with these European utopias like Sweden and Norway; consider Michael Moore’s fawning fascination with our health care system in Sicko.

For those of us who live here though (and I imagine those who live in Europe), the reality seems markedly different from the typical American perception. There’s a deep cultural conservatism running through Europe and Canada at the moment, and in both cases it’s manifested particularly in French culture.

The battle over traditionalism and multiculturalism, applied chiefly to Muslim symbols like headscarves, has raged for years in France, but it seems like the first shots of the new culture war have just been fired in Quebec.

Premier Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois, after several leaks and delays, has revealed their Québec Charter of Values — a detailed document that aims to set out the common values of the province as a whole.

A lofty goal, perhaps, but maybe the government, of all people, can handle it (not a phrase I’ll use often, I assure you).

The Charter’s main provision is the banning of ‘overt religious symbolism’ for all government employees, as well as for those giving or receiving government services.

According to this charter, ‘overt religious symbolism’ includes large crucifixes, niqabs, turbans, kippahs and burqas. Of course, one can still wear small symbols, like earings or rings.  But if it’s a religious symbol that’s deemed ‘ostentatious,’ into the trash it goes.

In a move transparently meant to cover vulnerable butts and counter accusations of anti-Muslim (or perhaps anti-religious) intent, the PQ also intend to imbed religious neutrality in the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

So the province intends to ban all religious symbols above a certain unspoken standard of contentiousness.  This standard is left up to the government (they usually are), but rest assured; they know best.  It would be a tragedy if I had to walk down the street and acknowledge the religious diversity of my home.

The government should not endorse religious belief of any kind, but the Charter is a clear and deliberate attempt to censor personal beliefs.

When a person working for Service Ontario is wearing a burqa, a crucifix or a yamaka I don’t immediately presume the government at large endorses that view.  In fact, that only confirms my hope that the government refuses to endorse any particular belief.

According to some, the charter reflects the shared values of most Québecers.  An elementary look at the amount of controversy it has sparked should put this assumption to rest.          The Charter is a dictatorial attempt to conform to traditionally white, Christian/Catholic Québec values, not the non-stance of a cosmopolitan government.

The Québec Charter of Values is as particularistic, as chauvinistic and as majoritarian as it can be.

It represents the values of a privileged few being forced into the shape of public morals, and the strain is obvious.

The state should stay well away from religion in as many ways as possible.  A government endorsing a specific religious view is just as bad as a government attempting to censor all, and I’m sure this charter is just the start of a European-style cultural conflict.

More oppression will come, masquerading as populism and common sense.  It seems we’ve not been fooled this time; here’s hoping we can stop the next prior to it picking up steam.

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