In the Headlines: Controversy in Quebec

I’ve had a story opened up in a tab on my browser for two days. I’ve been trying to figure out where I stand on it. I think I sort of know, but I can’t decide if it makes me a bigot.

The gist of it is this, in Quebec (Eastern Canada’s French province), the powers that be in a small town called Herouxville have put laws in place that are essentially aimed at immigrants.

The new laws decree that it is legal for boys and girls to exercise together, that women are allowed to both read and vote, that women may not be stoned or killed in “honour” killings as a matter of law.

Then it starts going further and says people should only be allowed to cover their faces at Halloween. (This is likely to stem the more orthodox Islamic tradition of obscuring women’s faces with veils or whatnot. I suspect our Charter of Rights might be cause for dispute.)

I support some of what this town’s trying to do, though they’re probably morons to tack this tact, and think some of it is going too far.

I understand people’s hesitation to accept veiled faces, especially in this modern culture of fear and face, where we think a person’s face is their most important attribute, and we believe that what we can’t see is what we need to be afraid of. As if there’s some sort of bogeyman behind that veil.

I admit, I have troubling getting behind a religious conviction that inspires women to completely hide themselves, but then I don’t get the fuss about why widows, nuns, or brides wear veils, either. And I’m not religious. But if these women believe that modesty and selflessness helps live up to their convictions, then so be it.

I get the sense that this town’s not exactly too concerned with respecting the Charter of Rights, though. I suspect they’re just carrying on the stubborn Quebec tradition of trying to protect their culture from incoming hordes of barbarians. It’s not like France is all that friendly with its Islamic contingent anyhow. Maybe it’s a French thing. Down with the Moorish hordes or something. Maybe they don’t understand that Islamic women aren’t as oppressed as we’d like to think.

There’s a funny new series on Canada’s CBC that’s pretty timely, considering this brouhaha, called Little Mosque on the Prairie. It’s about the Islamic community in a small prairie town, and it’s busting open guts and stereotypes. It opened with the new young Imam (the leader of a mosque), a 30-something cute Islamic guy, standing in the airport, talking about his decision to his urban Toronto world for the Prairie life.

He’s in line, and we cut to this out-of-context statement, “I’ve been planning this for months, it’s not like I dropped a bomb on him. If Dad thinks it’s suicide, then so be it. This is Allah’s plan for me.” Naturally, the woman behind him’s gaping, and quickly he’s escorted off by a guard who claims today’s not his day to meet his maker.

I’ve known some pretty cool Muslims in my time, so I’m happy to see this show coming out and showing that this veiled, mysterious faith is a lot less extreme than most of us think it is. Pity about the extremist factions, but hey.

A town like this, you know, passing some of these laws, I can’t really argue with. Some of the laws are obvious. No burning to death of women. Kids can exercise in co-ed environments. All right, sure. Does it need to be said? I mean, the people who are going to be truly the kind of people the laws are trying to confront, they’re likely not going to give a shit that a bunch of white people in a French town passed these namby-pamby laws.

I haven’t had a look at the law books to see what it de facto states in regards to domestic abuse and other things like that, so I don’t know if they’re being duplicitous by highlighting the cultural differences of some more extreme immigrants. What I do know is, it can’t really hurt to have what are essentially very, very big tenets of our society put in ink in our law books.

I’m a big fan of multiculturalism. I like the fact that I live in a city with incredible Asian and Indian food. I like the contrasting cultures in my world around me. But make no mistake about it, I live in Canada. Land of the free, land that I love. It’s a place known around the world as being the kind of friend you can count on in harder times. We’re humanitarian. We talk, we solve problems, we broker peace. It’s what we do. And we take great pride in our constitution and rights.

I figure, you choose to move here, you have to abide by the moral code that is the code of this nation. If you wish to add to it, please do so. But don’t contravene it. That’s all.

But Herouxville is certainly insulting the average immigrant. To believe that these more extreme things, like honour killings and stoning and death by immolation, are widespread in the Muslim world is like suggesting we have Branch Davidians, radical Mormons, and self-flagellating Opus Dei/Jesuits on every corner. They’re around, but they’re not exactly mainstream.

What do you people think? Had you heard about this already? You want to see more of this happening? I admit, the feminist in me supports it, the open-minded Canadian is a little taken aback, tho.