Some explanations, for those of you who do not read french, or are not from Quebec, are below.
For those of you who do read french, and are from here, you should be able to get it without having to read further. As the below is an explanation of a collage, it is fragmented, basic, bare-bones. So keep that in mind if you do read further. It’s not an analysis, just an explanation of a collage.
The guy in this poster is Bernard Drainville, the Quebec Minister “Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship” who is in charge of the racist Charter of Values (now renamed “Charter Affirming The Values Of Secularism And The Religious Neutrality Of The State, As Well As The Equality Of Men And Women, And The Framing Of Accommodation Requests” — i am not joking, this is the new name!)
“Pompier Pyromane” means “Pyromaniac Firefighter”. It’s an expression that means that someone is in reality creating the problems that they are then pretending to be shocked about and to want to solve. (Not surprisingly, it is a term often used to address the hypocrisy of professional activists and politicians who use racism and the far right as cheap ways to score points against their opponents or as an electoral ploy.)
Drainville’s Charter will ban people who wear “ostentatious” religious symbols from public sector employment. This is aimed primarily at Muslim women who wear hijab, although people who wear turbans and yarmulkes will also obviously be effected. Drainville pretends his racist Charter is necessary, because there have allegedly been all these problems with pushy immigrants making unreasonable demands on white Quebecois, and so by putting down clear rules he claims his Charter will in fact reduce tensions. This despite the fact that a government inquiry into these alleged problems (the Bouchard-Taylor Commission) found that there were no major conflicts around demands for “reasonable accommodation”, just media and political spin creating the false impression of such. Spin that Drainville’s charter is fine tuned to contribute to, to put on steroids.
The background shows a very faint Christ, with “this is a non-ostentation symbol” written on his cross. This is because despite the fact that this Charter is framed as being about separating religion from the State, there is a giant cross that hangs in the National Assembly, and Drainville has insisted that it will not be removed, as it is not a religious symbol but part of “out” heritage! (Shades of Charles Maurras…)
The various snippets of text are all from articles in the mainstream press, contextualizing what this Charter, and the intentional fanning the flames of racism that its promotion implies, have meant:
First, for some context, from La Presse November 30, 2012: “Y a-t-il un racisme silencieux au Québec?” by Mustapha Amarouche, reports that a study by the Institut de recherche et d’information socioéconomique (IRIS) shows that whereas immigrants on average have a higher level of education than “old stock” Quebecois, on average their salaries amount to only 63% of the Canadian average. Compared to the other Canadian provinces, Quebec comes in worst in terms of immigrant unemployment and low wages.
Also from 2012, an article from before the PQ was elected. Kamal G. Lutfi was a candidate for the right-wing federalist CAQ party in the middle-class immigrant suburb of Chomedey; he tweeted that the Quebec nationalist movement was racist, and that the PQ had a racist agenda. Pauline Marois, leader of the PQ, responded that “There are no racists in the PQ, only passionate people.” We should all feel reassured. (In a twist worth paying attention to, the scandal in the media and the politisphere was not the possibility of racism in the PQ, but the fact that the accusation had been made — Lufti was promptly ditched by the CAQ brass. This is a dynamic that plays out constantly, that racism is theoretically scandalous only no one can even come up with an example of it occurring, rather the real scandal for the intelligentsia is that someone might actually accuse an individual or a movement of being racist.)
Now to get down to business: On September 23, 2013, the PQ publicly released its Charter. This after having spent the summer leaking bits of it to the media, in an attempt to whip up a bit of a racist storm beforehand. An effort that had clearly had some effect, as just a few weeks beforehand a Mosque in the Saguenay region had pig’s blood thrown at it: a letter was sent to the Mosque and to the media exhorting Muslims to “integrate or go home” and saying “no to Islam”.
Immediately following the Charter’s being released, there were reports of Muslim women being harassed and insulted in public places, and even assaulted by white oppressor nation citizens trying to forcibly remove their head coverings. It soon got to a point that the Regroupement des centres de femmes du Québec, a network of women’s shelters and crisis centers, issued a public statement decrying the wave of violence against Muslim women.
The next article quoted reports that Celine Dion, the internationally acclaimed Quebec singer, had publicly spoken out about the Charter, talking about how Muslims have to adapt to Quebec society and not the other way around.
The Charter is an instrument of racialization, regardless of whether it pass or not. In fact, in terms of inciting populist resentment and harnessing this for a racist version of the Quebec national project, it could be argued that the Charter will be even more successful if it is ruled unconstitutional by canada, as this will provide yet another causus belli. As an instrument of racialization, it operated by defining one culture as official, and all others as conditionally tolerated. Nor is this dynamic limited to Muslim women.
As such, in November, PQ MLA Tania Longpré made the smooth move of facebooking that she felt the Montreal Jewish General Hospital should be forced to change its name. This did not go over so well – the uncomfortable history of the matter is that the Jewish General was established almost 100 years ago by the Jewish community as a defensive measure, in the midst of a wave of antisemitism in Quebec which bears more than a passing resemblance to the wave of Islamophobia we are experiencing today. In fact, the same year the hospital was opened (1934) there was a strike of interns at Montreal’s Notre Dame Hospital against the fact that a Jewish intern had been hired that year. (The intern in question, Sam Rabinovitch, ended up quitting rather than have patients deprived of care on his behalf.) A few days after her remarks were made public, Longpré publicly distanced herself from them insisting she had nothing against the Jewish General.
The Charter has succeeding in empowering “ordinary” white people to act out and put “the others” in their place. We saw this just a few weeks ago when someone saw some women wearing niqab accompanying a bunch of children for a daycare. The white citizen took out their cellphone and snapped a picture, posting it online, and the scandal unfolded, with major media outlets carrying it as a big story the next day, the outrage that “our” children are being subjected to this “un-Quebecois” example in their daycare. Parents of the kids were interviewed, they all said they had had nothing but good experiences at the daycare… but they were also withdrawing their kids, as they were now afraid that the daycare would be the target of some kind of racist attack.
It is somewhat revealing to see exactly what Drainville responded when journalists asked him about this daycare. Notice that protecting the privacy of the workers or children there, or concerns about racist harassment, were not even on his radar. (Or should we say, they were on his radar, but why mention them as that is what he really wants anyway?)
It is shocking. It is worrisome. It is not acceptable. And this is why we need to pass the Charter. Because our proposed Charter is aiming specifically to prevent this kind of thing. The Charter forbids having the face covered and the two daycare workers in this photo have their faced covered. They are wearing the niqab. The day we vote to pass it,the Charter will preventthis kind of thing in the public daycare system, in private subsidized daycares and in family daycares. In the Charter, family daycares are covered so far as the niqab goes. It would not be allowed in family daycares. This is not the example of a teacher that we want for our children.
The speech bubble and also the quote on the left edge of the page refer to an evening where
Drainville met with “the public” in the middle-class Quebecois suburb of Longueil, to discuss the Charter. There was the predictable racist commentary from the crowd, about the “religion of immigration”, about “not wanting Quebec to end up looking like the Middle East”, and being oh-so-tired of Quebecois having to deal with accusations of racism. Migrant rights activists, and some women in hijab, attended this “public meeting” to denounce what woman described as a new stigmatization and hostility that has come about ever since the Charter was proposed. To which, all Drainville could say with the smirk of a true pompier-pyromane, is that “We need a calm and peaceful debate.”
And, just for giggles, the last quote included is about a campaign of 101 Quebecois public figures, to denounce francophobia, which should be taken “just as seriously” as “homophobia, misogyny, intimidation, Islamophobia, or prejudice about Native people.” What can we say to this?
Well of course “francophobia” exists, though i think a more appropriate term would be anti-Quebecois racism, as it rarely has to do with french as a language. Francophobia is a significant dynamic in english canada, from what i have been told. Certainly i have no trouble believing this.
But within Quebec, “francophobia” (and its conceptual twin, “Quebec-bashing”), exists on a very different level than the other “bad ideas” listed above. Because within Quebec, there is not currently any national oppression of Quebecois, nor any other structure leveraging personal animosity into a new form of oppression. That happened, it stopped happening, it’s over now. While “francophobia” certainly exists, it does so on the same level as “anglophobia”; i.e. it can be a real pain if you need to deal with it on the bus or at a dinner party, but it is pretty much limited to being a personal problem, not a source of social exclusion or marginalization. People’s feelings get hurt by it, they get insulted and angry, but their life-trajectories, their ability to function in society, their survival, are not at stake.
Instead, denouncing these pretend-problems is simply a case of “the best defense is a good offense”, of attempting to preempt claims that racism exists (and is currently on a rapid rise) in Quebec, with a counter-accusation that any such talk is in fact “Quebec bashing”. It’s just like when zionists defend israel from any accusation of racism, saying that any such talk is “anti-semitism”. A preemptive ploy, that people should not waste their time on.