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September 22, 2013

A weapon of mass distraction

Prof. Dr. Yakov M. Rabkin

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The proposed Quebec Values Charter does not respond to any real need in our society. Rather, it looks like an inappropriate import from Europe.

The Charter dictates strict limits to the display of religious observance in the public sphere. Most cited examples of "intolerable" values are veils, hijabs and kippas worn by Muslim women and Jewish men. It distracts citizens from the growing social and economic inequality that truly worries most of us. The last federal elections graphically showed that Quebec is different from the rest of Canada in its rejection of neoliberal policies and its commitment to social solidarity and justice.

While Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice are not extinct, Quebec has become remarkably open and tolerant to all kinds of minorities.  Negative reactions to the draft charter highlight the gap between the elites, who thought up this legislation, and ordinary Quebec citizens, who year after year show their capacity to live among people from different backgrounds and religions. We are fortunate to have created such an inclusive society.

As an observant Jew, I wear a kippa at work (I have taught at the University of Montreal for 40 years), at home and generally in my day-to-day life. I have also worn it when interviewed on television and, unless my hosts deem it dangerous, when delivering public lectures around the world. To my knowledge, no student or colleague has ever complained about the religious sign on my head. In fact, I have never heard complaints about the fact that a teacher, a doctor, a nurse or a government official wears a hijab or a cross. 

Who needs this Charter that is certain to trigger legal challenges and will most likely remain a dead letter? Let us, rather, stand up to defend our social rights and tackle the growing inequalities bred by current government policies. We should all be aware that the proposed Quebec Values Charter not only divides us but is a powerful weapon of mass distraction. Quebecers of all religions (and of none) unite!

Published in French in La Presse and Le Devoir.

Prof. Dr. Yakov Rabkin is a Professor of History at the University of Montreal.

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