Nationalism and religious symbols
Cultural nationalism is usually adjunct to wider political movements; the claim to be “protecting culture” often covers draconian measures like racial prejudice in the justice, education, immigration and economic spheres, plus military aggressivity, including to neighbours – there’s a big list. Trump’s Make America Great Again, demonizing minorities and “foreigners”, mirrors the brutal nationalism of today’s Poland, Hungary, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil (for starters).
Two questions about “cultural nationalism” are circulating in Aylmer – first, Imperatif français’ annual prizes, including “lemons”. Lemons are thrown at those who/which appear to be persecuting the French language and Quebec’s rich culture. We could say it’s the same list every year, with differing names. Since this is an automatic event, and given that the “awards” have little influence, why blow this list out of proportion to its actual effect? The lists are interesting, but hardly worth our ire.
A second question has also raised the rant level across the country – the CAQ’s new secularization bill. Since I have not read the entire bill, I can only focus on the provision generating the most uproar: the ban on religious gear in the Public Service. No hijabs, turbans, swastikas, crosses, Stars of David – for public servants (only), and (only) while they are servicing the public. When they leave their school, police or bus station, they can wear what they wish, even signs proclaiming, “The End is Near”.
My puzzlement is this: a ban on religious symbols in public institutions is not a ban on religion (or on one’s conscience, background, culture, or history). It bans any appearance of promoting and propagandising religious views by public servants. There’s a similar movement in the US, promoting Freedom From Religion, as part of Freedom of Religion.
No religion is being banned in Quebec.
Democracy holds fundamental the separation of church and state. If public servants wear or sport religious “advertising”, aren’t they fudging this separation? Anyone in Quebec can hold any religious view they wish, period. It is dishonest to claim the bill attacks our right to believe or worship as we wish. But we cannot intentionally or not proselytize using state facilities.
There is good reason for church-state separation. There’s a history here we do not want to repeat. Religions (ideologies, less so) have supported most wars and oppression in history. Religions supported Nazis in Europe and Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. While “liberation theology” supports the exploited classes, institutional religions have continually supported those in power and those with wealth: aiding patriarchy, gender suppression, residential schools, anti-evolution, unwed-mother harm, child molestation; in the political sphere, modern religions have actually raised armies and promoted pogroms and racial cleansing (Mexico, Ukraine, Burma, Sri Lanka). Combating this is not nationalism.
Religions, primordially, have been personal matters, between our hearts and our creators. This is not being challenged, and, in fact, the new law might push us to return to that private, intimate relationship. The CAQ’s bill, in this focused context, is progressive and needed.