Thursday, October 26, 2017

Why they can and we can't

Emmanuel Macron (Wikicommons: French government)

This week, Bill 62 became law in Québec. People now have to show their faces when giving or receiving public services. And that last term is interpreted broadly. If you're riding on a bus or going to a clinic, you're using a public service. Although the words niqab and burqa appear nowhere in the legislation, the intent is to remove the most extreme forms of Islamic dress from public space.

Elsewhere in North America such a law would be unthinkable, even among conservatives. Indeed, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Patrick Brown, condemned it in the strongest terms. So it is all the more surprising that this law was passed by the Liberal Party of Québec, whose electorate, membership, and campaign donors overlap considerably with those of the Liberal Party of Canada ... led by Justin Trudeau. This was undoubtedly a factor in his muted response.

So what's going on? What makes such a law possible in Québec but impossible in English Canada? One reason is language. The French language reduces the inflow of American cultural norms via books, magazines, movies, videos, TV programming—all of which condition us to think that some things are possible and others aren't.

Conversely, the French language makes Quebec much more open to the cultural norms of the Francophone world. And those norms have been increasingly hostile to niqabs and burqas. In 2011, France banned them in all public places, after passage of a similar law in Belgium the year before. Similar bans have been imposed or are being debated in francophone Africa, including some Muslim-majority countries (Chad and Senegal). There is a real fear in France and elsewhere that Islamic dress, like public prayers in the street, is part of a conscious effort by Islamists to dominate public space—to create the impression that this is their space and that "strangers" must act accordingly.

And the current French president, Emmanuel Macron? What does he think?

The burqa must be banned. I don't think it's necessary to go further. I'm for secularism. A complete ban at school and in public services, and in society a ban on some signs like the burqa that disrespect gender equality and the civility that exists between men and women in French society. (Coquaz 2017).

Secularism is there to say, "I don't want society to be submitted to a religion's hegemonic temptations." Yesterday, the Catholic religion. Today, for many of our fellow citizens, the Muslim religion. It's very important to enforce the neutrality of the public service. Religion cannot be present at school. Nonetheless, I hear few people upset when the consequences of this debate send more and more children to faith-based schools that teach them hatred of the [French] Republic, dispense teachings essentially in Arabic or, elsewhere, teach the Torah more than basic skills. (Dély 2016)

Respectable opinion in Québec tends to follow respectable opinion in France. If a goodthinker like Macron1 thinks the burqa should be banned, who's to argue?

Another factor is the social distance between the elites and the common people. It's a lot smaller in Québec, the rich and powerful being no more than one or two generations away from Jos Bleau and Johanne Bleau. So they feel a stronger sense of commonality with the average man and woman. And if they don't, they soon get told to remember who they are and where they come from. This is, incidentally, a common complaint among Québec celebrities. No matter how famous you become, you’ll always be that snotty kid who had trouble tying up his hockey skates.

So when the governing party does an about-face on a controversial issue, it's not because some policy wonk told them to do so. It's because they've been harassed by their constituents, including friends, relatives, and neighbors. In this case, there was a groundswell of feeling to get burqas off the streets. In English Canada, politicians would simply turn a deaf ear. In Québec, they tried doing that but were brought into line by public opinion.

Societally speaking, Québec is more like Israel or Eastern Europe, where the elites are less differentiated from the common people, either because the country itself is recent (Israel) or because the original elites were eradicated by socialist regimes (Eastern Europe).

As coincidence has it, this past week also saw the election of a nationalist party in Czechia, on the heels of a similar election win in Austria (October 15). There is now a large bloc of like-minded countries in central and eastern Europe: Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. The thinking used to be that nationalists would first come to power in France. After all, they're stronger and better organized there, aren't they? Well, yes, but so are the elites. And those elites have strong links to elites elsewhere.

Some people will attribute Québec's Burqa ban to a third factor: Québec nationalism, specifically the nationalist movement that reached its peak back in the 1970s. To be honest, not much remains of that movement even within the Parti Québécois, which has become a post-national party like the SNP in Scotland. In any case, the Burqa ban is supported by 73% of people in Québec, whereas support for the Parti Québécois is only about a third of the popular vote (TVA Nouvelles 2010). This is an issue that seems to transcend traditional party loyalties.

In sum, it looks like nationalist parties have a better chance where:

- English isn't widely used

- Culture is locally produced

- Elites are more strongly linked to the local population than to elites in other countries, particularly the globalist elite based in the United States and the United Kingdom.

In other countries, nationalists may have better luck advancing their arguments outside the political process. In France, the Front National has failed to gain power but it has widened the bounds of acceptable discourse and acceptable policy, as seen in Macron's position on the burqa.


1. During the election campaign, Macron criticized another law that banned wearing of the hijab (which covers only the hair and not the face) in public primary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools. To date, he has not tried to repeal that law.


Brown, P. (2017). Neutrality is not enough. If feds won't lead Canada, and this racist law passes, ON must support a Charter challenge. October 20

Coquaz, V. (2017). Hortefeux invente une ambiguïté de Macron sur la " burqa ", Libération, May 23

Dély, R. (2016). Emmanuel Macron : " La République est ce lieu magique qui permet à des gens de vivre dans l'intensité de leur religion " Marianne, October 1

TVA Nouvelles (2010). Les Québécois contre la burqa en public, July 28


Luke Lea said...

Are you sure it's unthinkable in the U.S.?

Peter Frost said...

It's unthinkable among people who make public policy. Even among them, I'm sure some do think about banning the burqa, but if that thought is never translated into action, speech, or writing it might as well not exist. It's like the parable of the tree in the forest.

Sean said...

I believe one French commentator said the indigenous white proletariat was helpless before the ostentatiously prolific seduction of their women by virile immigrants. It's all one way and what do the surplus indigenous males do? They are likely to become restive if Muslim women are totally off limits.

There may be an ulterior motive by the French for wanting Muslim maidens to adopt (sensualist) French ways. I think the females of a people who have co-evolved with strict separation of the sexes, arranged (often cousin) marriage, body covering and female circumcision (which France prosecutes far more than the UK although the UK has a law against it and France doesn't) will have weaker self control all other things being equal.

The great Islamic theologian Rumi (1333-1405) seems to have thought so too

"There was a maidservant
who had cleverly trained a donkey
to perform the services of a man.
... and she greatly enjoyed
the arrangement, as often as she could.
She thrived, but the donkey was getting
a little thin and tired-looking. ..."

Anyway, I think burka bans ect are partly motivated by a desire to make the replacement of the French population less obvious, and to make the Muslim women more available. Camouflaging Muslims and keeping the natives men from getting frustrated is not anti immigration at all, quite the opposite. The elite are planning to accelerate it.