OTTAWA—Quebec is a very interesting province for many reasons, not least of which is the tremendous change in the role of religion over time. It is no exaggeration to state that the Catholic church ruled the roost for centuries, telling Quebecers how to live, how to procreate, and who to vote for. This dominance came crashing down in the wake of the Quiet Revolution, a period beginning in the 1960s that was characterized by socio-political and socio-economic change and a sharp veering toward secularization. Never again would the church be the predominant arbiter over the province’s inhabitants.
The Quiet Revolution may be over, but the debate over religion sure isn’t. We saw the niqab debate during the previous federal election, the “reasonable accommodation” furor, and the attempt to ban overt signs of religion in public. It is almost as if Quebecers have swung from stifling religious stricture to equally stifling anti-religious stricture.
In the meantime, an alarming number of Quebec Muslims have radicalized to violence and travelled to Syria to join terrorist groups like the Islamic State. We must not forget as well the terrorist attack on Oct. 20, 2014, when Muslim convert Martin Couture-Rouleau ran over two members of the Canadian Armed Forces outside Montreal, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. The creation of the Montreal-based Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence was affected in part in response to concerns over this phenomenon in the province. Terrorism is a small, but real, phenomenon in Quebec.
Not surprisingly, yet another “controversy” involving religion has come to the fore. There are allegations that Quebec municipalities are using bylaws to restrict worship, sometimes in response to popular fears of minority communities (read: Muslims, although Hassidic Jews, evangelical Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been affected). The co-president of the Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, Haroun Bouazzi, has stated that this “institutionalized exclusion” can lead in extreme cases to the radicalization of Muslim youth.
Really? An inflammatory comment of that nature really needs to be backed up with some reliable evidence, which is lacking, as I hope to show.
But first, can’t all the interested parties act as adults? Do we always have to lower ourselves to raw emotion and irrational fears? Yes, the Muslims and the Jehovahs and the Hassidic Jews and the evangelicals are different but none pose any threat to Quebec or Canadian society. Why can’t they all sit down and be reasonable? Is it that hard?
Getting back to the allegations that this kind of state intolerance leads to radicalization, there is nothing I am aware of that supports this contention. Radicalization to violence is a highly individualized process that is found across ethnic, socio-economic, psychological, and cultural boundaries. So while having the feeling that you and your faith community aren’t welcome or aren’t seen as part of larger society can indeed lead to thoughts of alienation, there is absolutely no correlation—let alone causation—between this and radicalization. If you are convinced otherwise, show me your data.
Unscientific and emotional statements such as those of Bouazzi serve little but to raise anger and incite distrust. It is best to stick to facts when talking about terrorism and not throw out causes with no backing or support. This issue is already poorly understood enough and over-sensationalized in the media. We must be rational and careful about this. Ignorance and discrimination may not be helpful, but at the same time they are not surefire recipes for terrorism.
When it comes to religion, Quebecers should park the fear-mongering and start talking. For it is only through multicultural and multi-faith dialogue that we will make progress on living together. Let’s not make things worse.
Phil Gurski is president and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting.
The Hill Times
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