Monday, November 26, 2007

Freedom For Whom?

The Star reports that an Islamic group called Refusing Intolerance in Quebec spoke out concerning the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation. I don't find any information on this group, but the Star's quote from them exists in this "Citizen's Statement"(sic) on the Montreal Muslim News site, which is apparently from Mohamed S. Kamel of the Canadian Muslim Forum. The Statement says, "We therefore call for a true debate, an unhurried debate carried on in an atmosphere of peace of mind and unfailing respect for the rights of all, men and women, who live in Québec." Alright, let's start this debate then.

On the one hand, those behind the Statement,
"reject any limitation of rights, any reduction of fundamental freedoms." On the other hand, they say that the hijab shouldn't be allowed to exist as "an obstacle to...full participation in social life, in the labor market..." But how does forcing the other people in those realms, in employment for example, to accept the hijab, not reduce their fundamental freedoms? For example, if the public rejects the message of hijab, just as they may reject the message of the swastika for example, yet is not allowed to ban the hijab from the public schools which it controls, just as it is allowed to ban the swastika, are not the rights of the public reduced? Or if an employer disagrees with Islam, just as she may disagree with national socialism, yet is not allowed to pick someone else for employment over an adherent of Islam, just as she is allowed to pick someone else over an adherent of national socialism, are not this employer's freedom of association reduced?

This gets to my main criticism with how the West treats Islam. Islam has political implications, it is a "total way of life" that involves political ideology. Yet it's adherents are protected from the discrimination that is allowed with other political ideologies, because it takes up the banner of "religion." So the propagation of a political ideology must be permitted in all spheres of life, even those under the control of people who disagree with the ideology, lest they commit the sin of "discrimination on the basis of religion." Don't hire someone because they are a Muslim: you're a bigot and a criminal. Don't hire someone because they are a Communist: you're just exercising your inalienable freedom of association. This double standard must change.

Let's do a little bit more. Look at how they define secularity: "the neutrality of the state with regard to the opinions, beliefs and practices of its citizens." This is just bizarre, because the state never remains neutral on all the practices of citizens. Pedophilia is a practice of citizens, yet who would suggest the state remain neutral on it? Perhaps they meant religious practices? Well, one could easily found a religion involving pedophilia. But take an actual example: sati, the Hindu practice of sacrificing, on the husband's funeral pyre, a wife who is unfortunate enough to outlive her husband. No one suggests tolerating that religious practice in Quebec, so we can agree that no one suggests tolerating all religious practices, only some. So the question is, which do we tolerate and which don't we? The Quebec public seems to want to stick a few Islamic practices in with the "do not tolerate" pile. In a democracy, the public is sovereign.

One more quote from the Statement:
Just as the values and principles dear to Quebeckers are not for sale at any price, neither are equally universal values and principles of other cultural horizons that enrich Québec. The two are not in opposition, rather they enhance one another, with the same quiet resolve and the same far-reaching commitment to justice, sharing, and equality that we believe motivate us all.
Is this true, that they are not opposition? This is what Mohammed said to do: "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him" (Bukhari 9:84:57). Compare that sentiment with something more Quebecois. Here's a passage I like from the end of Simone de Beauvoir's The Blood of Others (Le Sang des autres), which I think grasps something about the West in general, its relationship with freedom:
But if only I dedicate myself to defend that supreme good, which makes innocent and vain all the stones and the rocks, that good which saves each man from all the others and from myself -- Freedom -- then my passion will not have been in vain.
In the latter, we have the sentiment of dedication to freedom above all else, in the former we have the denial of freedom: You are only worthy to exist as long as you do not go against Allah. How are these two sentiments "not in opposition" as the Islamic groups would have it?

I can only say, it's not intolerant to not tolerate the intolerant.

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