The straw men of Herouxville

In early 2007, a one-horse town in Quebec passed a code of conduct for new immigrants, particularly Muslims it seems, which in its intial drafting (PDF; some of this is said to have been removed from the final document, although the original is still on the municipality’s website) included demands that newcomers refrain from circumcising, stoning to death, burning alive or throwing acid at women, and insists that they accept that women may sign cheques and drive, and that people drink and that trees are decorated towards the end of the year. This was apparently a reaction to the supposed excessive accommodations made to Muslims and other minorities, such as the orthodox Jews for whom gym windows were blanked out in Montréal. While many municipalities in Quebec rejected the Herouxville code, a further example of French Canadian Islamophobia appeared last month, with three major labour organisations in the province calling for a “charter of secularism”, similar to the province’s charter for the French language, which among other things bans public servants, including teachers, wearing garments such as headscarves which give their religion away.

This is one step further for the topsy-turvy French-speaking world away from sanity in their attitudes towards Muslims. First we have the feminists who are selective about whom they take as “sisters”. In the past some feminists called women “sisters” simply by virtue of having the same reproductive organs as themselves; now, they have to dress and behave as their self-proclaimed sisters wish. Now, we have trade unionists who are selective in whom they take as comrades. You don’t have to just be a worker. You have to be the right type of worker. One can understand unions not wanting to represent active racists and fascists, because such people are an infiltration risk among other things, but advocating that people be refused jobs on the grounds of religion really makes these organisations something other than trade unions.

What sticks out a mile about the Herouxville code, of course, is that the things it disapproves of are already illegal and are not that common among immigrant populations anyway - and there are not that many immigrants in that town anyway, with its population of only 1,300 (it took only seven people to put that code into local law). It is, thus, a raft of negative stereotypes about immigrant behaviour, or of what they hear about it. Some of them are common in some parts of the Muslim world, and in the Third World, but not among immigrants to Canada, and anyone who wants to settle in a small town more than a hundred miles from their nearest place of worship is not really likely to have a problem integrating - if the locals would allow them to, which people in predominantly white rural areas often don’t.

I’m not sure why Islamophobia Watch linked this article defending the Herouxville code two months after it appeared, but it made fairly standard points about the left turning to “monoculturalism”:

It’s not because Quebec is swinging right. It’s because mono-culturalism is swinging left. Having decisively vanquished traditional Christians in the culture wars, feminists, gay activists and other progressives are no longer willing to risk their winnings by pledging multicultural solidarity with traditional Muslims, Hasidic Jews and other socially conservative immigrant groups.

This is a new phenomenon in Canada, but it’s been going on for years in Europe. The old face of nativism used to be Jean-Marie Le Pen, a right-wing Gaullist and old-school bigot who complains crankily about Jews and Blacks. Le Pen is still around. (His National Front party got 10% of the vote in this year’s French presidential election.) But today’s young voters are drawn more to those cast in the mold of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.

Actually, very few politicians in the Pim Fortuyn mould - certainly not those with the same appeal as Fortuyn - have come to power in Europe, particularly outside the Netherlands, but even there the ravings of the likes of Geert Wilders sound more like those of an “old-fashioned bigot” than of a Fortuyn-type liberal fundamentalist. There are certainly blogs advocating those positions, and comment articles, but few if any politicians being elected on such platforms. In the UK, the coalition of “liberation campaigns” is still very much in force despite criticism in newspaper columns and blogs, and even RESPECT did not adopt any anti-gay policies despite the undisguised influence of Muslim Brotherhood activists.

2007 has been dominated, from my point of view as a Muslim, by demands on the Muslim community to “integrate” and cease holding themselves aloof, as we supposedly do, from the rest of society. From my point of view as someone living in the UK who has to walk the streets and travel on public transport, it has also seen a decline in general public behaviour, and most of this is not coming from Muslims but from those with whom we are supposed to integrate. It is usually not us, for example, who shout our heads off on the buses and trains and play the upper registers of bad songs on mobile phones for the travelling public to hear, without asking if they want to hear it. We are not the only community of British people who may like to live apart from our neighbours; there are several others on the various costas of Spain and Portugal, who (like many of us British Muslims) only speak English.

We are accused of generally not liking our neighbours; we do not, however, harass our neighbours. Even those of us who are extremists are not, in general, a blight on others’ lives in between attending small demonstrations to shout inflammatory slogans.

Some of us have been accused of regarding women as inferiors and discriminating against them. However, we are not the people who circulate offensive rap music, for profit, calling our own women bitches and ho’s (whores). (This problem goes way beyond the community from which this rap music emanates, however.)

There are those who do not like the way our women dress. However, for the most part our women dress rather more gracefully than many of our female neighbours. Few of our women, or even our men for that matter, wear next to nothing and drop their trousers halfway down their backsides to reveal their underwear (though this practice is less fashionable than it was a few years ago).

Some people are still worried about terrorism, and periodically there are calls for airport-type security on public transport. However, there have not been 27 teenagers killed by Muslims for petty reasons, such as looking at someone the wrong way, in less than a year. Our men are not, for the most part, afraid to walk into parts of town dominated by other “castes” (which exist despite not being sanctioned by Islam), other ethnicities, other sectarian groups, despite the hostility which exist between certain groups of Muslims, and neither are non-Muslims afraid to visit “our” districts, at least in London. Young men on some council estates cannot visit neighbouring estates, lest they be attacked by armed thugs for invading another gang’s “territory”.

I do not know how many powerful automatic weapons are in circulation in London; however, a teenager was murdered in 2007 by someone who invaded his home and used an automatic pistol known as the “spray and pray” gun, because it is powerful and unwieldy. So far, however, no Muslim has used one of these in any act of terrorism, despite the fact that they could probably get hold of them (there are Muslim gangsters and drug dealers as well, and one remembers the 1993 Bombay bombings, carried out by Muslim criminals in response to the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya by a Hindu mob).

There is, of course, one motive for the wave of Islamophobia in Quebec which seems not to have been discussed much: the desire to put distance between Quebec and English-speaking Canada by imitating France. The “ethnic vote” has also been blamed by the separatist leader in Quebec for defeating an earlier referendum on separation from Canada, which may also fuel resentment towards Muslims and other minorities. However, the climate of hostility to Muslims is a problem throughout the English-speaking world and beyond, generally fuelled by prejudices just as ignorant as those displayed in the Herouxville code, and by the corporate media eager to capitalise on these prejudices. For the most part, Muslim minorities in the English-speaking world, if not in continental Europe (and even there, when we are talking about religious Muslims and not just “ethnic Muslims”), are among the quieter and more law-abiding sections of society. Those who preach that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” had better be sure of which Romans they are talking about.

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