Blog 098: Canadian Humanists at a Crossroads

David Rand

2018-05-10 (modified 2018-05-14)

On February 1st 2018, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage tabled its report entitled “Taking action against systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia” before the House of Commons. This report is the result of a series of hearings held by the Committee in 2017 to study the alleged problems raised in motion M-103, adopted by Parliament on March 23rd 2017 and which condemns “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

We of Atheist Freethinkers neither prepared a brief to present to the Committee, nor asked to appear at the hearings as witness. We categorically oppose M-103 (see for example Motion M-103, a Major Step Towards the Recriminalization of Blasphemy) and consider the entire process biased from the beginning. Furthermore, we were convinced that our interventions would very probably be refused in any case.

The Committee’s Report

Indeed, we find in the report that a large number of the witnesses were religious groups. And, as expected, no secular, atheist or humanist group was chosen as witness. The only atheist presence among the witnesses was Ali Rizvi, author of the book The Atheist Muslim, who appeared as an individual. Mr. Rizvi made several very relevant observations which are quoted in the report, for example:

“[O]rganizations like the Muslim Brotherhood … have popularized the term ‘Islamophobia’ for a very clever reason. It allows them to exploit the pain of real victims of anti-Muslim hate for the political purpose of stifling criticism of religion.”

But such clarity of thought is rare in the report.

In her excellent blog Ottawa Throws its Doors Wide Open to Religions, Louise Mailloux exposes the serious dangers which the recommendations of this report represent, starting from the very first one which widens the scope of existing anti-racist efforts, extending them to cover religious discrimination, thus conflating race and religion. This will allow “different religious groups to hijack anti-racist programmes and measures, and to use them to their advantage.” This means that, henceforth, criticism of religion can be condemned as racist!

Recognizing Deception

In order to avoid getting conned by ideologues who, for their own agenda, push certain ideas, it is important to keep in mind several essential points:

  • The deliberate confusion between race and religion is a strategy of political Islam. The concept of race involves immutable attributes of persons, while religion—if practiced freely—is a choice. To conflate the two is equivalent to denying freedom of conscience, imprisoning each person in the religion of the milieu into which he or she was born.
  • The use of the term “Islamophobia” as an accusation is another strategy of political Islam to promote its ideology. To fear Islam (or any other religion or ideology) is neither irrational nor objectionable.
  • To claim that “Islamophobia” is a form of racism is a huge and vulgar lie.
  • More generally, Islamists exploit the concepts and language of human rights in order to fight against those same human rights, that is, to advance their anti-freedom programme. This is called “legal jihad.” One example: the campaign of Zunera Ishaq to win, before the courts, the “right” to wear a niqab even during her citizenship ceremony, the goal being to normalize the wearing of the full veil anywhere and everywhere. The recommendations of this report are another obvious example: using a pretext of fighting racism, religious ideologies are protected and legitimized.

“Humanists” Repudiate Secularism

Somewhat lost during these events, something rather particular happened, a small thing but with very serious consequences. Although their participation as witnesses was not accepted, two secular (or at least ostensibly secular) groups nevertheless each presented a brief to the Committee. The organization Secular Connexion Séculière (SCS) submitted a brief, detailing several aspects of federal legislation whcih discriminate against atheists; see SCS’ related parliamentary petition e-1264.

But what concerns us here is the brief presented by the British Columbia Humanist Association (BCHA). It contains an extremely interesting passage dealing with secularism.

“Building upon the Quiet Revolution and in similar fashion as France, Quebec has sought to move religion from the public to the private sphere. This process is called laïcité in French. While laïcité shares many aspects with English Canada’s secular multiculturalism, it often takes a more anti-religious flavour. The difference is clear in the debate over Quebec’s Bill 62, which bans wearing face coverings in the providing or receiving of government services. This law has been seen by many as an attempt to single out the face veils worn by a small number of fundamentalist Muslim women. Some in Quebec have argued this prohibition is consistent with secularism but we, and other secular organizations, strongly reject this argument. Laïcité’s call for the suppression of an individual’s religious expression is an infringement of the freedoms of religion and expression that is not consistent with our view of secularism.”

As for criticism of the term “Islamophobia,” the BCHA brief rejects such criticism as “extreme rhetoric” and “pedantic”.

The above statement has the merit being very clear: the BCHA explicitly and categorically rejects secularism (i.e. laïcité). The “humanists” of British Columbia are henceforth anti-secular. We have suspected as much for a long time, especially since the period in 2013-2014 when the Charter of Secularism was proposed by the Quebec government of the time and most so-called secularists in English Canada (but fortunately not all!) refused to support it or even opposed it. But now, they have declared their anti-secularism loud and clear. We need not be taken in by their oxymoron “secular multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism is equivalent to communitarianism or cultural relativism, even tribalism, and thus incompatible with the universalism of secularism which does not recognize the individual’s religious affiliation.

Secularism implies separation between religion and state. Therefore, to grant to those state employees who happen to be believers the privilege of wearing, while on the job, obvious symbols of their religious affiliation is unacceptable because it violates that separation. To give priority to an individual’s so-called freedom of “religious expression” over and above all other freedoms, in particular everyone’s right to avail oneself of the services of the State without being exposed to religious proselytism, amounts to a violation of everyone’s freedom of conscience in order to accommodate and privilege one or more specific religious sects.

Face-Coverings

Furthermore, BCHA’s brief displays a total misunderstanding of Quebec Bill 62. This law purports to forbid face-coverings in public services, but provides for accommodations which permit them in many cases. The declaration by BCHA represents a complete capitulation to legal jihad, foolishing swallowing the idea that wearing a flag of Islamism in any place and in any circumstance is somehow an inalienable “right,” even for a public servant while on duty.

Finally, to say that secularism (i.e. laïcité) is “anti-religious” without specifying the exact meaning of that adjective is a a meaningless reproach. Merely to criticize religious beliefs, a task which is not only legitimate but necessary, is considered by many to be “anti-religious” so, what exactly is the problem? Is it because secularism would relegate religion to the private sphere? Not a totally bad idea, I would say, but that is not what secularism does; on the contrary, secularism simply removes religion from public institutions, that is, from state institutions.

Which Way Forward for Other Humanists?

What are the real reasons for BCHA’s opposition to secularism? Without telepathic powers, it is difficult to be sure. Nevertheless, one of their reasons is obvious: these “humanists” are simply kowtowing, perhaps by conformism, perhaps out of cowardice, to the anti-secular propaganda broadcast by most federal politicians and fueled by the partisans and dupes of political Islam. They are capitulating to the fear of being accused of “intolerance” or “xenophobia” ou some other similar sin, accusations whose purpose is to stifle any open debate about these crucial issues.

We therefore must ask the question: What will other Canadian humanists do? Will they too declare themselves enemies of secularism? Or will they instead distance themselves from the fashionable nonsense of the BCHA?

2 comments on “Blog 098: Canadian Humanists at a Crossroads
  1. Doug Thomas says:

    This is a very insightful comment on the Parliamentary Committee’s process and its flaws, particularly the blind acceptance of the term islamophobia, the Muslim equivalent of other religious cries that to prevent their hegemony is to discriminate against them.

    However, I must disagree with the idea that humanist groups are opposing secularism. That disagreement centres on the definition of secular and secularism. While “laïcité”may have a different meaning than the simplistic translation “secularism,” in English, the word secular means “non-religious” and does not necessarily mean “anti-religious.” Of course, this is open to interpretation and some humanists may be more anti-religious than others.

    But, to say that humanist groups in Canada are opposing secularism as a whole because the focus on the humanist philosophy without attacking religion, does not work for me. As a secular humanist I focus on what humanists should do rather than what humanists should do to religions.

    SCS’ position has always been to advocate for humanist rights, especially the right to freedom from religion, and to confront systemic discrimination against atheists in any form, anywhere. As our name, Secular Connexion Séculière points out we are a secular (without religion) organization that supports Canadians’ right to be non-believers and free from religion.

    • David Rand says:

      In the blog above I did NOT say that “humanist groups in Canada are opposing secularism as a whole.” I said that BCHA is opposing secularism, and they have declared this explicitly. Then, in the last paragraph, I ask what direction other humanist groups in Canada will take, but I give no answer.

      Secularism implies separation between religion and state. This means that people who work for the state, especially if they exercise coercive power (such as police), must not wear obvious religious symbols while on duty. BCHA apparently opposes this idea. Thus, BCHA opposes secularism, and they have declared as much by saying that they reject “laïcité.”

      I am sorry Doug, but your group cannot be considered truly secular either, because you promote so-called “open secularism.” The adjective “open” implies that secularism alone is not good, that you must change it by “opening” it — in practice, opening the state to religious interference. Thus, your group SCS also rejects secularism. The concept of “open secularism” is basically the same as the BCHA’s oxymoronic “secular multiculturalism.”

      The bottom line is this: if you do not promote separation between religion and state, then you are not secularist.

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