Open letter to Mr. Boufeldja Benabdallah, president of the Centre culturel islamique de Québec (CCIQ), and to all those opponents of Quebec Bill 21 who exploit the Quebec City mosque massacre as a weapon against secularism.
On the day of the third anniversary of the Quebec City mosque massacre, you, Mr. Benabdallah, president of that mosque, accused Bill 21 of putting “part of society in the dock of the accused.” Several other participants in the ceremony commemorating the anniversary made similar declarations, alleging that so-called “Islamophobia” exists in Quebec and that Bill 21 is a major cause of it.
Now, it is absolutely false to claim that Bill 21 could foment or inflame any kind of hatred against anyone. On the contrary, Bill 21 is but a modest measure stipulating professional ethics, that is, religious neutrality, in parts of the civil service.
In the aftermath of that horrible massacre which occurred on January 29th 2017, the population of Quebec responded unanimously with horror, with condemnation of the atrocity and with compassion for the victims and their loved ones. The deceased were honoured with a ceremony which had all the formality and solemnity of a State funeral. Quebec society in its entirety was deeply aggrieved by the event.
But you and other opponents of Bill 21 seem to want to put the blame for this massacre on the shoulders of Quebeckers in general. Do you also hold all Muslims—including even those who dare to renounce those verses of the quran which call for violence against non-Muslims—responsible for all terrorist attacks perpetrated by Islamists who justify their actions by these very verses?
Mr. Benabdallah, your inappropriate remarks are perhaps due to the pain of grief, but that does not justify such comments three years after the event. Following the publication of Bill 21, as well as during the period in which the Charter of Secularism proposed by the PQ government of 2013-2014 was being debated, there was indeed an onslaught of hatred, but not against Muslims. Rather, it was Quebeckers and secularists who were the targets of that wave of hate propaganda, a wave which has not abated since. Your declaration, Mr. Benabdallah is irresponsible and hypocritical because you reproduce precisely the effect of which you accuse Bill 21: you put Quebeckers “in the dock of the accused” for having supported legislation which does not in any way do what its opponents claim it does. Furthermore, your declaration, as well as similar remarks by other opponents of secularism, only succeed in inflaming that dangerous wave of anti-Québécois hostility.
Even if 100% of Quebeckers were in fact anti-Muslim bigots (which is obviously false), Bill 21 would still be a good, progressive law because it is not discriminatory. It applies equally to all religions and to all persons, without discrimination. Veiled women who are affected by Bill 21 are self-selecting. They are not targeted by the Bill. Some veiled women deliberately choose to make themselves targets by refusing to respect the religious neutrality which Bill 21 requires of civil servants in positions of authority.
Finally, it is reasonable to expect that Bill 21 will reduce (rather than increase) the probability of acts of violence against religious minorities, because the law sends a message to the population that its government is taking action to assert religious neutrality in public services, something which the population ardently supports, and is thus offering some protection for the civil service against religious interference. In fact, if the PQ Charter of Secularism had been adopted in 2014, the risk of such acts of violence would have been subsequently reduced and the massacre at the Quebec City mosque might never have occurred.