There are three important facts which need to be faced if we are to make serious progress towards secularism.
- The U.S. Constitution is not a good model of secularism.
- Islamists weaponize the “antiracism” movement in order to divert it in an antisecular direction.
- In Canada, prejudice against the Québécois is a major impediment to secularism.
Let us consider each of these points in some detail.
The U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not implement complete secularism but only religious neutrality. It says nothing about separating State from religions but only prohibits establishing a State religion. Worse, it declares freedom to exercise religion in an apparently absolute way, as if such freedom could never be limited. If you consider that secularism must include the principle of religion-State separation, as I do, then it is clear that the U.S. Constitution implements only a partial and inadequate version of secularism, which could be called pre-secularism.
Furthermore, even the limited pre-secularism of the First Amendment applied only to the federal government and not to state governments of that country until several Supreme Court rulings in the 20th century. The reality is that after almost 250 years of the American republic, there is still a conflict between separationists who work for greater secularism in the U.S. and accommodationists who favour some degree of religious interference in State affairs, and that tension is still not resolved, i.e. the U.S. has not yet achieved full secularism, nor is it close to doing so. On the contrary, the dishonestly named Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which asserts privileges for religious persons which the non-religious do not enjoy, violates secularism at the federal level, while several states have passed similar legislation. In fact, Nicholas J. Little, lawyer for CFI-USA, is of the opinion that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been killed by a series of recent Supreme Court decisions.
Of course the U.S. Constitution’s pre-secularism, inadequate as it is, is still much better than the Canadian Constitution of 1982 which is riddled with religious privileges, starting with the preamble with declares the “supremacy of God” no less!
Political Islam & the Question of “Race”
There exists a great deal of confusion, some of it deliberately fomented, between the distinct issues of religion and race, confusion which compromises secularism and strengthens religious privilege. First of all, it must be recognized that the so-called “antiracist” movement has become ideologically corrupted to the point that it promotes racism more than it fights it. I therefore refer to this tendency as the neoracist movement. It would take a book, or several, to explain in full detail how this has occurred. Here I will summarize briefly some salient characteristics of the neoracist movement.
While tending to downplay or deny the biological basis of so-called “race” and racism, the neoracist movement is nevertheless obsessed with old 19th century pseudoscientific “races” such as whites, blacks, etc. Neoracism is a mainly American phenomenon, but which has been exported to many other countries. It is thus obsessed with anti-black prejudice and white guilt, even though the American model of race relations applies poorly to other countries with different histories. Neoracists have rejected universalism: instead of moving away from old racial identities, neoracists encourage such divisive identity categories, thus fanning the flames of racial discord. Neoracists have abandoned colour-blindness in favour of a policy of discriminating in favour of groups which are considered to be historically disadvantaged, an approach which 20th century antiracists sometimes endorsed but only as a temporary measure. Even though racism is currently much less severe today than it was decades ago, in the USA and in other countries where neoracism has become popular, neoracists tend to see racism everywhere, whether it exists or not. They tend to interpret every discrepancy between the representation of minorities in a profession and the demographic weight of such minorities in the general population as necessarily being the result of prejudice and therefore evidence of social injustice. Other possible causal factors—random chance, economics, personal preferences, etc.—are simply dismissed.
In the context of secularism, the major problem with neoracists is their habit of conflating religious affiliation with racial identity. The former is of course a choice, or at least it should be if each individual’s freedom of conscience is respected, whereas the latter is an innate and immutable characteristic of the individual. To confuse the two amounts to failing to protect freedom of conscience which is a major priority of secularism. This plays right into the hands of religious fundamentalists, especially Islamists, as it allows them to stifle criticism of their ideology using spurious accusations of “racism.” Worse, this failure to distinguish ideas from innate attributes validates and strengthens the Islamic taboo on apostasy.
The conflation of “race” and religion is a throwback to tribal times when freedom of religion was weak or non-existent and one’s tribal or ethnic affiliation was an almost certain predictor of one’s religion.
Motion M-103, adopted by the Canadian parliament in March 2017, was a great victory for this Islamist strategy. The use of neoracist ideological jargon is clear in the text of the motion which denounces “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism.” The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage was mandated to follow up on M-103; its February 2018 report consolidated this victory by allowing the diversion of programs, originally destined for antiracist work, towards countering so-called “Islamophobia.”
Whether we call it anti-Québécois ethnic bigotry, Quebec-bashing, Quebecophobia, Francophobia, anti-Québécois racism, etc., prejudice against French-speakers has been a major theme throughout Canadian history. Historically, this prejudice began as a combination of religious bigotry, i.e. anti-Catholic sentiment in an era when language and religion were closely aligned, and anti-native racism given the higher rate of intermarriage between Francophones and native peoples (than between Anglophones and native peoples).
In some periods this prejudice was enflammed by Orange Order propaganda, or by the K.K.K. operating in Canada and in U.S. states near the Canadian border. Currently, Quebec, like France, is in the vanguard of secularism. Quebec is taking secularization measures which are poorly understood in the English-speaking world. Islamists take full advantage of this misunderstanding in order to slander Quebeckers as “racist” or “xenophobic,” allegations which some in English Canada are all too ready to swallow.
Putting It All Together
The three points explained above all converge to undermine the cause of secularism.
The failure of many in the English-speaking world to recognize the importance of the principle of religion-State separation results in failure to understand the necessity of religious symbol bans in civil services.
The widespread influence of neoracism, with its race-religion conflation, has the result that many people make false accusations of racism against secular measures such as Quebec Bill 21, but fail (or refuse) to recognize the obvious promotion of anti-Québécois racism by opponents of such measures. After all, according to neoracists, so-called “whites” are always guilty, so that anti-white racism is impossible. As the Québécois are generally white, they are therefore, according to neoracist dogma, never targets of racism.
This hypocrisy—making accusations of racism against the very Quebecers who are targets of racism—is obvious in the reactions to two murderous attacks in recent years: (1) the September 2012 attack on a party celebrating the election victory of the Parti Québécois; and (2) the January 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque. The first was an act of anti-Québécois bigotry, the apparent goal being to assassinate the newly elected Premier Pauline Marois and as many “separatists” as possible. The second was an act of anti-Muslim bigotry (but not racism). The number of killed and wounded was much greater in the mosque attack, but that was simply a matter of luck. Richard Bain, perpetrator of the first attack, was well armed and would in all probability have killed many more if his rifle had not jammed. Both events were acts of horrific deadly violence. And yet, the media in English Canada constantly repeat details of the second attack, falsely suggesting a link to Bill 21 and that Quebeckers be held collectively guilty. But the first attack—a clear example of Anglo terrorism motivated by hatred of Quebecers—is rarely if ever mentioned.
The solutions to these three problems are obvious. Secularists must: (1) affirm the central importance of the principle of separation between religions and State; (2) recognize the significance of freedom of conscience and thus the fundamental distinction between “race” and religion; and (3) reject vilification of Quebec and Quebecers as not only malicious, but also a harmful distraction from the real issues such as (1) and (2).