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The Pseudo-secularism of the PQ Charter

I've held off writing about the recent Quebec Charter controversy for a variety of reasons.  First of all, the fact that the majority of my readership is outside of Canada means, on a really asinine blog logic level, that any post about this charter would begin with slight confusion as to what I was talking about.  Secondly, the fact that I tend to blog primarily about issues that are specific to communism would mean that any analysis of the Quebec's Charter might feel like a generally social democratic post, and social democrat bloggers would probably do a better job in this area.  Thirdly, the fact that most progressives who read this blog would understand the racist undercurrents of the charter means that I would be preaching to the converted (joke intended).  And finally, the fact that the PCR-RCP sponsored Partisan has already attacked the charter (here and here) from a communist perspective would render much of what I planned to say redundant.

And yet, despite the possible redundancy of my last reason that might still be a problem, I do think it's worth discussing Quebec's controversial charter from a communist perspective, mainly to clear up some confusion over the reasons why revolutionary communists should and are opposing a set of laws that is masquerading as secular interventions in the public sphere.  After all, communism has historically been at the forefront of pushing radical secularism––so much so that, during the cold war, we were accused of making atheism a "state religion" and murdering Christians (among others) in purges and cultural revolutions.  We are known for slogans that compare religion to opium, just as we are known for the first legal systems that succeeded, far better than the capitalist states in those times, in the radical separation of church and state.  We have also been known to speak of religion "withering away" and the need to pursue a proletarian dictatorship that permits this withering.  Thus, with all this in mind, it is worth asking whether it is contradictory for communists to oppose the Quebec charter.

(As an aside, it is worth reading an old post I wrote about atheism and theism for some background on a communist approach to this issue.)

But first some background, briefly, for the non-Canadian who is unfamiliar with Quebec's charter controversy…  The new charter, defended by Quebec's provincial government, the Parti Quebecois [PQ], is aimed at banning overt religious expressions from the public sphere.  Such a ban is similar, in many ways, to laws previously proposed in France that were once critiqued by Alain Badiou.  Therefore, as with France, on the surface the PQ's charter appears to be a set of laws aimed at implementing a thorough separation of church and state, the completion of the secularism promised by the French Revolution.

There will be some secularists of the liberal persuasion, then, who might celebrate the charter because they assume it is indeed a set of laws that fulfills the promise of the separation of church and state.  Convinced that religion is the primary problem facing the secular state, and believing that capitalism is a secondary problem, these secularists accept the charter at face value––they assume that it will accomplish the promises of the bourgeois revolution and produce a situation where everyone is equal, religious articulations be damned, all under some great secular "law of heaven".  And though this belief in the charter is somewhat laudable it is also entirely naive.

white racists agitate for the "secularism" of the PQ charter

Let us be clear: there is a reason that the charter is being celebrated primarily by the same populations that have celebrated every anti-immigrant law, the "War on Terror", and who only speak of those "secular rights" that do not contradict their right to cling to unquestioned reactionary beliefs.  Take, for example, those conservatives who like to speak, on the one hand, of the backwardness of oppressed nations' supposed theocracies (especially those nations that are targeted by imperialist intervention), but on the other hand, cling to a backwards morality that upholds the right to exploit workers, the right to exclude immigrants, and the right to keep women "in their place" but without head scarfs.  These are the people who by-and-large endorse the PQ charter, and this endorsement has nothing to do with an idealized secularism.

The secular aspects of the charter are merely formal, and those "radical" secularists who would suggest otherwise are entranced by the realm of appearance, incapable of grasping the vicious foundations upon which this illusion rests.  And this is why revolutionary communists reject the charter: not because we are against secularism but because we are against pseudo-secularism, especially the bullshit secularism that is an excuse for the typical anti-immigrant ideology of the PQ and its pursuit of a white Quebec.

Today's charter follows yesterday's Bill 94 that was designed to deny social services to women whose faces were covered for religious reasons.  Here the fact that a religion demanded the covering of a woman's face was not the issue, despite the "secular" wording of the bill.  Rather, the problem was that women who were not part of the white Catholic hegemony were being denied social services.  For if those behind this bill really cared about the oppression of women due to an anti-secular convention, then why would they draft a bill that targeted the very women that were supposedly oppressed?  Indeed, the very fact that this bill was designed to punish them women who were apparently already punished, and thus succeed in isolating them further by pushing them back into the private sphere, teaches us something about the structural imperatives behind this law.  The charter is no different: apparent secularism masking insidious racism.

Thus, those bourgeois "feminists" who have come out in support of the PQ charter are about as feminist as those French "feminists" who, in the 1950s, supported the colonial regime in Algeria under the auspices of liberating women from the veil.  A feminism that encourages violence against women––because attacks against Muslim women has increased in Quebec since the charter debate began––is nothing more than the bourgeois, racist, and liberal feminism that was already being attacked by the most radical elements of second wave feminism in the 1960s.

Moreover, the supposed "secularism" of the PQ charter is only secular when it comes to religions other than the normative religion of Canada that, because it is normative, does not have to worry about outwards expressions.  For though the Charter also, in the typical liberal gesture of "equal rights", appears to target Christianity by banning ostentatious displays of Christian faith (one cannot wear overly large crosses, whatever this means), the fact of the matter is that Christianity, because it is in many ways a cultural norm, is by-and-large not ostentatious––it doesn't have to be.  What does it matter if the average Christian is not allowed to wear massive crucifix medallions when hir places of worship are on every street corner, when Catholic schools receive public funding, and when her discourse dominates the Canadian cultural narrative?  Not very much.  And how secular is a law that makes the most reactionary Christian fundamentalist sects happy?  About as secular as Karzai's puppet dictatorship in Afghanistan.

Therefore, we need to see the "secularism" of the PQ charter as part of a pattern of Islamophobia, an ideology that has emerged alongside the War on Terror.  Liberal secularists, who are incapable of grasping the structural oppression that emerges from class struggle and the global contradiction of imperialism can only understand modernity according to the bourgeois legal system.  Believing that all are equal under the law, and that the legal structure does indeed perform a balancing act of rights as the charter appears to do, such liberal secularists fail to understand that, as Marx has taught us, "between equal rights force decides."

Of course, we communists are indeed interested in pursuing radical secularism, and historically we have been at the forefront of combating religious mystification.  At the same time, we also have a long history of understanding how and why bourgeois secularism, especially the bourgeois secularism of the western imperialist nations, is capable of justifying racism with legal doctrines that primarily target the religious other.  Fascists, after all, have a long history of targeting and scapegoating religious minorities while reifying their own religious mystification.  There are thus historical moments when supposedly "secular" laws exist only to support attacks on those immigrant populations who are already seen as a threat to the dominant racialized order; these moments also tend to emerge at those historical junctures when the racially privileged masses need to be given a scapegoat that, fitting into their already socialized biases, will distract them from the misery of capitalist crisis.  Hence, the anti-religious justifications of these laws are about as honest as the official reasons provided for every imperialist intervention.

Some time ago in Afghanistan, US soldiers publicly burned Qurans; the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan [CmPA] openly opposed this supposed expression of anti-religious sentiment.  The CmPA is the only secular organization engaged in openly struggling against US imperialism in Afghanistan and, in opposing Karzai's Islamist government, is opposed to all forms of religious mystification… And yet the Afghani maoists understood that the Quran burning was not an expression of secularism but, performed by US soldiers who have worked to install a puppet Islamist dictatorship, an act of imperialist chauvinism.  We need to oppose the PQ charter for similar reasons: it is more of the same imperialist garbage and part of an emergent cross-Canada pattern.  For though, as communists, we must pursue radical secularism we cannot pursue a pseudo-secularism that is aimed at targeting racialized immigrants while, at the same time, reifying the religious culturalism that is part of this nation's normative values.