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The myth of ’Quebecistan’

National Post
mercredi 16 août 2006

Counterpoint - According to Barbara Kay’s Aug. 9 article, "The Rise of Quebecistan," Quebec is a haven for Hezbollah supporters and for anti-Semitic and anti-American ideologues. An independent Quebec, she predicts, would rapidly become a new "Londonistan."

As a Quebec federalist — and a journalist who has repeatedly supported Israel’s right to defend itself, and denounced Quebec politicians’ criticism of Stephen Harper’s handling of the Lebanese crisis — I was dumbfounded by Ms. Kay’s prejudice.

Were Gilles Duceppe, Andre Boisclair and others ill-advised to sign a manifesto that did not condemn the Hezbollah raids against Israel ? Yes, undeniably. Does that make them supporters of terrorism ? No : Their statements and deeds, including the comments they made during the Montreal demonstration Ms. Kay describes, make it clear that they do not endorse terrorism in any form. Their position in favour of an "immediate ceasefire" was perfectly respectable. It closely resembled the point of view defended by many federal Liberals, and promoted by a large number of countries, including the European Union, which all suggested that Israel’s response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers was disproportionate.

Ms. Kay strongly disagrees with the focus of the demonstration on Israel’s supposed wrongs ; so do I. But from that well-founded criticism, she goes on to portray Quebec society, particularly its intellectual and political leadership, as sympathetic to Islamist terrorists in general. She also denounces Quebecers’ "reflexive anti-Americanism" and their "fat streak of anti-Semitism." That Quebec, the "Quebecistan" of her thesis, simply does not exist.

A huge majority of Quebecers are strongly against George W. Bush’s policies, that’s for sure. Does that make them "anti-American" ? If they are, why has Quebec been more supportive of free trade than Ontario ? How can one explain the very close relationships Quebec maintains with the north-eastern states and the fact that Quebecers travel in huge numbers to the United States ? How about the popularity of American music and movies in Quebec ?

Besides, is there no anti-Americanism in the rest of Canada ? Has Ms. Kay listened to the speeches of some Liberal and NDP politicians ? As far as I recall, it was not a Quebec MP who famously called Americans "bastards."

Was anti-Semitism rampant in Quebec intellectual circles in the 1930s and 1940s ? Yes. Are there still remnants of that disgusting sentiment today ? Yes. But is this history of anti-Semitism unique to Quebec ? Obviously not.

In the English Canada of the 1940s, recalled historian Irving Abella, "banks, insurance companies, industrial and commercial interests of importance did not hire Jews. Stores did not want Jews as salespersons. Hospitals did not admit Jewish doctors. There were no Jewish judges and Jewish lawyers were barred from most firms."

Moreover, if Quebec is a nest of anti-Semitism, why do more than a third of Canadian Jews still live and prosper here ?

According to the Post columnist, if Quebec ever becomes a sovereign state, it will immediately fall under the control of terrorist-supporting leaders and transform itself into a sort of Afghanistan of the North. The only thing that prevents this from happening today, she believes, is the benevolent governance of "politicians who know the difference between democracy and a gang of fanatical exterminationists."

What politicians is she talking about ? Are English Canadian politicians the only democrats ? How about LaFontaine, Laurier, Saint-Laurent, Trudeau ? At the provincial level think of Lesage, Levesque, Bourassa, all strong believers in the virtues of democracy. Can Ms. Kay name a place in the world where two referendums were held on the issue of independence, including one where the result was extremely close, and where the separatist side accepted defeat without taking to the streets ? And those are the cryptoterrorists she is alluding to ?

While pretending to fight intolerance, those who paint a prejudiced view of Quebec are in fact fanning its flames. They try to hurt separatism by associating it with the devil ; in reality, they are buttressing the sovereignists’ case against Canada.

Today’s Quebec is a vibrant, diverse, tolerant and deeply democratic society. On the Lebanese issue, as on many others, there a difference of opinion between Quebec and other regions of the country. Being partners in the great Canadian experience, we should not caricature or squash those differences, but try to understand and build from them.

- Andre Pratte is Editorial Pages Editor at La Presse. His latest book, Aux Pays des Merveilles (VLB editeur, 2006), is an essay on Quebec political myths.

apratte@lapresse.ca

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André Pratte et le Québécistan

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