Learning to love Quebec nationalism

Since the 1960s, Quebec has seemed a rather tragic place to me, one that has lost much of the magic it once enjoyed. The rise of Francophone nationalism, at its extreme using kidnapping and assassination in the early days to demand the "liberation" of Quebec from Canada, had both a terrible and a benign face. The terrible face included anti-Semitism and harassment of Anglophone businesses, down to minutely regulating the size and placement of French and English on signs. The benign side has seen a flowering of Quebecois culture in music, film, and other realms of human creativity, and the creation of a new class of Francophone entrepreneurs (replacing Anglophones who fled anger, discrimination, and assorted unpleasantness).

In the last decade-plus, secession and independence (a foolish and destructive idea) has become a minority passion among Francophones, and common sense has risen. But the passion for defending French-Canadian culture has never abated.

Now that immigrants from Islamic lands have begin to bring unprecedented demands that society change to accommodate them (also known as Dhimmitude), the robust Quebecois defense of their own culture has taken on a new and positive light. Jordan Michael Smith, writing in the Ottawa Sun, points out a number of instances in which Quebec officials have told Muslims to integrate or bear the costs of their desire to be different.   

The latest involves the Quebec government giving a Muslim woman who wants to be a prison guard a choice: She could either remove her hijab or she could train to be a prison guard. But she could not do both. The woman chose the hjiab.

Predictably, Muslim advocacy groups have been crying racism. "It is an ultimatum, remove the hijab or you're out of here," said the head of the Muslim Council of Britain. "That's not a security issue, this is much more a bigoted issue."

The government stuck to its guns.

We have hailed the heroes of Herouxville, Quebec, who have unashamedly reminded immigrants that by choosing to come to their town, the ways of the old country must be left behind, and accommodation made to local ways.

I have corresponded briefly with officials in Herouxville, in English. They seem eager and grateful for support from the rest of North America. Having visited a few small towns in Quebec in decades past, this eagerness to use English was not always so evident.

It seems that old conflicts are mellowing in the face of common challenges. Some of this is merely the aging of the passions of early Quebec nationalism. I recently had dinner with an old friend who has lived in Montreal her entire life, of English extraction but fully bilingual. She would never consider living anywhere else, and seems as happy as one could be. I remember the days when Anglophones in Montreal speculated on who was leaving for Toronto next.

Quebec remains an extraordinary place, a treasure trove of culture, and a distinctive part of the North American mosaic. The St. Lawrence River Valley, that fertile basin, produces some of the best food in the world, and I wish more Americans would emulate the gastric sensibilities of its inhabitants.

If we can heal old wounds and learn from each other the importance of the values we share in common, that is a wonderful thing, and I can learn to love Quebec's quest to preserve its ways and forget about old conflicts.