Secularist settler colonialism: Leila Benhadjoudja, ‘Racial Secularism as Settler Colonial Sovereignty in Quebec’, Islamophobia Studies Journal, 2022


Excerpt: Secularism raises important identity issues in Quebec. As a francophone nation, Quebec defends its secularism as evidence of its distinctiveness from Anglo-Canada and an attachment to its French heritage. Quebec is the site of two distinct colonial regimes (French and British). The French conquest started in the 15th century in the name of its monarchy, and the British conquest was consolidated in 1763 by the treaty of Paris (Leroux 2011, 378). The latter constitutes a political trauma that French Canadians continue to cling to as defining the relationship between white francophones and white anglophones in Canada. This trauma, of one colonial empire losing an Indigenous territory to another colonial empire, is central to understanding contemporary racism and Islamophobia in Quebec. In this context, criticism of Quebec’s secularism and other policies targeting minorities is seen as a threat against Quebec’s francophone identity. A telling example of this dynamic, and one that has caused a media and political uproar, occurred at the Canadian leaders’ debates during the 2021 election campaign. During this live televised debate, the moderator, journalist, and analyst Shachi Kurl (a woman of color), asked Bloc Québécois party leader Yves-François Blanchet (a white francophone man) about his support for Quebec laws that have been strongly denounced by anti-racist groups in Quebec, including the law on secularism (Bill 21). Bill 21, An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, passed in Quebec Parliament in June 2019. This controversial law prohibits public service workers who exercise authority from wearing religious symbols (e.g., police, lawyers, and teachers) and disproportionately targets Muslim women who wear the hijab. Kurl’s question created a major national controversy. The host was accused of Quebec-bashing and Premier François Legault declared that “The Quebec nation is under attack.” Blanchet, for his part, felt “a cauldron of insults in the face of Quebecers,” and the Bloc Québécois has repeatedly refused to recognize the discriminatory nature of Bill 21 and systemic racism in Quebec. Finally, the members of the Quebec National Assembly felt the need to vote unanimously to denounce Kurl’s question, and to call for an end to “Quebec bashing.” (Lévesque 2021). An interesting fact is that even the political parties that opposed Bill 21 felt that Quebec was under attack. For example, Dominique Anglade, the first Black woman to be the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, also condemned the “attack” on Quebec and wrote on Twitter that “We are an open, free, strong people…” (Lévesque 2021). What was presented as outrageous during this moment of national uproar was not that Bill 21 discriminates against Muslim women who wear the hijab and other religious minorities in Quebec; rather, it was that Quebec as francophone nation was “targeted” by Anglo-Canadians. This anecdote is part of a dominant logic of denial of racism and settler colonialism in Quebec, where anti-racism criticism of Quebec’s secularism is often silenced by the colonial narrative of two founding peoples, and their rivalry in the colonial project

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