Back in the 1950s, it was not nice to be on the left in Quebec. The ‘soft’ dictatorship of Duplessis, an admirer of Mussolini and Franco, was ruling Quebec, with the help of the Catholic Church, and with a hard fist. Communists were the official target, but in reality, the emerging trade union movement was the real enemy. Duplessis personally intervened to command his police to ‘smash heads’ (it was his expression) in the famous asbestos strike of 1949. Textile and clothing workers were beaten badly in Montreal, Valleyfield and Louiseville and so it went on for almost two decades. Workers’ leaders like Madeleine Parent and Kent Rowly had to go on exile after years of harassment and jailing. The big Anglo-Canadian and American capitalists were approving: Duplessis was a bastard, but ‘their bastard,’ to paraphrase the famous U.S. line on Nicaragua’s Somoza.
But repression alone was not enough. And there the Catholic church was more than a support base. Socialism, trade unionism, feminism (there was also an emergent women’s movement) had to appear as diabolic enterprises, managed by Godless evil people. To be precise, they had to be Jews. Of course, anti-Semitism has a long history in the Christian tradition, are they not those who killed Jesus Christ?! After the First World War and even during the Second World War despite the fact that Canada and its allies were in war against Hitler, Jews were often portrayed as either vampiring capitalists or subversive communists. In Quebec this image as the Jewish-communist subverting our values and our religion was very powerful and actively promoted by the Catholic church which had at that time such powerful influence over civil society, education and media.
Later that changed. The ‘revolution tranquille’ pushed back this brutal reactionary ideology. The new social and political movements, including the PQ by the way, were proud of claiming their adherence to secularism and inclusiveness. Anti-Semitism did not disappear but it lost its central place in the society.
In the last period however, it has made a formidable comeback. Populist and reactionary demagogues have reinvented anti Semitism in the form of islamophobia. It is sad to say that many Jewish and pro-Israel lobbies have to come to support that. Nevertheless, it has taken an important place in the public discourse, mostly on the right. Immigrants from the Middle East and Asia, including a large proportion of Muslims, are now the scapegoat, the new enemy. Like Jews before, they are presented as ‘profiteers’ that come here to exploit ‘our’ country. In the context of the ‘Islamist threat,’ they are also presented in mainstream media like the Journal de Montréal and TQS network as a very dangerous menace. Harper has courted these demagogues to justify his attacks against civil liberties.
Today, all of this bounces back in the electoral campaign because the NDP has presented a Muslim women, Samira Laouni, as its candidate for the riding of Montréal-Bourassa. Trash media and journalists have ganged up against Laoumi as a subversive Islamist who commits the crime of being veiled. The veil is an object of fixation, a bit like the peculiar dressing of Hassidic Jews in Extension Park in downtown Montreal. As if the fact of carrying a religious sign was totally inacceptable for Muslims, while it is not for the other denominations. The demagogues accuse Muslims of undermining our ‘Christian values,’ reproducing the ‘Crusade’ approach of George W. Bush.
So far social movements in Quebec have been slowed in fighting back. During the Bouchard-Taylor Commission last spring, they did not intervene much to denounce the islamophobic onslaught, preferring to stand behind an official secularist position (we are for a strict separation between state and religion), but not realizing, like two generations before, that the targeting of Muslims has a not so hidden agenda. It is the honor of the NPD to resist that and support its candidate Laouni.