Dear members and representatives of Québec Solidaire,
On behalf of the hundreds of members of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) all across Québec, we wish to congratulate you on the vigorous internal discussion related to your party’s attempt to modernize its position on religious symbols. At the outset we say that it is our sincere hope that your final decision will reject a policy that would limit the rights of Québecers in any way based on the personal expression of religion, culture or principals. In short, we hope that you will support a free and open society for all by voting for the proposed “Option B”, which imposes no limitations on employment for wearing “religious symbols”. This approach encourages a Québec which rejects exclusion and stigmatization of religious and cultural difference. We feel now is the time to reinforce the positive inclusionary history of Québec.
As you may know, IJV is grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine and around the world. Our members steadfastly believe that human rights are universal, indivisible and should be upheld without exception. These include rights to dignity, security, justice and gainful employment. These principles have guided our members in their tireless struggle to support Palestinians’ rights to sovereignty and self-determination by ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the longest military occupation in modern times. Tied to this struggle, in its current context, is the rising Islamophobia across the globe, which has resulted in a climate of fear, oppression and physical violence, faced by Muslims. Like other Western countries, we know that Québec is not immune to these social forces, as is painfully recalled each January 29th. It is in this context that your internal reflection on religious symbols is set, and that Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim will be the most impacted. In the same vein, women who wear hijab are the most visible representatives of the Islamic faith. Therefore, while many other people, including Jews, are targeted by religious symbols laws, we must be clear that Muslim women will be the ones confronted most directly.
Our members often hear during debates on this issue that support to impose a “limited” ban on employment is linked to a desire to help “liberate” Muslim women. But it is simply wrong-headed to suggest banning anyone from employment will further social and economic integration. Quite the opposite. As there is no coordinated, state-sanctioned dress code for women here in Québec, other than the proposal put forward in Option A, the motivation to wear hijab or any other religious symbol remains a free choice, be it motivated by religion, cultural observances, or indeed even as a sign of defiance and self-expression. We also reject the demeaning implications that it is impossible to both fulfil one’s professional responsibilities while wearing hijab, religious beard, kipa, turban, etc. Such an argument is based on the fear that the wearing of a religious symbol will lead to proselytism. Such fear doesn’t name suspicions, it breeds them and we at IJV encourage QS to strive to open the debate on a higher ground. Moreover, Option A arbitrarily targets certain professions, which can open the door to its expansion. It is not hard to see how some people can argue that teachers, day care professionals, and elected officials are the ones who hold the real societal authority. Indeed we expect just this from Francois Legault. Thus, despite the current arguments, Option A and the “politics of compromise”, will place the focus on how many rights we should take from people, rather than on how such a position will actually further xenophobia, sexism and division.
In the end, we have arrived at our main fear: Option A sends the message that some peoples’ rights are less than others’. If you agree with us that there can be no compromise on human rights and that a truly free Québec can only be realized when solidarity is extended to all of its citizens, then please vote for Option B.
Scott Weinstein, Steering Committee member from Québec
Fabienne Presentey, Coordination Committee member, IJV-Montreal
Jesse Greener, Coordination Committee member, IJV-Québec City