Looking at the reactions to the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation, it's time to recycle Aislin's famous "Take a valium, everybody."
With Gérard Bouchard's clumsy statement on ordinary folks who don't get it, only a couple of public forums so far and a handful of experts heard, strong words are already flying.
The strongest word of all, as usual, is "xenophobia." Pity the poor citizens who went to these first forums only to be branded by commentators in such a way.
But our memory is short. Did we forget all those wonderful commissions that criss-crossed the country between the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 and the Charlottetown agreement in 1992?
Did we forget all those francophobic statements from "ordinary" Canadians about how dangerous any "distinct-society" status would be for minorities in the province?
And where are all those commissions' reports now? Piled up on some dusty government shelves.
This might or might not be the fate of the Bouchard-Taylor report, due out next spring. But to paraphrase Aislin: Relax people, it's just a commission. It's the government that will choose what to do with it.
In effect, it's one more commission set up by one more panic-stricken premier who in an election campaign that wasn't going his way, tried to upstage Mario Dumont on an issue that the ADQ leader made his own.
Yes, it was an error of judgment to improvise on such a delicate issue. Yes, his move was like those of other leaders who have lightened their loads by shuffling issues on to courts or commissions.
But behind all the reasonable- accommodation talk is a problem that needs to be addressed: the place of religion in the public sphere within increasingly secular societies.
It's true that this socio-political quandary has been awakened by the growing visibility of some Islamic practices in post-9/11 Western societies, especially the increasing number of young Muslims who embrace a more rigid way of life, such as women wearing veils.
Women's past struggles against being told how to dress or to behave in their private lives by religious leaders also hang in the balance. In Quebec, where many women remember the power the Catholic clergy once had over their lives, the issue is more troubling.
But the issue affects all religions. Organized religions have been feeling squeezed out of the public domain. But with the rise of fundamentalism and the argument that any practice dictated by religion falls under the category of individual rights and religious freedom, religions want to re-enter the public sphere.
Witness the Roman Catholic coalition of Quebec parents. It is demanding the axing of a new school course in 2008 that will replace religious or moral classes with a class on religious culture and ethics. The course will study Christian and aboriginal faiths, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
The coalition wants parents to decide which single religion is to be taught to their children in state-funded school.
Here we see the common interest that rallies pro-religion lobby groups in opposing what is becoming a more secular system.
But if political leaders won't face this with calm and intelligence, let's not expect Bouchard and Taylor to work miracles on such a complex issue that is troubling all Western countries.
Don't expect miracles from commission
All Western societies are struggling with the growth of secularism
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