When I wrote last Friday that it was impossible to ignore Barbara Kay's column in the National Post - ["The rise of Quebecistan"->1510] - it turned out to be an understatement.
This week, various columnists and editorialists also expressed dismay at Kay's thesis that Quebec's intellectual discourse has a "fat streak of anti-Semitism" and that politicians who joined in a peace protest in Montreal were "shameless" for leading a "pro-terrorist rally".
Even Premier Jean Charest weighed in. He called Kay's comments a "grossièreté" and observed that debates are carried here with respect. Charest's response was clear and responsible. So was Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, who was chastised by Kay for attending the protest and who received an angry letter from Israel's ambassador to Canada.
But while Kay did venture that a separate Quebec could turn into a new "Londonistan," where Islamist terrorists would find fertile ground, she targeted more than sovereignists.
Yesterday in Le Devoir, she repeated the crux of her first column which is that anti-Semitism in Quebec is found in its political and intellectual elites. What these elites have in common is not their constitutional option. Some are federalist, others sovereignist.
What they have in common is that they're mostly Francophone. When Kay writes about the "fat streak of anti-Semitism that has marbled the intellectual discourse of Quebec throughout its history," that covers a lot of people, mostly Francophones, over a very long period of time.
In Le Devoir, editorialist [Jean-Robert Sansfaçon->1582] brought up Kay's involvement in the federalist magazine Cité Libre during the 1995 referendum and her branding of that period in a column as the "petite noirceur": "Here is what explains the hysteria of her statements but which doesn't justify it."
With all due respect to my colleague who otherwise made some important points, Kay's assertions can hardly be explained by her federalism. There already enough instances in the media in which a statement gets criticized not by arguing on what was said, but by dismissing it as coming from someone who's a sovereignist anyway.
What matters in Kay's column is its content, the underlying vision it reflects as well as where that vision comes from, ideologically and intellectually, or what could have comforted a prejudice that was already there.
This week, journalist Peter Scowen pointed out in a Radio-Canada intervview,there has always existed a vision in some English-speaking milieux throughout Canada that francophone Quebecers are historically more intolerant toward minorities.
But it's interesting to recall in the heated post-Meech period, things went further and landed on the terrain of anti-Semitism.
In 1992, Mordecai Richler published Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, in which he painted a sombre picture of Quebec nationalism and language laws. But he also presented Quebec, especially its elites, as more prominently anti-Semitic than English Canada.
The book became a huge bestseller in Canada and was made into a "documentary" by the BBC. Richler's views were revered in many non-francophone quarters in Canada and abroad. He was even invited to speak at universities as an expert on Quebec nationalism.
Also in 1992, Esther Delisle published The Traitor and the Jew, an essay mainly on Lionel Groulx's and Le Devoir's "extreme-right" nationalism and anti-Semitism. Presented as a study of the roots of the anti-Semitism of Quebec's elites, it also became a bestseller.
It's difficult to know whether Richler and Delisle fed into, or simply comforted, prejudice toward francophone Quebecers and their elites as more intolerant and even anti-Semitic. But chances are their views had a major impact just a short time after a number of troubling statements had been heard about the potential repression of minorities in Quebec should it have been granted "distinct-society" status.
It's the kind of statement that lingers on in Kay's column. But fortunately, as I wrote last week, there is good news.
The number of those in this country who'll jump at any, chance - this time, it was a peace rally - to label Quebec as intolerant has definitely gone down.
And by the way, when Kay wrote yesterday that filmmaker Pierre Falardeau, at the rally "was photographed brandishing a fleur-de-lys in one hand, a Hezbollah flag in the other" - a powerful image - Falardeau waved no flags in that picture. [It'was actor Julien Poulin who waved a Hezbollah flag, for which he apologized in a press-release->1559].
Francophones unjustly labelled intolerant
Fallout continues over massive peace march