Thursday, September 12, 2013

Idi Amin, Pauline Marois and the Race Card. . . .

In 1972 Idi Amin said that he had a dream in which God told him to expel the Indian and Pakistani population of Uganda. It was a terrible act by a terrible man. I used to have a politically radical close friend from Uganda and he used to say that of all the things that Amin did, this was probably the worst thing he did for Uganda as a nation because it had the long term effect of crippling the economy. You see, South Asians only accounted for about one percent of the population but were involved in about a fifth of the nation's wealth production. But Amin knew that Indophobia was a powerful force in Uganda and it seemed that he believed that targeting the South Asians would appeal to his populist base and make him something of a hero in the country.

This is a familiar pattern. A politician takes advantage of racists feelings (sometimes these feelings are overt and sometimes they are quietly seething under the surface) in order to muster feelings of nationalism and bolster their own population. It is a strategy that never ends well and Amin's efforts (though an extreme example) are demonstrative of what such efforts lead to.

This is precisely what makes the recent efforts of the PQ so sad. It seems clear that Pauline Marios is attempting to use relatively quiet, but percolating, racist sentiments to rally nationalist sentiments and create a convenient wedge between Quebec and the rest of Canada. She obviously has calculated that this strategy is one that has a good chance of resurrecting separatism and perhaps finally creating those elusive "winning conditions" for an independence referendum.

But like the efforts of Idi Amin this cannot end well. Even if Marios manages to whip-up the nationalist feelings that she hopes to generate, she is making Quebec a pariah on the world stage. And unlike the situation in France where many radicalized communities have little opportunity to leave, Marois' efforts have a very good chance of motivating a mass exodus from the province. Now, since many (if not most) of the people who could leave will be non-whites, this event will not be mourned by many of those in Quebec who (though they would not admit it) harbour deeply racist feelings. But in the long term it will spell a gross impoverishment of Quebec, both economically and culturally.

I have never liked Quebec nationalism, or any nationalism for that matter. Nationalism in the face of the gross atrocities associated with colonialism are one thing. But Quebec (at least in recent years) has faced none of that. In fact since I came to Canada many years ago the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada has been one of active accommodation. I have always insisted that while you can promote culture you cannot legislate it and Quebec nationalism has always fed on feelings of fear and racism. But when politicians (or anyone for that matter) start actively talking about "cultural purity" I get nervous. I don't know how many times in recent weeks I have heard Quebecers who support Marois' charter talk about racial purity and the so-called "watering down" of Quebec culture. And it is interesting that they would use this phrase, 'watering-down,' because this is a phrase so commonly used by white supremacists when they talk about protecting 'white' culture.

I don't know how this will play out but I know that the PQ and the BLOC have now placed themselves squarely in the camp of American Tea-Baggers and white supremacists who want to "protect" their so-called culture. The people of Uganda learned the hard way what you get when you play the race card for political gain, and I suspect that the people of Quebec will learn the same lesson.


Anonymous said...

I predict that the people of PQ will, by and large, not learn the lesson.

Owen Gray said...

It's hard to predict how this will play out, Kirby. One hopes Quebecers will see Marois desperate attempt to create what separatists call "winning conditions."

Lorne said...

An excellent post, Kirby. Although Quebec being treated as a pariah might only feed into the hyper nationalism of the fanatics, it is not a position most jurisdictions would want to be in. If the odious legislation ever passes, a big question at this point, I wonder how the people will feel if large numbers of doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. leave for more accepting pastures? Already, a hospital in Ontario is recruiting through an ad campaign set to begin on Monday in the McGill student newspaper.

As the old Chinese saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."