The Unholy Alliance Between Conservatives and Progressives

Daniel and I have been arguing for several years that one of the main reasons why the reaction against a liberal and pluralist political model of secularism is strong in Quebec is that an unlikely coalition between some progressives, including some feminists, and conservative or culturalist nationalists took shape in the course of our ongoing debate on religious accommodation (see here, p. 4). With regard to the controversies about the status of religion in the public sphere, Quebec appears to be closer to many Western European countries than to ROC. The French social scientist Olivier Roy just published a very powerful piece in the NYT showing how the European far right has been pushing for an “aggressive” form of secularism in order to defend against an alleged Islamic threat. It still pays lip service to the notion of a Christian Europe, but it now arguably uses the language of liberal secularism more than the language of culture and tradition. As Roy puts it:

Notably, these measures are being advocated in the name of protecting not Christianity but liberal secularism. The hijab is said to offend women’s rights; circumcision, children’s rights; ritual slaughter, animal rights. Oriana Fallaci and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two radical spokespersons for the feminist resistance to Islam, became darlings of the conservative right in Italy (Fallaci) and the Netherlands and America (Hirsi Ali)

There is no well-organized and popular far right movement in Quebec. I was struck however by how Quebec conservative nationalists rallied behind the republican secularist agenda. Conservative nationalists could have defended prayer at school or at Town Hall meetings and argued for the reestablishment of educational privileges for Catholics and Protestants. After all, they always say that Quebec’s past was brushed aside, and Christianity looms large in that past. Be that as it may, they decided to target multiculturalism, open secularism and accommodations for religious minorities rather than claim special prerogatives for Christian values, practices and institutions. They formed an effective coalition with some republicans, feminists and militant atheists. Conversely, I debated with several talking heads of the secular humanist/republican circle and they all decided to disregard the fact that the PQ secularism Charter did not include the removal of the cross that hangs above the President of the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Strange bedfellows can be found in most democratic countries debating the place of religion in the public sphere. How the unholy alliance between the left and the right shapes up in different countries should be studied, I think, by an international team of social scientists and political theorists.

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