Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reasonable accommodation hearings fact of the day

From the Gazette:

"When I face a Catholic priest or a Muslim mullah, I have the same fear as a gay man," he said in English - the first time anyone has addressed the commission in English. (Ten per cent of Gaspe residents have English as a mother tongue.)

I know that the hearings haven't reached Montreal yet, but I was still surprised by that. It's politic of anglophones to tread lightly in these debates about Quebec identity, but still.

Relatedly, it was pointed out to me yesterday that (mid-grant-application) I'd missed a big story last week: PQ leader Pauline Marois has declared that the solution to the difficulties exposed by the reasonable accommodation debate is... sovereignty!

Marois says the closely watched Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings on reasonable accomodation show that Quebecers are asking questions about their own identity and history.

"Quebecers need to make peace with themselves and get past the uncertainty surrounding their identity by creating their own country," Marois said.
Yes, I know what happens when your only policy is a hammer, but, c'mon. If you're in that position and you're confronted with a glass object that needs repair, you could at least maintain a decent silence instead of volunteering to give it a good whack. I'm sure it's a very nice hammer, and maybe it's the most important tool in the toolbox, but the world's a complex place and some things really aren't nails.

If Quebec were either thoroughly laique or thoroughly Catholic, then sovereignty would just expose religious minorities to a hostile, homogenous local majority. Sovereignty would solve the problem in the same way that it would solve the problem of the First Nations; the minority would have no chance, and the majority wouldn't have to be bothered listening anymore. Since Quebec continues to have a real identity divide-- laique/ Catholic, urban/ rural, etc., just like any healthy democratic society-- it might not turn out quite that way. Then again it might; after all, the great discovery of the past year is that the Catholic and laique voers can find common ground in excluding Muslims and Orthodox Jews. A sovereign Quebec would be dancing a delicate dance with its anglophone minority; a good round of bashing smaller and weaker minorities might be just the safe identity-building tonic that the nationalist doctor ordered.

Note that this doesn't mean sovereignty mightn't be justified all things considered (though I don't happen to think so). But we know enough about post-secession nation-building and the behavior of newly-more-ethnically-homogenous states to know that the majority's sudden mastery in its own house doesn't make it confident and therefore tolerant toward minorities. Quite the contrary. Now, to be fair, Marois didn't say that it would do so; she offered no guarantees about how the Quebecois identity struggle would be resolved. But either she's openly embracing the "there will be no problem, because there are more of us than of you" exclusionary path, or (more likely) she's wrongly (maybe sincerely, but still wrongly) suggesting that a sovereign people could get over its identity crisis and stop being so threatened by minorities. That's not how these things work...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

'Never ever talk to reporters without a script' watch

via the Chronicle:
The dean of admissions at the University of Chicago recently told The Wall Street Journal that he would give Barack Obama’s two daughters “a break” in the admissions process, even though the presidential candidate has said that his girls “should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged.”

Mr. Obama, who generally supports the use of race in college admissions decisions, made the remark earlier this year in response to a question from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about whether his daughters should be able to benefit from affirmative action when the time comes for them to go to college.

In the Journal story, Theodore A. O’Neill, the admissions dean at Chicago, touted improvements in the racial and gender diversity of the student body at his institution, where Mr. Obama was once a lecturer. (The university, the article said, used to be about two-thirds male and overwhelmingly white. Now the gender ratio is about even, and 7 percent of the student body is black, 9 percent is Hispanic, and 1 percent is American Indian.)

Mr. O’Neill was quoted as saying that he disagreed with Mr. Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, on the issue of his daughters and whether they should get a break in admissions decisions: “Those children, for all their privileges, will have interesting things to say about American society based on what I’m assuming their experiences are.” [emphasis added]

The legal need to justify affirmative action in terms of "diversity" and the educational benefits students outside the preferred groups leads to all sorts of rhetorical contortions, and that's far from the worst. But, geez. And it gets worse when you realize that the assumption would not be tested by seeing whether, say, an applicant had anything interesting to say about American society in an application essay, or asking about actual experiences. The assumption is both triggered and rendered unfalsifiable by the 'race' box checked off on the application form.
The clean-shaven life is not...

This is most entertaining.

We have a report of this exchange from antiquity, involving the Stoic Epictetus:

“Come now, Epictetus, take off your beard.”
– If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not take it off.
“Then I will take off your head.”
– If that will do you any good, take it.

And John Sellars tells this story in his book on The Art of Living (2003, p.15):

“In AD 176 the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius created four chairs of philosophy in Athens, one for each of the major schools. When, a few years later, the holder of the Peripatetic Chair died, two equally well qualified candidates applied for the post. One of the candidates, Diocles, was already very old so it seemed that his rival, Bagoas, would be sure to get the job. However, one of the selection committee objected to Bagoas on the grounds that he did not have [a] beard saying that, above all else, a philosopher should always have a long beard in order to inspire confidence in his students. Bagoas responded by saying that if philosophers are to be judged only by the length of their beards then perhaps the chair of Peripatetic philosophy should be given to a billy-goat. The matter was considered to be of such grave importance that it was referred to the highest authorities in Rome, presumably to the Emperor himself…”

Over the page, Sellars suggests that it was the mission of the three philosophers to Rome in 155 BCE which created the popular link between philosophers and beards. That was the famous occasion (which haunts Grotius scholarship down to the present day) when the Sceptic Carneades made a speech in favour of justice one day, and a speech against it the next, very much annoying Cato the Censor in the process. But these were bearded Greeks in clean-shaven Rome, and the Romans remembered the beards.

Y'know, that's actually believable. And funny.

There's more; read the whole thing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Great moments in multiculturalism, continued

Women's group targets hijab, yarmulke

If the Quebec Council on the Status of Women has its way, teachers, doctors and anyone working in a public institution in this province would not be permitted to wear hijabs or yarmulkes.

The council is calling on the Quebec government to ban what it calls visible religious symbols.

While a crucifix or a Star of David on a necklace would be acceptable, council president Christiane Pelchat said, public employees should not be permitted to wear such overt symbols as the hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women, or the yarmulke, a skullcap worn by Jewish men.

The council plans to argue for a ban on religious symbols before Quebec's roving commission on "reasonable accommodation" of immigrants and religious minorities.

The commission's hearings are to wrap up Nov. 30.

That would mean female Muslim teachers would not be allowed to wear a hijab in public schools, Pelchat said this week during a meeting with The Gazette's editorial board.

"Teachers are role models and they should be promoting equality between men and women," Pelchat said. "Because you prevent someone from wearing a hijab, it doesn't mean you are preventing them from believing."

Pelchat, a former Liberal MNA, said the council believes "a secular state promotes freedom of religion for all believers of various denominations."

The council also stated it believes the right to equality between men and women trumps the rights to freedom of religion.

The Quebec Council on the Status of Women is a 20-member body that advises the government on issues relating to women.