I don't want to be tolerated

I'm no one in particular, yet I sometimes unwillingly become everyone at once. I'm not a victim, yet that's how I'm being portrayed. I'm not a public danger, yet news report how disturbing I am on a quasi weekly basis. Yes, human nature is suspicious of the unknown and is protective of its own values. And it may foster a certain distance, even insults... but the opposite is also true.

I received, throughout my short life, more kind words than bad ones. I use these kind words to dodge cheap shots and skewed looks. Everyone thinks they know best when it comes to living in a society. Yet, too often, we forget that there is no one truth. Each individual has their own, a truth that is suitable for who they are, their experience, their personality, the education they received. I gather that's what makes our crazy world so exciting.

I always considered myself a Québécoise, but I learned that I needed to prove it. When you don't physically fit the mold, you're labeled: "Warning, fragile package, comes from elsewhere."

Yet, my radio played Marie-Chantal Toupin and Dany Bédar as far back as I remember. I shiver at the words of Richard Desjardins. I was a fan of Véronique Cloutier before I was born. Ever since I began understanding social and political issues, Pierre Falardeau has been one of my biggest role models with his activism. I cried when watching Maurice Richard (the movie). Forget clichés... Les Charbonniers de l'enfer and Les Cowboys fringants are among my favorite bands.

When I return to Lebanon and people emphasize my Canadian citizenship, I think: "Yes, but Québécoise above all!". It's part of my identity and I've long since abandoned the idea of ​​choosing between the two. I quickly realized I could have the best of both worlds.

But where am I heading you wonder?... simple... I don't want to be tolerated... I don't think I need to be. Johann Wolfgang once said: "Tolerance should be a transitory state. It should lead to respect. To tolerate is to offend." Being tolerated is to feel like a burden. The vast majority of people of different ethnicities simply want to blend in, become more or less like any other Québécois. The ones don't have to tolerate the others.

In fact, the only thing I want to have to tolerate in my life, are everyday banalities... young people who talk too loud on the bus... a slow cashier at the supermarket... a teacher who continues to speak 10 minutes after the course is over. Ultimately, I can also tolerate my mother-in-law, but this is a different story.

In short, I don't want to tolerate the religious faith of a person, nor customs and beliefs that seem twisted. No, I don't want to tolerate them, I want to accept them, respect them and, at the end, make a detail out of them.

I want my veil, a fragment of religious and cultural intertwine, to become the biggest detail of myself when interacting with someone. Being asked about it doesn't bother me (it's part of me), but I don't want it to be a hurdle during a job interview. I don't want it to become a reason for customers to switch cash registers at work. I don't want to be told that I'm unhappy without knowing it. Above all, I don't want it to stifle my Québécois identity and let anyone under the impression that one excludes the other.

Being in Québec is to have the incredible chance of living on a piece of land that thrives on freedom. It's also the chance to know countries all over the world while staying at home; Québec breathes diversity. This is a place where life is good, where each individual is himself, with his opinions sometimes too crude, beliefs sometimes too blatant, differences sometimes too sharp. Being in Québec is to claim individual freedom in all its forms. Being in Québec is to reject the word tolerance and adopt the word respect. To be Québécoise is never by chance. In my case, I am first and foremost because I choose to be.

Translated from a letter by Dalila Awada, published in La Presse [in French], February 18, 2012.


Raman said...

I agree a lot more with the retort that a reader wrote to Dalida Awada (and which I can’t find anymore, unfortunately… Cyberpresse’s archives are a maze to me!). In a nutshell, that reader expressed the opinion that, if newcomers to this society want to boldly go against the norms in place and against the cultural trajectory of their host society, they have to expect to be confronted. Basically, they have to assume the responsibilities of their own choices, and cannot expect everyone else to change for them. She also stressed that the kind of confrontation Dalida was likely to meet in Quebec (the occasional skewed look, for example) were very benign, which is completely true.

The fact is, when you live in groups, as humans do, you have to come up with common rules to insure cohesion and peace. Democracy and secularism are just such rules, and arguably among the best ever invented. Secularism especially is the rule that insures everybody can enjoy their freedom of beliefs, while at the same time avoiding that the common national identity dissolves into more or less segregated ghettos. Not wearing your religious allegiances as stigmas on your body shows that you present yourself as a citizen: Not as the member of an endogamous clan which, through its religious texts, view themselves as morally superior. It also makes it very difficult for would-be community leaders to identify and control your behavior. (For example, nowadays in Montreal, if you’re tagged as a Muslim, it can be dangerous to be seen eating during Ramadan. I know first-hand a couple of cases of people who are secular Muslims and who received very serious threats for that “misbehavior”.)

Asked to comment on the Muslim veil in France, Claude Lévi-Strauss once said that he thought it was extremely rude. I like that answer a lot. Think of a commune of roommates who have a rule: Everybody takes off their shoes when they come inside the house. The rule is pretty obvious: If everybody follows it, there will never be any mud on the carpet. And we don’t care if your shoes are clean: Just follow the rule. Going against a cultural tradition like laïcité by insisting on wearing your religious symbols everywhere is exactly like saying that the no-shoes rule shouldn’t apply to you. It’s rude. And it’s sure to bring about some “intolerance”.

Raman said...

...just found the reply :