The reasonable accommodation debate begins again

The Gazette’s Jeff Heinrich today has an OMGEXCLUSIVE!!!!11 on the salient facts that will make their way into the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report. It’s in a bunch of parts:

  • The main story, which boils down the conclusions to: learn about immigrants (especially Muslims) and be nice to them; and learn more English
  • A list of common fallacies in arguments against accommodation
  • A sidebar on the need to learn more English, which will no doubt be interpreted not as “we need to be more multilingual like world-leading countries” but as “we need to surrender to the unilingual anglos who will enslave us”
  • Some comments from members of the commission not named Bouchard or Taylor
  • Criticisms from UQAM prof and commission adviser Jacques Beauchemin, calling the report a “whitewash”

There’s also a piece noting that Taylor has been named one of the world’s top 100 public thinkers, an editorial praising the commissioners, a soundoff forum for people’s comments, and a post-publication reaction story from the premier (he’s not saying anything) and others, including Mouvement Montréal français (I won’t spoil the surprise)

I don’t know how Heinrich obtained the parts of the report he bases his stories on (maybe he found them in a cab?), but I’m sure plenty of ink will be spilled noting that it was the anglo paper that got the scoop on a commission report that says we should learn English.

Meanwhile, my bosses are (insert disgusting metaphor for happiness here) that the competition is all over talking about their scoop (it was even in Le Monde!). Patrick Lagacé blogs about it (and the comments give a pretty good idea of why this commission was needed in the first place). Maisonneuve also has (coincidentally) a story about the commission from yesterday.

My take

Anyone who expected the commission report to magically solve the issue is clearly fooling themselves. It simply won’t do that. So then the question becomes what we spent all that money on. Was it just a chance for people from the régions to vent about immigrants they’ve never met? Or was it something to clearly define what the issues are so we can slowly work through them? Either way, expect a lot of people to be angry.

And anger is what the commission brought out more than anything else. It made racism, xenophobia and all sorts of discrimination acceptable and normal by allowing people a forum to express it.

As the Habs riot showed us, crowds are like children. Without proper discipline, they revert to the intelligence of an infant.

This problem isn’t unique to Quebec. The U.S. has the same issue with immigration: the media and politicians practice open discrimination, and that makes it acceptable for everyone else to do the same.

One of the knee-jerk reactions we’ve already seen is that francophones are the ones expected to do the accommodating while anglos don’t have to change. I don’t think that’s the point. Anglos already have to learn French here, otherwise they won’t get jobs in public service (outside of Fairview anyway). Statistics show that those who are bilingual make far more than their unilingual counterparts, anglo or franco. So the solution is to make sure both language groups get education in both languages, no?

I think there’s an even more fundamental issue that wasn’t explored here, and one that would have pissed francophone activists off more than anything else: Is it still in our best interest as a world society to preserve minority languages? So many conflicts can be boiled down to communication difficulties, and so many of those can be boiled down to translation problems. What would be so bad if the entire world spoke just one language, whether it be English, French, Latin, Esperanto or Mandarin?

And what about the media?

The commission thinks it went a bit far, and the media will no doubt disagree. I think the real answer (as always) lies somewhere in between. The media (especially tabloids like the Journal) overhyped the issue, which is a large reason why people who have no real connection with immigrants became so frightened. On the other hand, the media only serve to reflect society, and there was clearly some latent xenophobia there to exploit.

20 thoughts on “The reasonable accommodation debate begins again

  1. Steve Kaufmann

    If the report in the Gazette is true, I will not be surprised. Once again it is the self-appointed “wise” people who will tell the masses what is appropriate for them to think. For me, what is at stake is whether we as Canadians or Quebecois are prepared to defend our way of life and values in our own homeland, from people who have no respect for what has been built here. I have no respect for an intolerant and pompous religion (Islam) which feels that only God can give us laws, and that anyone who abandons Islam deserves to be separated from his head, and which wants the whole world to be ruled by Islam.

    I might add that I have no use for any other religion either, but that Islam is today the most aggressively intolerant of other points of view, and therefore the most threatening to me.

    Let us stand up and defend a free and secular society, with its origins in Western Europe, and which speaks English and French and which welcomes anyone to join it. All the multicult accomodation speak is just dishonest pseudo-intellectual waffling.

  2. Bill Chapman

    I would like to argue the case for Esperanto as the international language.
    It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. Take a look at

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years.
    Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. In the past year I have had guided tours of Berlin and Milan in the planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend it, not just as an ideal but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers.

    My own view is that the world’s languages, large or small are precious treasures, and need to be preserved. A neutral second language for all would do just that.

  3. mankso

    You wrote:
    >What would be so bad if the entire world spoke just one language, whether it be English, French, Latin, Esperanto or Mandarin?

    I think you are a bit off the mark in the remark about Esperanto. The whole point about Esperanto is that it is intended to be a common SECOND language, in addition to one’s mothertongue, as noted by Bill Chapman. There is a world of difference between one hegemonistic ethnic language aspiring to linguistically colonize the world (e.g. English) and thus privilege its own speakers over all others, and a common non-ethnic second language, where we are ALL democratically placed on the same linguistic footing (and thus equally disadvantaged!). And like Bill, I’ve too have used Esperanto for years – in fact most of my scores of daily e-mails are in Esperanto. Try listening to one of the daily Esperanto broadcasts from Radio Polonia: – you just might take a liking to it! I’m all for preserving our linguistic diversity – not eliminating it. And by the way, I (from BC) often meet my Quebec colleagues halfway when we speak together in Esperanto.

  4. Steve Kaufmann

    I speak ten languages, European and Asian languages. I love getting to know the people and the culture of these languages and therefore have zero interest in an artificial elitist language like Esperanto.

  5. mankso

    What an odd comment by Steve – it seems to be more of an gut-reaction than an informed response! I too “love getting to know the people and culture of [ethnic] languages …” as do most Esperanto-speakers. Esperanto was my golden key to the wonderful world of languages. One can meet a very wide variety of people with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds at Esperanto gatherings such as the annual World Congresses (usually around 2,000+ people from 55+ different countries). And Steve is probably not aware of the propedeutic and pedagogic value of Esperanto:
    or e.g. of original Esperanto literature:

    – Artificial?! No way! Constructed, planned – yes! 99.9% of the word-roots in Esperanto are taken from ethnic languages, not artificially invented. Are you saying that you live in a cave (not in a house), that you ride around town on a horse (not in a car or bus), that you use oil-lamps (not electricity) for lighting, that you eat only natural, unprocessed food, have no use for the telephone, radio, computer etc. etc.?
    – Elitist?! How can a regularized non-ethnic language (with all the irrational, illogical irregularities of ethnic languages removed) be considered elitist? Who but an academic, ivory-tower anglophone could ever master all the intricacies of Russian, Arabic or Irish? What percentage of our anglophone highschool students ever succeed in reaching a practically useable level of even an easy language such as French or Spanish? Get real, Steve! Most anglophones are unilinguals – all Esperanto-speakers are, by definition, at least bilingual. A polyglot, such as yourself, is a very, very rara avis in the English-speaking world.

  6. Brian Barker

    Where did you receive the information that Esperanto is dead, also known as artificial?
    Who told you that Esperanto has no cultural value? The cultural value of Esperanto is recognised by the United Nations, through a special UNESCO declaration.

    Baldur Ragnarsson, from Iceland, has been nominated for the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature, for example.
    I’m now firmly convinced that ignorance – not prejudice – holding Esperanto back.

    Can I ask you to check therefore

  7. Steve Kaufmann

    Am I allowed to not be interested in Esperanto, to consider that a language created by utopian intellectuals, and not spoken naturally by any people, a language without a spontaneous literature or history attached to any known group of people, will always be of interest only to members of that same group of utopian intellectuals, and therefore of no interest to me, a person who likes languages that have developed largely naturally, and continue to evolve naturally, through widespread usage?

    I understand that fans of Esperanto feel differently. But must every point of view that is different from that of the utopian intellectuals be termed ignorant or prejudiced, and in need of re-education or elimination?

  8. mankso

    >Am I allowed to not be interested in Esperanto,

    Of course, you are, but it might be less offensive to Esperanto-speakers not to use pejorative terms such as ‘artificial’, or to make demonstrably untrue statements, such as:
    > not spoken naturally by any people
    What about native Esperanto-speakers (of which there are now perhaps a couple of thousand)?

    >utopian intellectuals
    Don’t you mean down-to-earth pragmatists? See the 7 points of the Pragua Manifesto:

    >a language without a spontaneous literature or history
    Simply piffle!

    Perhaps the mistake is to think that a language MUST be either territorially-based or connected to a specific ethnic group (neither of which is true)? (think about lingua franca, or medieval Latin, or world English). And the history of Esperanto is longer than that of Ivrit and Afrikaans, both of which are engineered languages. Are these, and modern Turkish and Norwegian landsmaal, also of no interest to you? Language planning and language policy these days are quite respectable sub-fields of sociolinguistics!

  9. Remush

    Steve, you are absolutely right!

    Esperanto is totally man(men) made and best suited for robots.
    I can testify that I met a score of them which could even kiss and make love. Incredible, I could not believe my eyes.
    My condolence to the poor children who have to learn 3 different languages and sometimes four if they live in a foreign country, as they often dare to.
    That should be forbidden by law if not by plain logic!

    Common sense tells us that is wrong.

    I am also not interested in artificial languages, believe me.

  10. Pingback: Reasonable Accommodation? Not our problem… « The Electric Pencil

  11. truepeers

    “Is it still in our best interest as a world society to preserve minority languages? So many conflicts can be boiled down to communication difficulties”

    -Has it occurred to you that you may be working with an insufficient or incorrect anthropology that misapprehends what the purpose and function of language is? The first priority of any language is not about communicating anything beyond the need of those communicating to maintain a shared linguistic-ritual order. I’d suggest that all the many differences and distinctions that are institututionalized and articulated in the world’s many languages are as much ways of deferring or mediating conflict as they are sources of conflict. If there were only one language, one culture, in the world there would probably be endless civil war and uncontrollable conflict. There is no reason to think any one language is sufficient to the task of articulating global order.

    On the other hand, it is also the case that a workable political order that is any way democratic (i.e. not dependent on a big man or small imperial elite telling everyone their place) cannot exist in places where a great deal of linguistic and cultural diversity is sustained.

    I’d say that Bouchard and Taylor seem to be chickening out from cracking a hard nut. Only “wise men”, i.e. privileged elites, not truly accountable to anyone but their own elite class, can speak what the commission seems to be speaking. Multiculturalism is an inherently imperialistic paradigm. In a democracy, the reality that we cannot be all things to all people will come more firmly to the fore. A democracy begins with the premise that each and everyone one of us is capable of taking the lead, or any role, in meeting our shared responsibilities, to renew our shared order and freedom. This requires some common cultural assumptions and language.

    In a democratic world, the international arena will be one of nations, largely defined by their dominant public language and culture, holding each other to account. Those who dream of overcoming a world divided by language, religion, and culture, will be rightly named as imperialistic tyrants and potential instigators of the largest civil war the world has ever seen.

  12. Steve Kaufmann


    I agree. Bouchard/Taylor do not speak for average Quebecois any more than the multicult post-modernists speak for English speaking Canadians. We need to fight back now. They are brain washing our children.

  13. Jurgen P. Kuhl

    You sock it to them “Manks”. Your replies to Steve Kaufmann are on the mark. I do not agree that people who are assimilated with an other culture, as in the southern part of Ireland should be forced to unlearn English and relearn the original language, Gaelic or any country should be forced to accept another country’s language and culture. I do demand the right to have my child learn Esperanto (if I were young enough and able to produce an other child) in a public School. Once more countries have enough Esperanto speakers, more important literature would be published in it. In time all national languages will become secondary and Esperanto will be voluntarily adopted as “The Universal Language”.

  14. Jurgen P. Kuhl

    in reply to Steve Kaufman who is Islam bashing, writing that islam is the most dangerous religion on earth. He forgets or conveniently forgets about those other religions who worship from the Old Testament. Did he forget that our ex Prime Minister, Chretien was threatened by a Lobby group for not supporting the aggressive war against IraQ and not only the Prime Minister but our whole nation was threatened by them. Why do you think that our member of Parliament , Svend Robinson really had to leave his post in Ottawa. What about our present Prime Minister, a devout Evangelical, leading our country now ? Here are some of my personal beliefs, concerning those three religious grpups, residing in Palestine/Israel:

    My Thoughs about Palestine & Israel.

    Established States by nature cannot live peacefully side by side for long periods. States want to grow, spread out. The State of Israel and the State of Palestine should be abolished!!! The disputed area of Palestine-Israel is said to be the cradle of three major religions: Judaism, Christianity & Islam. The so called Holy Land should be declared a Global Protectorate in which these three Religious groups can live in harmony with one another. The only means of Communication amongst them should be Esperanto. At the present, heavily armed soldiers of the people who call themselves the chosen people by their god, with the blessing of their leadership are shooting the children of an other ethnic, religious belief to death just for fun, sadistic bloodthirst by using them as target practice, shooting at the children who are playing an innocent game of football, a mile away, in the distance. Those are the children of an other faith and nation; therefore not considered as worthy of protection by law. Some parents are praising their children and letting them be brainwashed to become Martyrs, in the name of “their god” and upper class Leadership, by letting them strap explosive devices around their bodies in order to kill themselves and other human beings. This is complete Insanity. Demonstrations against such villains is not enough. I think the Boycott of the individual against Companies that support and invest in those kind of nations should help.

    My thoughts about theWar in Iraq and Ahghanistan.

    I believe the war against Iraq and Afghanistan is a criminal act of “Aggression” and the only way out is to apologize to those nations and pay full Reparations. Free the leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein and let the people of Iraq have a free, democratic election for the leaders of their choice. There should be strong guidelines set up in every nation to avoid such criminal acts to occur in the future.

  15. Steve Kaufmann

    Jurgen Kuhl, You have no right to have your child taught Esperanto in school given that there is no demand for this language. It is preposterous to think that you have such a right. That is what I meant by elitists supporting Esperanto. You have every right to teach it to your child.

  16. Jurgen P. Kuhl

    Steve Kaufman, if there are not parents willing to have their children learn Esperanto after it has been explained to them and offered, I agree that my child can not expect a teacher in School teach it officially but on a voluntary basis after regular School hours.

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