There is absolutely no common sense; it is common nonsense. - Henry David Thoreau
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason! - William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
In Quebec, we are in the middle of a provincial election. It is, or so the polls tell us, a three-way race. The pollsters have, in fact, thrown their hands in the air and declared that "all scenarios are possible", suggesting that the election might end up like the one in Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town where the Independent is winning in the morning, the Liberal candidate in the afternoon and virtually all the citizens wait to vote until the evening when it becomes obvious that the Conservative must win, at which point they can go to the polls with great relief that they know what to do at last.
The ruling party is Jean Charest's Liberals. They are politically federalist which is to say that they are in favour of Quebec staying within Canada. The Liberal's strength is concentrated in ridings that have a strong population of Anglophones and immigrants. In many of their ridings, the Liberal could run a dead parrot and not only would the parrot win, but his victory would be so crushing that he would probably be guaranteed a spot in the cabinet… if the Liberals return to government. The only problem for the staunch supporters of the Liberals is that their support of the Liberals is so strong that there is no political advantage in rewarding their best supporters and a great deal in slighting them. As an example, when Jean Charest floated the idea of providing some public funding for Jewish schools to put them on the same footing as French private schools, Charest retreated from the position so quickly that he left skid marks - once he realized that the position would win him no votes and might lose him many in ridings that were less ethnic.
The party that Jean Charest beat to become Premier is the Parti Quebecois, a multi-headed hydra gathered together into one party by legendary Quebec separatist leader Rene Levesque. The only thing that the PQ can usually agree on is that they want to leave the country. How to do so, when to do so and what to do in the meantime are debates that consume the party like a serpent eating its own tail. The PQ has a grand tradition of knifing their leaders from virtually any direction - the back if it presents itself, but they are usually not picky as long as their leader gets well and truly wounded. The present leader, Andre Boisclair, is limping to the polls, bleeding from a thousand cuts, before the election was even called. The PQ somehow elected Boisclair despite knowing that his political judgment could be a little erratic, best demonstrated by his incomplete confession that he had been a cocaine addict while he was a PQ cabinet minister, a revelation that simply demands a full explanation so that the voters can know whether the man is to be trusted. Since being elected leader, he has stumbled from one gaffe to another, with his own party lighting the matches for his self-immolation. His most impressive blunder was participating in a New Year's comedy satire show which spoofed George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper by featuring them in a lampoon of the film Brokeback Mountain. The point being that most Quebecois (and many Canadians) are uncomfortable with how friendly Harper is with Bush. At the climax of the sketch, Andre Boisclair stuck his head into the tent featuring the amorous Bush and Harper. This was a disaster on so many levels that one wonders if the satirists were making some kind of Meta point about Boisclair's lack of judgment. There is a place for the clowns to mock the King. It is downright necessary at times, but when you join the clowns you disqualify yourself from being considered fit to lead. The sketch also reminded Quebec voters that Boisclair was openly Gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the sketch shoved that fact into the voters faces in the most tasteless way possible. And not all Quebec voters believe in the mantra "Not that there is anything wrong with that."
The third party is the Action Democratique, run by a wily political opportunist named Mario Dumont. A former president of the Young Liberals, Dumont left to create his own party when he began to support separatism, but found the PQ too leftist and badly run for his tastes. Dumont is in favour of separatism as long as it is not called separatism. The word spooks investors and to the extent that Dumont has a political philosophy, above all he believes in letting businesses roost and wallow. One of Charest's "dead parrots", Pierre Arcand, a successful businessman, made the mistake of comparing Mario Dumont to France's ultra right wing Jean-Marie Le Pen. The comparison is not fair because Le Pen really believes the hateful clap-trap that he spouts. Dumont is much more of a demagogue because he is much more subtle than Le Pen. Dumont realizes that he can not win ridings with a strong ethnic vote. He can on the other hand, win votes by pandering to Quebec's nascent racism.
There has always been a strong element of xenophobia to Quebec's struggle for independence. On the positive side of that struggle, you can say that Quebecois are petrified at "drowning in a sea of English" and look for ways of preserving their language and their culture. Fair enough. The ugly side of that struggle, the racism lurking just beneath the surface was best revealed when Jacques Parizeau made his famous speech after losing the 1995 Referendum, during a bitter campaign that saw PQ workers in heavily Anglophone and ethnic ridings reject any ballot that they could conceivably protest. Despite this chicanery, the No side won a slim victory. A bitter Parizeau, then Premier of Quebec, admitted defeat but blamed it on "money and ethnics" which if nothing else infuriated Chileans who up until that point were strong supporters of both separatism and the PQ. This is in sharp contrast to the gracious speech that Rene Levesque gave when he lost the referendum in 1980, in which he famously said, "If I've understood you well, you're telling me 'until next time.'" Levesque managed to make the defeat seem like a necessary first step to a greater, future victory.
Andre Boisclair inadvertently raised the spectre of that racism, when he made a speech recently talking about his time in Harvard University. He remarked that a good third of his class were from the Orient. His intent was to make the argument that immigrants to Quebec are not coming to work menial jobs, that many are educated and create employment and wealth for the province. Unfortunately, he used the term: “les yeux brides” which translates to “slanted eyes” to describe his Oriental class-mates. Then he compounded his error by refusing to apologize for the blunder, offering as the weak excuse that he had been using the term for years.
All of which I offer as background to the topic that helped give Mario Dumont traction in the present campaign: "Reasonable Accommodation"
Reasonable Accommodation refers to the extent that businesses and government are prepared to be flexible for members of cultures and religions other than the mainstream.
I suspect that Dumont raised the issue because he believed that the issue would help him win attention and votes in Quebec’s rural areas and in Quebec City, and would cost him no votes amongst ethnic voters who vote Liberal by a huge percentage and would be unlikely to consider voting ADQ in any case.
Now there are times when religion clashes with the norms of society in a way that deserves special attention. One extreme example: In January, a Montreal judge threw the book at a Muslim man who stabbed his wife seven times and his fifteen month old baby twice in the stomach. The judge gave him six years citing as an aggravating factor in the sentence the fact that the man had refused to grant his wife a Sharia divorce, which effectively prevented her from visiting her family and friends in Lebanon. Under Sharia law (and under Jewish law) it is much more difficult for a woman to get a divorce than for a man. In this case, the woman appealed to her Iman to grant her a divorce under "exceptional circumstances." He refused, saying that her husband was obviously mentally ill, citing as proof the fact that he had attacked his wife and baby. A nice piece of circular reasoning that begs the question what constitutes "exceptional circumstances" for a divorce if it is not mental illness… especially when that illness places your life and that of your child at risk. (For the record, the man in this case was examined for mental illness and judged legally sane.)
But the truth is that these instances are relatively rare. In most cases reasonable accommodations is about religions having different holy days. About recognizing that a certain amount of flexibility might be required for your Muslim employees fasting during Ramadan, for example. That a mosque might need more flexible parking around it on different days than a synagogue and a synagogue from a church. All of which were being handled with good humour and common sense well before Mario Dumont raised it as an issue.
The next step on the farce was when the town of Herouxville jumped into the debate with both feet, enacting a ridiculous law that prohibited, amongst other things, women being stoned within the boundaries of the town. The city council of Herouxville solemnly explained that it was necessary to explain to new arrivals to Canada what the rules were. Naturally, this condescion brought forth howls of outrage. I keep waiting for one of our political comedy shows to do a bit featuring the baffled Mayor of Herouxville saying that he did not realize how many people were in favour of stoning women.
And then when it seemed like reason had fled and that the debate could not possibly get any sillier...
You are just waiting for the other shoe to drop, aren't you?
An eleven year old Muslim girl, Asmahan Mansour, of the Nepean Selects had come to Quebec from Ontario to participate in an indoor soccer tournament. She played two games on Saturday without incident. On Sunday, she was ejected from the game for wearing a hijab, a head scarf that Muslim women wear as part of their religion. The only reassuring element in this story is that in a stirring display of good sportsmanship, her entire team and four others withdrew from the tournament in protest.
Ontario actually has a rule on the books permitting the wearing of hijabs as long as they are secured properly. They added the rule because they had been approached on behalf of a young boy sensitive to the light who needed a clarification as to whether the rules permitted him to wear protective head-gear. The Ontario soccer federation approached FIFA who told them it was a matter for them to decide, but urged them to use common sense. The Ontario body decided to review their policy on all head-wear and approved a general policy that head-wear was permitted as long as it was soft and secured.
(The Quebec body that covers soccer keeps mentioning that the referee in question was Muslim. Regardless of his religion, he was being silly.)
In a more serious vein, Sondos Abdelatif was forced to drop out of a Quebec training program for prison guards after two weeks, when told that she would have to remove her hijab for safety reasons. Muslim groups immediately pointed out that a hijab fastened by Velcro would satisfy both safety and religious concerns, but Quebec’s Public Safety Department refuses to compromise on the issue. My immediate question was why it took officials two weeks to notice that Sondos was wearing a hijab and to ask her to remove it.
The issue swings the pendulum from serious to farce. The most recent comedic moment came when a group of Muslims approached a cabane au sucre looking to have a party there. Cabanes au sucre or sugar shacks are traditional Quebec restaurants in the woods where you are served simple food and gallons and gallons of maple syrup to drown it in. The Muslims made the not surprising request for the cabane au sucre to remove pork from the menu for the day and the restaurant agreed. They also asked if it would be possible to pray for ten minutes on the empty dance floor. Again the business agreed to the request. The next day, the incident made the front page of the Journal de Montreal which thundered “Pea Soup Without Ham!” The head of the association of cabane au sucres bellowed that Quebecois had an inalienable right to pork.
I am not allowed to bring a peanut butter sandwich or a shrimp salad to work in case someone on the floor might take a whiff, but Quebecois have an inalienable right to pork? Good Grief!
Wrestling has a long tradition of using differences of race and politics to their own benefit, to create heroes and villains. There was a time when you could not swing a dead cat without hitting a German heel, not one of whom could speak a word of German. (The Atlantic Grand Prix's Killer Karl Krupp being a notable exception in that regard. He was still a fake German being Dutch, but at least he could speak German.) Russian heels once roamed North America. Hulk Hogan came to prominence in 1984 by defeating the Iron Sheik and keeping the WWF title in America since the Sheik had promised to take it home with him to Iran after beating Bob Backlund for the title. That was a rivalry built more on national differences than religious ones though. People hated the Iron Sheik because he was from Iran and Iran had seized the US Embassy and held its diplomats hostage. His religion was beside the point.
The WWF tried to rekindle that bitterness in 1991 by taking the previously patriotic Sergeant Slaughter and making him an Iraqi sympathizer. Slaughter beat the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Title setting up a WrestleMania 7 match against Hulk Hogan. The attempt to rekindle the magic of 1984 was such a dismal failure that the WWF was forced to move the event from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the much smaller adjacent Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The WWF claimed then and maintains the claim to this day that the move was prompted due to security concerns after receiving a threat, rather than the poor ticket sales which would have left the Coliseum half-empty.
Even when Hogan originally beat the Iron Sheik, the days of villains defined by their race, nationality or religion were numbered. Fritz Von Erich had already sired a pack of blonde, blued-eyed sons who became the most popular heroes in American Wrestling (and the most tragic.) The last great Russian wrestling villain, Nikita Koloff, turned hero in the fall of 1986, prompted by the career-ending car accident of his main rival Magmum T.A and the increasing popularity of Mikhail Gorbachev in the United States.
Afterwards, wrestlers would be able to use their backgrounds for cheap heat, but they would have to act villainous to be considered villains. The best example is Bret Hart, who managed to be a villain in the United States and a hero to Canada and the rest of the world in 1997 when he begam making anti-American speeches. Lance Storm revived the idea later in 2000. In both cases, they were not being booed because they were from Canada, they were booed because they were anti-American and they used their Canadian backgrounds as a rationale for their attitudes.
The closest thing that wrestling has had recently to a group who were booed strictly for where they are from are La Resistance: Sylvain Grenier, Rene Dupree and Rob Conway who debuted in the WWF in 2003. Despite the fact that Grenier is from Quebec and Dupree is from New Briunswick, La Resistance was originally introduced as being from France capitalizing on the dislike of France which led to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. (Conway was introduced as an American who sympathized with La Resistance’s anti-American views.) Within a year though, the team was billed as being from Quebec City.
The WWF tried to rekindle the Iron Sheik magic again in 2004 with the introduction of Muhammad Hassan and Shawn Daivari. The duo began with a certain ambiguous promise, explaining their animosity to Americans based on the knee-jerk reaction of Americans to Arabs following 9/11. They quickly degenerated into a cliché, grreted more by apathy than hostility and became an excuse for Hulk Hogan to make one of his sporadic nostalgiac returns to the WWF (and one of his least commercially successful.) In July 2005, after a match between Daivari and the Undertaker, Hassan prayed on the ramp as a group of masked men attacked the Undertaker. Shot on a Tuesday to air on Thursday, the episode had the misfortune to run on the same day as the terrorist bombings of London. The UPN made the request that the Hassan character no longer appear on Smackdown, effectively doing what Hulk Hogan had been unable to do and kill off the character.
One would think that Quebec would be one of the last refuges for wrestling racism, one of the last bastions for wrestling villains defined by their race, their nationality or their religion. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. The province is filled with wrestlers who hail from anywhere but Quebec and the vast majority are heroes. In some cases, as much as half the roster of some Quebec promotions claim to hail from outside of Quebec. The most popular wrestler in the province, El Generico, is from Tijuana, Mexixo. Arguably the second most popular, Dan Paysan, comes from Italy. The heroic NCW champion, Bishop, is announced as being from “Vienne, Austriche.” One of Quebec’s most popular tag teams for years, the Hardcore Ninjaz, famously come from Fabertown, Japan. The Flying Hurricanes came from Tokyo, Japan and Auckland, New Zealand… and the list goes on.
The fact that some of these hometowns might be spurious is less important than the the fact that the Quebec crowds play along with these claims and do not resent them. They do not automatically boo someone who claims to be a foreign immigrant.
When a foreigner is a villain, like the Russian Binovich Fouranov and Anna Minoushka or the Arab Shiek Tank Ali, they have to establish their villainy by their actions and not based on their hometown.
As an example, IWS wrestler, Dru Onyx, has an alter-ego, SOA aka the Spirit of Allah (or the Son of Abdullah based on his uncanny resemblace to the Butcher.) SOA has been both face and heel. On Onyx first trip to the United Kingdom, he asked the promoters who invited him over if they wanted him to come as Onyx or as SOA. “Send SOA,” they replied, “We need a 350 pound angry Black Muslim.” Both Onyx and I assumed based on that, that the promoters wanted a bad guy to terrorize the British and I wrote all of my press releases to reflect that. When Onyx landed in Britain, he was startled to learn that he was the cavalry riding to the rescue. “What could be so bad that you need a 350 pound angry Black Muslim to save you?” asked Onyx. “Irishmen. A horde of drunken Irishmen,” was the reply.
One of the cultural differences I should point out here is that in Quebec you could put the words “drunken” in front of anything and they would automatically be wrestling hereoes. The fastest way to endear yourself to a Quebec wrestling crowd is to steal their beers and drink them.
In total contrast to the suspicion that the rest of Quebec has for immigrants, especially Muslims, is the way that Quebec wrestling fans have embraced Quebec’s family of Arab wrestlers: the Mansours, who include the Twin Terrors, Koko and Razz, the baby of the family, the masked cruiser Sidi, and the head of the family, Professor Adib.
The Mansours do not publicly discuss their religion, although the Professor somewhat sacreligiously conjures the spectre of Islam with his famous catchphrase “Bus Fi Wahed Adib Masour” whichly roughly translates as “There is Only One Adib Manour” recalling the Muslim prayer, “There is Only One God and Mohammed is His Prophet.” The Professor dresses like the Jinni from the lamp. During a time when Aladdin was being removed from store shelves in the States, the Professor was being wildly cheered in Quebec as one of its most popular heroes, even – no, especially - when he brought to the ring symbols of his culture like traditional Arabic drums.
In short, in Quebec, wrestling fans, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, judge a wrestler by the content of his character and not the colour of his skin, or the nation that he hails from, or the religion that he honours.
What does it say about my province, my home, when it is the wrestling fans who are the most rational and the most accepting of others?