It would be easiest and most gratifying to call residents of Saint-Apollinaire, Que., nasty, anti-Islamic bigots for saying non to having a Muslim cemetery in town.
It might, for a handful of the tiny fraction of villagers who voted in last Sunday’s referendum on the matter, be true.
But such name-calling and virtue signalling would not only miss the point, it would shamefully miss the opportunity to examine the deeper truths that this single-incident ugliness brings to the surface. Among the most crucial of those truths is one offered by a leader of the campaign to deny Muslims their own burial ground.
Cemeteries, local resident Sunny Létourneau said as she went door-to-door collecting signatures to force the public vote, are a reflection of society as a whole. Ms. Létourneau insisted neither she nor others opposed to the new cemetery were motivated by anti-Muslim animus.
They oppose separate Catholic cemeteries, too. They are against burial on the basis of any faith tradition, period. They want to stretch egalitarianism beyond the grave so that we are equally dead together. By extension, they deny the very existence of sacred earth. Whatever is hallowed by some must be hollowed of its particular holiness until it holds the same degree of emptiness for everyone.
Alarming as such thinking might seem, Ms. Létourneau’s explanation is more refreshingly candid than the freezer-burned disclaimer of Premier Philippe Couillard, who insisted it doesn’t reflect Quebec society as a whole. True, the anti-cemetery bloc won by a minuscule three-vote margin. The “victory” was based on a ludicrously low 36 ballots being cast in a hamlet of 6,400 citizens. It is also true Quebec’s political class, from local Mayor Bernard Ouellet to Mr. Couillard himself, was stung by the bumpkin embarrassment and have vowed to find a suitable workaround.
But the view articulated by Ms. Létourneau is hardly confined to one bucolic ’burb on Quebec City’s south shore. It is as much a fact of life in Montreal’s dense urban borough of Outremont. Just as voters used democracy to disallow a Muslim cemetery in pastoral Saint-Apollinaire, so Outremont’s urban trendies rallied to pass a zoning bylaw that outlawed building new places of worship; for example, synagogues and mosques.