The killing of six men in a mosque in Quebec City on January 29 is still so shocking. So much terrorism has sadly become so commonplace that it almost dulls the senses but it was not so in this case. Not when the terrorist was a white guy from chez nous.
Alexandre Bissonette, the 27-year-old student charged with six counts of murder, picked interesting timing for his deadly rampage. While U.S. President Donald Trump was apparently going judiciously overboard to ban people from seven selected Muslim-majority countries, a once run-of-the-mill Quebecer acted on a deeply rooted hatred of Muslims.
The term “run-of-the-mill Quebecer” needs to be clarified. Bissonette was an ordinary kind of young man studying international relations with no long-term footprint of either extreme views or hate-mongering. The Bissonette his neighbours knew was not the radicalized, right-wing zealot he suddenly became just months ago.
It is incredible how quickly he evolved into a cold-blooded mass murderer moti-
vated by extreme right-wing politics. It is an interesting comparison that so many Jihadi terrorists have also taken less than a year to become convinced that mass murder is a justifiable means to an end.
As reported, Bissonette went to hear a speech in Quebec City given by Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s ultra-right National Front Party. Before her, the party was led by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is remembered as a sizzling anti-Semite. But today’s leader of the National Front finds it more politically advantageous to belittle and generate fear of Muslims than to berate and bully Jews. And, as you would have to know, Marine Le Pen adores and heralds Donald Trump’s victory.
Needless to say, when Marine Le Pen spoke in Quebec City, there were at least enough Quebecers curious enough to go and hear her – Bissonette among them. Who knows how many took her as seriously as Bissonette did, but the newly minted, ultra-right-wing convert was turned on. He proceeded to go online, where he read more and learned more about similarly thinking people who preach and practise hate.
The important point has been made by many that Canada can’t be smug about terrorism when the accused terrorist is of the homegrown variety whose family here dates back generations. There are no borders from hatred.
In Quebec, there is significant past and present political history to consider. In recent years, there was the Parti Québécois’ proposal for a Quebec Charter of Values. There was never any doubt that the move to ban the hijab, the kippah and a visible crucifix in government workplaces was really about satisfying a political constituency that was uneasy with the high numbers of recent Muslim immigrants.
As it turned out, the Parti Québécois lost the subsequent election, and the Quebec Charter of Values hit the trash heap; but the thinking behind the proposed charter, and its supporters, didn’t just go home and forget about it.
Historically, the most active pro-Nazi party in Canada was in Quebec before and during the Second World War. Led by Adrien Arcand, the National Unity Party had links with many Catholic action groups in Quebec, where many university students first found their political voices.
In the late 1990s, someone sent me documents that proved a small handful of active Quebec politicians were members of Arcand’s party in Quebec in their youth. I remember the day I stood in the foyer of the House of Commons as a CBC-TV political reporter and asked Michel Gauthier, then leader of the Bloc Québécois, what he thought about those revelations.
He asked me what my point was. Then, after a brief exchange, he got angry and blurted out, “What is your problem, Mister?” I was speechless. I recall a Jewish colleague behind me whispering in my ear, “Tell him your problem is the six million.”
Fast forward to where Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party could be the next domino to fall in the upcoming French election. Right-wing extremism is no longer on the fringe.
A week after the Mosque attack, I attended a Friday night Shabbat service at shul where two policemen stood guard outside for 12 people.
This really is a new world.