This week, here in the province of Quebec, we were reminded of that fact when the local Soccer Federation not only decided to uphold its rule barring turban-wearing Sikh children from taking part in its events, but felt sufficiently confident as to the validity of that decision to back it with the line "Let them play in their own backyards." The decision purports to be nothing more than the application of a rule against headgear set forth by the International Soccer Federation (FIFA), though the latter as already made an explicit exception for the hijab and is widely expected to do likewise for turbans in the future. Supposedly, it's all out of concern for the children's safety, which presumably means that turbans are safe to wear in the backyard but not on the pitch.

The point at issue, however, is not whether turbans are safe or not, nor even whether inviting Sikh children to go and play in their backyards is insensitive or not. The real crux of this otherwise small issue on the world scale is that Quebec is the only region in the world where officials of an arguably small-time federation feel so strongly about this that they go out of their way to make a statement which ultimately makes this province and its residents appear ridiculously backward. Worse still, as was pointed out in this newspaper article (in French), political parties of all stripes are stumbling over themselves to avoid taking any definite stance on the matter. Why?

Quebec's identity is in turmoil, racked by numerous debates it cannot settle. The language question, the religion question, the political questions, several of them, all these weigh heavily on a province which too often feels under siege and has a history of responding by shutting itself in. Quebec is a minority with a rich and unique culture it naturally wishes to protect. This, however, is the era of multiculturalism and digital globalism, and it is no longer possible, unless appallingly extreme measures are taken, to live as though the world outside did not exist. Sadly, rather than taking a cue out of its own experiences and challenges as a minority and reaching out to communities, both within its borders and abroad, to strengthen itself, Quebec seems to be leaning towards repression and denial as a means of protecting and crystalising its identity. This method may prove successful in the short term, but such behaviour can only hurt its credibility and weaken its position on the world stage in the long run, cutting off a much needed supply of fresh ideas and hurrying the decay of what it so badly wants to protect.

Quebec's is by no means the only culture in that state and such knee-jerk reactions to threatened identity can be observed around the globe, from the United States to the Middle East. This phenomenon is so common, in fact, that I have come to think of it as the Drowning Man Syndrome. The drowning man could just let natural buoyancy work in his favour, relax and rest a while, let the elements carry him so as to have the strength to alter course when it truly counts. Instead, he panics and focuses on his fear of dying, starts flailing around and soon sinks, exhausted, the maker of his own demise.

The decision to ban some 200 kids from the pitch because they, or rather their parents, choose to wear turbans is insignificant; it won't cause them harm or ruin their lives and, beyond bringing the blush of embarrassment to some citizens' cheeks, it affects us all very little. Nevertheless, I fear this small, irrational gesture and the political apathy surrounding it is the twitching toe of that drowning man; all those who value his legacy and would save him should take note.