Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Free minds, not hair.

by the stormy present Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 05:04:59 AM EST

from the diaries. -- Jérôme

OK, object lesson time.

This...

... is not the problem.

This, however, is part of the problem.  And this is about both part of the problem and part of the solution.

(photo from tolerance.org)


So, let's recap.  AP via IHT says:

MUNICH, Germany: A court on Monday upheld a ban on Muslim teachers wearing head scarves in the schools of a German state under a law that says teachers' attire must be in line with "western Christian" values.

Quick, someone tell me another one about Europe being "post-religious."

A Berlin-based Islamic association had complained about the law, which authorities in the conservative-run state of Bavaria have used to ban head scarves while allowing Roman Catholic nuns to continue to wear their head-covering habits in schools.

The Bavarian Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that the application of the law in the state neither violated religious freedom nor was discriminatory.

Conservative politicians welcomed the verdict.

Oh, I bet they did.

An Islamic head scarf represented a "deliberate separation from western values, and that is not compatible with our constitution," Wolfgang Bosbach, a federal lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said on N24 television.

Sigh.  What were those "western values" again?  Something about tolerance and equality?

Deutche Welle seems to get it:

This latest legal wrangle over headscarves highlights the inconsistency of Bavaria's state's school law. It says that no-one is allowed to wear religious symbols in the classroom -- except Christians and Jews.

All or none

The heated debate was first sparked in 2003 when Germany's federal Constitutional Court ruled that Muslims could wear their headscarves while teaching but at the same time encouraged new laws to ban religious symbols. Eight German states, including Berlin, have so far passed school laws that ban headscarves.

Unlike other headscarf-banning states, which saw the Muslim attire as an affront to Christian values, Berlin decided to treat all religious symbols on an equal basis.

"Berlin is the only city and German state which has not only banned the headscarf, but all religious symbols in schools -- that is the big difference," said Günther Piening, who is the Berlin commissioner for integration and migration.

"I think that's the only way to do it, because the general ban does not discriminate against one religion," he added. "It abides by the principle of equality as laid down in the German constitution."

OK, I know that many people here disagree with me about this, but I don't see any point in banning headscarfs.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  Prohibiting it just politicizes it and makes it into that statement of "deliberate separation" that for the vast majority of Muslim women, it is inherently not.

Here's another quote from the DW story:

According to the deputy secretary general of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Christoph Kannengiesser, the wearing of a headscarf is not necessarily a political statement and it should not stop the communication between Muslims and Germans.

"We must not allow Muslim women to separate themselves from German society," Kannengiesser said. "We have to work harder to integrate them and the women also have to be willing to integrate. Muslims, however, are part of German society and we have to accept it if Muslim girls and women choose to wear the headscarf."

I would agree with that.  I know that most of you do not.

But my larger point is this:  I'm sick and tired of the headscarf issue being hyperventilated over in the so-called "West" (for lack of a better term) when in my view, there are MANY MANY MANY other issues regarding women's rights in Islam that are much more important than whether somebody chooses to cover her hair or not.

For example, where I live, my testimony in court legally and officially carries half the weight of a man's testimony.  My word is not as good as a man's, not here, not legally.  There are inheritance issues (daughters get half what their brothers get, by law, and no will or testament can change that) and domestic violence issues (for lower-class women, the courts routinely rule that they have no right to expect that their husbands won't beat them).

And that's under one of the so-called "moderate" Arab governments.  America's ally, and Europe's.

So excuse me if I get a little exasperated when people get all exercised over a piece of cloth wrapped around some lady's head.  It's a piece of cloth.  There are other things that are far more central to your value systems that perhaps you should be focusing on.

Maybe some of you will argue this way:  "Well, the headscarf debate is happening in Europe, and it's about European values, in our own countries, we wouldn't tell other people how to live in their countries, but we have a right to decide how things should be in our countries, etc...."

Sure, OK.  And so the headscarf is the only thing keeping Muslims from integrating fully into various European societies, eh?  Because those other things, they all get forgotten about if we can convince women to show us their hair.

Pfft.  Whatever.

THAT SAID... if you're going to ban headscarves -- and I do understand the arguments in France for doing so, even if I don't agree with them -- I would have to say that I would prefer the approach that France and Berlin take, rather than the Bavarian approach.  If you're going to ban a specific religious symbol, you've got to ban them all.  Otherwise, it's just ugly discrimination.

BUT... since we're talking about Europeans and covering up, I have to applaud Spanish Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopes Aguilar for standing up to the Saudis on this one:

MADRID - Spain's justice minister refused to deliver a lecture at a university in Saudi Arabia on Monday after authorities banned visiting female journalists from attending, a spokeswoman and one of the reporters said.

The Spanish reporters were prevented from entering Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University despite the fact they were all wearing the traditional black abaya and veil, according to one of the correspondents from SER radio, Esther Bazan.

Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar decided to cancel his lecture on the globalisation of terrorism at the institution - the academic heart of Saudi Arabia's hardline Wahhabi Islam.

Saudi authorities said the university was an all-male institution and women were not allowed, but the Spanish delegation and reporters travelling with them were not informed about the ban until Sunday night.

On Monday, they tried to enter the university anyway, radio station Cadena Ser said.

'Yesterday, at the last minute, we were told women couldn't enter the university. He cancelled because the none of the women were allowed to be there,' a Justice Ministry spokeswoman in Madrid said.

My views about being forced to wear the hijab are pretty similar about my views on prohibiting it.  In other words, I disagree with the Saudi and Iranian policies requiring all women to cover their heads.  For the last time, this should be a personal decision.

(NB: I'm adding this next paragraph after posting because I re-read it and decided I hadn't been clear about what I was objecting to...)

But headscarves weren't the issue at the Riyadh university; it was about barring women from one of the nation's most influential institutes of higher education, and it was about intolerance and exclusion -- the Spanish female journalists were barred from entry even though they observed local customs regarding their attire, and were prevented from doing their jobs simply because of their gender. That is inconsistent not only with "western values" but with Islamic ones.

I'm sure that the students at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud would have benefitted from hearing the minister's speech, but he made the right choice.  

Display:
Boy, I'm feeling feisty today.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 12:35:16 PM EST
Absolutely agree with you, except in one regard. Specific laws that address what you can and cannot wear (or have on your person) in particular situations for safety reasons. If motorcycle crash helmets are mandatory, then there should be no exception for turbans. If everyone has to show their face at passport control, then masks of any kind are banned.  There are plenty of grey cases I am sure, that we can argue about.

Head scarves? Do me a favour! You might just as well try to stop all those desert-booted young professional protestors from wearing their Arafat scarves. We live in a world where many people walk around advertising their 'religion' on T-shirts. It's a personal choice. A statement. Freedom of 'speech'. It is not a question of safety or harming others.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 12:58:37 PM EST
I was driving along listening to NPR this afternoon, and there was a discussion  with 3 women: one a Palestinian-born muslim, a Roman Catholic and a Jew - all with kids living in New York.  They had originally got together to write a kid's book about the things that unite the Abrahamic religions. They had so many heated arguments before they became friends, that the book turned into an adult one called 'The Faith Club'

http://www.thefaithclub.com/

As I understand it, it is a book about understanding each other and about reconcilation. About what the cores of those religions really mean. Sounds good to me. I wish though there had been one more woman in the group. You can probably guess: an agnostic (at least) ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:11:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oooooh... that looks really interesting.  Thanks for the link.

Yeah, an agnostic would have been a good addition...

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:17:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is so silly - I understand the veil, it would be a problem for me to talk to someone wearing a veil, understanding them because of the hearing. But the scarve is just silly. Besides the picture reminds me of the fashion of the 50s. Grace Kelly and other Hollywood divas wearing scarves. It was the ultimate of fashion also here in Europe. Of course they were Hermes, but so what.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:02:11 PM EST
Out in the Finnish countryside, you'll still see older women in headscarves. It's practical.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:12:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It really can be very practical.  In addition to wearng them when my hair is a mess (see below), I'll also sometimes tie one around my head if I'm in a car with the windows open and my hair's all blowing in my face....
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:15:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had a friend who lost her hair and developed a real art of how she knoted the scarves. I was wondering if it is wearing the scarve inside - but no-one ever complained to her about continuesly wearing a scarve. So were is the limit?
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, good question.  When my cousin was treated for breast cancer, she also lost her hair, and she always wore a scarf.  Wonder if the schools would make an exception for her...
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:23:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am just imagining a 50's movie with Kay Kendall in a sports car ;-)  Oh yes - 'Genevieve'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kay_Kendall

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:21:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm probably not that glamorous...
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:26:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure that Kay Kendall thought of herself as glamorous either. She was very worried about her nose profile. ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:29:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh yes, lovely Kay Kendall! And not to forget Audrey Hepurn - was it in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:42:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why the 50's? They wear headscarves in one of the posters of Thelma and Louise.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:25:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Open sports cars and headscarves go together

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:53:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not for Bridget Jones.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:42:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I should add that quite a lot of Finnish countryside girls (say 8 - 10) wear scarves to school.

It's the revenge of the Babushka's!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babushka

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:32:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not only in Finland, all over rural Europe, but of course the custom is dying out with the old ladies that wear it.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:31:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As do our local
Plymouth Brethren.  Well, the female brethren, anyway.
by Sassafras on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:35:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The face veil (niqab) is actually quite controversial even here in the Arab world.  I know a lot of people, even conservative Muslims, who think it gets taken way too far.  In most places that I've been where it's worn, women are prepared to remove it for identification purposes.

But the headscarf, honestly, I don't get why it's an issue.  I'm not a Muslim, but sometimes when I'm having a particularly bad hair day, I will hide my hair under a funky scarf.  Would I not be allowed to do that if I were a teacher in Bavaria?  Or is it only Muslim women who wouldn't be allowed to cover their heads?

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:12:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[wearing scarves] was the ultimate of fashion also here in Europe. Of course they were Hermes, but so what.

Maybe TSP could grace us with that picture of the two women in a Tehran cafe wearing headscarves... It's been poster on ET before. Let's see...

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:29:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't find the original version without the watermark...

FWIW, it's a mall food court in Tehran.

The same story had this photo too:

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:49:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Women from Alentejo, Portugal, traditional clothing. Can't get more Western than this. There's always the Azores of course....

http://www.minerva.uevora.pt/montoito29/images/pict0032.jpg

by Torres on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:10:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course they were Hermes, but so what.

If you look closely, you'll be surprised how many scarves have designer initials woven in  ;)

by Sassafras on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:21:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, disgusting news from Germany.. we all know.. disgusting. Pure racism in disguise..

In the school I strongly proposethat either everybody dresses equally or everybody dresses as he/she wishes... even veils and burkas (I know I am little bit weird on this stuff.. so be it...).. although I always love compromise... this is, a case by case approach as in the spanish public school.

And now for the second one since it has been around the spanish press...

From El Pais

http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/Lopez/Aguilar/cancela/acto/Arabia/Saudi/permitian/asist encia/mujeres/periodistas/elpepuint/20070115elpepuint_6/Tes

Your link is basically a translation of the spanish agency report.. so nothing new to add on this front.

But I want to say that the same issue can be dealt using different perspectives.

If you take it as international relations, then: Any institution from Saudi Arabia has all the right to be as misogyne as he wishes, and also the spanish minister can decide freely where to go and where not to go. You just have to  behave yourself and say "this is not what we agreed" sorry, we make a point but we do not make fuss.

From a personal perspective it recalls me that Saudi Arabia is one of the most disgusting places on Earth. Their basic social structured SUPER_MEGA-UBER patriarcy happened BY DECISION.. well IMPOSITION.I have always defended the right of different people/cultures to have different gender roles and different rules about what is appropriate and what is not for each gender. Gender equality is not measure by western standards.. it is measured by internal symbolic standards using social anthropology... and Saudi Arabia is one of the most repulsive cases where symbolically there is no need, actually it goes against most muslim principles and generalizations as storm points out....

And, top it all, they justify it on "cultural values"...I just want to puke... not only they denigrate woman (in their own sybolic parameters) but also make more difficult to defend the fact that the existence of gender roles does not nulifies women because we do not like those particular roles or we do not understand their internal relevance.

Sorry, but touching Saudi Arabia you touched a soft spot on me.. I really despise Saudi Arabian rulers.... I hate it much more becasue the average spaniards is all happy faces and happy money in front of the "rich muslim with petrodollars in the coast" and denigrates constantley the popor guy comming from Morocco due to "cultural different values"....

Now I am pissed...recalling this ...

Sighhhhhhh longgg....

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:34:29 PM EST
the spanish minister can decide freely where to go and where not to go.

Precisely.

As for the Saudi cultural values, the kingdom has not been exactly reticent about exporting them to the rest of the world, have they?  Rather aggresive about it, I'd say.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:43:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
pretty much aggressive.. much mroe than what they allow inside their country..

but I despise more the general theme they use to "sell it"....they really use "this is islam" ..so refrain from criticism.. and guess what.. people believe them becasue they are rich.. it is a bad-taste parody.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:03:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

It's a U.S.-based organization.  Anyone know of groups doing similar work in Europe?  There must be some.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 01:38:32 PM EST
Not exactly same, but covering much of the same terrain, more to my taste though: Ni putes ni soumises.

The chief argument for these laws is solidarity in my view, though clearly Bavaria is doing so in a more or less discriminatory fashion, not unlike the way it is done all over the Islamic world (though certainly not everywhere).

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 03:54:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure that the students at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud would have benefitted from hearing the minister's speech, but he made the right choice.

And I'm sure the students will benefit more from reflecting on the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the lecture.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:20:58 PM EST
On the bigger fish to fry - absolutely.

On the discriminatory treatment of Muslim vs. non Muslim religious attire and symbols, ditto.

On banning all such attire and symbols from schools - mixed. I disagree with the French ban for students. However, I'm sympathetic to the idea that teachers, who are in effect representing the state, should be banned from religious and political symbols or dress. Note that the French are just fine with the political stuff - five years ago plenty of French teachers were wearing anti - LePen buttons. I agree with the sentiment being expressed but I don't think it should be allowed. Again, not really the biggest issue around.

Great diary.  

On the other hand I strongly support banning teachers from wearing veils, regardless of whether or not they're allowed religious dress and symbols. Veils pose a serious practical problem - it's harder to get a sense of what your teacher is thinking and trying to say if you can't see her face.

Incidentally, orthodox Judaism requires that married women cover their hair, but not unmarried ones. They tend to either wear these knit cap thingies or wigs, or just berets. And as plenty of people are pointing out here, hair covering is a pretty common tradition among Europeans as well. In the Mediterranean countries women used to also wear those shapeless black robes. No veils though, as far as I can tell that's only Muslims.

by MarekNYC on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:39:32 PM EST
I'm sympathetic to the idea that teachers, who are in effect representing the state, should be banned from religious and political symbols or dress.

That is the most persuasive argument I've heard.

But I think there's still a problem with looking at the hijab as a symbol.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:56:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think the head-scarf has ever really been a bone of contention on this site. For all of the reasons already mentioned; practicality, fashion, cultural identification etc.

However that only pertains when it is freely adopted.
My problems begin when it is imposed as representing a religious requirement that doesn't exist. When the stench of patriarchal enforcement against the wishes of the individual woman wafts like a blocked sewer.

You rightly say that women in muslim countries face worse problems than the veil. I agree. Shirin Ebadi won her Nobel peace prize for her work on this in Iran and I'd love to know which aspects of sharia she overturned. Nevertheless, the veil is the most obvious symbol of oppression whilst being the one most obviously cultural and thus most susceptible to a religious deconstruction.

So, I'm willing to keep chipping away at it.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 02:40:08 PM EST
The French ban on headscarves in schools has been robustly defended here.

When the stench of patriarchal enforcement against the wishes of the individual woman wafts like a blocked sewer.

Forcing women to wear it; banning women from wearing it; same stench.  It's their choice, or should be.

the veil is the most obvious symbol of oppression

But it's not!  Maybe it's a symbol to those who would ban it or enforce it, but not to the vast majority of women who choose to wear it.  To tell a muhajaba that her headcovering is a symbol of her oppression is just as offensive as telling me that my lipstick and jewelry are symbols of my wanton immorality.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 03:17:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I must admit I was never sure one way or another about the ban in schools, I am assuming that they banned all religious symbols. I was very aware that a substantial minority of muslim women actually wanted it because they felt compelled by their community to wear it and wanted to free their daughters.

It remains a real issue in the UK for similar reasons where it is the men who most want the compulsion as a visible symbol of their domination of their community whilst it is the women who want the excuse of a ban.

If a woman is obliged by her culture to wear something she does not wish to, then it is oppression. If a woman chooses to wear it in the absense of compulsion in the light of understanding it has no religious significance whatsoever, then so be it. But whilst it is enforced as a compulsory religious observance, I'm agin it.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 03:27:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I'm saying, Helen, is that any woman for whom compulsion to wear the hijab is an issue probably has bigger problems, whether within her family or community.

Fixating on the hijab and speaking of it as "a symbol of oppression" (a) alienates those women (the majority) who do choose it out of genuine religious conviction, (b) turns it into a political symbol for many others, and (c) isn't going to really help the women who are compelled to wear it.

Other things are far more important; focusing on this so-called "symbol" does a disservice to the women who are facing the greatest obstacles.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 05:34:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you need perhaps to distinguish between women living in the Islamic world and those living in Western Europe.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:00:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because it is quite common for sisters to be forced to wear these in school as an extension of their brother and father's expression of seperateness.

The dynamic is quite different than it is in Islamic countries.

My own rule of thumb - if it's good enough for Turkish law, it's good enough for European law, and that goes for all religions, not just Islam.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:35:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How many people do you personally know of whom this is true?  Where is the evidence that this is "quite common"?  Because I have still seen no actual evidence to back up this common claim.  I think many "Westerners" cannot imagine why someone would choose to wear the hijab, and thus prefer to belive that women wear it mainly because they're forced to.

The truth is that I don't doubt for a minute that some girls are made to wear the hijab by their families.  That no doubt happens here as well.  But there are also doubtless many who choose to wear it of their own free will.

And as I keep saying, there are other issues that are certainly affecting those girls much more seriously than their headcoverings.  Those are the issues that should be focused on, not a scrap of cloth.

Even in Iran, where the headscarf is compelled by law, women's rights activists have many many many things on their lists of action items ahead of eliminating the hijab.

The "West" is doing itself no favors by fixating on this issue.  It is also doing no favors to the women who are being forced to choose between their religious and national identities -- a demand that is not made of members of any other faith group.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:46:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, no time to xlate, but again, here is the web site from ni putes ni soumises, which is a feminist organization of maghrebi women and for maghrebi women.

Here is a blurb about them in english wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ni_Putes_Ni_Soumises

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 07:12:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you are generalising from what is evidently the more tolerant view of the egyptian middleclass. I doubt they'll have the same view if the muslim brotherhood gain power.

However, the view of the islam from the west is more coloured by our view of the Saudis who would rather that girls were burned alive than be seen without a headscarf or the suffocation of mind, body soul afforded to afghani women in the name of islam.

Equally here in the UK we roiutinely hear the complaints of pakistani women speaking out against imprisonment and forced wearing of hijab.

In France, to gute from the wiki on ni poutaines ni soumaines

No more moralising: our condition has worsened. The media and politics have done nothing, or very little, for us.

No more wretchedness. We are fed up with people speaking for us, with being treated with contempt.

No more justifications of our oppression in the name of the right to be different and of respect toward those who force us to bow our heads.

No more silence in public debates about violence, poverty and discrimination

One of their four main headline demands is the end to the hijab. It matters in France. It is a matter of life and death in saudi Arabia and increasingly in Pakistan. It is a basic freedom in Afghanistan.

Yes, it is symbolic. There are worse things commended in the name of islam. But it is nevertheless symbolic, not of submission to god, but of utter submission to men. To challenge the hijab challenges the entire edifice of religious patriarchy.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 07:52:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And by suppressing it you make it stronger. You can't fix the problem by attacking the symbols. You fix the problem by attacking the underlying causes. Non-muslims pushing against the headscarf makes it into more of a political and identity issue. It validates the words of the extremist loons in the way that interventions in the Middle East do. You can't force cultural change from the outside. You can only provide support for the conservatives.

Of course, the current ruling wisdom is that symbols are all that matter and actually spending money on things like education, improved economic agency and effective policing that can actually get into the community in question is all pinko-commie nonsense.

Did we improve the lot of women in Europe by banning skirts and high heels?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 08:00:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going to ignore your "Egyptian middle class" statement, which happens not to be true, and which I find rather insulting, because I'm fairly sure you didn't mean it that way.

If you are basing your entire understanding of this topic on Saudi Arabia, perhaps that explains why you seem to view it in such black-and-white terms.  The Islamic world is so much wider than that.  The OIC has 57 member states, which are tremendously culturally diverse.  By buying into the Saudi/Wahhabi frames of the issues, by not discussing the things that the extremists find uncomfortable but instead focusing on this issue, we allow the agenda to be set and defined by the wrong people.  Things that don't really matter in the larger scheme become the focus of the debate.  We must fight for a society where it really doesn't matter what a woman wears on her head or whether a man's name is Mohammed or Michael, and by allowing this issue to distract us, we are losing that battle.

Regardless, I think it is safe to say that a fair number of Muslims, regardless of the degree of their piety, view with some skepticism Westerners who say, "Trust me, I want to liberate you."

As I have said elsewhere, the platform of ni putes ni soumises appears to be an excellent one.  But I would advise everyone to pay attention to all of it, including the larger focus of violence, poverty and discrimination, rather than fixating on just a single issue that, for that group as for others, is only a small part of a very complex whole.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 08:26:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My own rule of thumb - if it's good enough for Turkish law, it's good enough for European law, and that goes for all religions, not just Islam.

So you're all right with jail sentences for insulting "Frenchness" or "Germanness" or "Europeanness"?

:-)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:17:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially on eurotrib ;-)

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 08:03:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
on something I've been wanting to get into for months now, but haven't had the time, which is the difference between symbols and values.

The wearing of a headscarf is not the issue. Thelma and Louise have nothing to do with anything here. The issue is the symbolic display of religious affiliation, and the values implicitly associated with that affiliation.

I can wear a crucifix, or a pentagram, or a Star of David around my neck - or not. It's not only a personal choice, but most of the time it's not even considered a symbol of anything much.

But for a muslim woman to wear a veil - not just any veil, but the traditional muslim veil - is a symbolic and public statement of religious affiliation.

Implicitly the argument seems to be that this is one area which isn't just symbolic of religion, but symbolic of a religion where all of the other gender inequities that TSP mentioned are also practiced.

So rather than being a personal choice - which it might well not be - the head scarf symbolises a certain kind of submission to those values, and an acceptance of those inequalities. And in Western thinking this might be considered a bad thing precisely because it's equivalent to implying that a woman is a second class citizen.

Is this true? I have no idea. I don't have enough first hand experience of Muslim culture to know to what extent this narrative fits reality.

But it seems to be important to understand what the underlying debate is about. And so far as I can tell, it has more to do with assumptions about underlying values than items of clothing.

It's the values, as understood, that matter. The scarf is just a symbolic shorthand for them.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 05:39:38 PM EST
Everything that you've said deals with what the headscarf symbolizes to you, not to the women who wear it.

I really don't know how to explain to "Westerners" that for Muslims, the hijab has none of these symbolic meanings that you associate with it.

Or at least it hasn't had them.  It's getting them now.

the head scarf symbolises a certain kind of submission to those values

It does, in a way, symbolize submission -- the meaning of Islam is "submission -- but it is submission to God, not to the values of inequality that I mentioned, which are not in keeping with Islam as it is understood by moderate and liberal Muslims.  Who, contrary to popular belief, are not rare.

The intolerance and inequality that I mentioned do not have to be part and parcel of Islam.  There are moderates and liberals who are "fighting for the soul" of their religion just as there are liberal American Christians fighting for the soul of their religion.

By seizing on a symbol, by imbuing it with political significance that it lacks on its own, political significance that it should lack, "Westerners" are aiding and abetting those forces fighting against the moderate and liberal voices in Islam.

What the hijab is supposed to symbolize for a woman who chooses to wear it -- and this is only my understanding, I wish we had had lauramp around to comment -- is nothing more and nothing less than her personal relationship with God.

It does not mean she is more pious.  My non-veiled friends here would take great exception to that idea; they believe they are good Muslims, and that wearing a piece of cloth does not make one a better Muslim.

It does not mean she is more conservative.  The planning minister of Kuwait is a muhajabah, and she is also an extremely politically liberal feminist and a longtime activist for women's rights.

It does not mean what you think it means.  And more importantly, it shouldn't really matter what you (and I mean that collectively, not you personally) think it means.  It's her choice.

By taking that choice away, by making the hijab into a political statement, "Western" nations are doing the same thing that Muslim fundamentalists are doing, which is telling people they must choose between Islam and the West.  It is telling people that their relationship with God is incompatible with the West, and unwelcome there.

If that's what you mean, then fine.  But if that's true, then "our" West is not what I want it to be any more than "their" Saudi Arabia is what I want it to be.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:17:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's fair enough. As I said personally I'm agnostic about what headscarves mean because I haven't talked to enough headscarf wearers to understand their personal experience of the symbolism.

My point was only that it's a symbolic debate, and that there seemed to be some confusion about headscarves in general, which seemed tangential to that.

What the hijab is supposed to symbolize for a woman who chooses to wear it -- and this is only my understanding, I wish we had had lauramp around to comment -- is nothing more and nothing less than her personal relationship with God.

But what does that mean in practical terms?

Playing (Western) devil's advocate here, I associate  religions primarily with tribal statements, and not with metaphysics.

So what does 'relationship with God' really mean to the wearer?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 08:02:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I really don't know.  My own relationship with God is sort of anthropological at best.

The women I've known who wear the hijab (some of them are Arabs, some are Asian, some are African and some are blonde-haired-blue-eyed Americans) have different ideas of what constitutes hijab, and different reasons for wearing it.  All I've been able to surmise is that, for most of them, this decision is personal.

A number of non-veiled women I know can envision a time when they will decide to wear it; when I asked one friend and colleague why she doesn't wear it, she said she just didn't feel God required it of her at this point in her life, but she indicated that it's possible that feeling will change someday.

I also have a very good friend who started wearing the hijab in the '90s, when there was a big veiling trend in Egypt, and then she took it off a few years later.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 08:46:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a very good friend, from Amsterdam, married to another friend of mine from Peshawar, PK, whose family I happen to know quite well, having spent time with them in Peshawar and in and around Lahore in the late 80's. Her brother was also a very good friend of mine and roommate for three years.

We all went to university together (international school in the US).

Now, as it happens, when Rudi got married to my roommate's sister (and we are talking about middle-class Pakistani society here, which is to say quite wealthy by PK standards) no one from the family was present. They disapproved greatly. Her brother was very angry, still is. Won't talk to me either. I chose sides.

Women in Peshawar do not go outside without armed escort, family members, fathers, uncles, brothers. And obviously, they have no choice about wearing veils or not. They usually don't have choice about who they marry either, or what they do for careers (easy, they don't do careers, they stay at home).

That's what we're talking about. Not scarves around one's hair, but the social environment hijab represents and which is counter to modern values (well, at least those values as progressively fought for, in the West since the 17th century and elsewhere as well).

Shaema does not wear the veil now, she never did unless back home in PK, which I found odd when I saw her there given how I knew her in the US. Last I heard, she hasn't been back to PK in nearly 20 years. And if you think this is an exception, it is not, it is the rule in that part of the world, which isn't, incidentally, anywhere near Saudi Arabia.

They live in Indonesia with their two sons, I haven't seen them for seven years so I don't know if there's been a reconciliation since or not, but 12 years already was pretty long.

Funny thing is,  I can tell you she'd likely be chuckling a bit at this debate. And she laughed quite hard at those American women who took to the veil (we knew a few) "on their own".

Anecdote? Sure. But everything about this subject is anecdote. Seeing 90% men on the streets of Peshawar though - that was not anecdotal, nor was the 50,000 women who protested in Paris about this stuff 3-4 years ago.

And yet we keep buying into the multi-cultural, "it's all good" frame of the post-modern left, the same left which has done nothing to advance poverty issues, or social justice issues, or economic equity issues, anywhere in the anglo-american world. Perhaps this is yet another diversion to distract from that lack of accomplishment?

My own observation, in watching the left, in particular in Anglo-american environments, deal with this issue is that ideologically, the "leftism" of the post-modern sort most popular in the anglo-american world, is no match for islamicism in terms of ideological rigor and vigor.

Fortunately, there are other branches of the same tree, and with a bit of pruning, those branches may come back to life as well.

Love the diary, thought-provoking if I don't agree with the point of view....  

 

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 09:09:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you trying to say that thinking a headscarf ban is stupid and counter-productive is an endorsement of the Peshwari cultural mores?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 09:43:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indirectly, yes.

I understand both your argument ("can't legislate morality, it's counterproductive") and the diarist's ("can't we all get along, this is a freedom of expression issue").

But at root, I disagree with both.

In the "can't legislate morality" case, I agree, we cannot legislate the content of morality. But we can influence (or reduce that influence, as in this case) one group's attempts to forcibly impose their set of morality upon another, largely unwilling group.

An example, perhaps a bit more extreme in content but all the same along the same lines: we might not be able to get men to stop thinking it is acceptible to beat their wives (and yes, imams do preach this and have been expelled from France for this), but this doesn't mean we should simply stand back and accept that they do so. There are very good public policy reasons not to accept this, not to mention moral reasons. Similarly, we might not convince islamists living in London to stop wanting to force their daughters or sisters to wear a veil when they go to school, but when we legislate that no one can wear one at school, we're supporting those majority who do not want to wear it, but are forced to.

So no your opinion does not directly support this patriarchal treatment of women, but indirectly, in many cases, it does.

I also get the freedom of expression argument, but as a matter of course, as long as we're all in a cohesive society, with strong solidarity mechanisms, where I help you and you help me under agreed-upon conditions (almost as a contract) as is the case in France (and should be moreso), there must be a mutual respect of individual and community. Community supports the individual, and the individual adheres to community standards.

And what those standards are is a matter of interpretation and taste. But if there are standards, there are standards, and those dictate the limits of acceptable expression. The limits have a political determinant of course, and there needs to be respect for proper minority rights under the universal declaration of human rights. But end of day, if you chose to live outside of the limits of acceptable expression, you break that contract which underpins solidarity, just as in undermining the mechanisms of solidarity, you break the contract which underpins cohesion. It's a two-way street.

I personally side with those who would strengthen both cohesion and solidarity, for in my view, you cannot have the one without the other, and this is exactly what we see in Europe today. Declining cohesion, and the so-called welfare state is under attack.

This is not a coincidence.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 12:58:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
("can't we all get along, this is a freedom of expression issue")

That really is not what I've been trying to say.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 01:49:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know I am vastly oversimplifying your point of view here, and it is unfair of me to do so because in truth, you have (at least as far as I see) a comprehensive approach to this issue, 90% of which I am in full agreement with, ie the larger problem to tackle is underneath the symbol, it may be in some cases an issue (we may disagree on the extent to which it is) and in these cases it might need to be addressed.

Am I inaccurate though to presume the standard "freedom of expression" formulation, having nothing necessarily to do with being a symbol of oppression of women, as seen in the discussion you were having with Helen?

That's really the only bone to pick I have, though it's a rather important one in Europe these days (perhaps far less so elsewhere).

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 11:17:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the late response.  Been sort of out of commission.

My argument at its most simple, I guess, is that a singleminded fixation on banning or restricting use of the the hijab is at best counterproductive and divisive, and at worst (as in Bavaria) nakedly racist.

Freedom of expression may be implicit in that, but it's not the core of the argument at all.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 18th, 2007 at 03:29:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this heartfelt and thoughtful comment.

That's what we're talking about. Not scarves around one's hair, but the social environment hijab represents and which is counter to modern values (well, at least those values as progressively fought for, in the West since the 17th century and elsewhere as well).

Well, that social environment is what we should be talking about, but too often we end up talking about the symbols instead.  And that presents a particular problem when those "symbols" don't represent the same thing to everyone involved.

And yet we keep buying into the multi-cultural, "it's all good" frame of the post-modern left, the same left which has done nothing to advance poverty issues, or social justice issues, or economic equity issues, anywhere in the anglo-american world. Perhaps this is yet another diversion to distract from that lack of accomplishment?

I really don't think this is a fair representation of what I've been trying to do in this diary, and I'm sorry if you see it that way.  I'd say, actually, that the obsession with the symbol is the distraction, because poverty and social justice and economic equity and a whole host of other issues are still not being discussed.

And as a woman myself, I also have to wonder why both sides of the argument insist on using us women as the battleground for fighting their cultural/religious wars.  Want to prove you've established a genuine Islamic state?  What's the easiest way to show that?  Slap a hijab requirement on all the women!  Want to prove you're "enlightened" and "modern"?  What's the easiest way to show that?  Yank the headscarves off all the women!

It really shouldn't be about that.

My heart goes out to your friends, partly because this is a story I have heard before, many times, from people very close to me.  But if you think the problems they face are unique to the Muslim world, you are mistaken.  And if you think those problems are universal in the Muslim world, you are also mistaken.  Your friends' situation is heartbreaking, and familiar, but it is also an indication that fundamentally, as I said right in the beginnning, hijab is not the problem.  And it should not be the only thing we talk about.

Peace.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 01:42:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And, as you've been saying, stormy, it's our symbol.

When I walk into work tomorrow, most of the mothers dropping off their children will be wearing scarves.

Some will have them thrown on. Some will have them pinned carefully around their face to hide every scrap of hair. Others will be wrapped up in gorgeous Kashmiri shawls in lieu of a coat.  

But if it snows overnight, in the morning, many will still totter through the slush in sparkly, strappy, high heeled open sandals.

In other words, there's more than one difference in cultural dress code. But we have chosen to make a symbol of the scarf...and it's a non-issue.  Like shoes.

by Sassafras on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 05:43:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[The headscarf] does, in a way, symbolize submission -- the meaning of Islam is "submission -- but it is submission to God...
This is the problem—aside from what others have written about, that this symbol of inferiority is correlated with the suppression of women. Also, I really cannot take seriously the idea that the headscarve symbolizes only submission to God and not also to men: clearly, this is just liberal, post-modern spin.

But even if it only symbolizes submission to God, it is still unacceptable. I hate to say it, but what Pope Benedict said in his controversial speech Faith, Reason, and the University is very relevant here. (I am not a Catholic or even a believer. Also, I should note that Bendict's speech was quixotic in one respect, in that Benedict claimed that reason leads to Catholicism. If reason leads to anything in the Christian context, it is Gnosticism (and the modern (welfare) state). This was essentially the view of German romanticism, which I believe influenced Benedict's speech. To me, it seems more German than Catholic. Finally, I should say that since Benedict has not strongly condemned the Anglo-American aggression on the Muslim world, he is clearly a Western chauvinist.)

[To a Christian,] not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: "For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Muslim R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.
For a Muslim, there is no rational reason to embrace God. That is why instead of accepting him or letting him into you, you must submit to him. In Islam, the relation between man and God is that of enslavement: God is man's slave. Since in Christianity in contrast, both man and God are bound by (the same) reason, man accepts God freely and voluntarily, through reason. In fact, by endowing us with reason, God makes us free, since when we employ our reason, we act on the basis of well-justified reasons, as opposed to arbitrary wishes and desires. Thus, we see that in Islam and Christianity, the relationship between man and God is precisely the opposite.

That is why the Bavarian law which states that "teachers' attire must be in line with 'western Christian' values" is perfectly proper and in fact necessary. By wearing a head scarf, a Muslim woman is proclaiming that we are all slaves. And that is an act that cannot be allowed or tolerated, since it brazenly attacks the central idea that is constitutive of European civilization (I won't say "Western civilization", since the anglophone world seems to have given up on it), and thus expresses a desire to destroy that civilization.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:13:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is why the Bavarian law which states that "teachers' attire must be in line with 'western Christian' values" is perfectly proper and in fact necessary. By wearing a head scarf, a Muslim woman is proclaiming that we are all slaves. And that is an act that cannot be allowed or tolerated, since it brazenly attacks the central idea that is constitutive of European civilization (I won't say "Western civilization", since the anglophone world seems to have given up on it), and thus expresses a desire to destroy that civilization.

Wearing a headscarf is 'proclaiming that we're all slaves' ... 'express[ing] a desire to destroy [European] civilization'.  Ummh, don't you think this is just a wee bit over the top?

by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:25:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's over the top. But as that Financial Times journalist whose piece Jerome wrote about yesterday wrote, "An editor of The Economist in the 1950s once advised his journalists to "simplify, then exaggerate". A woman wearing a headscarf in a European society probably doesn't consciously want to destroy that society. But I do think that many Europeans do feel that a Muslim's wearing a headscarf is an explicit rejection of core European values. And that's why they get banned.

I don't think the "we're all slaves" part is an exaggeration, however. And I do think that this is how someone raised in the Christian tradition should perceive Islam.

If I were discussing this with a MUslim, I would of course omit the enslavement part, and leave it as Pope Benedict put it. Another point on which I disagree with Pope Benedict, by the way, is his "argument" that Islam is more violent than Christianity. Present events show the absurdity of that. Perhaps Christianity properly understood is inherently more peaceful than Islam, but how often do nations properly understand Christianity?

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 07:45:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is this another attempt at snark?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:34:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not good at extended snark. The last two sentences are intentionally provocative (I was trying to find an interpretation for why some people find the headscarf repugnant, almost viscerally so.), but I was perfectly serious everywhere else. The rest doesn't really go beyond what Benedict said (except for the slavery part, which is purely rhetorical and not necessary for the argument, since one definition of slavery is absence of freedom).

As I said in another response, I don't buy Benedict's linking the argument here to the idea that Islam is inherently more violent than Christianity.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 07:53:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Re: German Romantic/Idealist philosophers - what do you like about them from a political standpoint?
by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:50:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I sincerely hope you don't find this appealing.
by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:52:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
German idealism began with Kant and ended with Hegel. German romanticism was a reaction against Kant that influenced Hegel.

What I like about them from a political standpoint is that they gave us the politics of European modernity. Kant gave us the idea of perpetual peace, which the EU is based upon. Hegel is the philosopher of the welfare state: his Philosophy of Right provides a justification for it, as well as providing a critique of free-market capitalism. The Philosophy of Right is based on the idea that the ultimate human ideal is freedom.

Since you say you hope I don't find this appealing, I take it that your perceptions have been influenced by attacks on Hegel by people like Popper and Hayek. Since the 1980s, such attacks are viewed by specialists in the English-speaking world as nothing but junk scholarship. (Germans never took them seriously, of course.)

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 08:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fair enough.  What I was alluding to was some of the German concept of the nation that emerged in that milieu at the beginning of the nineteenth century, e.g. the Fichte text I linked to.

Not sure if I buy your vision of Hegel as an apostle of freedom - welfare state, maybe, but a bit too state oriented - freedom = being a good, obedient citizen of a good state, and I'm far from being an expert on Hegel, but e.g.:

The state, as the actuality of the substantial will - an actuality which it has through the particular self-consciousness when elevated onto a universal level -s that which is in and of itself rational. This substantial unity is an unchanging end-in-itself in which freedom gains its supreme right, just as conversely this final end has the highest right vis a vis the individuals whose highest duty it is to be members of the state

[...]

The state in-and-for-itself is the ethical whole, the actualization of freedom. It is the absolute end of reason that freedom be actual. The state is the spirit which dwells in the world and consciously realizes itself in the world [...] WHen reasoning about freedom one must not start from the individual self-consciousness, but only from the essential nature of self-consciousness, for whether one knows it or not, this essense still realizes itself as an independent power in which the single individuals are only elements: it is the course of God through the world that constitutes the state. (Philosophy of Right: 258)

He also believed that the monarch/executive is a ideally a mystical immanent idea of the state, is chosen by birth, and should only be limited by legal formalism as determined in an unalterable constitution, derides the idea of democracy, and sees the hereditary landowning nobility as specially suited for serving as the mediator between the state and the people. Rather than democracy he wants the legislature to be made up of corporate representatives, preferably not elected by a majority vote of whatever unit they represent - the ultimate in special interests. But above all he was a loyal Prussian monarchist of his time, thinking in the categories such a person would. The way I see it seeing him as the philosopher of freedom is at least as anachronistic as seeing him as the avatar of totalitarianism, whatever superficial similarities you might find e.g. the criticism of capitalism - which didn't exist in anything approaching the modern form, or the corporatist thinking, which merely reflected the way society was organized at the time, rather than the reactionary fascist attempt to create something that is neither liberal democracy nor communism. But what do I know - early nineteenth century political philosophy really isn't my thing.

by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 09:21:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry: I didn't notice that the "this" was a link. I don't know what you find problematic about the German concept of the nation of the time. I don't know exactly what you mean by that, but I skimmed through the Fichte text, and didn't find anything especially offensive. (Maybe I missed something.) As I'm sure you know, "Germany" at the time consisted of many states, most of them small, and as the intro to that text says, Fichte wrote that piece in response to the French occupation. Intellectuals of the time were trying to develop a nationalist consciousness, and in the revolutions of 1948 that was combined with a yearning for democracy. I am not going to defend Fichte in general, however: I believe that Hegel criticized him for advocating a police state.

It is a relief to me that you do not say anything unreasonable about Hegel. (Thus, my fear that you were infuenced by Popper and/or Hayek in this regard was evidently mistaken.) Now, to understand the passages you quoted, you have to realize that Hegel had a social, as opposed to individualistic, concept of freedom. That means that it contains the liberal concept of freedom (absence of coersion by state or church etc.) but adds on further requirements. This is where reason comes in. (Liberalism is unable to articulate the notion of freedom I discussed in my original post by the way, no better than Islam can, because it rejects the concept of reason, starting with Hume. Remember his "Reason is and always must be the slave of the passions"?) To be free, I must know that the institutions of the society I live in are rational. This is an extremely powerful idea. For one thing, if you find the institutions aren't rational, then they must be made rational. (After Hegel's death, there was a split into the Left and the Right Hegelians; the Left Hegelians, of whom Marx was one, picked up this thought. The Right Hegelians simply assumed society was rational, so that the problem was simply to demonstrate this. Critical theory (of the Frankfurt School type) derives from this idea, too.) The purpose of The Philosophy of Right is to show that the state is rational.

Notice by the way that by Hegel's notion of freedom, Americans are not free: and it is not just because we have an unelected president. It is because the American state is not rational. It is not rational because the Constitution is designed in such a way that states with small populations are disproportionately represented in the Senate and Electoral College. Since sparsely populated states are more rural, and rural areas are more conservative, that means that a conservative minority is able to block legislation desired by a progressive majority. Thus, the will of the American people is constantly and repeatedly blocked: a people that lives under such conditions is not free. But by the liberal notion of freedom, they are. Thus, Hegel's notion of freedom turns out to be more left-wing than the liberal one.

I think you know by now what I will say in response to Hegel's being in favor of monarchy and against democracy. In the Preface, Hegel states that any philosophy reflects its time. The state of the early 19th century is an absolutist state; the state of the 20th century is a democratic state. (Since the British, unlike the Continental Europeans, did not go through a period of absolutism, it appears that the English-speaking world wants to have its experience with absolutism in the 21st century.) I don't know if Hegel really privately was against democracy, but if he advocated it in print, he would have gotten into trouble (or the book wouldn't have passed the censors). When it came to disputes between reformers and proponents of the status quo in Prussia, Hegel was always on the side of the reformers.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 11:00:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
t is because the American state is not rational. It is not rational because the Constitution is designed in such a way that states with small populations are disproportionately represented in the Senate and Electoral College. Since sparsely populated states are more rural, and rural areas are more conservative, that means that a conservative minority is able to block legislation desired by a progressive majority.

Why would Hegel mind that? He explicitly argues that representatives should be of specific groups - towns, professions, etc., size having nothing to do with it. He finds the idea of majority rule risible because in his view you can't get a rational result from it.

You can't get out of that by dismissing those ideas you dislike as a product of his time - all his ideas are of his era, and trying to graft an affection for democracy onto Hegel seems a bit strange - the whole state structure which he sees as the embodiment of political freedom simply collapses if you do so.

Liberalism is unable to articulate the notion of freedom I discussed in my original post by the way, no better than Islam can, because it rejects the concept of reason

No. That's just wrong. There's a very strong utilitarian aspect to liberalism. Unless you mean the idea that there are certain basic freedoms that should be treated as fundamental - e.g. freedom of conscience. But even those are often justified on rational grounds. The difference between a Hegelian vision and the liberal one lies in the attitude to the state - Hegel embodies it with a quasi divine status, liberalism doesn't and is focused on the individual. That can reach the exact same ends you like - a welfare state - without tossing away the rights of individuals.

Ironically, given where this discussion started, Hegel's support for liberal style freedom was at its strongest with respect to religion - his view on that was precisely the American one you reject, which is why he argued for rights for even those religions hostile to the state (Quakers) or largely outside the society of which the state is an emmanation (Jews). He's at his most illiberal when it comes to how to organize and run the state, not with respect to liberal freedoms. You on the other hand seem to be rejecting that, calling for secularism to be the religion of the state and imposed by the state on individuals.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 01:54:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow. It's hard to do justice to your points at this late hour.

With respect to your first objection, that Hegel said that size should have nothing to do with political influence, I would say that Hegel was assuming that the "players" in the political process had a sense of civic virtue. In America today, it is clear that the players do not have this sense: a sense of or concern for the common good. Given that, one has to tactically fall back upon the idea of simple majority rule (expecting that the law will protect the rights of the minority, of course), given that on major issues, the American majority is progressive (even though you would never learn that from the corporate media).

Your next objection makes the point that "There's a very strong utilitarian aspect to liberalism." I don't see the import to that: from a Hegelian point of view, liberalism and utilitarianism go hand-in-glove. They both fail to see that there is something that transcends naked individual self-interest. You say that Hegel gives the state a quasi-divine status. That is correct as far as it goes: that is the status that the state deserves. Only the state can allow all citizens to live fulfilling lives, under capitalism. What higher value is there than that? Divine indeed.

Like you, the Bushies are focused on the individual. They don't like the state any more than you do. Furthermore, they understand that not all individuals are alike. Some are winners, some are losers. The state doesn't make that distinction. Face it: liberalism can't conceptualize an organic connection between the human beings making up a society. So it is very easy to slip from a benevolent liberalism—individuals with bad luck must be helped—to a malevolent liberalism—the best way to help individuals is to give them "incentives" to help themselves (even though, given their conditions, they can't).

I'm pleased to learn that Hegel advocated religious tolerance toward Quakers and Jews. But I am not surprised to learn that, since, unlike you, I understand that Hegel gives the individual his due. I don't call upon the state to impose secularism on individuals. My view is that secularism and Christianity are two sides of the same coin. And I got that idea from Hegel, so I would say that was his view as well, although he wouldn't have put it that way, since the concept of secularism didn't exist in his time. (He was instrumental in bringing it about.)

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 03:42:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It just occurred to me that it is interesting that English-speaking countries tend to allow the wearing of headscarves, while the European continent tends to ban them. I take that as evidence for my suspicion that Europeans don't share the liberal notion of freedom with the anglophone world: they have the Hegelian notion of freedom. (In the liberal view, there is no reason (only instrumental rationality), so "freedom" consists in doing what you want: so Muslims have a "right" to wear headscarves. But in the Hegelian view, there is no more such a right than a "right" to cut off your own limbs: wanting to do it can't be rational, so there can't be a right to do it. It is not just that a Muslim wearing a headscarve damages society (by undermining social solidarity and implicitly rejecting core European values): she damages herself.)

It's not because they're Hegelians: it's because they're Europeans. Hegel just articulated their own self-understanding better than anyone else did.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 11:22:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just want to say that as much as I enjoy debating Hegel with you, I find your view of Islam incredibly bigoted. The way I see it Islamic societies have the bad luck of a religion that has a sacred body of law, making the separation of religion from the state more difficult than in was in Christian ones. Given the numbers of people in Europe wanting sharia law I don't think we need to worry about that. And it's not like the invocation of religion to rail against civil law doesn't have a long tradition in modern Europe. The Federal Republic is a prime example.

In any case, your understanding of why Europe bans headscarves is mistaken. The French do so because of a historical tradition of militant secularism descended from the Revolution and the many generations of struggle where the Church opposed the Republic.  The Bavarians because they're Catholic bigots and  racism plays a role as well - we're talking about the CSU here. The idea that the CSU as an entity in favour of either secularism or a strict separation of Church and State is too funny for words.  Hegel has nothing to do with it.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 02:16:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course Hegel has something to do with it: it is called the cunning of reason. French militant secularism can be treated as a component of a Hegelian view of Europe, since French secular values are secularized Christian values. Hegel, and I following him, are neither in favor of secularism nor of a strict separation of church and state, so I have no problems with the CSU on those grounds. (In Europe, unlike America, even reactionaries can be correct on some issues. This is because European societies are organic. The U.S. on the other hand is an artificial construct, the product of social engineering. So since reactionaries here have no authentic tradition to fall back upon, they have nothing to help them to get it right at least some of the time.) We don't need to be in favor of secularism, since reality is secular. So we can afford to give religion some space in society. This isn't possible in America, since reality isn't allowed to enter into the debate. This is because the notion of reality implies that there is an objective reality, binding on everyone: but that contradicts that prime American principle, that everyone has a right to their opinion. If the creed is everyone has a right to their opinion (without the qualification that it must be a well-justified opinion, and able to withstand criticism by others, which the creed does not include), then reality has no privileged place in America. It is just another perspective, one among many others.

I don't know what you're thinking about when you say that in the Federal Republic, religion has "rail[ed] against civil law". I'd be grateful if you could tell me what it is you have in mind. But I should point out that the German Enlightenment, unlike the French and Scottish enlightenments, never adopted a hostile position against religion. In essence, in Germany, philosophers and theologians just agreed to work together. That is why about the only modern society you have Christian fundamentalism is America: it is virtually unheard of in Germany. (But there is significant anti-abortion sentiment in Germany, which I find puzzling. My guess is that that is an instance of the contemporary German drive to over-compensate for the crimes of the Nazi period.)

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 03:05:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is because European societies are organic. The U.S. on the other hand is an artificial construct, the product of social engineering.

All nations are social constructs. Period. If you want to say that America's national identity is ideological rather than ethnic, fair enough. But that's equally true of France.

So since reactionaries here have no authentic tradition to fall back upon, they have nothing to help them to get it right at least some of the time.) We don't need to be in favor of secularism, since reality is secular.

Given that Europe managed to come up with some remarkably  nasty reactionaries appealing to 'authenticity' and 'tradition', based on the notion of a 'real' 'organic' society, as opposed to the constructs of modernity, I'm not sure this is a good argument. You should do some reading on proto-fascism. Fritz Stern's Politics of Cultural Despair is a classic.  But the literature is enormous.

On France and it's 'Christian rooted' secular values - ?! Actually based on a hatred of Catholicism.

Germany's anti-abortion stuff is simply the product of the dominant part[ies] being predominantly by Catholic - and the direct successor to a explicitly Catholic part[ies].

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 03:29:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow. This should be a thread in its own right. But this is a role that Islam plays in the West today: it forces us to return to the notion of rationality.

You say that France's identity is ideological exactly in the same way that America's is, with France's 1300 year  history being of no consequence. I wonder how many French people would agree with you.

The argument I was making derives from Louis Hartz's The liberal tradition in America: an interpretation of American political thought since the revolution, a canonical work of American liberalism. Hartz's argument (which I think is irrefutable) is that since the American revolution was based on liberal ideas, and since the American revolution is constitutive of America, there can be no such thing as an authentic American conservatism. (Needless to say, there can be such things as authentic German or French conservatisms, since those societies predate the very idea of liberalism.)

With respect to your second comment about Europe having nasty reactionaries appealing to authenticity, I would say that that is irrelevant, since today it is the anglophone countries that show signs of fascism, not European ones (backward countries like Poland and Latvia being excepted, of course). (Germany had only a couple of decades in which it was involved in conquest of foreign lands, whereas Britain's imperial career, based on military might, spans centuries. So America's current belligirence simply falls into the anglophone pattern.)

So the French hate Catholocism? I am not sure it so simple. The philosophes hated Catholocism I suppose, but they didn't turn the French into Protestants, did they?

As for the anti-abortion stuff: thanks for the point that it is due to Catholicism. That makes sense. If you look at the history of anti-abortionism in the US, you will find that this "movement" originated with Catholics. The evangelicals simply picked it up because they thought it was a good rallying cry.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 04:46:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You say that France's identity is ideological exactly in the same way that America's is, with France's 1300 year  history being of no consequence. I wonder how many French people would agree with you.

What self-deluding French reactionaries might think is irrelevant. France circa 1100 AD, or 1700 for that matter, is meaningless. Or no more meaningful than various European pasts are to America in the sense that any given period came out of what preceded it, and given that America is largely a Western culture it is a product of these pasts. Any appeal to 'tradition' by conservatives is about the present, the 'traditions' which are being invoked are at best arbitrarily chosen and reinterpreted for the present, at worst made up of whole cloth. To the extent that conservatism is authentic it is seeking to preserve the existing or to return to a recent past. Even the latter isn't quite that simple - nostalgia for the nineteen fifties is already in part a nostalgia for a specific contemporary re-imagining of the fifties. When you go back centuries seeing anything authentically 'traditional' about those 'traditions' is ridiculous.

This was a hot topic in the eighties and nineties. The closest that any of it came to your viewpoint was Anthony Smith, e.g. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. And even Smith wouldn't go anywhere near as far as you. The more widely accepted interpretation was that set out by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities or the modernization one in Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism . On the 'authentic' traditions Eric Hobsbawm (ed) The Invention of Tradition is fun.

Germany had only a couple of decades in which it was involved in conquest of foreign lands, whereas Britain's imperial career, based on military might, spans centuries.
Germany as a state didn't exist all that long; it's sort of hard for a non-existent state to be conquering people. France, Spain, Britain, and Russia on the other hand... or even the Dutch. Of course if you look at the Prussian and Habsburg states a rather different picture emerges. Polish nationalist versions of your view of authenticity and tradition see the early Prussian Teutonic Knights based state as an earlier version of Nazi Germany with the Deutsche Orden as the first draft of the SS.  Amusingly enough so did the Nazis. In the Polish communist nationalist remix this became class struggle with Germans as the eternal opressing imperial nation-class.  Wilhelmine conservatives saw that state as the early incarnation of their own vision of Germany, Drang nach Osten included, what a surprise. All that shows is that people can and do play any game they want with  ancient 'traditions' in order to find support for whatever political interpretation of the present they're pushing.

by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 03:09:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You make a pursuasive case about the identity question. (Citing books your oponent has not read (except Gellner's) is an effective debating tactic.) Certainly, the US has a real identity, history, and tradition(s) by this point. I'll have to rething my position on their being a qualitative difference between the US and European countries here.

Probably Hartz's book should be viewed not as a destriction of an objective cultural reality, but as an attempt by a liberal to marginalize conservatives. I used to really believe what he argued: that in the US, there can be no authentic conservatives. But having read up a little on the history of American evancelicalism, it now strikes me that Harz does what many liberals do: simply ignore evangelicalism as irrelevant for understanding American culture. Obviously, this is harder to do today than it was in 1955, when Hartz wrote his book.

The rest of your remarks are amusing. Yes, I forgot about Prussia. So more than just a couple of decades of conquest.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 05:56:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Christianity is rational? You're funny.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 01:39:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I am, but look at it this way. According to Christianity, God became a man. In other words, a human being became divine. In that case, who is to say that all human beings aren't divine? But if that is the case, then we have no more use for the God-concept.

This line of thinking is heretical, but it is part of the Christian tradition. And I think it corresponds to the value system of contemporary Europe: Europe is secular, and yet capital punishment is seen as impermissible. Thus, human life is treated as sacred, i.e., divine.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 02:24:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorta confused here. Nuns don't tend to teach in public schools, so whether or not they wear the habit in a Catholic school is sorta irrelevant, is it not?

Or am I missing something here.

First glance, the comment on the Bavarian law indicates a sort of discriminatory nature, but then, if we're talking about what happens in a secular  institution versus a religious one, it clearly is not, though it would be better if the

Hijab almost always demarks a separation from western values which are part of what is the constitution of european nations, and so I wonder what the fuss is about. Merkel is right on this one.

In any event, it is quite common in Europe for brothers and father to require of their sister/daughter to wear this, and at age of 12 or 14, will is irrelevant as well. Plus, try integrating into Western society properly wearing hijab - it's not going to happen.

Which is why these laws are passed, and why they are necessary - and are an aspect of solidarity. All men and women are equal, regardless of race, and this strange custom creates two problems - demarcation of gender, and demarcation of creed. What is the point?

Suspect having facial tattoos and excessive piercings, another way to denote seperateness, will also cause the applicant to have a hard time landing a job in the civil service...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:16:11 PM EST
Apparently nuns do teach in public schools.  At any rate, the ruling and an earlier ruling in Baden-Wurttemberg both specifically mention nuns' habits, it's not just something I made up.

Hijab almost always demarks a separation from western values

Why?  How?

it is quite common in Europe for brothers and father to require of their sister/daughter to wear this, and at age of 12 or 14, will is irrelevant as well.

And as I keep saying, if that is true (and I have been presented with no evidence of it here) then the girls of whom it is true almost certainly have other issues at home that are more significant than what they wear on their heads.

try integrating into Western society properly wearing hijab - it's not going to happen.

Apparently because "Western society," whatever that is, doesn't want it to.

All men and women are equal, regardless of race, and this strange custom creates two problems - demarcation of gender, and demarcation of creed.

If all men and women are equal, regardless of race or other factors, then why does it matter if a woman "demarcates" herself as belonging to a specific group?  If she's required to disguise her identity in order to get a job, then she's not really equal.  Why not just make everyone dye their hair blonde and change their names to Inga?

Being different is not a crime.

The Bavarian law is discriminatory, full stop.

It saddens me to see otherwise sensible people arguing that it's OK to discriminate against some people because "it's for their own good."

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 06:37:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently nuns do teach in public schools.  At any rate, the ruling and an earlier ruling in Baden-Wurttemberg both specifically mention nuns' habits, it's not just something I made up.

Oh, I see that, but one thing does not stop the other from being true. Germany is federal - the states make these laws. The IHT is unclear on the public versus catholic (which may also get state funding but is not necessarily under formal state control, just as would be the case for an Islamic school) issue, as is your new link. Could be that the law language in Baden-Wurtemburg is different than in Bavaria, which in the latter case may make a formal distinction between purely secular, state-run schools, and religious schools with state funding.

Don't see anything in what you've linked to to suggest otherwise.

And this is hugely important. In France, you can't wear hijab or kippah to public school, but you can wear them to orthodox jewish or islamic schools if you like, or catholic schools for that matter.

That this is discriminatory is therefore, to me, still unclear.

'Course, try being atheist (apostate) in most of the Islamic world, or Christian in Saudi Arabia, if you want to see real discrimination based on creed.

...if that is true (and I have been presented with no evidence of it here) then the girls of whom it is true almost certainly have other issues at home that are more significant than what they wear on their heads.

Well, I don't have much time to xlate, but that ni putes ni soumises site will give you plenty of evidence it happens. This is a large part of what they are all about (well, that and the gang rapes that happen when a girl doesn't wear the hijab, or drop out of school and clean house, or marry someone she doesn't want to, or dates a non-Muslim).

Spend any time in a part of Europe (my family is in La Seyne/Mer, very large Islamic population) with large Islamic population, and you'll see it.  For instance, my best friend there teaches in a Lycee Technique in La Seyne, he sees it in class every day.

That is why there is this law.

And just because the girl does have bigger issues with her family does not mean that this is not an issue for larger society ... are you implying that since it is a family issue, there's not issue for the rest of us?

And if you are right, this isn't our problem, maybe it is time to revisit the purpose of allocations familiales, no?

Solidarity. We are in solidarity with the women who do not want to live under this bs.

If all men and women are equal, regardless of race or other factors, then why does it matter if a woman "demarcates" herself as belonging to a specific group?  

When that demarcation implies submission, generalized submission of all women, which is not conforming to Western values which have been fought for for centuries, then it's a problem.

If she's required to disguise her identity in order to get a job, then she's not really equal.  Why not just make everyone dye their hair blonde and change their names to Inga?

You are confusing race here (dye hair and change name). Race has nothing to do here. Clothing choice is not personal identity in the way race is. You can take off the veil, you cannot take off your skin. You can choose to name your kids Abdelkader or Pierre-Gilles too if you like. If I don't wear a proper suit and tie to an interview, I guarantee I don't get the job. If I have a pierced nose, even less. Or a tattoo. So this is irrelevant.

Apparently because "Western society," whatever that is, doesn't want it to.

This smacks of very facile relativism, this statement here, and explains the attitude behind the opinion, I believe. I'm all for very spirited criticism of the West and Western values, but to say there's no such thing is not a serious point of view imho.

Veil as expression of (forced) submission will not be accepted, period. We've fought those battles and (mostly) won. No one feels like fighting them againt. Just as we fight for more an more gay rights, for equal pay and general gender equity for women, and other social issues we can't count on Islamicists to go along with.

Being different is not a crime.

That all depends on how you choose to be different.

A dope addict is "being different" too, after all.

The Bavarian law is discriminatory, full stop.

Sorry, but I'm just not convinced.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jan 15th, 2007 at 07:09:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This Reuters article, which wasn't out when I wrote the diary, does make it clear that the ruling involves state schools, and that nuns are allowed to wear their habits in state classrooms under the Bavarian law.

It seems very clear that the Bavarian law is (a) different from the French one (aside from dealing with teachers and not students), and (b) discriminatory.

'Course, try being atheist (apostate) in most of the Islamic world, or Christian in Saudi Arabia, if you want to see real discrimination based on creed.

Is the argument you really want to be making, "We're not as bad as Saudi Arabia?"!   That seems like a very low standard to compare oneself to.  Like I said in the original diary, "Western" values are supposed to include tolerance and equality, right?  But this Bavarian law is intolerant and discriminatory.  I am astonished that you would defend it.

that ni putes ni soumises site will give you plenty of evidence it happens.

"Evidence that it happens" was never in doubt, what I want to know is what percentage of women for whom it is true.  The Deutche Welle article includes this:

Women's rights groups and conservative politicians, however, argue that many Moslem women have no choice but to wear a headscarf because their families demand it. Yet, according to a recent survey conducted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 97 percent of those women asked said it was the duty of a Muslim woman to cover her head and that they should be allowed to wear them wherever and whenever they choose -- an opinion not shared by the vast majority of Germans.

I do thank you for the link to ni putes ni soumises, which sounds like an extraoridinary organization doing very important work.  I'm glad they're around.

However, let's look at the issues that they and you enumerate.  From your wiki link:

The movement fights against violence targeting women and it focuses on these areas:

    * Gang-rapes
    * Pressure to wear the Hijab
    * Pressure to drop out of school
    * Pressure to marry early without being able to choose the husband.

If you were a girl living in one of the banlieues or cités and facing this list of problems, which would be the one you worried about the least??

And which is the issue that all the politicians and newspapers and bloggers and whoever else are paying all the attention to?

And just to build on that, if we take your gang rape example and assume that "not wearing hijab" is the "reason" why girls are gang-raped. (That is a claim, incidentally, that I would dispute strongly, since it's not much different than blaming a victim of a "different kind" of rape for being a prostitute or wearing a short skirt.  Rapists are to blame for their crimes, not the victims.  But I digress.)

But for argument's sake, let's say girls are being gang-raped for not wearing hijab.  Let's also say that few people or politicians or organizations or journalists or bloggers are doing much to draw attention to this problem or to stop it.  And now let's say that you've now banned women from wearing hijab at work or school, so now she's on the subway or the bus without her headscarf, coming into a neighborhood where women get raped for not wearing it.  Congratulations, you've just made her a target.

So the argument now would be, oh, she could just put on the scarf when she left work so by the time she got home she would be "safe."  But she wouldn't be safe, because we still haven't done anything about these gangs of rapists roaming her neighborhood, and the truth is that men who commit gang-rape don't really need an excuse to do so.

Same for being pressured to drop out of school.  If a family is pressuring a girl to wear the hijab, and also isn't crazy about her going to school, and then is told that she can't wear the hijab in school, do you think they redouble the pressure to keep her out of school because she'll have to go there "naked"?  (Which is how people of this mindset think of it.)  So would you rather have girls in school in hijab, or girls not in school at all?

So this is my point, which you just don't seem to get:  By fixating on the least important issue, you (collectively, not personally) make it much harder to address the issues that are more significant and more disempowering.

Let's look at it another way:  Why focus on the "symbol" (let's ban burning the American flag!) and ignore the substance (freedom of expression)?

are you implying that since it is a family issue, there's not issue for the rest of us?

Of course not.  And I think you know that.

You are confusing race here (dye hair and change name). Race has nothing to do here. Clothing choice is not personal identity in the way race is. You can take off the veil, you cannot take off your skin. You can choose to name your kids Abdelkader or Pierre-Gilles too if you like. If I don't wear a proper suit and tie to an interview, I guarantee I don't get the job. If I have a pierced nose, even less. Or a tattoo. So this is irrelevant.

You are ignoring my question, which was:  If we are really all equal, than why does it matter whether a woman covers her head?

And it does sound like you're arguing that everyone should change whatever aspect of their identity that is changeable in order to "fit in" to your idea of what society should be like.  I, on the other hand, value the diversity in my society and think it would be really boring if everyone were named Jacques and Marie.  So I guess that's just a difference of opinion:  Maybe you want everyone to be the same, but I want everyone to be themselves.  Our societies are richer that way.

Veil as expression of (forced) submission will not be accepted, period.

Another problem is that these laws do not differentiate between women for whom it is forced and women who geunuinely choose to cover their heads of their own free will.  You're telling them both that they won't be accepted.

That all depends on how you choose to be different.

A dope addict is "being different" too, after all.

Are you seriously equating wearing a headscarf with addiction to heroin?  Maybe this conversation is futile.

Off topic, in searching for the Reuters story, I found this little article in a Turkish magazine, accompanied by the following picture from a German magazine:

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:10:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that you're actually concerned with different things: your concern is with the girl who wants or is pushed to wear a head-scarf to school. The argument about coercing that girl not to wear a head-scarf is concerned with defending against a perceived threat to the status quo - a hard-won and insecure status quo to be sure. Your arguments about that girl's well-being have little weight in that frame.

I don't buy the "defending laicism" frame either: forcing Muslim girls not to wear headscarves in order to keep religion out of schools seems analagous to requiring Christian girls to bare their breasts at school in order to keep religion out of schools. Forcing girls to dress immodestly by their families' standards is not the way forward if you're concerned about their well-being. If your concern is ramming your standards down their throats however ...

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 05:43:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure I completely understand this point...

The argument about coercing that girl not to wear a head-scarf is concerned with defending against a perceived threat to the status quo - a hard-won and insecure status quo to be sure. Your arguments about that girl's well-being have little weight in that frame.

Could you elaborate?

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:10:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Defending the hard-won and insecure secular status quo against religionists. Though in Bavaria it's about defending the long-standing, entrenched but insecure catholic status quo.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:13:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I was combining several groups: the feminists, concerned that progress on women's rights is at risk; the conservatives, concerned that their image of a white, Christian country is under threat; the secularists, alarmed at the perceived public profession of faith and the racists, who don't like anything involving brown people or foreigners anyway. In all cases the concern is with defended what's theirs, not with the well-being of the other.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:20:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brilliant.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 03:09:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, force everyone to go to school nude, including the teachers, the heads, the cleaners, and any school visitors--including parents.  Make clothing an out-of-school activity.  Celebrate the body!  My word...clothing is so culturally conditioned, it's...yes!  School is about education, not cultural conditioning.  Take those clothes off!  And that means you, Mr. Politician who wants to do the rounds...

(I am assuming schools are suitably heated/shaded.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:24:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, except for people whose religion requires them not to wear clothes. They'd have to wear hijab in order to avoid displaying religious symbols, so to speak.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:27:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Parents in a school playground wait for their kids to finish class.  All parents are naked, except for two--who are dressed in fullbody burkhas.

Naked person one: "Who are they?"
Naked person two: "They're nudists."

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:38:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Only observtion (else we're just dancing around each other after all) is that if true, then you are right, the Bavarian law is discriminatory. If nuns are in public institutions with there penguin suits, but Muslim women can't wear theirs, that's a problem, I agree.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 09:17:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by oldfrog on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:04:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
try integrating into Western society properly wearing hijab - it's not going to happen.

Apparently because "Western society," whatever that is, doesn't want it to.

It happens in London. The problem is that in France to "integrate" means to "assimilate".

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 06:17:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
resistance is futile
by oldfrog on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 07:04:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't resist.

We have analyzed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves, you will be punished.

We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 02:20:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  Protest in support of head scarf
In Antwerp 150 people demonstrated against the new coalition agreement that will prevent civil servants from wearing a head scarf when they are in contact with the general public. The new coalition agreement was approved by Antwerp city council last night.
Following last October's local elections the socialists, liberals and Christian democrats struck a deal to administer the port city for the next six years.

The agreement includes a passage that bans the wearing of religious symbols by city civil servants, when they are in contact with the public at large.

This will mean that municipal workers working at a window in one of the municipal offices will no longer be allowed to wear the Muslim head scarf.

The protest was staged by the Immigrant Women's Platform. The demonstrators formed a human chain, a so called "chain of solidarity".
Immigrant women, but also Belgian men and women joined the chain to protest against the new regulation.

The protesters claim that the wearing of the Muslim head scarf does not impinge on the neutrality that municipal workers are expected to observe.              


 

Ah well, Flanders is one of the richests regions in the world, and now they complain about everything and are afraid about everything....to the level they force politicians to put energy, time and money in issue's that really have no importance at all.
  Religious neutrality....maybe they can start demolishing churches and cathedrals, symbols of centuries of oppression, submission and inequality.


The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 07:21:19 AM EST
great discussion...vintage ET...

fraught issue...many pov's, all well articulated...

result: am rethinking my formerly facile judgements and reviewing at a much deeper level, due to the intelligent arguments displayed here.

gracias everyone

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 12:01:41 PM EST
I agree with you entirely, and I also want to thank everyone who's been participating in this diary.  I may not agree with you all, but I do appreciate your points of views and the civil ways in which you've expressed them.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 01:47:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to read of a German court ruling that a law which is EXPLICITLY discriminatory is valid by reason of NOT being discriminatory.  

How can you even pretend to respect people like that?

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 04:37:26 PM EST
One thing everyone might not be aware of is that the word "hijab" actually just means to veil or cover and is used in the qur'an as a general word for modesty in dress and behavior. Men are supposed to be modest too. Culturally it has evolved that head scarves and loose clothing are very common ways for women to implement the injunction to be modest. But there is no quranic reason to require it, although it does seem to be a reasonable expression of modesty.

Also, some Christian sects in the US specify what most modern Europeans or Americans would consider "repressive" dress -- ankle skirts, long sleeves, sometimes scarves. And, they sometimes are repressive to women in their community who don't want to conform. The only difference between them and muslim immigrants is that they are "Christian" and "Western", if a backward form of it (IMO). But usually the justification for these rules are some interpretation of scripture....the same as Islam.

The point of this is that headscarves are a legitimate form of religious self-expression, but are also misused like all human customs. Furthermore, the only self-expression a woman might have in a repressive culture is her religion. Or the only thing she can take solace in is God. Taking that away by telling her that the expression is bad may further isolate and depress her.

This is not to say that all muslim women in Europe want to be wearing a headscarf, just that the headscarf is, as the original diarist posted, not the thing to be worried about.

Rachael

by R343L (reverse qw/ten.cinos@l343r/) on Wed Jan 17th, 2007 at 12:15:01 AM EST


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