Gender Desegregation Wednesdays

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

Kat and I were working on an English translation of a section of the French website for the women’s rights organization, Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS – Neither Whores Nor Submissives). We were struggling with the word mixité. We toyed with “the mixing of the sexes”. But, that sounded like one of those speed-dating events. We settled on “desegregation”. But, then we included the antecedent “gender”, to distinguish our meaning from the more common American connotation of racial desegregation. “Gender desegregation” does capture, in English, the intended meaning of the French word “mixité”. But, we were left somewhat dissatisfied. NPNS uses mixité as the last in a three-word chant representing the three ideological pillars of their movement. Laicité, Egalité, Mixité. Gender desegregation doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

As I plowed away, I came to an expression that made me roar aloud with laughter. Kat demanded to know the cause of my apparent mirth. As often occurs in such situations, a painfully literal translation had tickled my funny bone. It just sounded so weird and precious in English. I had translated “Mercredis de la Mixité” as “Gender Desegregation Wednesdays”. When I told Kat, she laughed too. Then, we both laughed. Then, we laughed so hard we cried. It was one of those irreplaceable and singular moments of cosmic comic connection, otherwise known as, “you had to be there”. It’s ok if you don’t get it.

But, then, after we had finally stopped laughing, we had a serious conversation about our reaction to my lacking translating skills. Obviously, it was the combination of the ostensibly esoteric with the ostensibly quotidian, like Theosophy Thursdays. But, why did “gender desegregation” sound so academic, so arcane, so removed from the populist vernacular that it incited uproarious laughter when “racial desegregation” or just “desegregation” does not?

Racial equality has been cemented as an indispensable ideological pillar of liberal, constitutional democracy while women continue to struggle for full recognition as human beings and as citizens. While religious justifications for racism are considered barbaric and archaic notions of yesteryear and beyond the pale for a modern, civilized society, religion remains the foremost obstacle thwarting women’s aspirations to humanity and citizenship.

The evolution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (popularly known as the LDS or Mormon Church) during recent decades illustrates this point perfectly. The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) Church broke away from the main sect of “Saints”, because they refused to give up polygamy (so-called celestial plural marriage) as a central tenet of the Mormon doctrine, among other complaints.

Imagine, for a moment, an even more strident version of the FLDS Church. Let’s call them the Super Fundie Latter Day Saints (SFLDS) Church. Imagine this SFLDS Church breaking away from their Mormon brethren, because they refuse to give up racism as a central tenet of the Mormon doctrine.

If you question whether either or both polygamy and racism were, have been or are foundational tenets of the Mormon doctrine, I invite you to peruse the LDS Church’s own literature on their own website. It’s quite eye-opening. Copious documentation indicates that generations of Mormons were taught that dark skin is a curse from God, as well as evidence of a less than entirely virtuous pre-human existence, serving to justify everything from racial slavery and segregation and discrimination to Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws. Only public outcry and condemnation and boycott, rising dissent among the rank and file, and the risk of losing federal funding for BYU’s students provoked Jehovah into revealing a doctrinal change to the church leadership in 1978.

But, back to our imaginary Super Fundie LDS Church that is incensed with the original LDS Church for abandoning the foundational doctrinal tenet of racism. Imagine that this Super Fundie Mormon sect decides that the best way for it to propagate its originalist vision of Jehovah’s intentions for mankind is to adopt as many black babies as possible. The goal of the program is two-fold. It will give these decrepit black souls an opportunity to redeem themselves while in their human incarnations, hopefully with the added bonus of turning their putrid black skins white. And, the black babies will be brainwashed into submitting to their divinely ordained, sub-human status, thereby furthering God’s plan for differentiating amongst his creations, according to moral uprightness, by segregating them by race and geography.

Turns your stomach, doesn’t it? Strikes you as pretty much the most disgusting, despicable agenda ever, doesn’t it?

It was real. This actually happened, or something very similar. Except that black kids weren’t the targets. Native American kids were. And, it took place during the latter half of the immediately preceding century.

It was called the Indian Student Placement Program. Mormon families took in thousands of Native American kids and brainwashed them into believing that they were the cursed Lamanites, the black sheep descendants of ancient Middle Eastern Jews. The program’s creator and leader, Spencer W. Kimball, former President of the LDS Church, once bragged about the program participants’ complexions turning noticeably whiter, as evidence of their having left savagery behind for a Mormon life and salvation.

Do you know what is even more disgusting and despicable? This is still happening. Every day. All over the US. Right now. To women and girls.

All over the US, in religious communities and families, women and girls are being brainwashed into believing that they are sub-human, meant only to obey and serve the men in their lives, meant only to birth and raise more adherents. They are brainwashed into believing that they are the sexual and reproductive chattel of their families and communities. They are brainwashed into believing that they will either submit to God’s divinely ordained plan and subject themselves to sub-human treatment, or face dire consequences in the here now, the hereafter, or both.

How do I know? Because, it happened to me. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. I was raised to believe that men dictate the lives of women, because women are inferior by design, by God’s design.

If it isn’t ok to adopt an African American or Native American baby and raise it to believe that it is sub-human on account of its race, why is it ok to take a girl baby and raise her to believe that she is sub-human on account of her gender? I don’t care if you birthed her yourself. Your children are not your property to abuse as you please. They are human beings with rights.

How do they get away with this? By claiming this blatant abuse as a religious liberty. We don’t let them get away with that anymore with respect to race, but we still let them get away with it with respect to gender. At least, according to Spencer Kimball, the dark-skinned kids can grow lighter as they grow more virtuous. But, what about the poor girls? No matter how much a little Mormon girl prays for her clitoris to grow into a penis, I’m guessing that wasn’t part of God’s plan. Instead of being so concerned with gay couples adopting and raising children, maybe we should be scrutinizing Christian Fundies who want to adopt girl children and raise them as sex slaves.

Where is the public outcry and condemnation and dissent and government response for gender segregation and slavery as exists for racial segregation and slavery?

Nothing exemplifies this cognitive dissonance as well as the global uproar over public burqa / niqab bans. In the U.S., it is far easier to craft a legal argument against the burqa / niqab as a simple safety measure and general prohibition against identity obscuring masks in the public space than it is to even begin to speak about addressing the ban as a women’s rights provision, as an affirmative action provision, as a gender equality provision, as a prohibition on gender segregation in the public space, or as a prohibition on gender slavery in the public space.

Why? Because everyone is ready to bend over backwards to defend the burqa / niqab as the free expression of religious liberty. Because religious liberty still trumps women’s human and civil rights in American jurisprudence. Because we still view women as the sexual and reproductive chattel of their families and communities.

History repeats itself. Again and again and again. How quickly one forgets the Civil Rights Era. It boggles the mind how no one seems to realize that we already had this argument. But, it was about race. First, it was about slavery and then it was about segregation. And the opponents of progress and democracy made all of the same arguments. They denounced the Civil Rights Act as the federal government overstepping its constitutional bounds by regulating the behavior of private citizens in the public space. They said that the federal government was trampling on the First Amendment rights of US citizens. And, the proponents of progress and democracy made the same arguments. They said that separate never equals equal. They said that a liberal, constitutional democracy cannot sustain itself with a substantial portion of its citizenry disenfranchised and debased.

Recently, Rand Paul appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show. Rachel Maddow was shocked and aghast at Rand Paul’s seeming suggestion that the portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that touched upon the behavior of private citizens in the public space should never have been.

Rachel was eloquent when she replied, “The Civil Rights Act was the federal government stepping in to protect civil rights, because they weren’t otherwise being protected. It wasn’t a hypothetical. There were businesses that were saying black people can not be served here. And, the federal government stepped in and said no, you actually don’t have that choice to make. The federal government is coming in and saying you can’t make that choice as a business owner.”

You don’t get to make that choice, even if you are a member of the persecuted minority, and you want to segregate yourself from the persecuting majority. We are not going to allow racial segregation. We would no more allow a black owned restaurant to refuse to serve white patrons than we would a white owned restaurant to refuse to serve black patrons.

Why shouldn’t you be able to segregate yourself? Segregation is not a choice you get to make in the public space of a secular, democratic republic. Segregation is the antithesis of democracy. Segregation is the antithesis of human rights. Segregation is the antithesis of equality. Segregation is the antithesis of equal protection. Separate but equal does not exist. I thought we already arrived at that conclusion in the US with Brown v. Board of Education.

What about the freedom of association? This is not about forcing people to be friends or lovers or cohorts of whatever variety. The woman in the burqa in public is not the black woman with her black friends entering a white owned store. She is the white storeowner putting up a “no blacks allowed” sign in her store window. She is saying, “I demand the right to participate in society fully, but I also demand the right to discriminate regarding with whom I will interact, with whom I will engage in the public space. I demand the right to treat other human beings and other citizens in a discriminatory fashion. I demand the right not to acknowledge the humanity of the other citizens in the public space while I also demand that they acknowledge my humanity.”

This is unacceptable in a liberal, constitutional democracy. We must not tolerate gender segregation in our public space, even in the pursuit of religious liberty. It matters not if the “choice” to segregate oneself was coerced or no. It matters not if the woman wearing the burqa is a victim or no. We simply cannot tolerate gender segregation any more than we can tolerate racial segregation. Public segregation is not a choice you get to make.

This is not treating women like hapless and helpless victims, unable to choose their own style of dress. The anti-burqa ban argument is not only condescending to women, it is also contradictory. It is saying that women can and do and should be able to choose gender segregation and slavery of their own accord and volition, but that they may not be held accountable for the choices they make. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. If you can “choose” slavery, then you can be held accountable for choosing slavery.

Undoubtedly, the Civil Rights Act relied upon the Commerce Clause. While the Commerce Clause has been interpreted in an incredibly expansive manner, the Supreme Court has been narrowing the scope of this interpretation as of late. The questionable nature of applying the Commerce Clause to implement federal civil rights legislation could be avoided if we brought back the Privileges and Immunities Clause. But, regardless of the constitutional basis, our federal government acted to end racial segregation in the public sphere by regulating the conduct of private citizens in the public space. Is it really such a stretch to jump from racial segregation in public accommodations to gender segregation in the public space? I think you could make an even stronger argument that gender segregation in the public space impedes interstate commerce in the aggregate than you are able to make regarding racial segregation in public accommodations.

The fully integrated veil (the burqa or niqab) is more than segregation; it is effacement; it is dehumanization. It is slavery. This is not about morality. Morality has no place in the law. Desegregation, either racial or gender, is not the moral choice. It has nothing to do with morality. It has everything to do with democracy.

It is an issue of democratic representation and power distribution. It is the same issue that inspired the framers of the Constitution to separate powers within a tripartite federal government to create a system of checks and balances and to leave the balance of power in the hands of the states and the People. If any one class or group or entity has too much power, discrimination and oppression are quick to follow. This is why diversity is a compelling government interest. This is what makes affirmative action policies possible. Gender equality and desegregation should be every bit as compelling a government interest as diversity.

Per the current state of American jurisprudence, religious liberty trumps women’s rights. This is a violation of the Establishment Clause. This is a violation of international human rights law. This is a violation of the principle of secularism. This places our liberal constitutional democracy in jeopardy. This is why we need the Equal Rights Amendment. Racial equality has had its constitutional moment, and now we need to enshrine gender equality in our Constitution in the same way.

I am a human being, not a whore, even if Jehovah or Allah or Yahweh or Jesus or Krishna or Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius or Rael says otherwise.

Maybe one day Gender Desegregation Wednesdays won’t sound so absurd anymore.

We can dream.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    I’m all for religious liberty, as the same First Amendment that protects them also protects ME. However, a line has to be drawn somewhere. If a religious practice leads to abuse, discrimination, and/or death, then something must be done about it. I think we would find willing allies in liberal Christianity, Reform Judaism, and other modernized sects.

  • L.Long

    Absolutely Spot ON!!!!!
    Issac Asimov wrote a science piece about why men are not faithful to wives.
    He postulated that it was because you cannot be truly in love with a subhuman slave. And only when you accept your wife as a 100% equal can you be complete or you go looking for what you don’t have.
    Yes nature and physics do make them different but that is not the same as unequal.
    Only where they stand together as equals do you have real happiness. Look at a crowd of Swedish and look at a crowd islamics. Where are most of the men & women smiling and happy looking?

  • Wednesday

    “Gender Desegregation Wednesday” sounds like I should be able to step into a phone booth and come out with superpowers to fight The Kyriarchy. Think Feminist Hulk will take me on as a student? =D

    Seriously, though, you make a good point comparing non-white children being raised to believe they are inferior and non-male children. Ever since I saw the study that showed LGBT teens whose parents are conservative and Strongly Disapproved of homosexuality are at greater risk for substance abuse, dropping out of school, and suicide, I’ve been wondering if and how we can use that evidence to protect children, at least in situations where the state is necessarily involved (adoption, foster care, or if a social worker gets involved for other reasons). The trouble is, there aren’t enough adoptive parents for the non-white, non-male, non-perfect non-baby children in the system, and I don’t know how to compare the harms of being in the system long enough to age out, to the harms of having parents who teach you that you are inferior.

    Because I don’t know how to objectively compare these harms, and because I’m very very wary of something that amounts to a religious test when it comes to parental rights, I shrink away from an outright ban on adoption based on potential parents holding the unfortunately very common philosophical beliefs that children who aren’t straight males are inferior. I’d be curious what others here think on that.

  • DSimon

    The woman in the burqa in public is not the black woman with her black friends entering a white owned store. She is the white storeowner putting up a “no blacks allowed” sign in her store window. She is saying, “I demand the right to participate in society fully, but I also demand the right to discriminate regarding with whom I will interact, with whom I will engage in the public space. I demand the right to treat other human beings and other citizens in a discriminatory fashion. I demand the right not to acknowledge the humanity of the other citizens in the public space while I also demand that they acknowledge my humanity.”

    No, what she’s saying is either “I like wearing this outfit” or “I am being forced to wear this outfit, please help me!” (or, trickily, maybe some of both). Either way, how is she discriminating against anyone else?

    The anti-burqa ban argument is not only condescending to women, it is also contradictory. It is saying that women can and do and should be able to choose gender segregation and slavery of their own accord and volition, but that they may not be held accountable for the choices they make.

    To compare this to your discussion of the Mormons’ attempt at “improving” Native American children, you seem to be saying that because some people have been adopting Native American children for purposes tantamount to slavery, we should therefore ban all adoption of Native American children. That would unjustly ban a lot of totally legitimate activity just because it happens to be nearby to illegitimate activity.

    To choose to wear the burqa is to choose to wear a somewhat impractical article of clothing, which isn’t a rights violation. The issue is not the piece of clothing, it is determining whether or not it’s a choice, which has to be figured out on a situational basis.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    I never find these articles persuasive for the simple fact that choice, even religious choice, HAS to be a right in a democracy or we simply do not have a democracy anymore.

    Is a burqua designed to segregate women? Duh, absolutely. BUT, (and this is a big but) what about head scarves? What about hats? What about bikinis? What about a high heels? What about skirts? What about a million other article of clothing that are harmful to women and/or have immense social pressure for you to wear them, and/or that separate women out and objectify them? If we ban this article of clothing, what stops us from banning others out of the name of “protecting” someone?

    The religious beliefs are terrible, and they should be pointed out every day as being terrible. But the law is a sledgehammer, and not a scalpel. If we were to ban burquas, what is the bright red line that we could use to remove burquas and not also take away other choices of what to wear and other choices of what religion to practice?

    And, I think that the practical application of a banning the burqua would be to segregate women whole-cloth. A ban would not change the beliefs of the woman “choosing” to wear it or the person forcing her to wear it. What it would mean is those women would now have to stay home instead of being able to participate and society, and would make criminals of the ones who had the religious conviction to wear it outside. I don’t see how a ban of this is NOT a violation of both free expression and free speech.

  • Darth Cynic

    Hullo there all, I mainly just read but this article has me particularly bothered. I may be mistaken or not conversant with all laws of your land and if so I shall hopefully be able to follow any such explanation, however I currently find the article rather flawed.

    For instance I’m just not seeing the similarity between racial segregation banning and niqab or burqa bans. How is free access to public spaces in any way similar to private individuals freedom of expression, they’re nothing like each other. The laws and rules of society that prevent shops, bars and other public spaces from refusing to serve particular identifiable groups is rather straightforwardly to halt wrongful discrimination to others based on colour or creed. It is self evidently not right or fair to single out any group or groups and deny them access or access only in a set limited place for public amenities. However were an individual to hold racist views however blind and ignorant they may be, they are not compelled as a private person to interact with those they wish to keep separate from, nor can they be forced to grant access to their own home barring exceptions like warrant holding police officers. We cannot forcefully compel these people to not be inwardly racist no more than we can compel them to allow entry into their own homes of those groups they object to. That to me would be going beyond mandating an equal society accessible to all colours and creeds without discrimination, to one where we would be essentially policing thought crime. The choice of clothing of a person is not something to which a lack of public access will cause discrimination, what I, you or anyone else wears does not disenfranchise others. It might offend others but it does not prevent others access to seats, stores or public amenities. It is our choice, just like it is our choice to hold racist views ignorant as they may be, superstitious views as silly as they may be or only invite certain people into our own private homes.

    The Islamic lady who wears such garments is a private individual, that individual should be able to choose what they wish to clothe themselves in. I realize and fully accept that many if not most of these women are forced to adhere to these religious rules, and have diminished freedoms but at the same time Islamic women also freely choose to wear them. I also accept that in certain instances such as banks or public working a full face veil is impractical and just like wearing a mask, should not be allowed. But just walking about, travelling to and fro, these women are simply not a public amenity to which the general populace has a right of access on demand. So no more than the racist can be forced to interact or grant entry, these women cannot be forced to dress as our current society might like them to. How is forcing them not to wear the garments different to forcing Muslim women to wear the garments? Instead of the edifice of belief claiming ownership of these women it is now secular society who is claiming a right of ownership. It is not an act of empowerment to remove an individuals freedom of choice to dress as they wish, even if it’s an absurd faith based regulation that has prompted many of them to do so. To pass legislation and try and tell individuals what they may or may not wear is not an act of ending segregation, it is an act of tyranny – perhaps that’s too strong a word but it is how it feels to me. An act that would say that society has deemed certain objects offensive to the majority, therefore your freedom of choice and expression is void to satisfy other people’s issues. We might find the clothing demeaning, we might find it offensive and it may be both but that does not confer upon us the right to dictate the dress choice of others even if their freedom to choose is suspect. Such could lead down the slippery slope of what else we find offensive and worthy of banning. The Jewish Yarmulke so as to ensure that offended Muslims are assured it is an issue of gender equality and not religious oppression?

    An act against the freedoms and rights of the individuals it is supposedly freeing is not just contradictory, it is wrong.

  • Wednesday

    Okay, somehow I missed the point that this article was really another “…and therefore we should ban the burqua” article, and thought it was about the general issue of children being raised to believe they are lesser. In my defense, I hadn’t had my tea yet when I read it the first time.

    I still have trouble seeing how a law that punishes women for ostensibly being victims* can be at all the appropriate approach to this problem. If a burqua really is a very strong sign of abuse, then the law should be treating it as such, and mandate that teachers, health care workers, etc report it as they would report any other suspected abuse.

    Also, it’s frankly dishonest to invoke the US Civil Rights movement to debate a law that undeniably has roots in racial and religious bigotry. Your personal motivations for supporting this law may not be based on Islamiphobia or xenophobia, but plenty of the rhetoric around it has been. Further, France has passed or considered other laws clearly targeting Muslim immigrants, from the ban of the hijab in schools (carefully worded so that traditional display of other religions’ symbols is still permitted) to the discussion a few years ago about making it impossible to request a doctor of a particular gender through the national health service. I don’t know if that one passed, but it was definitely targeting conservative Muslims, with of course collateral damage to victims of abuse.

    You want to make a case for burqua-banning as being equivalent to US Civil Rights legislation? It’s possible, but you have to argue for such a ban in a country where the people enforcing the gender segregation are a socially powerful majority, similar to whites in the US. Extremist Muslim men do not have a lot of power in French society in general.

    *We all already know that there is a nonzero probability that a given woman in a burqua chose to wear it, freely and without coercion.

  • DSimon

    Also, it’s frankly dishonest to invoke the US Civil Rights movement to debate a law that undeniably has roots in racial and religious bigotry. Your personal motivations for supporting this law may not be based on Islamiphobia or xenophobia, but plenty of the rhetoric around it has been.

    I strongly disagree! Whatever the roots of the law are, or what the problems of some of its proponents might be (as we all need to deal with internalized privilege to some degree) it needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Comparing one possible civil rights action with previous successful ones seems meritorious to me.

    Which is not to say that the content of such comparisons should then be above criticism… but I don’t think there’s any good reason to look down on making the comparison in the first place.

  • Broggly

    I don’t get how covering ones face is “segregation”. I just can’t see how being able to talk to someone but not seeing their face means they are refusing to acknowledge my humanity.
    The burqa really isn’t so bad it needs to be banned. It’s not genital mutilation or foot binding, it’s just a piece of clothing. We need to get rid of it by convincing the women wearing them to take them off, not forcing them to do so.

  • Wednesday

    @DSimon – You are certainly right that laws should be evaluated on their own merit. I guess I wasn’t clear – I think the comparison is a bad one _because_ of the specifics of the two cases. I’m not just randomly crying Godwin’s law, here. I used the word dishonest because I believe Sarah knows that the cases are not similar enough to justify using one to defend the other, and that she’s making the comparison only to score rhetorical virtue-by-association points.

    The burqua ban penalizes a marginalized group of people for being marginalized (both in terms of legal penalties for wearing a burqua, and personal penalties for not wearing one). US Civil Rights laws, like the one Sarah brings up about prohibiting business owners from refusing service based on race, generally penalize the groups _doing the oppressing_. To make US Civil Rights law like the burqua ban, it would have to have been written to punish Blacks for being discriminated against – say, a penalty for drinking from the drinking fountain marked “black”, without penalizing those who segregated the drinking fountains.

    Now let’s see what the laws do in terms of furthering the goals of those who discriminate against the marginalized group they claim to protect. Women in extremist Muslim families are generally non-white, Muslim, female, and possibly immigrant. All of these categories are marginalized (to varying degrees) in France. I don’t know that the burqua ban furthers the goals of those who want to oppress them purely on gender grounds, but it doesn’t seem to hurt them. And it certainly furthers the goals of those who want to oppress these women based on race, religion, and immigration status. By contrast, the US Civil Rights laws do not further the goals of those who want to oppress blacks based on race. Some of these oppressed were also women, or had other oppressions, but to my knowledge the US Civil Rights laws do not particularly further the goals of those who want to oppress on those grounds.

  • Scotlyn

    Is a burqua designed to segregate women? Duh, absolutely. BUT, (and this is a big but) what about head scarves? What about hats? What about bikinis? What about a high heels? What about skirts? What about a million other article of clothing that are harmful to women and/or have immense social pressure for you to wear them, and/or that separate women out and objectify them?

    You’ve put your finger exactly on where the bigger picture lies, in my view, and it is in the complex, variously weighted, horrifically fraught, unwritten rules that govern what women wear daily. Women cannot just decide to wear something and have that be an absolutely neutral statement. People feel free to read lots of messages in what we wear, and you figure out what they are everytime you get slapped down for crossing a line you hadn’t spotted before. What you wear is almost always, to someone, somewhere, “too slutty” “too frumpy” “too butch” “too feminine” “too unfeminine” “too alluring” “letting herself go” “too sexy” “too expensive” “too cheap.”

    And somewhere at the heart of all this, the uniting theme is the threat of rape – the threat that if you wear the wrong look, a rapist will decide he has sufficient permission to punish you. I believe many burqa wearers have been taught that a woman not wearing one is “asking for it.” And who, in their right minds, would voluntarily choose to “ask for it?” But that is only the extreme face of the “asking for it” meme, which is still alive and well in every corner of the globe today.

    And, while I remain ambivalent about the specifics of the burqa ban for some of the reasons Wednesday has mentioned (its likely impact on the most marginalised), there is campaign I want to join – and that is the one that brings on the great divorce between a woman’s worth and what she wears. The one that allows everything we wear, all the way from absolute starkers to nothing-to-see-here, to be for our own delight and enjoyment, and an absolute non-invitation to rape.

    The old “Take back the night” chant remains one of my favourites, because it still rings 100% true:
    “Yes means yes, no means no, whatever we wear, whereever we go!”

  • Demonhype

    I said it before, but I’ll say it again. I understand the motives behind banning laws, but given that it’s a sign of abuse and even in the West there have been plenty of cases of honor killings and various other abuses for women who refuse to obey, I no longer think it’s as simple as making a “choice” and then facing consequences for that choice. I don’t think it’s really a choice for a lot of women in that case, and the consequences for their choice sound like they’re already coming from the abusive end in their families, ranging from being totally cut off and starving to being killed, and everything in between. Adding yet another consequence from the other end won’t really help, especially since the consequences from the “wear this burqua or else” camp can often entail being killed.

    I think that there needs to be some public support for women who do choose to remove the burqua or niquab, the kind of support that offers not only physical protection but help with employment and psychological issues (I’m sure many women in such a situation will need someone to talk to that can help them through this thing). Without such a support net to negate the very serious alternate consequences from their fathers, brothers and husbands, I think it may be foolish to think that force from the other side is going to be particularly effective, let alone the great potential for turning the women themselves into casualties of war.

    What consequences can the Western governments really offer that trump the strong potential for being beheaded or strangled or brutally beaten when you go home uncovered or try to leave the house uncovered?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Perhaps special circumstances for those who commit crimes in the name of religion?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I love the title of this post. I think having even one day a week where everyone agreed to treat women as the full equals of men would be a good start – and if it worked out, as it surely would, it might inspire people to extend the idea to the rest of the week.

    So, I want to play devil’s advocate here. A lot of people here are giving Sarah heat for her support of the burqa ban. I’ve got a question for everyone: Do you feel the same way about American laws banning masks in public demonstrations? (Most of these laws were aimed at the KKK.) What should be the limits of anonymity in public, if any?

  • Sarah Braasch

    I don’t mind when people disagree with me. The discussions I’ve had here have really helped me analyze and hone my position. I like being challenged. I constantly challenge myself to make sure that I continue to hold my current position.

    I do get a bit annoyed when people suggest that I can’t actually believe the things that I’m saying or that I can’t really mean it or understand what I’m saying. (I think this is suggestive of how deeply ingrained the second class citizenship status of women is — we don’t even question it; we don’t even think to question it.)

    But, trust me — I do know what I’m saying. (It also smacks of the religious who like to claim that atheists don’t REALLY and can’t REALLY believe what they’re saying.)

    I understand that I am taking an uncompromising position in the fight for gender equality.

    I understand that I am going to be called a racist and a bigot and an Islamophobe and an immigrant hater and a pawn for the fanatical right.

    I understand that I am going to be attacked by the cultural relativists and the obscurantists who think we should sacrifice women’s human and civil rights for group rights and communitarianism.

    But, this voice is sorely lacking in the discourse on women’s rights in the US — the uncompromising voice.

    There are already plenty of people ready to engage in misogyny apologetics.

    I am trying to add some counterweight.

    And, yes, I know exactly what I’m saying.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    I just want to applaud you, Sarah, for this powerful piece. I personally couldn’t love any woman BUT one that is as willful, independent and intelligent as yourself. It is a wonderful feeling to know that Womankind has made such progress in the last century.
    Of course, religion is the pit into which feminism falls, but when is it not behind the rest of the world by a century or two?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Sarah, this is a great example why I very much enjoy reading your entries. I wish more people were as insistent and determined in their support of equal rights for women. I also get tired of the fact that gender segregation and discrimination is still accepted if done based upon religion and that people aren’t horrified enough by it to leave denominations which practice it. When people’s definition of religious freedom involves taking away other people’s freedom, it both confuses and angers me.

  • bbk

    The USA has 3 strikes going against a possible burqa ban.

    1) We are not secular enough. It doesn’t feel right to ban the burqa when the majority religion keeps putting Christmas trees on public property. Conservatives might feel uneasy with the idea of limiting religious expression in the public space (all it does is protect women, after all).

    2) We’re not progressive enough. Americans view freedom in absolute, constitutional literalist terms. They can’t see the forest for the trees. A useful comparison is American vs French views on hate speech.

    3) We’re too Victorian. The majority view is that a woman in a burqa can be either oppressed by a man or is enjoying her freedom. The public perception is that women are innocent victims and that only men can be responsible for making conscious decisions that perpetuate a system of oppression.

    There is plenty of precedent of curtailing religious freedom in the name of public safety (peyote, snake handling). But if you add it up, both liberals and conservatives would be against this ban. It doesn’t go directly enough after Muslim men. Too many people would feel that the problem is really the men’s fault and that it punishes women, even if the women would end up being better off. I bet you would have an easier time convincing Americans to send a man to jail on the premise that he forced his wife to wear a one of these things.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I’m going to join the rabble here in saying the second part of your article doesn’t make any sense to me. The first part? I follow that and agree fully. Women are taught that they just aren’t the “main” gender in the same way those Native Americans were, and attention should be brought to that. I can see how this relates to the burqa, in that women who wear it likely were taught much worse opinions of themselves to believe they need to wear it. That sort of thing should be fought against.

    However, I am having a hard time understanding your framework for the second part where you talk about public spaces and choices people don’t get to make in them. I feel like I’m missing a big piece of the puzzle in where you are coming from so that I can make sense of it. I get that people don’t get to decide to refuse to do business based purely on race or gender, but you seem to be trying to invert this to mean that people can’t do or say or wear anything that supports an offensive or segregated opinion, as that’s not democratic. I just don’t see that. I may be misinterpreting it, but I’m really having a hard time parsing that second half so I can say it’s not intentional.

    I would like a better understanding of this. My own stance is that something has to be harmful as a thing in itself before a ban on it is justified. A group of people being oppressed by a thing doesn’t constitute enough reason to ban it to me. This goes hand in hand with my other hobbies such as electronics. There’s an ongoing dialog on the virtues of “modding” systems that are closed to allow custom programming on them, such as the iPhone. The companies that “close” them argue that it’s wrong because of the potential for such mods to allow unlicensed copies of software to be played on them, theft basically. This is compelling, but by suing someone for modifying their own hardware to use as they see fit, a line is crossed. I myself do such modding and don’t use it for illegal purposes, and would be affected by a blanket ban on it for no reason as I was never a threat. That’s the side I see the most of when I hear of burqa bans. I see perfectly legitimate (mostly comedic) uses of the burqa outlawed.

    I think I’ve not expressed myself clearly enough on some things, so I want to clarify my position. When I bring up that I consider someone being forced to wear it as the part that should be attacked by the law, I really don’t want to suggest that that’s the ONLY way that the burqa can be harmful. I understand that women can and do engage in a sort of social harm, sometimes intentionally and sometimes just as a matter of course, by simply perpetuating this style of dress. However, THAT just isn’t enough for me. Those people aren’t banning anyone from their stores, or physically attacking someone, or stalking or writing threatening letters. Whatever nasty social messages they are sending, it’s just that, a message, nothing physical. I feel they should be free to send it, as much as you are free to tell them how dumb that message is. Questions others ask as to how far such a thing should extend are legitimate, I think. If I wear a t-shirt that ironically supports child abuse (one with an image of a cowering child saying “If your child does not look like this when you come home, you have failed as a parent.”), is that something that is grounds for arrest or a fine? If not, why not? Clearly in that case it’s as a very crude joke that if anything points out the evils of child abuse (namely the internal thinking of the abuser), but the very same thing can be done with a burqa in the right context, such as for example a huge rally of people wearing them but with business suits. Now of course the jokes can be in bad taste, or someone could wear them and mean it, but is that really enough to justify an outright ban? The problem I think is the level of harm that I see something needing to have to justify a total ban. This is why I think the majority of people who bring up the “maybe for men who force women to wear it” argument are making it, they’re trying to suggest just WHAT constitutes harm bad enough to justify legal intervention. Hurt feelings, well, that’s just not enough to me. The message a burqa worn by a women who truly believes that all women need to wear it is a hurtful one. It should however be met by a counter-message, not force. To extend it, when people are kicking black people out of stores and arresting them and threatening them, that’s an issue of force. The law needs to intervene. When someone says something hateful about black people, that’s a matter of expression of a hateful idea, but the law is not what you get involved. That is, unless that message being sent has a threat of POTENTIAL force behind it, such as a boss saying hateful things (the potential being to fire the employee) or someone talking about throwing bricks, or the universal message of “burning cross”. A burqa, as near as I can see, doesn’t have that element. Whatever the message the intender has, it’s just a message as far as I know. If you can make a compelling argument that someone wearing a burqa is a veiled threat of force against anyone not wearing it, instead of just a message of “you are inferior” sent to random passers by, I would like to hear it. I’m certainly open to a dialog here. I accept the existence of a grey area in such matters.

    I can only say that what the civil rights laws BROUGHT were a matter of rights to people, to not be thrown out of a store, arrested, or asssaulted based on color. However, there were no laws prohibiting hateful speech or images, so long as none of it was directly inciting violence against black people. I think that’s the right balance. If someone wants to paint a hateful picture or make hateful speech, the right way to counter it is with counter-speech and art, not force. That’s my thinking. As much as civil reform is needed in how people behave, that sort of thing being forced onto people legally with the hope that it’ll change how people think? Even if it worked, would that really be justified? To change the focus, as an atheist I would be horrified if Bible thumping preachers talking about hellfire were suddenly forbidden by law from being able to express how evil they thought atheists were. That’s the sort of thing that cultural pressure should do, not the law. My only desire there is that atheists simply not be forcibly barred from things like jobs and government positions, and be protected from assault and threats. I wouldn’t ask that a t-shirt showing PZ Myers as the devil torturing cracker-Christ be banned.

    Issues of “hiding identity” weren’t brought up by this post (except to say that that’s not the argument the post is making) so I won’t bother with them here. I’ve already discussed my opinion on that argument.

  • Broggly

    Ebonmuse: Yes, that too is a bad law. Sure the KKK are evil, but up to the point where it presents a security risk or they begin their terrorist actions they should be allowed to wear masks. I know lots of examples of times where people used maskes in protesting for good causes too, such as South Korean sex workers protesting against the current laws and discrimination against them wearing masks to avoid prosecution. Here in Adelaide, I knew a few people who wore masks while protesting ex-attorney general Mike Atkinson’s suspected corruption and illiberal laws (for instance permitting the use of secret evidence in trials, attempting to force all online communication to be done under your real name and address, and giving himself total discretion over which organisations could be declared illegal criminal gangs and so make it a crime for anyone to talk to any member of the group) both as a symbolic demonstration of the right to privacy and because (rightly or wrongly) they feared government reprisals of some sort.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Dark Jaguar,

    I love your comment. I would love to dissect it a little bit further.

    1. You, like so many others, feel much more comfortable with the first half of the piece than the second. Why do you think that is? Realize that you are saying that you are much more comfortable with government imposing upon the private sphere of Xtian fundamentalists to protect girl children from religious abuse by dictating to parents how they may parent their own children. (I’m not saying that this is a bad impulse, but realize the import.) Realize how much more invasive that is than not allowing someone to choose to segregate herself by gender in the public space.

    2. All of your vehement and persuasive arguments in favor of valiantly and diligently protecting the First Amendment rights of private citizens in the public space are the EXACT SAME arguments made against the Civil Rights Act in the sixties and against racial desegregation in the public space in the sixties. Seriously. The exact same. A private citizen’s private business is his or her own property. In theory, they can refuse service to whomever they please. I don’t think you’ve left yourself any alternative but to say that a private business owner in the public space has every right to exercise his First Amendment rights and place a “no blacks allowed” sign up in his store window. How does that hurt anyone? It’s just speech. It’s not a threat of force. A potential black patron who then forces himself onto this business owner’s private property is the one breaking the law. Just like someone who tore off a woman’s niqab would be the one breaking the law.

    Actually, identity obscuring masks in the public space are significantly more of a safety and security risk than signs warning whichever races off of private property. They are also a significant health risk to the women who wear them.

    I really want to push on this point, because it is the EXACT SAME issue. It is.

    For the record — I love the Civil Rights Act. I am saying that we can no more tolerate gender segregation in the public space than we can racial segregation.

    Both are antithetical to a liberal, constitutional democracy.

    I think we have even more reasons to ban identity obscuring face masks in the public space than we did to ban racial segregation in public accommodations.

    But, I’d love to hear how you respond to that, Dark Jaguar.

    Thank you for your comment.

  • bbk

    Dark Jaguar: everything you talked about seems to fit under the general theme that laws have to be surgically precise, encompassing the spirit of the law fully within the wording, method of enforcement, etc. It’s a very individualistic stance that doesn’t leave much room for considering ourselves as a society. I would counter by saying that we send innocent people to jail every day, but that doesn’t mean we should close down all the jails and fire all the cops and lawyers. There is an overall good to society that has to be weighed against the burden placed on an individual. A burqa ban presents an overall benefit to society while only limiting an individual’s freedom in one very specific way. A woman isn’t really harmed in a significant way if she is forbidden to wear a burqa but the potential to help that same woman and others like her is immense. Now, what proponents have to do to push this through the government is a different story. I think that’s what Sarah was pointing out. The moment we start making comparisons to the KKK and civil rights activists who wear masks, we’ve already lost sight of the pragmatic reason behind the ban.

  • anna

    I think religious clothing should be subject to the same restrictions as non-religious clothing (no face covers while in a bank or on your ID picture for example.) And I think wearing the burqa should absolutely be criticized, but I think banning it would only result in women who are now forced to wear it not being allowed to leave the house.

    As for gender segregation, Saudi Arabia is most infamous for it, with adult women nearly completely dependent on male guardians. Here is a Facebook page opposing male guardianship in Saudi Arabia; it would be really great if you all would surf over and click the Like button to show your support: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Women-Dont-Need-Guardians/138248439539086?ref=ts

    Likewise this excellent page supporting the Equal Rights Amendment: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/ERAusa?ref=ts

  • DSimon

    A woman isn’t really harmed in a significant way if she is forbidden to wear a burqa but the potential to help that same woman and others like her is immense.

    I disagree on both counts. Being needlessly limited in your ability to express yourself is a significant harm; it can be outweighed by other harms, definitely, but it is still *better to avoid that harm than not*.

    I do not think that burqa bans will provide enough benefit to gender desegregation to outweigh that harm, particularly since they come with another harm: a message of cultural antagonism, whether it is “intentional” or not, will come along with the law.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    All of your vehement and persuasive arguments in favor of valiantly and diligently protecting the First Amendment rights of private citizens in the public space are the EXACT SAME arguments made against the Civil Rights Act in the sixties and against racial desegregation in the public space in the sixties. Seriously. The exact same. A private citizen’s private business is his or her own property. In theory, they can refuse service to whomever they please. I don’t think you’ve left yourself any alternative but to say that a private business owner in the public space has every right to exercise his First Amendment rights and place a “no blacks allowed” sign up in his store window. How does that hurt anyone? It’s just speech. It’s not a threat of force. A potential black patron who then forces himself onto this business owner’s private property is the one breaking the law. Just like someone who tore off a woman’s niqab would be the one breaking the law.

    I’m sorry, but this is utter bollocks and it exposes ignorance on how the US Civil Rights Act functions. Besides the obvious and easy “anything which benefits from public funds/services” being disallowed from discriminating on the basis of race/gender/etc, the act makes it illegal for any business which is open to the general public to discriminate. This is why many golf courses were (and in the case of gender, are still) able to hold out against integration for so long: they were membership-based, and membership into a club can discriminate (if they receive no public assistance). Eventually most of them folded under public pressure, but it took a lot longer than other areas that were subject to legal pressure. There’s also the massive problem of comparing businesses open to the public and what an individual chooses to wear in public. Further, as Antigone above pointed out, there are plenty of clothing/accessories which serve to segregate women and men. Are we going to ban purses? Jeans with shallower pockets? Heels? Heels are a pretty big health risk to women, and they segregate women by restricting their range of movement compared to men. They’re also part of a millenia-old tradition of mutilating women’s feet. I know this is “gotcha” and somewhat unfair, but I’m pointing out a serious flaw in your case. If you have no way to legally differentiate different gender segregation cultural norms, then your law is helplessly flawed.

    As to a “safety and security risk”, I reject that for the same reason I reject other laws justified under “security” concerns. I liken it to when, post-Columbine, schools across the country banned trenchcoats. Why? They represented a clear “safety and security risk”. Utter bollocks.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    You present a fascinating argument, Sarah, and some comparisons that force one to really think about the issue in depth. However, there are some flaws.

    First, I would address the analogy to the Civil Rights movement. This is very important, because such a successful movement ultimately has a lot to teach us about what means are and are not successful at addressing fundamental problems in society.

    What lessons in particular do I mean?

    (1) Nonviolence is essential to an effective movement and gathering support.
    (2) Legal rights are not practical rights. A right enshrined only in law is meaningless if the law goes unenforced.
    (3) Successful social movements talk about more than just equality, and deal with more than just one particular issue or device. One must speak of opportunity and justice for everyone, and seek a social and economic order which would genuinely accomplish it.
    (4) Justice rises up from the local populations and through local movements into the national consciousness, rather than being suddenly imposed from the national government onto the people.

    These points imply to me that a ban on burqas would be improper and ineffective. It would not free oppressed women any more than the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments freed blacks at the end of the Civil War. The oppression would continue, only driven underground and given new names. You can’t call it slavery anymore, now it’s “sharecropping”. But what difference does it make that the black now-citizen can legally leave if they have no economic or practical opportunity to do so?

    It’s the same in most Islamic communities throughout the world. While you can place legal bans on practices which create and perpetuate oppression, it doesn’t stop the oppression itself because the tradition isn’t killed with the change of the law.

    At best, this kind of legal change can only be a political statement, a message of the intention of the nation’s leadership. That’s not a bad thing to do, but it won’t achieve equality, fairness, or opportunity by itself — not even close.

    There is also a disturbing racial and xenophobic animus behind the intent to institute burqa and hijab bans, as Wednesday pointed out in comment #7. I don’t believe Sarah shares it in any sense, but it does present a compelling reason to reformat any such ban. If one truly believes masks dehumanizing and segregate the wearer, then the ban must be levied against all forms of masks. Targeting only one such type, which just happens to be used by a group which has stirred up a lot of xenophobic hatred in recent years, is unconscionable. It suffers from the moral failure of being insufficiently general; setting different standards for different people.

    @Wednesday (#3):

    We should have strong standards as to who constitutes a suitable foster parent for children to be adopted. It doesn’t need to be couched in particular religious or philosophical terms. Simply put, we should lower the priority and capacity of anyone to adopt who has presented bigoted or unjustified views of any kind. We don’t have any real problem with preventing violent criminals, or advocates of violence from adopting. There shouldn’t be unqualified respect for those who hold other groups in disregard based on ignorance, though sadly that seems to be the norm.

    Ultimately, though, I think we must get away from the nuclear family concept to make progress as a civilization. The idea that children should be raised by just a few individuals is ridiculous and counterproductive. Before the industrial revolution, it was never the norm, either. We should return to raising children in the scope of the extended family and the community as a whole, presenting each child with many different individual viewpoints and ideas. Children are extremely malleable in their early years, and it’s simply dangerous to society to allow their entire world view to be shaped by only one or two people. Further, signs of mental and especially physical abuse become much more obvious when children are expected to interact with the wider community from an early age.

    A huge reason why I support public schools and secular education programs generally is that it does a great deal to expose children and young people to ideas they might never otherwise encounter. Children are not stupid, and it is actually quite difficult to brainwash them into believing false things. What makes this possible is segregation of the child from wider society and preventing any conflicting ideas from entering their heads. Interestingly, I do want religion taught in schools, and from an early age, too. However, I want all of the world’s major religions taught, and only the facts of those religions. After all, if your religion is correct, it should stand on its own merits, now shouldn’t it?

    @DSimon (#4):

    Usually the woman in question is not making any kind of statement at all by wearing what she does. The idea that she is necessarily making some profound political or social comment simply by what she wears is pretty bizarre, and I don’t understand why Sarah raised an analogy that implies it. Certainly, women who are genuinely forced to wear particular clothes are not making any statement whatsoever about their own beliefs. They are simply afraid not to act differently, and often justifiably afraid.

    We do have to figure out on a situational basis whether the person in question is acting in a particular manner because of their own will or because society has encouraged them to do so. Though that has nothing to do with clothes, and applies generally to everything and everyone.

    @Antigone (#5):

    The “bright red line” argument is also called “slippery slope”, and it’s usually a logical fallacy. Banning the burqa, or more properly, all masks in public does not necessarily imply that one is then going to move on to banning other things. It depends a great deal on the justification for the ban and how society actually reacts to that ban.

    Now, where you make a good point is that many other types of clothes are thought by a variety of people, usually Christian fundamentalists and anti-sex feminists, to be harmful to women in one or more ways. If we were to ban the burqa merely because a majority of people thought it harmful, many other forms of dress would also be banned in short order. However, if we ban all masks in public generally, it can stop right there. There is no reason to ban bikinis or short skirts, because they do nothing to conceal the person’s identity.

    @Dark Cynic (#6):

    We can’t compel people not to be racist, not to be sexist, and so forth. Yes. But we can set the standards of society through the laws to discourage such behavior. And from a moral standpoint, we should.

    The problem is not at all that these sorts of bans on particular face coverings is fundamentally mistaken in its purpose or reason. Usually, those who are arguing in good faith have a good purpose for it. The glaring issues are that this kind of ban will not be effective in practice, and that justifying it entirely based on a goal strikes too closely to “the ends justify the means”.

    Your best point is, in my opinion, that the establishment of a ban is essentially a separate claim of control over the women in question. In order to combat oppression in the form of restrictions on dress, we shall establish new restrictions on what may be worn in public. Deeply ironic, to say the least.

    @DSimon (#8):

    The roots of the desire for the law are important. Intent is important. Justice must realize this, or fall flat on its face. We cannot accomplish the “right” thing for the “wrong” reasons, and then expect society to solve the rest. This has never worked, and will never work, in the long term. Only taking up a just cause and furthering it by fair and principled reasons will establish permanent change.

    The comparison to Civil Rights is disingenuous because it (a) it conflates the means and leadership of that movement with the current cause, even though they are quite distinct, and (b) it presumes to take the mantle and successes of that movement as its own power.

    @Broggly (#9):

    I don’t know that calling it dehumanizing is precise enough. What it does is anonymize the actor in question. This can be good or bad depending on the circumstances. However, permanent anonymity in the public space is ultimately dehumanizing, because it is impossible to credit any individual properly for their actions. It is also dangerous, because we cannot hold someone accountable when they do wrong.

    The fact that we so strongly associate a person’s humanity with their physical attributes, especially the face, is nonetheless fairly disturbing. A person should be acknowledged based upon their mind, not their body. Unfortunately, this is just one of many products of our evolution.

    @Wednesday (#10):

    Excellent point about the effects and target of such a ban. Indeed, in order for any civil rights law to be effective, it must focus on the source of the oppression in question. The burqa and other traditional coverings are just a tool. They are not the cause of the problem, and banning them will — at least initially — further marginalize and segregate the affected population.

    @Scotlyn (#11):

    Indeed, that really cuts to the heart of the matter. Why do we place much emphasis on determining a woman’s worth by what she wears? Isn’t this fundamentally ridiculous?

    We must eliminate precisely that attitude at its root if we are to fix it. Otherwise, that feeling will be continually used as a justification for the various violent oppressions taken out on women who violate the mores of what they “should” do, “should” wear, “should” be.

    And where did that attitude come from? Religion. Particularly, fundamentalist, self-propagating, brainwash the children religion. I do want to note that the underlying reason why the fundamentalists have this attitude is simple. They are authoritarians (many are even outright totalitarian). They believe that the source of knowledge is in prior authority, and that authority is determined by fame, power, money, social standing, or some combination thereof. If we want to reform society, we must address authoritarianism; it’s the root cause of all of this.

    When you actually take an empirical examination of the issue of how women dress and how men behave in response, you find something quite interesting. In countries where standards of dress are “loose” and relatively equal between the sexes, less rather than more violence and conflict ultimately develops over it. It takes some time to adjust, of course, but the levels of rape, molestation, domestic violence, and so forth fall with increasingly liberal attitudes toward sex, dress, pornography, marriage, and so forth. Now, this also has a lot to do with economic prosperity and social opportunity, so I don’t mean to suggest it could exist in a vacuum.

    @Demonhype (#12):

    Yes, there are very real and dangerous consequences for women who leave fundamentalist religions. Those women do not have a fair or equal choice in any sense, and they’re often scared out of their wits. However, that doesn’t imply those of us not so constrained should do nothing for fear of offending some angry, violent men who would lash out on the helpless. It’s completely possible for people to indirectly cause events to occur without being legally or morally responsible for them. The difference is crucial.

    We absolutely do need public support, physical protection programs, employment programs, and so forth in society. For everyone, not just women in harsh situations. Hardly anyone in the media or political sphere will even allow you to propose this kind of thing in the U.S. without being shouted down as a “socialist” or “communist”, however. We face another kind of social brainwashing from authoritarians in that scope.

    @Thumpalumpacus (#13):

    Making the punishment harsher if the assailant committing the crime in the name of religion, or any authority for that matter, would be wise. Proving this can be difficult in court in a lot of cases, however. For an analogous example, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between hatred towards an individual and hatred towards a group in bias crimes cases.

    @Ebonmuse (#14):

    The KKK can wear their stupid pointy hat masks so long as they’re not committing any crimes. Terrorizing the populace and disturbing the peace with giant burning crosses, riding through town chanting/yelling, and other activities are not the least bit acceptable. Assault and murder were typical of the KKK’s activities, and once that became the norm the police should have treated them with suspicion wherever they went. It’s perfectly reasonable for the police to ask someone to remove their mask if they have a history of action within a violent terrorist group like the KKK. They need to perform identification in order to arrest the correct person(s), after all.

    I’ll terminate this comment here, since it’s becoming truly excessive. Good comments, everyone.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I’ll make this quick, because I have to run.

    Civil Rights Act — the debate over the legitimacy of employing the Commerce Clause to enact federal civil rights legislation has never ceased. The SC expands its applicability and then narrows it. Would it surprise you to know that Congress attempted to use it to justify limiting firearms nears schools? Also for VAWA?

    I’m not going to do a legal/constitutional tutorial, but, basically, Congress has been given a lot of leeway to say that whatever activities in the aggregate have a substantial impact upon interstate commerce (not a hard test to meet, and, for the most part, the SC takes Congress’ word for it) may be regulated by Congress pursuant to the Commerce Clause. The SC has begun pulling in those reins.

    Part of the problem is that the two P&I clauses have been declawed to such an extent that they are practically useless. There have been some recent attempts to resuscitate them.

    I think reasonable people could easily find that gender segregation in the public space in the aggregate has a substantial impact upon interstate commerce.

    I’m sort of tired of addressing the what about this? and what about that? comments referring to other pieces of clothing.

    I am speaking of identity obscuring facial masks.

    I would happily defend any woman who wished to wear a hijab in public or a KKK member who wished to wear his robe and hood (not mask) in public.

    I’ve never seen a woman in heels refuse to identify herself to a male authority. Have you?

    I have to take off for a while, but feel free to point out all of my flaws. I welcome it.

    Later.

  • kennypo65

    Any item of clothing that obscures the face is a security issue. I’m all for gender equality, but I don’t like the idea of unisex toilets. I’m uncomfortable with the thought of taking a shit in front of a woman.

  • Demonhype

    I’m not really giving her heat about that. I understand the idea and I can support the motivation. And I do think that, since obscuring face-coverings are a security issue already, there shouldn’t be a special exemption just for a religious face covering, and it completely negates the use of anything involving photo ID. You want to cover your face? Then no driver’s license for you, for several reasons (photo ID usage and, of course, driving safety). And stay the hell out of banks and such too, because if no one else can come in with a mask, neither can you.

    I just heard some arguments about what some women, even in the west, may face by taking such a stand and I’m worrying that we may sandwich these women between our law enforcement and the often deadly wrath of their male relatives. And I’m thinking that it might be better to have some kind of proper support for the women who do make the stand, whether it is instead of banning their coverings or in addition to such a ban.

  • Demonhype

    kagerato @ #26:

    I totally agree that those of us who are unrestrained should do something. I’m just thinking that simply outlawing things doesn’t always work. I had a friend in HS who believed that all it would take to end hundreds of years of racial hatred is to “outlaw racism”, and then everyone would dance around a maypole in peace and harmony. All because of a few simple lines of legislation. And our enforcement of the Drug War has gotten more extreme every year, to the point of extending into the private lives of citizens, and yet the drug trade not only continues but flourishes. It doesn’t follow that legislating against something, even with increasingly absurd levels of enforcement, will cause that offending something to go away.

    So my point isn’t just that we face the possibility of causing these women to be killed. I’m also thinking of the potential efficacy of such laws, because the punishments doled out by the other side are much worse and often impossible to reverse. What could you possibly do to these women that could compare to having their noses cut off or acid thrown in their faces or having their male relatives kill them by decapitation? No matter what punishment you dole out to that attacker, the damage has already been done to her. Nothing you do to enforce such a law on her could compare to what her male relatives could do to her.

    On top of that, I knew a girl at one of my art schools who drew veiled faces during a classroom share-session. She did not wear any head or face covering and apparently did not feel threatened by her family because of it, but even though she didn’t want to wear any veils or scarves she struggled with this idea that she should. All the other women in her family did, and the idea of family and cultural heritage was a difficult one for her to discard even without the threat of male relatives maiming or killing her over it. She was afraid that she might be abandoning her family and her heritage by not wearing this thing, though from the way she spoke she really didn’t sound like she was getting any prompting or coercive attitude from her family.

    My worry about support centers is like yours (the ignorant anti-socialist, “I got mine” Rapture-minded outlooks), plus I worry that there can’t be enough of them even if you could get past the post-Cold War mentality. I have heard that average battered women’s shelters are not very common and that women are often turned away to return to the abuse. Which infuriates me to think every time I hear some right wing moron like my sister say “why the hell should I feel sorry for Carrie or Laura or Sarah or (insert battered woman of the hour here)? She chooses to be abused, obviously, since there are plenty of places for her to go, there’s battered women’s shelters, so why should I bother to care about what happens to her if she doesn’t go there?” When you explain the actual rarity of such outlets and the severe limiations of those that exist and how there are infintely more battered women than there are facilities or resources to help them and how most women get turned away to potentially end up dead or in the hospital (especially if their old man finds out where they’ve been and what they’ve tried to do), all you get is the snort of the ignorant moron who doesn’t care how reality affects their preconceived notions. As far as they’re concerned, they’ve thrown a nickel at the problem, and if that’s not enough to fix it then let it rot. They’ve got big-screen TV’s to buy and Facebook games to play.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Sarah,

    I did readily admit that I was playing “gotcha” and it was unfair, but I do think there is a legitimate question in there. And you clarified your point for me: “I am speaking of identity obscuring facial masks.” I also agree with Demonhype that if such a blanket ban were put in place, no special exemption should be granted for religious reasons. That said, I remained unconvinced that a blanket ban on “identity-obscuring facial masks” is, a, legal, or b, desirable.

    Edited to clarify my first sentence.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    The “bright red line” argument is also called “slippery slope”, and it’s usually a logical fallacy. Banning the burqa, or more properly, all masks in public does not necessarily imply that one is then going to move on to banning other things. It depends a great deal on the justification for the ban and how society actually reacts to that ban.
    Now, where you make a good point is that many other types of clothes are thought by a variety of people, usually Christian fundamentalists and anti-sex feminists, to be harmful to women in one or more ways. If we were to ban the burqa merely because a majority of people thought it harmful, many other forms of dress would also be banned in short order. However, if we ban all masks in public generally, it can stop right there. There is no reason to ban bikinis or short skirts, because they do nothing to conceal the person’s identity.

    It’s not a slippery slope argument, it is a “bright red line” argument. I’m asking how do you craft this law, and what is the legal argument for it, that is not used as a precedent to ban other forms of clothing and expression. You say ban masks- I think you’re going to run into problems right away with a law like that. a) Does that mean I can’t wear ski masks in public in the winter? How about skiing? What if I’m working construction and need a mask? At hospitals (a good chunk of them give you masks if you’re coughing to not spread diseases). If you answer than “make a safety exemption” where does that leave the ski masks? Would it have to be a certain temperature before it’s considered “safety”? What if I’m going to a Mardi Gras party? What if I feel like busting out my Guy Fawkes mask for the fuck-all of it or to protest Scientology? If you write a law that says “no masks in public spaces” how is this NOT a violation of free speech?

    Sarah says that the “fully integrated veil (the burqa or niqab) is more than segregation; it is effacement; it is dehumanization.” I agree. I also say that push-up bras, high-heels, skirts are designed to be sexist and harm women. I’m neither an anti-sex feminist nor a Christian fundamentalist but push-up bras cause back pain, high heels are terrible for your feet and legs, and skirts restrict movement pretty severely. They are also designed to make women look decorative (like, I dunno, objects or not human) and have heavy social pressure in many western nations to wear them. What is the difference between the dehumanization through a veil and the dehumanization of objectification?

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Oh and I’d like to address one more point:

    “I demand the right to participate in society fully, but I also demand the right to discriminate regarding with whom I will interact, with whom I will engage in the public space. I demand the right to treat other human beings and other citizens in a discriminatory fashion. I demand the right not to acknowledge the humanity of the other citizens in the public space while I also demand that they acknowledge my humanity.”

    We DO have these rights. I do have the right to say “I’m going to talk to you, I’m going to ignore you, I’m going to not see you because I’m busy thinking of someone else”. That is discriminating who I’m going to interact with, who I’m going to engage with. You can also demand to be acknowledged of your humanity while showing none to anyone else. It makes you a hypocrite, but you do have that right.

    Is it right? Depends. Discriminating based on gender and skin color? I’d say no. Discriminating on religious beliefs and personal hygiene? I’d say yes. But the point is, we CAN. Quite frankly, I want to be able to keep rights, even if I never exercise them. If I wanted to, tomorrow afternoon, to go down to the Somali side of town, purchase a burqua*, and wear it around town, I’m glad to know I can. Not because I’m Muslim (I’m SO not) but just because I think it’s in the same continuum of deciding to wear a Sailor Moon costume or t-shirt and jeans or really whatever I goddamn feel like.

    *I’m not going to- I hate having things across my mouth, so much to the point that I freeze every winter because I can’t stand scarves. But I do see the pretty head-scarves around here and every once in a while get the urge to wear them. They look comfortable, are made of silk, are sparkly, and look as if they could cover bad-hair days nicely.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    As frequently happens, Antigone said what I was trying to express much better than I did.

  • Wednesday

    Sarah, I say your comparison is dishonest because although I think you believe that your anti-burqua crusade is morally equivalent to the US Civil rights movement, I cannot believe that you honestly believe that laws that punish providers or perpetrators of the discrimination (not the victims) are equivalent in substance and effect to laws that punish the victims of discrimination for being discriminated against. (That’s different from the usual “you don’t really not believe there’s a god” claim theists make against us.)

    But, okay, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you don’t see a difference there. So let me ask a question, so that I really understand your view: would you have supported US civil rights legislation for the desegregation of drinking fountains if the laws instead prohibited blacks from drinking at water fountains labeled “black”, leveling a fine against them?

    I frankly cannot see how supporting a law that punishes women for being oppressed is an uncompromising anti-misogyny position. I’m arguing against you here not because I’m a cultural-relativist wooo woo woman trying to score points with the patriarchy by arguing against another woman who’s fighting the patriachy, but because I honestly cannot understand how taking the “uncompromising position against misogyny” is consistent with supporting the punishment of women for being oppressed.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Antigone,

    As eloquent as your last two posts were, they make me feel a little defeated and a little sad.

    Really? This is the anemic state of feminism in the US? Can’t we do better than that?

    Stand up for women and gender equality, godamnit.

    Also — you just came down squarely against the portions of the Civil Rights Act of 64 and 68 that impose upon the behaviors of private citizens in the public space.

    But, at least it’s good to know that if you ever want to segregate yourself racially in the public sphere, you’ll still have that right. Liberal, constitutional democracy be damned.

    BTW, secular governments can make secular exemptions to secular laws. We do it all the time. There are a ton of anti-mask laws all over the US — and most include secular exemptions. That’s the nice thing about secular, democratic legislation, as opposed to religious laws. Secular laws tend not to feign absolutism.

    And, I think I might puke the next time someone compares the burqa/niqab to high heels and makeup.

    If you ask me to name a father in the US who recently killed his daughter for refusing to dress “Islamically”, I can do that.

    Now name me a father in the US who recently killed his daughter for refusing to wear high heels and makeup and mini skirts.

    Sorry, I think I may have come across a little strong this time, but I feel very passionately about this subject. I think the women’s rights movement in the US needs to wake up.

    And, I guess I should get used to repeating myself, if I am going to go after this one. I shouldn’t let it perturb me.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Wednesday,

    I totally get what you are saying. And, I think your impulse is a good one.

    But, I think the better analogy is when the persecuted minority wishes to segregate itself from the persecuting majority. Especially in the midst of the desegregation process, which is painful and a steep learning curve.

    On that note — one of the Little Rock High School nine just passed away — the nine kids who were brave enough to desegregate Little Rock High School.

    But, we can’t allow segregation, even if it’s the persecuted who wish to segregate themselves from the persecutors.

    I get the same opposition when I support the International Criminal Court. People say that in the here and now it’s making people’s lives worse, not better. But, you don’t build institutions or implement laws overnight.

    I know, I know. It’s fine to say that you have to break a few eggs to build an omelet, as long as you’re not one of the eggs that is breaking, right? (Does it make anyone feel better if I tell them that I’m already broken? Maybe. Maybe not.)

    And, back in the Civil Rights Era, there were African Americans who were like, desegregation? No, thank you. Why would I want to spend my time with my tormentors?

    I totally get what you are saying. But, I think there’s a bigger picture. And the bigger picture is saving our liberal, constitutional democracy.

    We just can’t tolerate segregation and slavery and a de facto multi-tiered hierarchy of citizenship in the public space of the US. We’ll lose our democracy. We will. We will devolve into a majoritarian democracy and then communitarianism, largely based upon religious groupings. And, then we’ll break apart, because the different communities will not be able to tolerate one another.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I just realized that I think this conversation is a beautiful way to spend 9/11.

    Thank you again, to everyone, for their thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

    You don’t know how much I appreciate it.

  • Wednesday

    @Sarah,

    To the best of my knowledge, the Little Rock 9 got to choose whether or not they participated in a potentially life-threatening realization of desegregation. I cannot find anything suggesting that they faced legal consequences for not enrolling in a previously white school.

    Let’s not conflate risks brave people choose to take because they believe in the cause with risks people are forced to take by others.

    “But, I think the better analogy is when the persecuted minority wishes to segregate itself from the persecuting majority.”

    I… what? I’m really confused now. I thought you were arguing that Oppressed Muslim Women were being forced to wear the burqua, and so we should be helping free them by making the burqua illegal. But now you seem to be arguing that it’s okay for White non-Muslim society to punish Oppressed Muslim Women, because they’re being a bad self-segregating minority and choosing to wear burquas in order to segregate themselves from a society that oppresses them for being Muslim, Brown*, Immigrant*, and Women.

    (*Society assumes these women are brown and immigrant, but actual skin tone and immigration status may vary.)

    We cannot tolerate [...] a de facto multi-tiered hierarchy of citizenship in the public space of the US.

    And a law that punishes women from extremist Muslim families for being women from extremist Muslim families _doesn’t_ feed into that? Seriously?

    Now name me a father in the US who recently killed his daughter for refusing to wear high heels and makeup and mini skirts.

    Okay, I know this isn’t what you meant, but some trans youth may very well face that danger in the US.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    It’s not a slippery slope argument, it is a “bright red line” argument. I’m asking how do you craft this law, and what is the legal argument for it, that is not used as a precedent to ban other forms of clothing and expression. You say ban masks- I think you’re going to run into problems right away with a law like that.

    There are always major issues with general laws. That’s why so many laws end up being so specific, and it’s a massive problem with judging legality by the letter of the law rather than by the spirit. The core matter here is that the interpretation of purpose and effect behind a law is a matter to be resolved by law enforcement and the courts.

    If you were to exhaustively search and exhume the legal code of any country that’s existed for more than a century, within it you will find innumerable laws which are still in effect despite no longer serving any obvious purpose. Further, you find exemption after exemption — a huge list of special cases which must be interpreted and understood separately from the general principles of the law. Even worse are the cases where two laws, both still legally sound, are simultaneously active and in direct conflict.

    These contradictions and exemptions are matters which must be worked out in practice. They’re not sufficient reason to stop making general and widely applicable laws. However, it is justification to have fewer, simpler, and better understood laws. We are in trouble in our society when even lawyers do not understand the entire legal code, let alone anything like understanding each detail of each law at every jurisdictional level.

    All this notwithstanding, I largely agree with your overall concern, Antigone. Even if a masks ban were to set, with no exemptions or special cases whatsoever, it would be very difficult to enforce. We simply do not have enough police or equivalent man-power to cover the entire public sphere. Further, any time used to enforce one law is time taken away from enforcing others.

    This is why I raised the point of change rising up from the bottom, rather than being imposed from the top, in my first comment. If a masks ban were to arise from popular will at the local level, you could enforce the law largely through the actions and customs of ordinary private citizens. That’s the only desirable way something like this can succeed. (The undesirable way is to dramatically expand police ranks and government powers, and turn the whole country into a police state panopticon. We’ve tried movements in that direction on the issues of drugs and terrorism, and it truly does not work.)

    What if I feel like busting out my Guy Fawkes mask for the fuck-all of it or to protest Scientology? If you write a law that says “no masks in public spaces” how is this NOT a violation of free speech?

    The free speech issue is interesting, because it shows precisely the conflict that an absolute enforcement of rights creates. If, any time you put on your Guy Fawkes mask and go out into the public square, it becomes an act of speech protected by the First Amendment then what shall we do when copycats start committing crimes in the same manner? We cannot identify the difference between them and you, because the masks conceal their face. Even if we could guess by the body type or form, what’s the difference between a mask and a full costume in the context of political speech?

    If the right to anonymous speech is truly absolute, then we cannot even force you to take off your mask or costume. After all, we can’t yet prove that you have committed a crime. Yet someone, dressed in much the same manner, did commit a crime. Presuming you are police chief, what do you do in such a case? Presumably, one could try to figure out where the next crime will occur and catch the perpetrator in the act. How long do you figure it will take to find him or her by that method?

    It’s simply the reality before us that there can be no such thing as an absolute right. At any point in which one’s capacity to act begins to infringe on the rights of others, there must be a limitation. Your right to move your fist ends where my nose begins. Likewise, your ability to speak ends where it starts presenting a clear and present danger to the people around you.

    Trying to draw bright red lines ahead of time, boxing in the powers of the public and private sphere alike, doesn’t work well in practice because every situation is different. Enumerating each exception to the right of free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, property rights, and so forth would drive one insane. The law shouldn’t even try. It’s up to the people to determine the correct spirit of the law and enforce it.

    Sarah says that the “fully integrated veil (the burqa or niqab) is more than segregation; it is effacement; it is dehumanization.” I agree. I also say that push-up bras, high-heels, skirts are designed to be sexist and harm women. I’m neither an anti-sex feminist nor a Christian fundamentalist but push-up bras cause back pain, high heels are terrible for your feet and legs, and skirts restrict movement pretty severely. They are also designed to make women look decorative (like, I dunno, objects or not human) and have heavy social pressure in many western nations to wear them. What is the difference between the dehumanization through a veil and the dehumanization of objectification?

    I was under the impression that all bras and heeled shoes can cause pain. In any case, I’m not sure that the phrase “designed to sexist” has a useful meaning in this context. If my interpretation of the meaning behind the phrase is correct, it seems like any form of clothing which targeted one gender would qualify. In which case, tuxedos or suits and ties would fall into the same category. Certainly, such suits are designed to make men look decorative — they serve no other obvious function at all.

    On the amusing side, I can’t resist noting that the degree to which a skirt restricts movement is inversely proportional to its length.

    Trying to address your last question I find difficult. Presumably you mean to say that the lack of personal interaction between the veil-bearer and the public is restricted would be similar to the woman in high heels catching looks but not interacting with people? In one case, the identity of the person is known, and the other it is not.

    This comparison seems overwrought to me, either way. The pressure to conform is on an entirely different order of magnitude between the two, as I believe Sarah noted clearly. Are there women being beaten and stoned for refusing to wear high heels, skirts, and/or push-up bras?

    In any case, I feel I could support a categorical ban on all forms of heeled shoes. Giving up skirts, however, seems a bridge too far.

    Is it right? Depends. Discriminating based on gender and skin color? I’d say no. Discriminating on religious beliefs and personal hygiene? I’d say yes. But the point is, we CAN. Quite frankly, I want to be able to keep rights, even if I never exercise them.

    Most people no more choose their religion than they do their gender or race. Religion survives because it is not a fairly chosen choice among the available options, but a cultural statement chosen by parents for their children.

    As to the second part, that approaches much too close to the naturalistic fallacy for my tastes. “It is, therefore it should be.” “I can do it, so I should do it.” “They told me it was a right. Therefore it is.” These are not justifications.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Stand up for women and gender equality, godamnit.

    I AM. But you haven’t convinced me that a ban against burquas would do that. If we look at places that have already banned the burqua, like Italy, it doesn’t become a magical happy place for women. It means women get punished for being victimized, and it means that they get further restricted out of the public sphere. The comparison of punishing blacks for drinking out of the blacks only fountain I think is an apt one.

    Also — you just came down squarely against the portions of the Civil Rights Act of 64 and 68 that impose upon the behaviors of private citizens in the public space.
    But, at least it’s good to know that if you ever want to segregate yourself racially in the public sphere, you’ll still have that right. Liberal, constitutional democracy be damned.

    I did not. Free expression =/= discrimination in public spheres. If anything, you are the one that says that women should be segregated out of the public sphere which is the result of burqua bans. And, individually, you can still be a racist fuckwit. It is your right to never interact socially with anyone who isn’t the same color or nationality of it. And it’s better to have the right (as terrible of a person as it makes you) rather than have the government compel you to spend time with someone else.

    BTW, secular governments can make secular exemptions to secular laws. We do it all the time. There are a ton of anti-mask laws all over the US — and most include secular exemptions. That’s the nice thing about secular, democratic legislation, as opposed to religious laws. Secular laws tend not to feign absolutism.

    Please refer me to these laws.

    And, I think I might puke the next time someone compares the burqa/niqab to high heels and makeup.

    So you don’t think those constitute sexist practices that objectify women? What evidence do you have to support this?

    If you ask me to name a father in the US who recently killed his daughter for refusing to dress “Islamically”, I can do that.
    Now name me a father in the US who recently killed his daughter for refusing to wear high heels and makeup and mini skirts.

    I can name families who have kicked their daughters out for refusing to wear skirts and head coverings who are Christians. But I think you’re being deliberately obtuse.

    Sorry, I think I may have come across a little strong this time, but I feel very passionately about this subject. I think the women’s rights movement in the US needs to wake up.

    I agree that the burqua is sexist. It is dehumanizing. But, a legal solution would cause more harm than good. If you were advocating for an advertising campaign highlighting how it restricts women, how it was dangerous, how it IS sexist, I’d be the first person to donate money and hang signs. If you were advocating for support into women’s shelters so people could leave Islamic families safely, I’m right there. If you want me to petition the government to sign the International Rights of Children, that stipulates, among other things, that children have the right to pick their own religion and parents can be charged with child abuse for not letting them do that I’ve already written the letter (and my senator, Franken, agrees with me). But you are asking me to restrict free expression and free religions participation in an effort to help women, with the easily foreseeable consequence that it would HARM and punish women (as it has in Italy) I am not going to support you.

    I don’t believe in Islam, anymore than I believe in any organized religion. I find the religion to be wrong, patriarchal, and just kinda stupid. But you have heard testimony from women themselves that they freely choose to wear it and consider it to be a practice of their faith. I don’t know anyone who does the full veil, but my friends and co-workers who take the head scarf say the same thing. Unless you’re going to take us down the path of false consciousness (and I would be sympathetic), you are disregarding women’s voices and women’s choices.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Wednesday,

    I don’t really understand the point you are trying to capture with your last comment, but my point is quite simple:

    We simply cannot tolerate gender segregation in the public space.

    You might not agree with that. You might have legitimate pragmatic concerns about implementing such legislation.

    But, none of that changes the fact that this is the exact same debate that was had regarding racial segregation in the public space.

    I feel like maybe I should stop addressing the burqa and makeup/high heels comparisons. I don’t want to legitimize this ludicrous train of thought. Frankly, I find them asinine and insulting to the women’s rights activists all over the world who are risking their lives to be free from the burqa / niqab.

    I love the comments, especially the criticisms.

    But, this conversation is starting to have that going around in circles feeling.

    And, I have to check out for a little bit. But, feel free to keep hammering away. Really. Feel free.

    Later.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I am going to make one final statement about makeup / high heels / mini skirts, and then I am never going to mention it again. I’ll just copy and paste this statement in response.

    I don’t wear makeup or high heels or mini skirts (well, most of the time — once in a blue moon, if I feel like it).

    And, you know what?

    No one threatens to kill me or rape me or beat me or disown me or throw acid in my face or condemn me to hell or socially ostracize me, because I choose not to do so.

    Does anyone want to continue this line of conversation? Really? Seriously?

    Sorry, but that just really upsets me. I mean, enough already.

    And, anyway, there are better objections than that to my arguments. Much better.

    Even I can think of better objections to my arguments than that.

  • DSimon

    No one threatens to kill me or rape me or beat me or disown me or throw acid in my face or condemn me to hell or socially ostracize me, because I choose not to [wear makeup or high heels or mini skirts].

    Okay, consider a world where those threats did apply. Women there wear high heels nearly everywhere they go, because they would face huge amounts of cultural and social BS, up to the point of threats to their life and safety, if they didn’t.

    Now, add a law requiring that people cannot wear high heels. The women in that world are now stuck in a Catch-22: wear heels and face serious threats from the law, don’t wear heels and face serious threats from the neighbors.

    That would be a crapsack situation. It is not one we should be responsible for creating an analogy to.

    I didn’t even have to suppose that some of the women there might genuinely want to wear heels for their own personal reasons; either way, banning heels would not accomplish the goal.

    But, none of that changes the fact that this is the exact same debate that was had regarding racial segregation in the public space.

    I disagree. The way to fight racial segregation was to fight against those doing the segregating. The same rule applies to gender segregation. I do not see how we can help the victims by making it illegal to be a victim, or even to look like you might be a victim.

  • Wednesday

    But, none of that changes the fact that this is the exact same debate that was had regarding racial segregation in the public space.

    No, it is bloody well not the same debate. The laws being discussed are not at all the same in effect or substance.

    Your intent, however pure and righteous, does not magically change the experience that Muslim women are going to have under the French law you championed. Your intent does not magically erase the increased anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment that we are seeing in France, without which the ban likely would not have passed. Your intent does not change the fact that you are a western non-Muslim woman who has decided she knows what is best for Muslim women, and that what is best for them is that they get punished in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.

    I’m not really sure what was opaque about my previous comment. I pointed out that the Little Rock 9 had a choice to desegregate but the women your law will punish do not, and it’s wrong to use the individual choice of brave individuals to justify endangering others*; I called you out on your sudden change of framing from “we need to ban the burqua to save oppressed muslim women” to “we need to ban the burqua because those oppressed muslim women have chosen to self-segregate”; I expressed incredulity that you really thought bringing to ballot a law targeting Muslims in an increasingly Islamophobic country was not going to feed that sentiment and further marginalize an already marginalized group; and I pointed out that trans youth exist and therefore might provide us with a case of a man who killed his biologically-female child for refusing to wear heels, skirts, and makeup.

    *Anti-choicers do that a lot. They also love to talk about how they’re going to save poor oppressed women, and then support laws that punish uterus-people, especially those suffering from intersecting oppressions. Really, it’s not helping your cause that your approach to the burqua is starting to look similar.

  • Sarah Braasch

    The more I debate people on this subject, the more convinced I am that this is the exact same debate as during the Civil Rights Era.

    Even in the vacillating stance on the status of the women in burqas. They are “victims” when it’s convenient and they are freely choosing to don the burqa as an expression of religious liberty when it’s convenient for the argument. Anyone hear an echo?

    Ultimately, I am saying that it doesn’t matter if the decision to segregate oneself by gender in the public space was coerced or no. We simply cannot tolerate gender segregation in the public space anymore than we can tolerate racial segregation.

    But, I stand by my analogy.

    The women are choosing (coerced or no) to segregate themselves by gender in the public space to protect themselves from the sexual aggressions of men, no?

    So, how is this not the persecuted minority attempting to segregate themselves from the persecuting majority? Hear another echo?

    I understand the impulse to wish to grant this choice. It is the same impulse, which drives people to segregate train cars in India and schools here in the US by gender. It is the desire to segregate in order to protect from oppression and aggression.

    Unfortunately, this is the kind of protection, which leads to second class citizenship status. The AK Party is doing everything in its power to strip Turkey’s wonderful gender equality provisions from their Constitution, in order to “protect” women. This is the kind of protection that women do NOT need.

    And, there is a bigger picture at stake.

    We cannot tolerate segregation in the public space of our liberal, constitutional democracy, be it racial or gender.

    Our democracy will not last if we continue down this road. It won’t.

  • Alex Siyer

    Mixité – in spanish “mixticidad” – it is an important principle and is strongly conected with reaching true equality. I`m truly surprised to see that this word (and concept) doesn’t exist in English.

    But on the other hand the influence of Freemasonry is particularly strong in my birth place, so I’m presumably the one whith strange and rare ideas.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Wednesday,

    Whoa. I think you’re digging.

    I mentioned the Little Rock 9 as a side note, because of the recent death of one of their number.

    I’m not vacillating at all. I thought I had made that clear.

    It matters not if the women in burqas are victims or no. It matters not if they were coerced or no.

    We cannot tolerate gender segregation in the public space anymore than we can tolerate racial segregation.

    I am taking an uncompromising position on this point.

    You can disagree with me.

    But, (and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to misinterpretation) please don’t misrepresent my position.

    I am responding to various arguments being addressed to me, but let me be clear.

    My position is uncompromising.

    And, I do understand that I am taking an uncompromising position on gender equality, even in the face of cultural relativist and obscurantist attacks.

    Women are human beings. Even women who are allegedly members of marginalized minority groups.

    Call me what you will. I will not stop fighting for the full recognition of women as human beings.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Alex,

    Where are you from?

    I have to say that I have been uber impressed as of late with some of the amazing and fantastic strides being made in Latin countries — both in Europe (Spain and Portugal) and Latin and South America. For women’s rights, including abortion, as well as LGBT rights.

    Yay for mixticidad!

  • Sarah Braasch

    Wednesday,

    Also, please let me know if it’s ok for me to fight on behalf of Mormon women, because I was raised as a JW.

    Is that close enough?

    Or should I just stick with JW women? Or maybe only atheist women?

    If I have a little Native American blood in me, is it ok for me to fight on behalf of Native American women? Even if I’m not a tribal member? How much African American blood do I need to fight for African American women?

    If a Muslim woman has chosen to immigrate to a western country like France or the US, is it ok if I fight for her rights, or should I just let all immigrant women fend for themselves?

    What about second and third generation French and US citizens? Is it ok if I fight for their constitutional, civil and human rights?

    Because, of course, women are owned by their respective tribes, especially the religious groups they were accidentally born into.

  • Sophia

    Whaaaat? This doesn’t make any sense. =_O How is wearing something segregation? And people absolutely have a right to discriminate in their personal life. I get to choose who I want to talk to, who gets to see my body, and so on.

    “Why? Because everyone is ready to bend over backwards to defend the burqa / niqab as the free expression of religious liberty. Because religious liberty still trumps women’s human and civil rights in American jurisprudence”

    But…what? Are Muslim women not women? Do they not deserve the right to practice their religion?

    Racism and sexism are terrible, but trying to make things right by meddling in the private lives of citizens is a recipe for disaster.

  • http://homepage.ntlworld.com/carolyn.dougherty/Carolyn_Dougherty/Home.html Carolyn Dougherty

    I was ambivalent on the issue before reading this, but your argument has persuaded me.

  • Dark Jaguar

    [quote]Dark Jaguar,
    I love your comment. I would love to dissect it a little bit further.
    1. You, like so many others, feel much more comfortable with the first half of the piece than the second. Why do you think that is? Realize that you are saying that you are much more comfortable with government imposing upon the private sphere of Xtian fundamentalists to protect girl children from religious abuse by dictating to parents how they may parent their own children. (I’m not saying that this is a bad impulse, but realize the import.) Realize how much more invasive that is than not allowing someone to choose to segregate herself by gender in the public space.[/quote]

    I think it may be a little inaccurate to portray the issue in that way. While it may be “invasive”, yes, it’s only as invasive as police preventing one person from assaulting another. In other words, it’s invasiveness meant to prevent one person from violating another’s rights. To be clear, the laws I’d support would be ones that prevented self-evident child abuse. That is, if we’re talking about laws. What I was agreeing with was the harm that teaching a kid that they are useless causes, but not that legal interference was the answer to it. In fact I don’t see anything that should be illegal about forming a separate community away from everyone else, as foolish as I might see that. The problem is when crimes occur IN those places. Child brides and so on should certainly be illegal. Am I comfortable with reporting child abuse to police with the idea that they will interfere with the parents? Yes, because those parents are abusing their kids. I find it far different from an individual deciding to wear a burqua, whatever harmful childhood upbringing she may have had, or whatever social influence she intends wearing it to have. She’s not actually doing anything. Perhaps I should make this clear. I consider it a right for an individual to segregate themselves, as individuals, from whatever they want. There I think we disagree. This is a very interesting position to have which I have never seen before, and there’s legal comparisons, but it doesn’t match my own moral stance.

    [quote]
    2. All of your vehement and persuasive arguments in favor of valiantly and diligently protecting the First Amendment rights of private citizens in the public space are the EXACT SAME arguments made against the Civil Rights Act in the sixties and against racial desegregation in the public space in the sixties. Seriously. The exact same. A private citizen’s private business is his or her own property. In theory, they can refuse service to whomever they please. I don’t think you’ve left yourself any alternative but to say that a private business owner in the public space has every right to exercise his First Amendment rights and place a “no blacks allowed” sign up in his store window. How does that hurt anyone? It’s just speech. It’s not a threat of force. A potential black patron who then forces himself onto this business owner’s private property is the one breaking the law. Just like someone who tore off a woman’s niqab would be the one breaking the law.[/quote]

    I may be misinterpreting that last sentence, so let me get that out of the way first. It seems like you are suggesting that someone ripping off a burqua would be a violation of someone’s rights. Well, isn’t that more or less what a law banning such articles of clothing is? It seems counter-intuitive to me to make such an argument. Further, I don’t think my arguments apply to the civil rights movement. In particular I tried noting the difference, that running a business and running one’s individual life are two different things. For example, if someone tries selling someone else poison, that’s illegal because they are killing someone else. However, if they decide to willingly ingest poison, that’s a personal matter. Above all else, I really AM a very individualistic person. Maybe all those Borg episodes of Star Trek are to blame. I put limits on it, I’m no objectivist, but there it is. The use of force when someone bans black people from a store is the force used to remove them from the property. Segregation was legally enforced at the time. Those who “broke” segregation rules could be arrested. That’s a very clear use of force if you ask me. That’s where the difference lies, a person as an individual has a choice over what that person can do made for them, against their wishes. The only time I agree to that is when the choice they are making is to violate another’s rights. I see the two as very different. Someone walling “themselves” as a single person away from everyone else? That’s not the same thing.

    [quote]
    Actually, identity obscuring masks in the public space are significantly more of a safety and security risk than signs warning whichever races off of private property. They are also a significant health risk to the women who wear them.
    I really want to push on this point, because it is the EXACT SAME issue. It is.
    For the record — I love the Civil Rights Act. I am saying that we can no more tolerate gender segregation in the public space than we can racial segregation.
    Both are antithetical to a liberal, constitutional democracy.
    I think we have even more reasons to ban identity obscuring face masks in the public space than we did to ban racial segregation in public accommodations.
    But, I’d love to hear how you respond to that, Dark Jaguar.
    Thank you for your comment.[/quote]

    I guess I really don’t see why it is a segregation issue. Since you bring it up, I’ll say what I said before. Bringing up that “masks obscuring your identity is a safety issue” feels like a distraction, one with wide-reaching consequences. I think that in the public space, people should have the right to hide their identity. If someone asks for my name, I have the right to say no. The limits are clear, for example on private property like in a bank, but in public walking around? Yes, I will be wearing a ski mask when it’s snowing thank you. Walking up to me and saying “take that off, you scare me a little because if you did something wrong I wouldn’t be able to identify you” comes across as offensive. I guess I’m saying is some extra risk is fine for the sake of perhaps trusting those around you more and not automatically assuming guilt of anyone who might prefer some privacy. There is a reason I am not using my real name. I will note that you are consistent, you are using your real name online it seems, but that’s not how I want to do things. I prefer a hidden identity and I have my reasons. More to the point, I shouldn’t have to even explain those reasons. Further, is it really a huge threat? I’ve never once been attacked by someone in a burqua. Yes it can be used to hide identity, but the fact is, people can and will be violent with or without secret identities. A secret identity itself does not cause harm. I feel like I’m in the Marvel Civil War series… With Captain America…

    I care not a whit for legal precedent myself. I am personally far more interested in how much far-reaching restrictions it’ll put on the vast majority of people. Helping a minority would justify it all, if you could demonstrate that it will actually do anything. I’ve seen no reason to suspect that. It’s self evident why allowing black people to get jobs anywhere they wish aids them. It’s self evident why banning handguns could help people. Even those who disagree would be fully aware of the help it would give to those threatened by such things. However, a burqua ban does not, to me, seem to accomplish anything. Women who wear them by choice will simply be deprived of that option. Women who wear them because they are forced will not really be helped by that as much as they would a system put in place to allow them to seek protection from abusing spouses or communities that are threatening them to wear such things. Instead it’ll actually force them to make a decision to put themselves in danger. This is not a law that forces the oppressors to do anything. It forces the oppressed to do something that may endanger them. I can’t stand by that. I also can’t stand by the removal of personal liberty of those who choose to wear it. That they are sending a message that’s ignorant is clear, but it’s no different than someone walking around in public wearing a KKK hood. It’s hateful, and should be denounced, but not made illegal in and of itself.

    In short, there’s a big difference between putting a “no blacks allowed” sign in a store window (with the subtext “if you walk in, you’re getting arrested or worse” very clearly implied, and acted upon) and just walking around saying you hate black people. One’s something you’re actually doing to someone, and the other is just hateful words with no implied threat. Does it send a stupid religious message? Yes. Does it imply their superiority? Yes. Does it perpetuate negative stereotypes about women? Yes. But, that’s not enough of a reason to ban it. This “inverted segregation” concept doesn’t work for me. Someone really should be free to segregate themselves, as you put it, from any sort of interaction with random passersby they wish. A hateful racist should be legally allowed to not have to speak with black people if they don’t want to. They just can’t refuse to sell them things or hire them based on that prejudice. Personal interaction is off-limits. It starts a really bad precedent…

    I feel the same on the issue of burquas as I do about building that mosque near ground-zero. It’s not an attack against passersby. It’s just a dumb little waste of religious freedom, but should still be allowed. Simply put, if people aren’t allowed to do any stupid pointless thing they want so long as it doesn’t hurt other people, true freedom doesn’t exist. “Feelings” don’t count as harm is the second part of that.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Oh, as an aside, I’m very interested in your thoughts about the Mosque being built near ground zero. Personally I think they have the right to build what they will on their private property.

  • Scotlyn

    Sarah, you are uncompromising on this issue, and it appears to be a hard sell in this thread. I do agree with you that gender segregation in the public space is problematic (even in private space when it is a matter of force rather than choice).

    I ask you, however, to consider the following question in the spirit in which it is offered, which is that of compassion. And I don’t doubt that this would be more than a hypothetical question for you, in that you are actually engaging directly with people affected by this issue in your work with Ni Putes Ni Soumises.

    When you are talking with a woman who wears a burka out of fear of personal reprisals from those with whom she intimately shares her life, how do you counsel her in relation to the choices she is now confronted with in the context of the ban?

    1)continue to wear it, in defiance of the law, and at risk of legal punishment, but for avoidance of personal violence?
    2)cease to wear it, in defiance of family members and at risk of personal violence?
    3)avoid having to make the choice by remaining within the home
    4)leave the home altogether (which also carries personal risk)?
    Note that, as I see it, she now has no easy or neutral choices. The law threatens on one side, and the family on the other, and the space in which she can freely choose appears to have been reduced. And that leads to the following question:
    5) do you expect her to agree with the ban?
    6) on the ground, have you found that the women mainly affected by this ban are more in favour, neutral or more against it?
    7) are there any alternative proposals arising from within this group of women (ie women coerced by cultural norms, family violence, etc to wear the burqa) as to how to free themselves of it.

  • Scotlyn

    Also, I actually do find there are aspects of your argument I can’t quite grasp. You choose the word “segregation” to frame the problematic nature of this garment, but while I agree that is an important part of its meaning, you cannot divorce the burqa from its sexual symbolism. The garment is meant to protect men from being “tempted” by a woman’s rampant sexuality – since once men are so “tempted” it is inconceivable that they should be expected to behave themselves.

    With the burqa women signal their willingness to protect men from succumbing to their baser instincts, and to take full responsibility for the sexual actions of the male, and while doing so, they condemn other women to the predations of the same men who have been trained to respond in that way (a fact you testified to in an earlier post where you mentioned living in Egypt (I think?)) and having to use various pretexts to convince men that you were not as available as you looked in your uncovered state.) Recognition of the powerful sexual symbolism of the burqa is built into the very name of your group Ni Putes Ni Soumises.

    I know that punishments for not wearing heals and makeup are not ordinarily meted out by fathers in the west – but women are raped in the west, and many in the west still consider that how a rape victim was dressed may be weighed up when deciding on the degree to which she has consented. The burqa takes this idea to an extreme level – it says – “I wear this, because it is the only thing I can wear to signal my non-consent to your sexual attentions…but by doing so, I imply that other women who do not wear this, may in fact, be consenting, by their mode of dress, to your sexual attentions.”

    To me this is far more problematic than gender segregation, at least in the short term.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I have to step away today, unfortunately. But, please continue berating me in my absence.

    (That joke is probably getting old. But, I still like it.)

    I’m just going to very quickly touch on Scotlyn’s comment.

    I’m a little worried, from the plea for compassion expressed in your question, that I have been a little harsh in my responses. Yikes! Admittedly, I do respond strongly to the suggestion that so-called western feminists have no right to fight for the human rights of Muslim women. (And on an atheism blog no less!)

    But, enough on that.

    Quickly — Scotlyn’s comments —

    I don’t think it’s an either / or proposition. I sort of feel like it’s a shame that I have to justify myself in this way, but if this helps me convince people, so be it:

    NPNS fights just as hard for women’s shelters and in accompanying women throughout the legal process of obtaining protection orders, etc., as they do fighting for the burqa ban.

    I have stood by the side of women in police stations all around Paris as they filed complaints against their husbands. They help them find emergency housing too.

    I have held the babies of immigrant women in police stations as they filed their immigration / work papers.

    NPNS was responsible for forcing the government to bring back to France a Moroccan woman who was forced out of the country, because she left her abusive husband who had been sponsoring her immigration.

    When a woman is murdered / raped / beaten in France, NPNS takes to the streets in protest, just as they did to advocate for the law against identity obscuring face masks in public. I captured many of these protests in photos and wrote short articles on them.

    I answered the phone at NPNS — to women screaming and crying in fear that their families were going to subject them to FGM, a forced marriage, compulsory veiling, etc., etc..

    I spent three months engaged in a sexual and reproductive rights study where I went out and pounded the pavement in the worst ghettoes of the Parisian suburbs — essentially ground zero for the 2005 and 2007 riots — and asked mostly Muslim immigrant women about their access to their sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights. And, yes, there were a few touchy / scary moments.

    But, you know what? Most of the women were thrilled that someone actually took the time and effort to travel out to the middle of nowhere, to a really scary neighborhood, to ask them their opinion. They wanted their voices heard.

    I was with NPNS at the Economic Social and Environmental Council and I listened as women who were struggling with homelessness and trying to raise their children after having escaped domestic violence stood up in front of French government ministers on the International Day of Women and cried and screamed their anguish at those government ministers for not doing enough to provide assistance to women escaping domestic violence. And, many, many of the women there were from Muslim immigrant backgrounds.

    I appreciate your concerns, Scotlyn, and they are my concerns as well.

    But, again, it’s not an either / or proposition.

    You’re right. A law in and of itself is not enough.

    During the Reconstruction Era — the federal government essentially had to occupying the South to ensure compliance.

    During the Civil Rights Era — the National Guard had to protect the Little Rock 9, in order to desegregate.

    I think we need a constitutional moment for gender equality, as has occurred for racial equality.

    We need the Equal Rights Amendment.

    We may need a societal reboot to save our liberal, constitutional democracy.

    And, yes, I do think the situation is that serious.

    We are devolving into communitarianism. Particularly religious communitarianism. Women are losing their rights. We are backsliding.

    Especially on sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights. Religious liberty really does trump women’s rights in American jurisprudence. And, it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. (I am thrilled to see so many women on the SC, but, unfortunately, I’m not sure the new additions are the lionesses of the women’s rights movement that RBG is.)

    This isn’t just about the burqa.

    It is about the full recognition of the humanity of women.

    Ok. Berate away. Tear me apart.

    I’ll be back tomorrow.

    Thanks again for all of the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

    Take care. Have a great Sunday.

  • bbk

    Let’s say there were two atheistic countries. No “religious freedom” to worry about and no crazy nut jobs who could potentially get pissed off and fly airplanes into buildings. So, one country where these uniforms were mandatory by law and women were very oppressed and a neighboring country where women were completely free and immigrants were welcome.

    But those immigrants who were coming over to the free country to be free were still upholding all of those traditions that they had learned from their former culture. And let’s say we could ascertain that least a portion of those immigrants were running from injustices such as these concealing uniforms, but they did not necessarily want to give up their children, husbands, and what small social network that they had. Let’s say these immigrants were getting stuck in a Catch-22 dilemma, one where it was hard for them to integrate into their new society because their culture was very different, which meant they had no choice but to continue living their lives within an isolated community that upheld the very culture that they sought to run away from, but that community and its culture being the very thing that makes it difficult to integrate to into regular society…

    Would you call that freedom? The irony isn’t lost on me, anyway.

    By professing all these high moral principles and legal precedence and constitutional interpretations, the one thing that we’re not offering to these women is anything that resembles actual freedom. Sure, it’s technically a brute force social engineering project to stop a specific behavior. And when you throw in all these messy details such as the mess of privileges that religion enjoys and the fact that there are billions of people in the world who are just looking to find an excuse to declare war on us, it makes it even more complicated. But you have to also look at the flip-side of this, as is the case in European countries such as France, these disenfranchised groups have turned to nationalism and militancy and they pose a grave threat to the stability of the “free” societies in which they reside (and to ours). There are communities of French Muslims right now who are deciding that they are not really French at all, but a Muslim nation within France that should seek independence from their hosts and wage war against Western culture. These are the very same people who just a few years prior would have come to France seeking a new life in a new land. I posit that the way Western culture has let them down, in the first place, is by failing to call a spade a spade. These people aren’t free just because they live in a Western society that professes all these different freedoms. They’re just as oppressed as ever.

  • purpletempest

    I have a problem with this article not because Sarah is, in her words, “taking an uncompromising position in the fight for gender equality” nor do I think she is “a racist and a bigot and an Islamophobe and an immigrant hater and a pawn for the fanatical right” and I don’t consider myself a cultural relativist. No, I have a problem with this article because it’s poorly written. The main argument is unclear. Is it “Gender segregation is just like racial segregation”? Is it “Gender segregation is not given enough attention in the public sphere”? Or is it “The burqa should be banned because it promotes gender segregation”? (By commenting I am assuming that all of us already agree that gender segregation is clearly wrong and unacceptable, if a reader thinks gender segregation is a good thing, that’s a whole ‘nother post altogether.) Devoting attention to any one of these theses would have made a good post, but trying to stuff them all in a single post means that none of them are given thorough attention and thus the whole article struggles.

    Let’s assume “the burqa should be banned because it promotes gender segregation” is the main thesis. We can address this as a social phenomenon, talking about the burqa as one form of how women are pushed into dressing one way or another because of cultural norms and expectations AND THEN discussing why those cultural norms and expectations are wrong and need to be changed, and how they can be changed. That would have been a great article to read. This article, however, doesn’t do that.

    We can address the legality of a burqa ban. This draws upon the previous in that laws are sometimes needed to change culture when culture is wrong, but it goes further because laws often draw upon prior legal precedent. Sarah starts off talking about her work for a French website, so I then assume she is talking about France and the current controversy there over banning the burqa. If she were to show how a burqa ban is an appropriate extension of current French civil law, that would have been a fascinating article to read. Instead she brings up American laws and legal precedent, which is completely irrelevant to a French burqa ban. France is not America and American laws have no power there. The implication though is that France should be more like America. If that is what Sarah is trying to say, she should just come out and say it. Let’s just have every country model themselves after our system and adopt our laws as their own. (I am being sarcastic, in case it isn’t clear.)

    What’s funny about that, of course is what she pointed out – that burqas are not allowed here in the U.S. not because of an interest in promoting gender equality but because a person who obscures their identity poses a danger because if they commit a crime or a terrorist act they cannot be identified and it is much more difficult to apprehend and prosecute them. As touched upon in the comments, this is a larger debate about the line between the private and the public, individual freedom versus what’s good for society. My own inclinations when it comes to what a person wears are to minimize censorship and encourage individual expression (and I get into that more below), but a line has to be drawn for the public good in certain situations and I’m not sure which situations qualify. Does the burqa qualify? Do masks? I’m still making up my mind. But Sarah makes it clear that she’s not interested in that issue and indicates she finds that issue less important than the gender inequality issue. So let’s look at that directly.

    Here’s what I gather is supposed to be Sarah’s argument: religion (in this case Islam, or particular groups’ interpretation of Islam) requires a woman to wear a particular garment (the burqa) for sex-related reasons (modesty, inflaming the ‘uncontrollable male libido’, etc. etc.) It does not require men to wear a specific garment for sex-related reasons.** This is an obvious inequality. Take away the burqa, take away the inequality.

    But that’s no solution. The desire to subjugate goes deeper than the burqa, goes deeper than religion; goes deep into our fundamental instincts. If you ban the burqa, if you even go so far as to ban the religion, you take away the tools of subjugation without actually preventing it. The best way to fight subjugation is to encourage freedom of choice, freedom of expression, and to take the power away from the tools used to subjugate by treating them as no big deal. In order to take away the inequality currently symbolized by the burqa, we must allow women to wear it when and if they choose to. Then the power of the symbol goes away because it stops being a big deal…it’s then just another outfit.

    No, none of us can know whether a woman is wearing a burqa by choice or not, but trying to enforce a rule one way or another takes away the choice itself, and that is true inequality. If we must take away a choice, it has to be for safety. I can see taking away at least the face covering part for safety reasons, but Sarah didn’t make that argument. Instead she tries to make covering the face a segregation issue but doesn’t really explain how that is except by a erroneous analogy. A woman’s body is not at all like a place of business. Places of business are supposed to cater to the public, whereas if a woman caters to the public with her body, that’s called prostitution.

    It is not segregation to choose one’s own clothing. Sarah, you are wrong when you say it is, and enforcing your own clothing standards on someone else IS wrong…which is exactly what you are doing when you say makeup and high heels are fine but a burqa is not. A person’s body should be their own to clothe or not clothe, tattoo or pierce or leave bare, as they see fit. That’s the core of civil rights. When a woman wears a burqa, or a man wears makeup and heels, they are presenting a certain identity and asking me to accept that identity when I interact with them, and I do that so I in turn can have the identity I present accepted. This is equality, this is freedom.

    But this is important because women are killed for not wearing burqas. Men, in turn, have been killed for wearing ladies clothing. Should we have all men dress in drag? Men have been killed for not having a beard. Should we then ban all facial hair? These are logical extensions of this argument, but they are clearly ridiculous.

    Fussing over the clothing does not address the violence itself. We must address the violence directly. Banning the burqa does not do this, it is only a distraction.

    If you don’t agree, Sarah, you’re going to have to come up with a better argument as to why, because yours isn’t very convincing.

  • Sarah Braasch

    purpletempest,

    You’re opposed to the burqa ban, because I’m a bad writer!

    Dude, please don’t put that weight on my shoulders.

    Please don’t make the world’s women suffer, because of my lack of talent.

    Ha ha. Later. Really this time.

  • DSimon

    Even in the vacillating stance on the status of the women in burqas. They are “victims” when it’s convenient and they are freely choosing to don the burqa as an expression of religious liberty when it’s convenient for the argument. Anyone hear an echo?

    The real set of women in burqas includes both victims forced to wear the burqa and women choosing the burqa for themselves. The actions we take need to avoid screwing over either subset.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Sarah,

    Which is your argument? Is it that face coverings pose a security risk and should thus be banned? Or is it that the burqa serves to segregate women from men in the public sphere? The first argument I find unpersuasive but defensible, while the second one is, quite frankly, laughable. I didn’t raise the high-heels-and-makeup comparison because the social pressures are remotely comparable, but because both serve to visually distinguish women from men in the public sphere.

    One thing which is really beginning to grate on me is how you keep comparing people who disagree with you (who are not calling you a racist or a bigot or, for the most part, impugning your motives; in fact I think your intentions are good) as supporting Jim Crow. They do not represent remotely comparable situations. If businesses were refusing service to women who did not wear a burqa, that would be in violation of the CRA. If publicly-supported schools were refusing to admit women who did not wear a burqa, that would be in violation of the CRA. If men are hurting women for not wearing burqas (less of a hypothetical here), then we need to start doing some better investigative work to get them, to provide safe places for these women, and to educate them on their rights to wear what they want in public without fear of retribution. “Western” women actually suffer the opposite problem in a way; they’re pressured to wear short skirts and heels and so forth, but risk violence from men if they do.

    Mrr, I feel like I have more to say but can’t articulate it. Maybe someone else will say it for me.

  • Wednesday

    Sarah, I’m not suggesting you are anti-choice (in the abortion sense). I’m saying your approach is looking similar to theirs in a very specific semi-hypocritical way, and I thought you would like to know that. It doesn’t exactly help your case with US feminists when your approach to arguing for something we may not be sold on if your approach has some of the same flaws as our traditional opponents. (You keep saying you want a stronger argument, and you want US feminists and womanists* to push for the ban.) I do appreciate the clarification on your intent of bringing up the Little Rock 9, but you still have to deal with the “well, she says she wants to help women who are victims, but then she passes a law that punishes them for being victims” conflict in your position.

    *Admittedly, I haven’t seen you use this word, but I assume you want them to push for a ban too.

    If you can’t understand why it’s problematic for a western (and, as I recall from your picture, white) woman to decide what approach is best to help non-western women, to the point of going to a country to where those women are additionally marginalized for being non-western and pushing for laws that punish them for, basically, being marginalized non-western women, then I suggest you do some reading on privilege theory where it touches on race, nationality, and other areas besides gender and the kyriarchy.

    It’s not wrong to want to or try to help people, not by any means, but from your posts, your attitude looks rather colonialist, and our white and/or western privilege means we need to be careful when we try to solve problems for non-western non-white marginalized groups.

    Even in the vacillating stance on the status of the women in burqas. They are “victims” when it’s convenient and they are freely choosing to don the burqa as an expression of religious liberty when it’s convenient for the argument. Anyone hear an echo?

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve only been calling them victims because you have more or less consistently insisted they are — I’m granting you your premise that The Burqua Is Always Oppression and arguing that is not consistent with your conclusion that We Must Pass A Law Punishing Women for Wearing Burquas. Other people are, I think, arguing against your premise. This isn’t a formal, academic debate, so these things are hard to keep track of.

    From where I’m standing, you’re the one who’s inconsistent – mostly arguing that the burqua ban is about saving oppressed women, and then suddenly changing your stance and saying this is about an oppressed minority choosing self-segregation and we need to stop them.

    It’s frustrating that you keep implying that those of us arguing against your particular position are like the racists who opposed the civil rights movement by arguing “states rights” and “business-owner rights” because overt racism was no longer working, especially when you yourself do not seem to have a very good sense of how different oppressions are coming into play here. And the whole PUNISHING WOMEN FOR BEING OPPRESSED business really doesn’t help. Omlet metaphors do not even begin to justify the wrongness there, and so far that’s been your only response to that problem.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Sarah, perhaps the argument is going in circles. However, I think contributing to that has been the content of some of your responses. One comment addresses Wednesday’s straw man on “who should represent who” with an equally bad straw man of “women are owned by their respective tribes”. No one here said that, and it didn’t further the argument at all…

    Two comments, #42 and #48, are entrenchments and restatements of your position rather than responses to the criticism being made.

    #57 represents your personal experience. While this helps us understand why you hold your position, it is a small piece of a far larger puzzle. What we want is not particular pieces of information on individual’s lives, but evidence that the policy you propose would be effective at accomplishing the goal it intends. While you continue to assert that the American Civil Rights movement is representative evidence of this, the primary criticisms of that analogy have gone unaddressed.

    Comment #60 dismisses everything in #59 outright. Even if we accept that much of purple tempest’s opening statement was a meaningless critique of style and organization, there were other points of substance raised in the post.

    To make it very precise, here are intelligent points which I see as having been inadequately responded to:

    (1) Civil Rights legislation punished the perpetrators of an injustice (private discrimination in business, labor, and other interactions). A burqa ban punishes the victim for a practice in which they often had no meaningful choice in. Is this not so? Why?

    (2) Strongly asserted more than once is the idea that it does not matter whether the wearer of the burqa is a victim. Why? It is clear to me that it matters enormously whether someone has had a meaningful choice in making a decision that is harming themself and/or others. The law often takes into account the intent and related motives behind a crime. Why would this be irrelevant? Or do you mean to say that it is only irrelevant to your chosen course of action? Well, yes, of course, if you make it so by default.

    This vitally important point may have been overlooked. The essence is this: the nature of the oppression in question is critical to understanding its cause and the manner of its perpetration. One cannot stop an oppression by addressing the wrong cause anymore than one can free a caged bird by opening the lion’s den.

    (3) While at first it seems like a good idea to point out that some commenters’ are playing Islamic women on both sides of the equation, you have done this very same thing yourself. Take, for instance, your comment #57 which describes women who can quite fairly be described as victims. And yet, in the original post, you talk about self-segregation. Behind that phrase is an implicit understanding of will. One cannot “self” segregate oneself if there is not some personal will behind it.

    This, perhaps, is a more general problem with Western thought on will and behavior generally. The phrase “free will” is redundant and overstated. There is some amount, some degree of will, whether negative (opposed), neutral (disengaged and avoiding involvement), or positive (assertively seeking) behind each human action. However, there is not, and never has been, any such thing as entirely “free” will in any society on the face of the earth. No one is completely devoid of consequences in selecting their actions and dealing with their environment. If that were the case, we would have to call that individual a god.

    More importantly, the idea that it is a contradiction to treat Islamic women in one context as victims and in another as agents is not a genuine contradiction at all. It is quite clear to me that within the larger group there are subsets which qualify for both descriptions. In my opinion, the victim subset is much larger than the active agent subset.

    Either way, treating the matter as through it were a binary condition is a cause of massive confusion. Oppressed victims who are coerced by threat of violence into wearing burqas are not completely helpless non-agents. Likewise, any woman who actively and joyfully plays into and vociferously supports the prevailing mores is not a wholly free agent who made their decision independent of the objective reality and social constraints around them. All matters of human society and civilization exist within a continuum of power which varies from very little to very great.

    (4) Scotlyn raised a set of scenarios in the context of an enacted burqa ban. What is it that you expect Islamic women to do in those situations?

    (5) How will the burqa ban be enforced, effectively? Do the police patrol the streets? By what method do they determine where to spend most of their time and energy on this? If they only patrol predominately Islamic communities, does this constitute racial profiling?

    (6) Is there, or is there not, a xenophobic and racial sentiment to some of the supporters of burqa bans in France, Italy, and other countries? Does this effect how the ban is perceived in the Islamic communities there, and what should be done about resentment which forms from using the law in this manner?

    (7) Would you support overturning burqa (or similar) bans in favor of a general ban on masks?

    (8) Is it wrong to restrict anyone’s freedom in order to achieve a goal of expanding freedom and opportunity for people? Several commenters have brought this one, mostly in the form of a Deontological perspective of “it is wrong to restrict anyone’s rights in order to expand rights and opportunities for others”. Personally, this seems to be a very poor argument supporting the notion of absolute rights, which is utter nonsense on its face. However, a great many people still find Deontological reasoning to be convincing. Therefore, by what process do you intend to convince them, since the direct method doesn’t seem to be working?

  • Nes

    I’ve seen the word “kyriarchy” pop up a few times, but I haven’t been able to find it in a dictionary. Anyone care to define it for me?

  • DSimon

    Nes, I define “kyriarchy” as “[insert result of Googling kyriarchy here]“. Variable interpolation left as an exercise for the reader.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    I didn’t know either, so I went to my favorite on-the-fly source of knowledge, Wikipedia:

    Kyriarchy is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza,[1] as a modification of the term patriarchy which elaborates intersecting structures of domination. The word is derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein), and defines a system of “ruling and oppression” in which many people may interact and act as oppressor or oppressed.

    Keep in mind Wikipedia is a collection of user-edited articles, not a first-hand source of knowledge. However, I suspect this is correct. Most non-controversial or little-viewed articles on Wikipedia are accurate, thanks to the reality that interested and knowledgeable third parties spend more time on them than random trolls and conflict-oriented fools.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hey guys,

    Having read the additional comments from today, I feel like we’re not misunderstanding one another.

    We just don’t agree. (e.g. I take an uncompromising universalist stance on human rights and abhor cultural relativism and obscurantism and communitarianism, so you can talk to me about how I need to be more concerned with white privilege and group rights than women’s human rights, but I am never going to agree with you. This doesn’t mean that I am not also fighting against racial discrimination. It’s not an either / or proposition.)

    I feel as though I have already addressed all of the additional concerns presented today.

    To sum up: If I acknowledge that sometimes laws are messy and difficult to implement and that sometimes women in burqas can be both oppressed and oppressors and that identity obscuring face masks are a security issue and an affront to women’s rights and an act of gender segregation (which may or may not be coerced or may be partially coerced), does that make everyone happy? It doesn’t change my position one bit.

    And, yes, sorry, but I still see the current debate as being part and parcel with the debate on racial segregation during the Civil Rights Era. I think it’s impossible to ignore the similarities. You don’t agree. Fine. I get it. But, my point in pointing out the similarities was not to call anyone opposed to me a bigot. My point was to show that we DO in fact sometimes impose upon the First Amendment rights of private citizens in the public space for very good reasons. I think gender equality should be one of those reasons.

    If you really and truly feel as though there is something, which I have not addressed, I’ll check back, and I will sincerely be happy to address it.

    But, I have to move on with my life for a while.

    Sometimes I feel like these debates get so muddied and muddled that you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s good to step away and get some perspective. We start nit picking at each others’ responses to very specific issues and the misinterpretations start piling up, and it turns into a bloody mess.

    If you want to just air your views, feel free.

    Like I said, if you really and truly feel as though I have not addressed one of your concerns, let me know, and I’ll check back sporadically and I’ll be happy to do so.

    Take care.

    Really and truly — thank you for the responses. Especially the negative criticisms.

    Best,

    Sarah B

  • bbk

    Kyriarchy is the quibit of social science.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    (e.g. I take an uncompromising universalist stance on human rights and abhor cultural relativism and obscurantism and communitarianism, so you can talk to me about how I need to be more concerned with white privilege and group rights than women’s human rights, but I am never going to agree with you. This doesn’t mean that I am not also fighting against racial discrimination. It’s not an either / or proposition.)

    No, it is not an either/or proposition, but… I hate cultural relativism too. I’m definitely not a fan of communitarianism either, especially as practiced. BUT, and this is kind of the point I’ve been trying to get at, I sincerely fail to see how a burqa ban advances women’s rights.

    I still see the current debate as being part and parcel with the debate on racial segregation during the Civil Rights Era. I think it’s impossible to ignore the similarities. You don’t agree. Fine. I get it. But, my point in pointing out the similarities was not to call anyone opposed to me a bigot. My point was to show that we DO in fact sometimes impose upon the First Amendment rights of private citizens in the public space for very good reasons. I think gender equality should be one of those reasons.

    And, as I said above, I think you’re grossly misreading the CRA. It didn’t impose on 1st Amendment Rights, it made it illegal for businesses open to the public to discriminate who they did business with. Comparing it to an article-of-clothing ban is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

    A better comparison, IMO, is the ban in Germany and other European nations have on public depiction of the swastika. There is a pretty damn good reason for why they passed such a ban, and they are definitely well-intentioned… but it’s still an infringement on free speech and I think they’re unjustified. I’ve heard many, many arguments on this, and even agreed for a period of time, but in the end I find the case for the ban unconvincing. Similarly, I find your case for a burqa ban unconvincing.

    ETA: er, actually delete, I misread you a bit and posted something irrelevant. Mea culpa

  • DSimon

    [...]you can talk to me about how I need to be more concerned with white privilege and group rights than women’s human rights[...]

    This is not exactly what I would call an accurate summary of your opponents’ positions. Has anyone here even mentioned group rights except you?

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    See Wednesday’s posts.

    And, thank you for giving a perfect example of how to pull a phrase out of context, misinterpret it as a personal attack, and drag out what has become an exercise in nitpicking a debate to death.

    Who has that quote about being prepared to be misunderstood if you are going to impose your ideas upon the world?

    This comment is supposed to be funny. I don’t know if you’ll find it so, but I do.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Oh, I just realized the problem.

    e.g. means for example.

    i.e. means in other words.

    i.e. I was not summing up the position of all of my opponents.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ok, bbk, I’ll give you back your women’s rights sticker, not because I’m positive that you deserve it, but because you taught me a new word and used it correctly (and hilariously) in a sentence with the word kyriarchy.

    Do I need to attribute this? I don’t know, but I’m stealing someone’s hilarious posting defining quibit:

    quote:
    a quibit is a quantum bit,
    the idea behind quantum computers is that since Most particles spin and the spinning can be used to store binary data

    The idea is a bit (pun intended) more complicated than that. Quantum Computers use superposition to run all the calculations of a normal computer simultaneously. The input to a QC takes a little longer to make, but the output is faster. Theoretically you could occationally get your answer before you are finished putting in the question. I know one person who says he witnessed such an event, but he refuses to talk about it and so it remains theoretical (joke).

    The computational power of a quantum computer is factoral according to how many cubits it can handle. Thus far only a handful of cubits at a time have been processed, but recent developments with quantum dots on silicone chips look likely to bring the power of thousands of cubits or more to a quantum computer in the near future. In addition, a theoretical paper was published this year supposidly showing that a quantum neural net would be significantly more powerful than an ordinary classical neural network.

    All of these things remind me that sometime within the next twenty years or so the processessing power of computers is supposed to rival that of the human brain. If so, within a hundred years we may be creating gods according to Aurther C. Clarks definition, “Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” :)

    When in Trouble,
    When in Doubt,
    Run in Circles,
    Scream and Shout!

  • Nes

    Of course, I should have thought of consulting the all-knowing oracles, Google and Wikipedia. I did think of the latter, but I had already checked Wiktionary, which didn’t have it.

    Thanks!

  • Scotlyn

    Sarah,
    I know this thread is one you’ve invested a lot of thought and passionate commitment to, and I hope anything I’ve said shows that I honour that, and also that I am open to persuasion, but not quite there yet.

    To me the key question unanswered here has been touched on by Wednesday and others, and it is why I used the word compassion in my last comment. And that is how can we justify passing a law, which in its immediate effect will pile further punishment on someone who, by definition, is likely to already be living in a situation of restricted choices and possibly violent reprisals. I do not see that question as being in any way opposed to your argument that gender desegregation is an important goal in gaining a more equitable and just society. It’s more a fear that the medicine might turn out to be worse than the disease, and that it might result in actual harm to people we all would prefer to see liberated and helped.

    I already knew, in fact, that you are engaged in daily dialogue with women who are in this situation, so, while it was interesting to read some of the detail of what that entails (and fantastic work – well done) I also hope you did not think I was asking you to justify yourself in any way. What I had been hoping for was some further insight, based on your day-to-day experience and discussions, into what type of discourse is actually taking place within the group of women most likely in the short term to be affected by the French ban – in the sense that they may personally be risking fines or other sanctions. How do they foresee it affecting them, whether for good or ill.

    But I realised that I am fairly ignorant of the issue, and that it is not one I have discussed much other than in your posts, so I did a bit of an online search using key words “Muslim women against burqa.” And I found quite a few interesting articles, including one on the submissions made by NPNS to the French government.

    This article, I have to say, I found very convincing. In it an American Muslim woman called Mona Eltahawy argues:

    I wore a headscarf for nine years. An argument I had on the Cairo subway with a woman who wore a burqa helped seal for good my refusal to defend it. Dressed in black from head to toe, the woman asked me why I did not wear the burqa. I pointed to my headscarf and asked her “Is this not enough?”

    “If you wanted a piece of candy, would you choose an unwrapped piece or one that came in a wrapper?” she asked.

    “I am not candy,” I answered. “Women are not candy.”

    I have since heard arguments made for the burqa in which the woman is portrayed as a diamond ring or a precious stone that needs to be hidden to prove her “worth.” Unless we challenge it, the burqa — and by extension the erasure of women — becomes the pinnacle of piety.

    It is not about comparing burqas to bikinis, as some claim. I used to compare my headscarf to a miniskirt, the two being essentially two sides to the same coin of a woman’s body. The burqa is something else altogether: A woman who wears it is erased.

    The conversation between the two women, as she tells it, encapsulates what I think is the essential meaning of this issue. The burqa wearer sees both herself and Mona primarily as objects for male sexual gratification – “candy.” Mona immediately spots and rejects this – “I am not candy”.

    The image of a woman with a bag over her head is one of the more pernicious and depersonalising memes in pornography. Taking her face out of the picture says, “this woman has no self, no important desires of her own, no will of her own, no independent existence, make of her what you wish.” To me the burqa says much the same thing. When you see a woman wearing a burqa, you can know nothing about her, except her gender. She is “madame X” – the essence of anonymous female sexuality. You can know nothing about her state of mind, her attitude towards those around her, you cannot interact with her in any meaningful way other than take on board she is a female with (by implication) such a highly volatile sexual nature that it must be kept under wraps. Her “covering” may say “this candy is not for you.” But, it also implies, “please take any other unwrapped candy you see. You can make what you will of any other woman who “flaunts” her candy.”

    I suppose this helps me see the issue in terms I can more readily understand. The principle at stake for me is the erasure of certain women from the public square, which is not compatible with equality and justice; and the escalation of the threat of rape for all women, and I can see that a ban on the burqa would be one tool to address this. But I would like to see it accompanied by a lot of consciousness raising and programmes for empowerment of women, to provide a context in which women for whom the ban becomes the “rock” to the “hard place” they already inhabit will not have their suffering worsened.

  • DSimon

    This comment is supposed to be funny.

    Ah, my mistake; I had read it as a snide remark, not a humorous one. Sarcasm can sometimes be hard to detect in a text medium. Sorry for the misinterpretation.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Scotlyn,

    I appreciate your comment. I really do. If there is a continued misunderstanding, I would like to clear it up.

    I feel like this might be an issue of language and mistranslations.

    I am a First Amendment lawyer and international human rights activist (a universalist with a focus on women’s rights). So, that is the language that I am speaking.

    I think I am saying exactly what you want to hear; I think I just didn’t say it in the same language.

    This is exactly what I said:

    It is not about comparing burqas to bikinis, as some claim. I used to compare my headscarf to a miniskirt, the two being essentially two sides to the same coin of a woman’s body. The burqa is something else altogether: A woman who wears it is erased.

    And, I could not agree more with your final paragraph. I think it is just about perfect.

    I suppose this helps me see the issue in terms I can more readily understand. The principle at stake for me is the erasure of certain women from the public square, which is not compatible with equality and justice; and the escalation of the threat of rape for all women, and I can see that a ban on the burqa would be one tool to address this. But I would like to see it accompanied by a lot of consciousness raising and programmes for empowerment of women, to provide a context in which women for whom the ban becomes the “rock” to the “hard place” they already inhabit will not have their suffering worsened.

    And, if you liked the omelet metaphor, here’s another:

    The women’s rights discourse in the US is a see saw. And, all of the cultural relativists and obscurantists and communitarians have been sitting on one side of the see saw.

    On the ground. Motionless. And, ponderous. And, unopposed. And, fat and happy with themselves. And, self-satisfied that they are not the racist, imperialist assholes, because they are doing nothing. They fixate on mini skirts and talk about their own privilege to protect themselves from feeling any guilt about their lethargy.

    And, in the meantime, there is a gender genocide being perpetrated against the world’s women. Most of it in the name of religion. Most women live their lives as sex slaves. Not to mention that that kind of tribalism is going to make a neat end of all of humanity. Not even our massive overpopulation on a dying planet weighed down with a proliferation of WMDs, and the technology to make and use them, seems to move them.

    Not even the threat of losing our liberal, constitutional democracy seems to move them.

    In a weird and ironic twist, they are the ones feasting on the misery of others. They are the ones with the most invested in the unequal status quo. I am trying to blow the kyriarchy to smithereens. I don’t want to sit around and chat politely about our role in the kyriarchy. I want to destroy the kyriarchy. (This is metaphor. I am totally opposed to violence.)

    I’m trying to make the see saw bloody move. So, I am jumping up and down like a mad woman on the very opposite edge.

    And, I can’t really afford to give an inch, because I will lose whatever leverage (voice) I have by jumping up and down as hard as I can on the very opposite edge.

    To be blunt, I really just see the discourse of someone like Wednesday as racist garbage.

    This is the kind of tribalism that is going to continue humanity down the path to self-destruction.

    (I do understand that the fanatical right is trying to misappropriate this issue. But, I refuse to let them. And, that’s no excuse to deny women their universal human rights.)

    NPNS tells women who come to them under threat of compulsory or coerced veiling, be it hijab, chador, niqab or burqa or some other variation, that it is their personal decision. They are honest that they have a tough row to hoe. Again, this is all wrapped up in the noxious stew of religious indoctrination and familial pressure in the context of an isolated, patriarchal community of marginalized minority immigrants. No one is denying that. NPNS is the first to say that these women are suffering more than anyone from the kyriarchy.

    If the woman / girl decides that she wants to leave, NPNS does everything in their power to help her (and kids, if kids are involved). But, they don’t sugarcoat it.

    (I can speak to this situation in a different context, because I had to walk away from my JW life and begin another with nothing. But, at least I didn’t have any kids, and no one threatened to kill me. It was sort of like experiencing my own death by blowing myself apart and then having to put myself back together again by stitching myself back together without anesthetic. I also think the early/forced marriages and child births are a huge part of the equation — cementing women into the communities and making it near impossible for them to leave.)

    This is why the law is so important. This is why codifying this (forcing a woman into a burqa/niqab (face mask in public)) as abuse is so important. (It is also important to say that we simply cannot tolerate this type of gender segregation in the public space, and that it is intolerable as a security issue. All are important.)

    Then, NPNS can say — we NEED more shelters to help these women escape. We need more education / employment programs to give these women opportunities to escape. NPNS also just began a huge employment insertion program for the femmes des quartiers.

    Codifying this treatment as abuse will stop the cultural relativist and obscurantist apologetics for human and constitutional rights violations perpetrated against women.

    The French legal / political framework gives them more leeway than we have in the US.

    But, we can still attack this, if we want to, if we can find the will. There is a way.

    We can attack it in the same way that we attacked racial segregation in the public sphere.

    I don’t want to repeat my argument from above about how and why to do this. I think everyone has a good idea where I stand.

    We can simply say that we can no more tolerate gender segregation in the public space in a liberal, constitutional democracy than we can tolerate racial segregation. Sure, anyone has the right to be a racist, sexist asshole, and loudly, and in the public sphere. (I love hate speech and am adamantly opposed to hate crime legislation.) But, segregation we can put a stop to. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.

    I don’t think this should be a mind blowing statement. I don’t think this should come across as radical as it seems to.

    In fact, I think it’s an inevitability, if we are going to continue down the road to progress and democracy.

    If we are going to regress and then digress down the road to communitarianism, then, no, sadly, it’s not an inevitability.

    But, it is the same issue. It is the same fight. We just haven’t realized it yet.

  • DSimon

    [...] we NEED more shelters to help these women escape.

    Sarah, I disagree with a lot of what you’ve said, but this I strongly strongly agree with. Whatever else happens, our top priority on this issue (abuse of womens’ human rights) has to be providing a safe landing zone for women under threat of abuse to escape to, whenever they need to and under whatever circumstances. That includes both setting up the facilities themselves and getting the message out that they are available and helpful.

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    How is that not what I said?

    Does it satisfy you when I tell you that NPNS does exactly this. They actually form partnerships with hotels to provide emergency housing for women, because there are not enough shelters available.

    I feel like we are talking at each other instead of talking with each other.

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    But, why limit your options?

    Why can’t we build shelters and laws?

    Why does it have to be one or the other?

  • DSimon

    Sarah, to clarify, that was something you said, and I agree with it. I was just trying to point out that though I disagree with you on a lot of things, the importance of womens’ shelters isn’t one of them. Whether or not burqa ban laws are passed, they are and will continue to be crucial.

    Also, I’m happy that NPNS is involved in setting up shelters and emergency housing.

    Regarding laws: I have no objection to laws in general, but I do object to the burqa ban law in particular. If you want an example of a law I would be in favor of, I’d support a law making it much easier to get warrants to investigate cases of reported domestic abuse.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    It doesn’t have to be either/or, but (again) I remain unconvinced that such a law would a, work, or b, is desirable in the first place.

    ETA: I’d also like to object to your description of American feminism. There definitely is a significant branch of relativist communitarians, but they are by no means unopposed. I wouldn’t even call them the majority now-a-days. But hey, they disagree with you about a burqa ban so clearly they’re smug and fat morons who only care about miniskirts (and not say the fact that wearing a skirt is used as exonerating evidence in rape cases). Tee hee.

    ETA: Was so mad I used the wrong “there/their/they’re”. I am ashamed.

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    That is hysterical.

    I love that I just chastised you for agreeing with me.

  • Sarah Braasch

    themann1086,

    I am totally taking the women’s rights movement in the US to task, and I make no apologies for that.

    Ok. I won’t say that they are doing absolutely nothing.

    I’ll just say that they are doing next to nothing.

    We are backsliding. The women’s rights movement in the US needs to wake up. In a big way.

    They need to get vocal and get angry and get in the courtrooms and get onto the streets.

    The women’s rights movement in the US used to make their voices heard in the discourse.

    It has become a sad and defeated shadow of its former self.

  • Sarah Braasch

    And, two things they need to get vocal about:

    secularism and religion

    They need to start fighting for secularism in the legal/political sphere and against religion in the public marketplace of ideas.

    American feminists used to understand this.

    Gender equality does not exist without secularism, and it doesn’t exist with religion.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    …Sigh.

    And, thank you for giving a perfect example of how to pull a phrase out of context, misinterpret it as a personal attack, and drag out what has become an exercise in nitpicking a debate to death.

    No one called anything you said a personal attack, at any point. However, by going out of the way to claim that someone did, you have placed yourself into a defensive or besieged position.

    Let me state clearly, for the record, that what DSimon said was: you mischaracterized much of the opposing arguments. It is true. You did not address it. This is disturbing.

    I raised eight quite precise points in my prior post, looking for at least some clarification, expansion, or evidence. A fleshing out of the inner substance of the argument. A pragmatic interest or means of some kind. No response; just silence.

    Need I note that Quantum Computing, #74, has nothing to do with this discussion? Who is derailing the conversation here?

    I am a First Amendment lawyer and international human rights activist (a universalist with a focus on women’s rights).

    I doubt anyone was under another impression. Your confidence in the law to solve problems is truly astounding.

    I think I am saying exactly what you want to hear; I think I just didn’t say it in the same language.

    Unfortunately, each comment has not made exactly the same case. It is important to address distinct arguments distinctly. I made the attempt to separate the points for clear discussion.

    The women’s rights discourse in the US is a see saw. And, all of the cultural relativists and obscurantists and communitarians have been sitting on one side of the see saw.

    I don’t know with whom you have spoken, but this is a gross oversimplification. Do you think the dominant political parties in the United States of America genuinely represent the full spectrum of thought that exists throughout the country?

    Please note that I rarely ever ask such questions in a full rhetorical context. Often times, and this is one, a response is expected.

    Why is this important? Other than ignoring huge swathes of people’s actual views, it is treating the goal of the discussion as conformity and strict acceptance of ideology. There is more than one means by which any end can be accomplished. Striking possibilities from the list ahead of time, without a sound discussion of the effectiveness and merits of each, is precisely how movements fall apart and fail.

    One cannot lead by authority; only by the righteousness of example.

    On the ground. Motionless. And, ponderous. And, unopposed. And, fat and happy with themselves. And, self-satisfied that they are not the racist, imperialist assholes, because they are doing nothing. They fixate on mini skirts and talk about their own privilege to protect themselves from feeling any guilt about their lethargy.

    I presume this is addressed primarily to Wednesday and myself, though you do not bother to lend it such precision. While I do not speak for others, I do say for myself that “on the ground” and “motionless” is hardly the direction I wish to see for America. Not only that, but this characterization is deeply offensive and presumptuous.

    There were several other fronts on which action was proposed as alternatives to using the law as a hammer. Some were already mentioned, but since they were missed I am forced to restate them.

    One is to increase economic opportunity and social support programs for women. Indeed, I think it need not and should not be limited to women. Every person in our society should have sufficient opportunity and capacity to seek out an independent life, if they so choose. Establishing this would require a fairly radical restructuring of the economy. My preferred means would be via a guaranteed living stipend. In effect, social security for people of all ages. It would need to be large enough to cover the cost of food and shelter at a minimum. (Medicine is also important. Stripping the profit motive, reducing the cost of education, and eliminating patents on drugs and medical processes would dramatically reduce the cost, however.)

    A second means is to address the matter at the educational level. I spoke before about public schools. Elected local councils (usually school boards) mandate the curriculum of public schools, and I think this is both fair and democratic. Yet as far as I am aware, private schools are not required to teach from that curriculum or any similarly developed standard. A simple way to get progress rolling would be to place the teaching of civil rights, free thought, and world religions into the earlier grades and for cities and counties to enforce these standards to be taught in all of their schools.

    Thirdly, and also prior mentioned, was the matter of family structure and the nature of how religious beliefs propagate. I do not recall reading anyone at all address this point in any notable detail. It’s ironic that Sarah would claim that she is being too “radical” and that is why her assertion of the burqa ban is unaccepted — it is a far more radical idea to restructure the nature of families and the raising of children outright.

    These three are just some of the other approaches that can be taken. Sarah has mentioned the Equal Rights Amendment. While I support the concept, I also believe we already have precisely such an amendment in the U.S. Constitution. It reads as follows:

    “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    This text talks of persons, not of men and certainly not of males. A fair reading the spirit of this text says quite clearly that the states cannot deprive any woman of life, liberty, or property without due process, and that no woman shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. The Bill of Rights also speaks of people, not men.

    What would you have the ERA say if it were to written and passed by Congress today? The core of the original was this:

    “Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

    Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

    That’s fine, I suppose, so long as we’re being redundant. I’d support the ratification just for the sake of being thorough and blunt. Though I would change the phrase “sex” to “biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national origin, religious affiliation, or lack thereof”.

    Critically, the problem is not with the law itself. The law is correct; its interpretation has been slanted and its enforcement has been lax. We in the U.S. are increasingly becoming a nation lead by authority rather than reason, and that is why so little progress has been accomplished on many issues.

    And, in the meantime, there is a gender genocide being perpetrated against the world’s women. Most of it in the name of religion. Most women live their lives as sex slaves. Not to mention that that kind of tribalism is going to make a neat end of all of humanity. Not even our massive overpopulation on a dying planet weighed down with a proliferation of WMDs, and the technology to make and use them, seems to move them.

    This is well and truly going over the top, in an hyperbolic manner.

    (1) No one here is advocating genocide. In any case, the reality of the condition of much of the world’s women is not genocide but of a state of slavery, of which there countless degrees. Excepting the very wealthy, we are all labor slaves to some extent or another. Women have it worse on average, even in the West — that’s just the facts of the economics and the societies. They have it much worse in the third world, mainly because the constant conflict and repressions causes the powerful to take out their frustrations violently on the helpless.

    (2) The very rough outline of the patriarchical order of the world has existed since shortly after the beginning of organized agriculture. Saying that male-domination, hierarchies, or authoritarian thought will bring down all of civilization is pretty dubious, to say the least. It hasn’t done so for millennia. By what evidence and what means do you say it will do so, so suddenly, now?

    (3) We are not massively overpopulated. This is an idea I’ve often seen promoted by xenophobic individuals, though I doubt you keep their company (and hope not). At every point in history, the human population has tracked closely with the ability of technology to support it. This population “explosion” (from about 2 billion to 6 billion in 50 years) which is claimed was caused not by changes in human behavior or culture. It was caused by a huge improvement in the ability to produce food on ever smaller amounts of land. There have always been substantial segments of hungry, even starving, people. Absolute increases in the population total and improvements in communication have merely made this far more obvious in recent times.

    If enough people actually cared to do so, we could actually feed and clothe everyone on Earth. That has not been a priority. It is not a technological limitation. The Earth can support 6, 7, 8, 9, even 10 billion people. It is a matter of the correct allocation and use of resources, and the development of farming, mining, medicine, construction, desalination, and other technologies. Our principle issue right now isn’t even any one of those — it’s energy. We have been building and growing far too quickly on artificially cheap (subsidized) and naturally scarce fossil fuels. There is plenty of energy out there to harness from the sun, wind, nuclear isotopes, and the Earth’s core if we actually put the right emphasis on it.

    Overpopulation poses no risk to the survival of the human race. Stupidity, greed, and myopia, however, do.

    (4) Proliferation of WMDs? George W. Bush, is that you? Nuclear arsenals are actually on the verge of falling substantially again thanks to President Obama’s signing of a successor to START. Now the Senate should ratify it.

    As to proliferation of the knowledge to produce such weapons, that’s simply a lost cause and always has been. Nuclear fission (as well as nuclear fusion, ultimately) are means of generating energy. There will always be a legitimate use for such technology, and so banning it outright and trying to monopolize the knowledge is fool-hardy. It’s the same in biology and chemistry. You can use TNT to demolish a building or clear out a mine-shaft — or you can use it to sabotage the railways. You can use fertilizer to grow a beautiful new garden or destroy a federal building. Stem cells for regenerative medicine, or developing vicious new forms of cancer. Botox to kill people — botox to kill wrinkles. All the same cause.

    Try not to throw out such red herrings. I tend to go hunt them down and eat them.

    And, I can’t really afford to give an inch, because I will lose whatever leverage (voice) I have by jumping up and down as hard as I can on the very opposite edge.

    This is precisely why I say you do not understand the Civil Rights movement. You think that Malcom X was responsible for the success of Civil Rights, when it was MLK, Rosa Parks, and many, many others.

    It is not giving up anything, or backing down, or whatever other false aggressive terms you describe it with, to acknowledge that one doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t have evidence for a particular view. It’s just fair discourse.

    To be blunt, I really just see the discourse of someone like Wednesday as racist garbage.

    This one really takes the cake. You’ve managed to not only insert a personal attack, but simultaneously beg the question. At what point did you show that Wednesday was motivated by any racial animus of any sort?

    All the more so, you dodged the question and reversed the subject. Some supporters of the burqa ban were being accused of racial hostility to Arabs, and religious bias toward Islam. You didn’t even try to show that this was not the case. How do you explain the fact that whenever these laws have come up recently, it has always been targeted on Islamic symbols and not on masks generally? If you cannot explain this, it indicates a serious flaw in the policy which must be addressed.

    Too long, didn’t read? You just pulled the rhetorical equivalent of “I know you are, now what am I?”

    I read all the arguments in this thread pretty closely, and did not find a one which was not evidently being made in good faith. That you suddenly assert so now, after you appear to have nothing else to present for your case, is truly bizarre and disturbing.

  • Scotlyn

    I’m trying to make the see saw bloody move. So, I am jumping up and down like a mad woman on the very opposite edge.

    And, I can’t really afford to give an inch, because I will lose whatever leverage (voice) I have by jumping up and down as hard as I can on the very opposite edge.

    I really get how lonely and frustrating, and how like a voice crying in the wildrerness that must feel. But some of us probably would come over and help you jump if we understood what we were jumping for. I honestly don’t get the feeling that most of the people here are anti female rights, equality and dignity. What I get is the values are there, but it is not yet clear how a burqa ban would advance them.

    So, for myself I am trying to identify what the fundamental principle is that I think is worth enshrining in law, and then see if the burqa ban promotes that principle.

    You have used the term “gender desegregation” and I understand why you do. As I read in one description online, a woman called her burqa “my own mobile ghetto.” So we are talking here about the right of association – possibly in terms of limiting it. And some people seem uncomfortable with a law that would seem to force association on the unwilling. Others here (not you) have framed the issue in terms of a right of free expression, and many are uncomfortable with setting limits on that right without some pretty compelling reasons.

    So I’ve thought about what right is it, exactly, that I feel is being violated here, and I think it comes from the word “effacement” – a word which both means erasure and which says quite literally exactly how erasure is accomplished – by rendering the face invisible. And it seems to me that the right that is denied here is much more fundamental than a right of association or a right of free expression. It is the simple right to exist.

    So I could fully, 100%, get behind a law that positively promotes and defends a woman’s right to exist and to be seen to exist, and which therefore forbids any means of “effacement” of that existence, including self-effacement. And I would be willing to “pay” a small cost in terms of certain limits on free association and/or free expression, as the “cost” of defending the right of existence.

    Hey,any lawyer points? :)

  • Scotlyn

    Hey, Kagerato, I missed yours while I was writing mine, and I think you are very fair and to the point. Speaking for myself, I thank you for putting so much thought and care into putting a shape on this thread.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    What’s your evidence? I see a lot of assertions here, but all of them would be flagged [Citation Needed] on Wikipedia. The US feminist movement has had its hands full fighting off anti-choice religious nutbags intent on slut-shaming and pushing for greater equality in well-paying, male-dominated job markets. The former has been a losing battle, imo, but I don’t think the brunt of that blame should fall on them; liberal male allies have been more than happy to throw women’s rights under the bus in order to get other goals advanced, and the right-wing “Christian Taliban” in this country has a lot of power. On the latter front, it’s been a slow 2-3 decades, but there has been progress. Despite all of this, most American feminist movements, to my knowledge, remain secular. They might not come out as strongly against religion as I’d like, but they decry religion’s involvement in public policy and workplace hiring decisions.

    I would also argue that, while gender equality [humorous side note: I mistyped that as "fender equality" first. Good thing I proof-read for once!] and secularism are two great tastes that taste even better together, I don’t know if they’re necessarily required. Well, in the US and most places that come to mind I would say they definitely are, which is probably what you meant now that I think about it… anyway, my objection was that theoretically this may or may not be true. Each are worth fighting for on their own merits though.

    As exciting as this is, however, I want to come back to my two main objections. First, the practical: why do you think a burqa ban would have a net positive impact on women in the Western world? I’ve thought and thought and pretty much every outcome of this would seem to be a net negative here. Maybe I’m missing something here. In fact I know I am; I just tried to summarize the purpose of this law and came up with word salad. Increase gender equality. I’m just not seeing how this law would do such a thing.

    But ok, let’s assume that I re-read you and catch something I missed before, or you make a clarification/argument convincing me that this law would, in fact, increase gender equality. This still leaves the thorny problem that I have yet to see around: there’s no way this law does not severely restrict free speech in a way that the CRA does not. The CRA prevents businesses from discriminating who they do business to. Your law prevents individuals from wearing something. The CRA expanded the actual freedom of blacks to solicit businesses they had been barred from before. Your law… ah, ok, I sorta see where you’re coming from, if I tilt my head and squint at it… would, you assert, increase the actual freedom of Islamic women in public spaces. Which brings me back to point 1: really? That’s what was preventing them from having freedom? Wearing a burqa? Or is the burqa simply a tool used by their true oppressors: their imams, their fathers, their brothers, and their husbands? You ban the burqa, and instead of forcing their women to go outside with it on, they’ll force the women to stay inside. Freedom! Progress! And you’re still banning an article of clothing, and the “why the hell can’t I wear what I want in public?” objection comes out. After all, racists are still free to wear what they want in public and say what they want and argue for their “racially pure utopia”. The trade-off for the CRA was a large improvement in actual freedom for blacks, at the expense of businesses (open to the public) being forbidden from discriminating against their potential customers. The cost for the burqa ban is people being forbidden from wearing certain clothes for what you assert would be a gain in women’s freedom. Frankly, I just don’t see the gain, and I’m definitely not sold on freedom-of-expression bans.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hey guys,

    I want to sincerely thank everyone who contributed to this thread.

    Really and truly.

    But, having read the additional comments from today, I don’t feel like I’m getting anything else positive out of it at this time.

    The reason why I engage in these online discussions is to help me mold my argument, as well as to continue to challenge it.

    But, for now, I’m good. I still hold strongly to my position, and I know those who have disagreed with me here today do as well, but I don’t feel like I’m getting anything else constructive out of this discussion right now.

    It is starting to devolve into something bordering on ad hominem, and circling itself. To the point where I’m being attacked for trying to introduce some levity into the conversation.

    I’m sure I’ll get much blame for that, and I am sure I deserve some, but I also think there is plenty to go around.

    I feel that I have addressed all of the concerns, which have been presented.

    I’m sure some will continue to say that I have not, but, at some point, it is necessary to acknowledge that it isn’t that we haven’t addressed or don’t understand each other’s concerns; it’s just that we don’t agree.

    The great thing is that there is not only room for all of these voices in the women’s rights movement, but that we NEED all of these voices in the women’s rights movement.

    We need idealists and pragmatists and idealistic pragmatists and pragmatic idealists and we need them all to argue with one another. I do not shy away from this in the least, obviously.

    So, feel free to air your views.

    I’ll just repeat myself to say, that if you really and truly feel that I have not addressed something of importance, please let me know. I’ll check back sporadically, and I will be happy to address it.

    (With the caveat that I am not going to continue to address comments that I have failed to address any of your arguments, because I think we all know that that is just not true.)

    Thanks again. I really appreciate it. Take care.

    Best,

    Sarah B

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Well, I am sorry to hear that. I personally was enjoying the back and forth; don’t be fooled by my occasionally-rude responses, I mean no personal ill-will. I don’t usually crit forums with walls of text for arguments I don’t consider seriously (there are exceptions, but I’m much snarkier and foul-mouthed than I have been here). You’ve at least given me a few things to think about and consider; though I’m not likely to change my mind, who knows? Anyway, see you next burqa ban thread!

    (P.S. I do hope you spend some time thinking about the practical objection that it wouldn’t achieve your goal. This is far more damning, in my view, than any theoretical objections involving the law, free speech, or gender equality)

  • bbk

    I feel that the last couple of weeks on this blog have seen some of the most far-reaching discussions that I’ve seen in a few years of following along. It’s pretty awesome that this community is becoming so diverse that we’re tackling these issues as opposed to a bunch of dudes arguing about strong vs weak as the more logically correct stance.

  • bbk

    It’s totally strong, by the way.

  • http://rejistania.wordpress.com rejistania

    I thought that gender desegregation Wednesdays sound ridiculous for a completely different reason than the author. It sounds like: “We have celebrated equality on this day, but now that it’s past midnight, go into the kitchen and make me a sandwich, bitch!” It limits something which should be normal to one day.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Hey, Kagerato, I missed yours while I was writing mine, and I think you are very fair and to the point. Speaking for myself, I thank you for putting so much thought and care into putting a shape on this thread.

    The feeling is appreciated and mutual, Scotlyn. :)

  • Sarah Braasch

    FYI. Needless to say — I am thrilled.

    http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/09/14/france.burqa.ban/?hpt=T1

    I hope more countries follow France’s example of saying no to gender apartheid and gender segregation and gender slavery in the public space and saying yes to gender equality and secularism.

    Feel free to comment, but I have to go back to my life for a while.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Well, let’s hope you’re right about its efficacy. Interesting sidebar:

    Some 82 percent of [French] people polled approved of a ban, while 17 percent disapproved. That was the widest support the Washington-based think tank found in any of the five countries it surveyed.

    Clear majorities also backed burqa bans in Germany, Britain and Spain, while two out of three Americans opposed it, the survey found.

    Anyone in Sociology or Political Science looking for a thesis topic?

  • Sarah Braasch

    I feel like I want to quickly stand up for France. (Even though I may end up regretting it.)

    Not all French hate Muslims or Arabs or immigrants. It is crazy to me that I have to write that sentence. There are plenty of burqa bans in the Middle East and North Africa, BTW.

    Why do you think there are 5 or 6 million Muslims living in France (usual estimate)? Because the French government welcomed them in. (Yes, I know they needed the labor. And, I do absolutely condemn the treatment of Muslim immigrant communities in the cites of the quartiers and banlieues. But, the French government has made incredible recent strides to remedy the situation. Yes, I know that a lot of this is a response to the 2005 and 2007 riots.)

    But, to call France an Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-immigrant country is a severe mischaracterization. (I won’t even open up the Pandora’s box of what most Europeans, including the French, have to say about Americans and American racism and American imperialism. And, how Islam seems to always morph into a race in these conversations is beyond me. BTW, the Teabaggers are on the French news pretty much every night. This weird American – French animosity since 9/11 is kind of out of control.)

    But, you know what the French love? (Yes, I’m generalizing.) They love their liberal, constitutional, secular, democratic republic. Love it. Enthralled with it. They love the democratic process. They love their protests (manifestations). Look at how they have come out in droves recently to protest a change to their labor law. Look at how they have come out in droves to protest the expulsion of the Roma. Look at how Ni Putes Ni Soumises takes to the streets and rants and raves online and in the press, not just on behalf of the burqa ban, not just on behalf of gender equality, but against gender violence and against racism and against the expulsion of the Roma and against the mistreatment of the Muslim immigrant communities of the cites in the quartiers and banlieues.

    And, you know what the French take seriously? Any threat to the liberal, constitutional, secular, democratic republic, which they love so well. And, they legitimately and credibly and seriously take gender segregation in the public space and the dehumanization of women in the public space as a threat to their cherished democratic institutions and values of liberty, equality and strict secularism (laicite).

    It is a weird situation to me — that Americans seem so intent on not taking the French at their word on this issue. (Yes, of course, there are some xenophobic, anti-immigrant loons, and we don’t have any of those in the US??!!??)

    The French Enlightenment gave us our liberal, constitutional, secular, democratic republic.

    And, I wished we loved ours half so well as the French do theirs.

    We seem intent on throwing ours away.

    I don’t want only the assholes to be on my side on this issue.

    I need some of the good guys to get on board, so that I don’t have to be embarrassed that it’s me and some Teabagger fighting for a burqa ban.

    Don’t make me move back to France. And, anyway, I won’t. I made the decision to come back to the US to deliver another injection of French Enlightenment values.

    The French told me to tell you that you’re welcome. (This is a joke. I think I have to start spelling that out for people.)

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I think you misunderstood me; I was actually not suggesting that about the French at all. I was saying that the widely divergent views on this between Europe and the US would be a great thesis topic! I mean, two-thirds in favor in Europe vs two-thirds opposed here? That’s intriguing! I hope someone does do a study on it.

    I started ranting about something else, but fuck it. It’s not worth it. I’m gonna go back to being illiberal and undemocratic and oppressing women on the subway by not ripping off their burqas.

  • Sarah Braasch

    That wasn’t directed at you or your comment, themann1086.

    I hope someone does a study too.

    Just taking a general stand for the French.

    I felt like they have been getting much maligned. Not just here, but in general.

    Keep ripping off those burqas.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Your endurance is better than mine, Sarah, but I would make several quick statements:

    (1) No one implied that all or most French were bigots (whether against Islam, against Arabs, or similar). Rather, it was implied that some of the loudest and most unforgiving of the support for the ban was probably coming from bigots.

    (2) A liberal, constitutional, secular, democratic republic does not and should not need be driven solely by the force of majority opinion. There are some rights which should not be infringed, even if a million people are helped and only ten are hurt.

    (3) Bringing ‘levity’ into a topic with substantial moral, religious, and personal implications serves as a distraction and may drive people off.

    (4) No matter how many times the same argument is restated, it becomes no more or less true than it originally was the very first time.

    (5) Many of my statements were ignored or dismissed without the courtesy of even a mild explanation.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ok, Kagerato,

    I felt like I had addressed your concerns — I just didn’t start a comment with Kagerato,.

    Also, to be honest, I feel like you’re grasping for anything that can be thrown at me.

    Sorry. I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. If it makes you feel better, Scotlyn thought your debating style was genius.

    You make me feel like a Dem debating a Rep on a Dem proposed piece of legislation in Congress. No matter what I say, you’re going to argue against it. (Case in point: your weird ostensible support for patriarchy and unchecked population growth.)

    Ok, here’s my response to your latest comment:

    1 — Ok. Fine. We all agree that not all French are bigots. Anyhoo. The concerns of bigots are no reason to compromise women’s universal human rights.

    2 — I agree, for the most part. I’m on board. (But sometimes constitutions should be and are altered, which is what I am suggesting should happen in the US, so that religious liberty no longer trumps women’s humanity, which is the current state of affairs. We could go after gender segregation in the public space right now, by employing the same tools we used to end racial segregation in the public space. And, actually, in the US, we do infringe on even what we consider to be the most fundamental of our constitutional rights when we think that we have compelling reasons for doing so. Case in point — we even infringe upon the right to life in the US — death penalty, anyone? We infringe upon the freedom of expression of private citizens in the public space ALL THE TIME, when we think we have really good reasons for doing so, like racial desegregation. I am suggesting that gender desegregation is no less of a compelling reason than racial desegregation.)

    3 — Hmmm, ok. Well, I am trying to destroy religion (in the public mktplace of ideas), and I think the concept of morality is pseudo-religious quackery and babble and has no place in the law, but caveat taken. However, sometimes humor is a brilliant method for conveying ideas. I was trying to lighten what was becoming a too heavy debate.

    4 — I agree. If you are implying that the debate was running after its own tail, in circles, and that I ended up repeating myself tirelessly, I could not agree more.

    5 — If you have a very very specific on topic point, which you honestly feel that I failed to address, please point it out, and I will be happy to address it. But, seriously, specific. I’m running out of endurance as well.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Hum. I just can’t resist responding a patronizing attitude stating demonstrable falsehoods.

    (1) I did not raise any criticism just for the sake of showing opposition. Each organized point was made in good faith, with belief in the statement itself, and with the intent of actually receiving a logically valid and/or evidenced response.

    (2) It’s inevitable that some feelings will be hurt, some anger and frustration raised, in a sincere argument on a sensitive topic. I neither need nor expect any apologies for that. Moreover, and far more importantly, an actual address to what was said would go dramatically farther in goodwill than any apology could.

    (3) No, I will not and would not argue against “anything” you said. That is a severe misunderstanding on your part (and an implication, again, that my points were not made in good faith). If you had actually attempted to address the stated concerns with either a logically sound argument or clear evidence, I would have dropped them outright. In case you did not realize it, your replies to nearly every concern raised in this thread have been “the ends justify the means” and “I am certain the law can accomplish this”.

    (4) I don’t support patriarchy or unchecked population growth, and nothing in my statements actually expressed or implied either. How is it you don’t see that this is an attack against me, rather than against what I actually said? I genuinely do hope and believe you understand the difference between what I said and what you just claimed my views were. So it is truly astounding to me that you would proceed with the ad hominem anyway.

    (5) The “concerns of bigots”, as you put it, become your problem if you begin advocating for precisely the same policy they do. Whether you like it or not, when you advocate for a policy whose loudest proponents are bigots, you will be associated with bigotry. I clearly asked what you intended to do about this a while back, and you never answered. It’s not as though there’s nothing you can do; I specifically asked for instance whether you would re-frame any such laws in fully secular terms, without any talk of particular garments. There was no answer, nor any explanation of the exact terms the French law uses. (A linked article used the term ‘veil’; does that definition encompass all masks and costumes or not?)

    (6) I doubt you will find many people here who strongly support the death penalty. I don’t, especially not for the frequently poorly proven crimes it is often enacted for. My real view is that it should be reserved for the very most severe crimes, including serial murder, serial torture, and genocide — and those crimes alone. It is necessary for society to make a social and political statement of extreme disapproval about those crimes, and execution does that. (The other reason, of course, is that there is a non-trivial risk that someone who successfully committed high profile acts of violence over and over again would be resourceful enough to escape from prison and endanger others.)

    Either way, this is an argument against absolute rights, not against the violation of a particular right in this particular context. Of course we infringe on fundamental rights sometimes. The question is by what justification, and what evidence?

    Given that you’ve been reading my comments closely, you have noticed by now that I don’t strictly adhere to any particular moral framework, be it Deontology, Utilitarianism, Value Ethics, or others. I believe that the correct course of action can’t be universally determined in advance; you must know the circumstances of the situation in question. I also believe that there are real world scenarios where no right course of action exists, and even in those where every feasible course of action is equally wrong (including doing nothing).

    That aside, my core objection wasn’t that we somehow don’t infringe on private citizen’s rights both in public and private spaces. Perhaps someone else did make that case (I don’t pretend to completely know the minds of the other commenters). Rather, my central question in this scope was how you intended to enforce the infringement in public spaces. The secondary question was as to whether it would even be effective to enforce the ban in public spaces, if you didn’t also ban it in private spaces.

    Or is it that you see the law merely a political and social statement, and don’t really mind one way or the other whether it is enforced properly? That is not my view of law in the slightest. Any law that cannot feasibly be enforced fairly and effectively should not exist.

    Do you understand why I hold this view? It is precisely because we have tried to solve social problems in other realms by increasingly draconian laws and enforcements, yet the problems themselves not only did not disappear but often became worse. I seem to recall the “wars” on drugs and terrorism being mentioned before. Am I mistaken?

    (7) My goal is not to destroy or weaken religion in particular, but all forms of authoritarian thought generally. I would have no issues with religions if the leaders and adherents were open to the suggestion of new ideas and the reform of existing policies. It is precisely because they take a hard-line approach where knowledge can only descend from powerful existing authorities that they have become such a barrier to progress.

    Morality is not a concept created by or unique to any religion, though I can certainly see where you got that idea. When I speak of morality I am talking about moral philosophy and concepts that were justified by reason, not by authority.

    I would advise not denigrating a particular term like morality, because there are many people who would construe that as an attack on justice and virtuous behavior. It’s purely a word, and the meaning is not set in stone.

    (8) One implication of suggesting this discussion was circular was that you might try not repeating yourself, but rather saying something new, different, and directly addressed to the points made by the comments.

    Probably more importantly, I was trying to get across the idea that you probably weren’t convincing anyone by restating the same principle in much the same terms, and this might even be hurting your credibility and turning people away.

    You at least did try in this last response, so I thank and credit you for that.

    (9) There was nothing specific in my address way back in #64 …? I find that surprising. If anyone would like to raise a particular question, or ask for a clarification, as to the meaning of a statement perceived vague that is fine. However, I don’t see good reason to rephrase or reintroduce all the points I previously made again. It didn’t work the first time I organized them, and I don’t have confidence in thinking it will work better the second time.

    Honestly, I don’t have a great deal of evidence to think that I will persuade you to change your mind. However, it is doubtful that I will stop trying until my arguments are at least acknowledged to be in good faith and not made purely to annoy you, distract people, or further nefarious causes. Often in discussions I would make my case and leave it, but I take exception when the addressee actively misconstrues, misrepresents, and ignores specific items outright.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I don’t see this as a fruitful or constructive line of conversation. I have made my position clear. You have made your position clear. It is clear that we do not agree and, also, that neither is going to convince the other.

    I think you really just wanted me to respond to you, and now I have.

    So, I’ll let you have the last word.

    Thank you for your contribution to this thread.

    And to one and all. Again, I really appreciate it.

  • Steve Bowen

    I’ve kind of avoided this thread precisely because I have a genuine conflict of conscience around the Burqa issue. I hate the Burqa, I hate it because it is symbolic of religious misogyny and because it demonises sexuality and therefore humanity. I hate it because it forces me to relate to someone as a representative of a culture rather than an individual; and frankly I hate it because I find it personally unnerving: which is my problem.
    But, I also find legislation preventing free expression disturbing to the point that, although emotionally I applaud France’s attempt to liberate Muslim women in this way I would be uncomfortable with similar legislation in the U.K.
    Thought experiment: In a society that banned the Burqa I decide to wear one as a satire on Islam. Where do I fall foul of that law.
    Thought experiment: As a female atheist artist I decide to adopt the Burqa as my usual dress and call it an art installation. Ditto
    Thought experiment: I am a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the Burqa in full realisation that it is not a requirement of Islam. Ditto
    I continue to equivocate, much as I would prefer not to.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I am really upset and disappointed by the discussion following this piece.

    It took a really dark and ugly turn.

    And, I apologize and take responsibility for it. I should have directed the discussion down a more constructive path, instead of feeding the hostility.

    Of course, it is a volatile issue that inspires strong emotions.

    But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a civil conversation about it, even if we strongly disagree with one another.

    Thanks again for all of the contributions.

    Let’s do better next time.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    @Steve :

    There is an inherent conflict in using the law, or any manner of force, to provide liberty. It is quite mind-rattling to decide where the line must be drawn on restricting behavior when the effects and causes of that behavior are different for every person. I don’t find your conflict of conscience at all unusual. Rather, I share it.

    @Sarah :

    I am also quite disappointed with the discussion, although not because I felt it was dark, ugly, and hostile. I didn’t sense such negative emotions from you or anyone else here in the slightest. Further, I am sincerely sorry if you, the other commenters, or any random lurker out there found something I said to be dark, ugly, hostile, or made in bad faith. I didn’t expect anything I wrote to be perceived that way because it was not meant that way.

    Further, I can’t allow you to take responsibility for the entire thread and the discussion, as that is not the nature of comment thread. One is only responsible for their own words and acts; nothing more than that.

    @Public :

    I’d like to make it clear to anyone still reading (though the thread seems to be cooled off) that there are particular pieces of evidence and reasoning that would convince me to change my views on this matter. They are these:

    (1) The success of any law in any country at combating oppression where the target of the law focused on constraining the behavior of the victim rather than the oppressor. The exact nature of the law isn’t important, so long as the law was significant and clearly effective. Note that the law should solve the problem in question, not displace it. For example, say one country banned all forms of weapons nation-wide, and violent crime dramatically fell in that country. If crime then rose enormously in the neighboring countries, this would not make for a helpful example.

    (2) An well-reasoned explanation of what a woman in an oppressive family can do about the conflict between the law and the cultural values she was raised with, other than completely abandoning those values (and potentially the family itself). Alternatively, a sound argument as to how she can survive and prosper on her own. Not, however, an argument for how she can survive and prosper in the context of a generous social democracy where every person is guaranteed food and shelter. I’ve already made the case for such a society.

    (3) A thorough demonstration of why a law banning masks is still useful in a society with high economic, social, and educational equality. That would be a reason to enact the law even as we work towards those goals.

    (4) One or more precise descriptions of how the police can enforce a mask or veil banning law fairly and effectively, without ethnic or religious profiling or relying on the geographic segregation of the population into clearly distinct groups. Not, however, the private enforcement of the law by social custom or enforced expectations. If that existed, there would be no need for a law; we’d already have the desired effects.

    (5) The presentation of an accurate manner in which we can identify and bring abusive/violent/oppressive individuals to justice, without the clear cooperation of the victim(s). Or, a broadly useful way to obtain the cooperation of victims generally in bringing their abusers to justice.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I thought this was a really nice, concise synopsis of the pro and con arguments regarding the burqa ban.

    In case anyone found our discussion here lacking.

    I think it actually tracks much of what we discussed here.

    Enjoy.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703904304575497881913005068.html

  • Wednesday

    Well, it looks like the time I needed to calm down before I could engage in civil discourse was longer than the life of the discussion. (Yes, I lost my temper and my wording was not as precise or careful as it should have been.)

    Sarah, I don’t know if you’re reading this anymore, and I don’t blame you if you aren’t, but if you are I have two things I want to say.

    1) I had somehow repeatedly missed/forgotten that you were actually working with a group of the people affected by the ban, as opposed to a group of white (American or French) non-Muslims. Yes, this was a stupid thing for me to miss/forget, but I did. And it’s a major part of why I was concerned about colonialism issues.

    I’m frustrated that you decided that instead of being founded in ignorance/misunderstanding, my concern over people being blind to their privileges was instead racist discourse.

    2) Yes, you have done far more as an activist than most of us ever consider, and that’s to your credit. It is also something I respect you for even if I vehemently disagree with the particular approach you’ve chosen at this moment in time.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    This WSJ piece has only further confused me, if anything. All kinds of canards are being raised all over the place by both “debaters”.

    Part I, Bret Stephens

    1) France historically has been bound to a form of secularism [...] we ought at least to respect.

    Respect is due purely for historical reasons…? Not because of…reason and evidence?

    2) The vote was overwhelming.

    On matters of rights, I do not see any relevance even if the vote was unanimous. This is a crucial difference between a constitutional republic and a pure, direct democracy.

    3) Prohibitions against face-covering are not new in Europe. Belgium banned all forms of face-covering earlier this year. Other European countries forbid the wearing of ski masks or balaclavas at public demonstrations.

    It’s popular and on the rise in Europe. I see. There are no absolute rights. Yes.

    4) Just because it’s “religion” doesn’t mean a state has to permit it.

    All too obviously. However, what level of religious freedom and freedom of expression is appropriate to enshrine in law? I didn’t see the case for that.

    Religions brainwash people into doing stupid and counterproductive things. I hope everyone understands that.

    The analogy to Mormon polygamy is interesting. I think it shows the reverse of the intended, though. Due to the abuse of a legal policy (multiple marriage) by some members of a particular religion to brainwash, disadvantage, and abuse women (most born into their closed society), the practice is now regarded as completely illegitimate and unworthy of discussion by pretty much everyone in society. Triples or quartets in polyamorous relationships can’t marry even if everyone involved is treated well and making as independent a judgment as anyone can make.

    I don’t see it as fair to take rights from everyone because some groups managed to abuse them in the past, no matter how horrifically. I would like someone to inform me which rights have never been badly and systematically abused by some to hurt and malign other people. There are some, correct? If not, how do we avoid eventually banning every form of behavior? Is what is legal to be determined purely by the size of the group which practices that behavior? Or perhaps purely by what degree of harm some group has managed to damage others with it?

    If these are the wrong questions to ask, what are the right ones?

    5) Just because wearing a burqa or niqab is an “individual choice” also isn’t dispositive. If it were, a nudist would be at liberty to walk down the Champs-Elysees wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers.

    It isn’t necessarily an individual choice, and anyone who would argue that is probably quite ignorant. It’s not even usually an individual choice. Much of a person’s character does not consist of individual choices…I find it bizarre that a lot of people don’t understand this.

    Anyway, how is nudity analogous to this situation? I don’t find any true harms being caused by nudists walking down the street. OK, so people are offended. I don’t particularly care, if they have no reason for their offense except this — that they were taught to abhor nudity and human sexuality.

    Wasn’t the whole idea here that the burqa robs the wearer of their individuality and voice, a direct harm? Nudity seems like a terrible analogy to this.

    6) At the core of liberalism is the concept of the individual. Individual choice is important, but ultimately not as important as the individual who makes it. In the public sphere, the individual is defined first by her face; it is the principal way we can recognize her as such. The purpose of the burqa/niqab is not to protect “female modesty,” which in Islam (and, indeed, Judaism) can be practiced by covering one’s hair. Instead, the purpose is to erase the individual. So to allow the burqa/niqab violates the most basic precept of liberal society.

    I’m not convinced that liberalism as a “concept of the individual”, and organizing societies around individuals, is actually the best means of running and changing societies. Apparently I am some kind of extreme outlier, since this seems to be taken for granted by a great many people.

    More importantly, this is all very paradoxical in this and many other contexts. What does it mean to hold the individual higher than the choices of the individual? Isn’t that the same as taking collective action on behalf of the person? Where does individuality come into it, then? This seems like trying to force ideas into a fixed box.

    Of course individuals are defined and recognized by their face. Of course the primary purpose of the burqa is not to protect “female modesty”; it is obviously far excessive to be in any way related to modesty. More importantly, the concept that women and women in particular should show modesty is extremely sexist and ridiculous on its face.

    To bring back the off-shoot to the nudists; I don’t care if she walks around naked. That doesn’t and can’t act as a justification to do anything, let alone violence.

    Let me try to create an analogy with much less risk for emotional attachment. Take anonymity on the internet. In some countries, it is illegal to be anonymous on the internet. Is this a just policy? It does elevate the individual and largely prevent “erasure”, hiding, trolling, sock-puppetry, and some other bad things. Maybe it does also make sense to you to eliminate anonymous speech on the internet. With that much, at least one is being intellectually consistent, and I would applaud it.

    Now to the primary objection: how do you enforce it? Without enforcement, enough people will quite plausibly choose to disobey the law. Do you setup strict tracking by having the government monitor ISPs everywhere throughout the country? With that, it would be possible to track most of people’s internet speech down to at least the household and apartment level (which is pretty good). Do you install mandatory traffic monitoring software (or even hardware) on/in every machine in the country? That would work even better. Would you provide and enforce mandatory GPS monitors on everyone to determine where they are, making it possible to know what computer systems they are accessing at all times? Given enough preparation, enforcement, and expertise any of these could be rather effective; perhaps at a rate of eighty or even ninety percent of the population under check.

    7) Also violated by the burqa/niqab is the fundamental liberal concept of equality. Only female identity is erased here; only the female half of the population effectively disappears from public view.

    Correct. Would you support instead a law that bans different means of dress for men and women?

    8) The incidence of honor killings or of husbands mutilating their wives is on the rise throughout Europe, in part because Europe allows Muslim immigrants to get away with enforcing medieval social norms in their urban ghettos. This ought to be discouraged.

    Are murder, mutilation, and assault not crimes…? Last I checked, not only were these crimes in every country I could name, but the punishments were severe. Perhaps we should try enforcing the laws we have before creating new ones?

    Yes, violence should be discouraged. Vigorously. Acts of violence and speech should not be confused, however, even when there is a causal link between the two.

    How does banning certain types of clothes in the public square prevent or reduce these forms of violence? By forcing women in violent homes to come to the police? Does it actually do that — does anyone have data on this? If someone could show me conclusive evidence, this debate and discussion could come to a close very quickly. However, if this evidence exists, it should be the first thing a proponent would present. Evidence trumps authority, trumps personal feelings, trumps abstract reasoning.

    9) Opponents of the ban say only a tiny number of women wear the burqa/niqab, so what’s the big deal?

    Someone actually made that argument? What an idiot.

    10) Al Qaeda threatened to attack if the law passed. That alone is reason to pass it.

    Al Qaeda threatens to attack regardless of what we do. Doing anything based on what a small group of insane, violent radicals supports or opposes is playing right into their hands.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    (Double-posting to get around character limit.)

    Part II, Matthew Kaminski

    We’re faced here with fundamental questions about the limits on state coercive power and freedom of expression, religion and speech.

    Yes, but the entire rest of your first paragraph was substance-devoid and counterproductive. What does the Park51 project actually have to do with this? It sounds like guilt by association. These people are wrong, therefore those people are wrong. Yet you actually need to have formal reasons, and evidence — regardless of who they may be associated with or even if their goals are exactly the same. Though you didn’t even show that much.

    The Fifth Republic is quasi-authoritarian, built on a flawed constitution that centralizes power around the presidency. It’s a less free country than ours and most Western democracies.

    America is quasi-authoritarian, built on a flawed constitution that centralizes power around the presidency.

    You see how that works? I can make claims without evidence, too, and it sounds so fancy when you use the right words.

    If anything, starting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan based almost solely on the discretion of the President and Vice President — with a mere rubber stamp of hysteria from Congress — shows the United States to be more authoritarian than France. I hope I don’t have to go into things like torture, secret prison camps, and warrantless wiretapping.

    And the political context matters. Sarkozy is a failed president with approval ratings in the low 30s and the majority of the French say they don’t even want him to run again in 2012. To the horror of his “liberal” supporters, he’s gone nativist to save his skin. This is behind the move to round up and deport the Gypsies. This has always been an ugly side to him, whether it was making an issue of the headscarf in schools or (another brain wave this summer) calling to revoke the citizenship of ethnic Arab criminals or this. He’s after the Le Pen vote. If he was truly serious about integration, he’d do more to alleviate youth unemployment, the bad schools in the banlieus, and so on. But that would be hard, make a difference and win him few votes.

    Well, maybe he is in it for political gain. Most politicians are. Whether he stands to gain from it is a matter of conflict of interest. However, it is still possible to directly benefit from taking the correct course of action. This context doesn’t really show anything, morally or socially. It’s all political.

    I’m not certain whether the statements you present are factual and impute the meaning intended. Did Nicolas Sarkozy actually support those policies? I don’t see anything about Gypsies or the head scarves on his Wikipedia page. There is a reference to the citizenship deal, in the context of revocation for serious crimes.

    In any case, how do I know that you don’t oppose policies he likes for your (or allied) political gain?

    I am troubled by the headscarf ban, but at least that applied only in public schools. Here the police will have the right to pull a piece of clothing off you in the middle of the street. Islam is the target: they’re not saying the Krishnas should stop wearing those “revealing” outfits or Orthodox Jewish women can’t wear wigs that, to some eyes, conceal their identity. What next, laws on mandating skirts be this long or this short?

    What difference does it make whether it’s public schools or public spaces generally? That seems a false distinction if there ever was one. Furthermore, what is it with this public/private distinction? It seems to me that good, just laws should apply even in private spaces. Truly ridiculous would be the case that murder or rape were somehow justified because they occurred in a particular place. Is theft better if it occurs in a bank by a white-collar criminal, instead of in some back alley by a mugger with a gun?

    Revealing outfits or skirts of any length don’t conceal the face or identity, so that is entirely tangential to the security and identification sub-arguments. I don’t know why that was raised, except as a red herring …?

    In principle, I guess one would need to ban extravagant wigs which obscure the face, too. As long as we’re being consistent. I would phrase it as “all masks and costumes” generally.

    Islam and Islamic people might be the target, but nothing you said has provided anything more than circumstantial evidence toward that point. Without good evidence, you’re just impugning people’s motives needlessly.

    You’ll say it’s different. That the full Islamofemme getup is a tool of oppression. Sure, maybe on cultural grounds, as seen by your eyes. But to some of them it is about free speech and their religion and their right to honor their culture, however distasteful to our eyes. Who are you to say what it is and isn’t?

    Is this an argument for cultural relativism? I seriously cannot tell. I don’t know what you’re saying at all, and this is quite possibly completely incoherent.

    Still I am no less a feminist than Bret is. By all means, let’s do all we can to liberate Muslim women. In Europe’s Muslim communities that comes down to schooling, jobs and law enforcement. Leave the fashion police to Saudi Arabia. We get into serious trouble if we say, “oh the headscarf is ok, but the burqa ain’t”. Imagine if such a proposal even came up in the US (inshallah, it won’t): it would — for now — be laughed off the public square.

    Who is arguing against more schools and jobs, I wonder? In principle, I guess some people do, but they don’t seem to be a part of this discussion.

    More importantly, how do you bring education and jobs into minority Islamic communities without infringing on their rights of speech and dress? It seems to me that an honest, secular, and thorough education basically completely destroys religious belief and customs.

    So is it an argument based on whether we should destroy Islam through laws or through information and networks?

    Unless there’s so many scarves that the face is covered up, scarves and burqas aren’t equivalent or particularly comparable.

    As to public opinion, uh — what? You were just arguing, not that many paragraphs ago, that just because something is popular doesn’t mean we should obey/endorse/support it. Now you’re saying it’s fine to just ride public opinion. I give you my three question marks of confusion: ???

    The “most basic precept of liberal society,” per John Stuart Mill, is that if you don’t harm someone else by your actions, the state shouldn’t stick its nose in. So we outlaw enforced female circumcision. You can say that walking naked down the Champs Elysees harms peoples’ sensibilities; someone of a more libertarian bent could say, it depends who’s doing the walking.

    Once again, I’m not convinced that these principles of a liberal, individualistic society are actually the best means of governance and organization. No one is even trying on this point.

    It’s all too easy to talk purely of goods and harms, but much more difficult to put this into practice. There’s a huge number of objects, processes, and rules in our society which infringe on personal rights to some degree. You can’t simply declare that rights are solid until someone is harmed, because with most actions it’s not clear from the outset that no one is harmed. Take property rights: is someone harmed by a rich fellow owning broad swathes of land throughout the countryside? It depends on what the owner is doing with the property, doesn’t it — what kind of activities are and are not allowed to occur there. So how would we ever determine this sort of thing, a priori? If it’s not feasible, then this argument is defeated based on impracticality.

    Wearing a black sheet over yourself doesn’t do direct harm. In Afghanistan most women continued to wear it voluntarily after the Taliban fell, because it is a custom, a medieval and awful one, you may say, but I may say so about many other customs too. (Admittedly many did it out of fear, too) Luckily, in the Western world, if these women are abused or coerced, we have ways to help them. Illiberal diktats about clothes do nothing for them—or the cause of “free people, free societies.”

    What about indirect harm? Is that not real anymore…? When did we get into these meaningless classifications?

    How did you determine that women in Afghanistan “continued to wear it voluntarily”? Did you ask? Did you ask in a context where they could give you an honest, unrestricted answer? Are you saying social pressures vanished overnight?

    By what evidence are you judging that “diktats about clothes do nothing” for the cause of free people and free societies? None was given.

    (I actually wrote two more parts, but multi-posting like this already makes me feel scummy. Further, I wonder whether anyone cares.)

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I care. Thanks for taking apart those two pieces; the latter did a really awful disservice to the anti- argument, and I don’t think the pro- one did any favors, either.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Thanks for reading, themann1086. I present the shorter parts three and four:

    Part III, Bret Stephens (…Again)

    Matt takes the purist libertarian line that so long as what I’m doing doesn’t “harm” others, the state ought to allow it. If that’s the standard we are now going to adopt vis-a-vis the burqa, the U.S. may as well go all the way and support the legalization of drugs and prostitution.

    I support the legalization of [all] drugs and the voluntary sale of sexual acts (sex work). See what you did there? That’s called a boogeyman.

    How’s that war on drugs working out for you? Oh, horrible violence in Mexico, Central, and South America? U.S. prisons overflowing? Well, if it’s not working, let’s try it again, only harder.

    And all those women who are in prostitution — err, slavery — because of debts they collected from addiction to artificially expensive drugs? Let’s just ignore it. These two issues clearly have nothing whatsoever to do with each other, and are just the result of evil, evil people not listening to us great and mighty authorities.

    [...] common sense should tell us that most women probably do not want to go around wearing a burqa/niqab over their face except out of strong social pressures or fear that they’re going to have acid thrown on their face. The plain fact is that the presence and pervasiveness of the burqa or niqab correlates closely with political or social oppression. Whether it’s chicken or egg we can debate later.

    We don’t really know what they want unless we ask. Even so, knowing what someone believes is not necessarily the same as knowing what they need. We should try to meet people’s needs, not give them precisely what they say they want. Those who lack information and power often seem to be making foolish decisions, but it only looks that way to those with great information and power.

    The fact that the burqa is more prominent and common in countries with high rates of political and social oppression is notable. However, even if we solve the underlying problems here in the West, it won’t do much of anything to help people in those countries. At best, some of them will leave for “greener pastures” and we may have a bit more leverage or moral weight in foreign policy. That’s about all you should expect.

    Last thing: We need to bear in mind that until quite recently the burqa/niqab was considered extreme even in Muslim countries. So to suggest, as Matt does, that to oppose it is somehow to “oppose Islam” is ludicrous.

    Islam isn’t a monolithic entity. It is possible to be opposing and insulting some Muslims, and not others, simultaneously. To act as though every (or even most) Muslims will necessarily remain unaffected even while legal, political, economic, social, and other interventions are occurring in their communities and countries is being naive. There will be backlash, probably a large backlash in some cases. One does need to figure out what to do about this, pragmatically. Because, you see, if you have no means to convince people that you’re not the big bad evil, there will be ever more conflict, violence, and bloodshed until someone does. This is purely practical. It has nothing to do with goals, or ideals, or intent.

    Part IV, Matthew Kaminski (Again. Groan.)

    Who seriously thinks this is a question of public decency? Unless by decency you mean that citizens of France — or any of our other European cousins who are mulling similar bans – take offense at the sight of an Iranian or Saudi women in a niqab in their neighborhood.

    I missed the part where someone said it was a matter of public decency. Do enlighten. Ad-hoc bad analogies aren’t a reason to misconstrue the complete argument.

    So, even if I wouldn’t want or ask my wife or daughter to don a burqa, by what right do I say that it’s indecent for a woman to wear one walking down 5th Avenue. On the other hand, I do and most people would find it offensive to watch her husband stroll naked in front of her.

    I don’t find it offensive, at all. You prude.

    One of the many [...] “core tenets of a free society” is that the police can’t detain you without probable cause. [...] But Bret’s idea that we must show our face to participate in civic life is constitutionally and otherwise novel to me.

    Who determines probable cause? Why, police and judges! Oh my! It’s not something written into the law at all, now, is it?

    No matter how broadly you encode a right against unwarranted searches and seizures into the law, it will still be enforced and interpreted by people. That leaves a huge gaping hole that each person involved will try to force their preconceptions into. We have to deal with this, and we do so in an entirely pragmatic manner. Not by quoting the law and demanding unrestricted movement, clothes, actions, or whatever else you may bring up.

    Holy over-generalization, Batman! Since we don’t have to show our face to participate or accomplish some tasks in civic life, why I guess we just never have to show our faces to anyone! Ever!

    My concerns about democratic shortcomings there aren’t as irrational as you suggest. Many of the countries were authoritarian not so long ago.

    When? The 19th century? 18th century? 17th century? Grasping for straws.

    Meanwhile, I can and have identified strong authoritarian tendencies in America today.

    We should trash the protections accorded by a free society to fight the spread of Islamic fundamentalism with a smidgen of social engineering and/or authoritarianism.

    Failed to show how (all) protections of a free society are trashed by one particular restriction in particular. Failed to show how restriction trashes even freedom of speech or expression. Used fancy words, no evidence.

    The bottom line: “You must not wear the burqa!” sounds eerily like, “You must wear the burqa!” The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk once told me that to move forward the Muslim world first needs to end the war “over what women should wear.”

    Did this become a war while I wasn’t looking? I thought we were having a discussion, then a heated argument, but now all of a sudden we’re fighting a war. Great.

    Facile similarities between positions shouldn’t be used as a means to discount them. That’s guilt by association on the level of statements rather than people.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Just an FYI.

    France’s law against identity obscuring face coverings in public passed French constitutional muster.

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/10/07/france.burqa.ban/?hpt=T2

    Vive la femme!


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