Tuesday, October 17, 2006

veils and burkas

There's been a ruckus over veils in England recently. Jack Straw says he doesn't like them. So what? I donno, strange days.


People should be able to wear whatever they want, including swastikas and Che Guevara T-shirts.

That doesn't mean that organizations (including government ones) can't have dress codes. A private company should be able to ban veils if it wants, but I don't have any views about what government policy should be generally. I have reservations about teachers wearing veils though. It makes a statement about gender relations, it says, "As a man you are incapable of seeing me as a person if you see my face". Maybe that's true for some men (a lot of things are true of some men), but I think it's a dubious message to send kids. Of course veils are fine in private schools.

Steven Pinker claims that one of the reasons we have such big brains is because we got into an arms race with other humans trying to deceive each other and trying to detect deceit. Much of this involves facial expressions. We have a special bit of our brain just for recognizing human faces, nothing else. It makes sense for people feel uneasy talking to someone behind a veil, part of it is just biological.

Women who like wearing veils often say that they want to be treated by the content of their ideas not the prettiness of their face. They don't want to be objectified; fair enough, but by wearing a veil or burka you take away what makes you look human. Instead of being a sexual object, you become much more like an inanimate object, talk about objectification! But anyway, I think it's pretty weird to think that men are so sexually affected by seeing a woman's face. If this is true, maybe women really are to blame for their rape if they were wearing a short skirt or tight top.

All that said, what the hell is wrong with people not liking veils? Nobody minds if people dislike Americans.


Anonymous said...

Hey - isn't this simply because people disliking veils hits a sore point; whereas people disliking Americans is further cause for them to arrogantly claim that jealousy makes you nasty? I would be angry if someone wearing a swastika called my sensitive jewish friend, a stupid yid, who deserved to die; whereas, if someone called you ugly - I wouldn't mind too much, as YOU wouldn't mind too much. I agree that what we should be aiming for is for people to be able to say whatever they want; but, for Pete's sake, in the meanwhile, practise some emotional intelligence, and realise that if you say anything about Mohammed or veils you are likely to cause unneccessary deaths. Once again I agree that the response we have seen from the Islamic world is unacceptable; but surely there must be a better way of approaching the problem than contiuously rubbing salt in the wound? (Pandering to Muslim feeling is also not an option - but there should be a middle ground.) I think Jack Straw (whoever he is) is an idiot for not being extremely careful how he framed his feeling about veils. Say that you disagree with them - but assure them, in no uncertain terms, that it has nothing to do with their religion. (And if his dislike has something to do with Islam, then he's an idiot anyway). It's almost as though you're just an attention seeker if you do something like that. Cool 'face expression' stuff! Later Dude, Love Wanks

stuart said...

Wanks- This is a long comment so before your eyes glaze over I really am interested. In what way do you disagree with me? You are more eager to condemn people who hold views you find distasteful but that isn?t really relevant. You also seem to offer a qualified version of freedom of speech, but I could have misunderstood.

Anyway here goes!!

I would also be angry if a Nazi started hassling one of my many Jewish buddies, but again so what? The difference between that and someone calling me ugly that you are relying on is that we already agree on the level of offensiveness of the insults. What I think you?re saying is that we shouldn?t be dickheads like I think it?s great to be a dickhead. Also hassling someone because of is actually different because you choose beliefs, not race.

?I agree that what we should be aiming for is for people to be able to say whatever they want?

Umm? I though we were already there? At least in England where the incident took place. The deaths are caused by the rampaging rioters, and of course they try to kill whoever said of wrote or drew? If people react violently to stuff they don?t like then that should be met with violence, they started it.

What exactly is this middle ground?? Seriously, I have no idea.

Jack Straw is the leader of the house of commons and a former foreign secretary. He has a hearing defect and asked women to remove their veils when they spoke to him because he feels it helps with communication. He also moaned about separation and difference it signified. What is objectionable?

I tried to argue that there are perfectly good reasons for not liking the veil. But even if there weren?t it still shouldn?t be a problem.

?but assure them, in no uncertain terms, that it has nothing to do with their religion.?

Why on earth should he have to do that? It?s crazy! Some people don?t like the veil because women are sometimes FORCED to wear it for religious reasons. So it IS a symbol of what some people do not like about Islam. What is wrong with saying that? This is not what Jack Straw said incidentally.

Earlier in your comment you likened anti-veil type with anti-Semitic types, but this is back to front. In some people?s view the veil (the burka more so) is a symbol of fascism or the fascist views of many hard line muslims.

Besides people choose their beliefs in a way that they don?t choose their race. In fact peoples beliefs is one of the best ways of determining whether or not you like them

Anonymous said...

OK - I am thoroughly shit at this (in terms of keeping up correspondance)- but let me try again... and see if I can do a little better.
OK - I liked your reply...especially the distinction you make between beliefs and race. Perhaps all what I am arguing for is a practical awareness. If you are the leader of the house of commons, SURELY you must be aware that by passing any type of comment on veils, it will not be a simple comment on head dress, but a comment on an entire culture's cherished belief system. I conceded that the fact that it is a belief system (and not for e.g. skin colour) does make it 'fair game' to pass criticism on... but why do it? The belief system of most people (especially religious people) are so much a core of who they are, that it could be considered analagous to skin colour. (I have decided that if I were to disprove Christianity, I would not tell the world. Or, if I did choose to tell Christians, I would find a way in which to ease them from orthodox Christianity to a more 'progressive type Christianity' where the my proof would not be as catastrophic). If I were Jack Straw, I would simply turn up my hearing aid. This, of course, is provided that they aren't wearing veils as a statement about the inferiority of women. (I assume that these woman do not wear headress as a pejorative symbol toward woman, but rather as a means to glorify sacred beliefs such as purity, godliness etc.) SO, if one passes comment on their veils, even though one may think one is making a rational, legitimate statement concerning efficient communication, one SHOULD, as an intelligent individual, be aware that, given the basic psychology of human beings, one is actually challenging the core structure of those individuals, which is perhaps as lemntable as criticizing their race. OK - I want to read your polygamy one... later, Love Wanks.

stuart said...

I don't like the way you throw about the terms cherished, glorify sacred etc. For the purposes of this discussion I don?t care. Wearing the veil affects Jack Straw, it isn?t offensive for him to explain the effect, she can simply say no when he asks her to remove it. Leaving each offended to their taste (whose sacred beliefs have been wounded more?)

"that it could be considered analagous to skin colour"

Bullshit. What about Nazis sacred beliefs in the inferior Jews? Racists etc, you are evaluating beliefs and putting your stamp of approval on one and not the other. Just because I agree with you does not mean you can go around question begging with impunity.

"This, of course, is provided that they aren't wearing veils as a statement about the inferiority of women"

How are you planning on finding this out? Asking them?

The violent reaction is a fact, it carries no moral significance. I could chose to react violently next time they think that atheists are immoral, that would also be a fact, what the hell is the difference. Only that you know I wouldn't.

I could go around threatening people, some might change their behavior but if they don't and I kill them it is MY responsibility. I can wail about my sacred beliefs, some might sympathise, but so what?

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I like your violence... and I still think we might be arguing at cross purposes.

"I could chose to react violently next time they think that atheists are immoral, that would also be a fact, what the hell is the difference. Only that you know I wouldn't. "

This is just it. Given your psychology, I know that challenging your belief system will not result in a violent reaction. Given the psychology of the vast majority of religious people, insulting their belief system WILL invoke a violent reaction. If there was a lunatic in the room, and you knew that if you mentioned the word 'bear' he would attack you, would you say 'bear'?
I believe that people's religious beliefs can be considered as innate a characteristic as their skin colour. (I do not believe they SHOULD be, but if you wanted to predict someone's behaviour, you could regard their religious beliefs to be analogous to their skin colour).
Of course, this does not justify them in reacting violently (just as a black person should not be justified in killing a whitey for calling him 'nigger'.) BUT, it seems as though, for some people, there is a direct, causal link between their being insulted re: their religious beliefs, and their violent reaction. In this way, I almost regard them as being posessed by an overwhelming passion, over which, they can reasonably be said to have very ilttle control. I therefore regard them as 'lunatics' in that they have formed a web of beliefs which almost exempt them from taking responsibility for their knee-jerk reactions. (Just like the 'bear' lunatic).
I DO believe people should be responsible a) for the web of beliefs they adopt and b) for their actions which arise from such a belief system.... BUT, it just doesn't seem as though we can be this demanding of people in the real world. (Walk into a black township, start shouting "you stinking bunch of kaffirs" and see what happens). You, Stuart, are an intelligent individual, who seems to have a large degree of control over a) what belief system you adopt and b) how you react, given that belief system. You (and Jack Straw) should use this ability to HELP other people reach the same freedom... not keep on pushing their buttons so that they fall deeper and deeper into their knee-jerk reactions. This is all I'm trying to say. It is perhaps an issue of pragmatism, or my idea of how to ease the world to enlightenment... rather than how things should ideally be. Will write to you re: personal news. Wanks

stuart said...

Interesting post. Do you disagree with any of what I?ve said in my posts? I still think that you are mainly talking about pragmatism with some politeness.

I can think of a similar (and also topical) argument. A young, attractive woman wearing a skirt late at night while walking home is more likely to get raped than a woman covered up. Staying home is probably even better. If we accept this, then there is a correlation between women dressing suggestively in public and their being raped. I?m on board with suggestions that it?s silly for women to dress like that in certain areas at certain times, but I also know exactly where my sympathies lie. You seem more sympathetic to the person induced into violence than I am. I wouldn?t say some things I believe to be true if I thought it would result in my death and I also wouldn?t suggest walking into a township and shouting what you suggest.

How did we get to people going into townships and calling people kaffirs from Jack Straw saying he doesn?t like veils? Are they somehow comparable? You say we should try to help people reach the same level of freedom, but it also seems that saying you don?t like veils is overstepping the mark, even if good reasons are provided, what on earth are we supposed to do if extremely mild, reasoned criticism is to much!? I don?t understand.

In this debate you have seemed to be on the side of religion, more reluctant to cause offence. I think it is much more offensive to say that muslims have no control over their reactions to certain things than to say that you don?t like veils. Also if they have no control over their actions and cannot be held accountable, shouldn?t some normal rights be revoked? That?s what happens to other people who have no control.

Tracy Leigh said...

I agree that trying to enlighten fundamentalist people is not going to happen by nasty cartoons and hostility, but at the same time complete tolerance can also make it worse by allowing the fundamentalism to gain ground. If Jack Straw, merely described his personal feelings of the burka/veil and gave reasons why, I cannot see this as being offensive. This is the route to normal debate and questioning. Muslim people have an opportunity to respond.

Here is an interesting article by an Iranian women (representative for the Organization for Women?s Liberation in Iran) is very against the burka.