03 August 2010

Still talking about other people's clothes

Burqa edition

I disagree completely with the notion that somehow not banning this cultural/religious practice used by a handful of European Muslim women will lead to a slippery slope where ALL European women will be required to veil their faces in public. That's absurd reasoning, at least to suggest that it will be made possible by not banning it and not through some other factor (the general collapse of European traditions of relative freedom). There does not seem to be a great and powerful movement to suggest that this will be the case or that there are growing sentiments, calls, or attacks against non-Muslim women throughout or anywhere in Europe that they must accede to a minority Muslim practice. Hence, it's a very silly argument to warn us about without some reference to suggest it's a coming danger. It's hardly persuasive to say that a few knuckleheads doing abusive things for which they could be detained or clocked by authorities or other passerbys are going to impose a rule upon the rest of society that they themselves have to impose by force and can only successfully do so within their own small communities where there is a higher level of collective disdain for non-compliance than the rest of the civilized world.

I don't disagree that perhaps it would be appropriate to stigmatize or campaign against the use, and in particular the required use, of niqabs and burqas, such that women can avoid doing so without feeling they are abandoning some personal modesty or some essential religious observance, or conversely, that a ban would effectively imprison them behind both these features and cloister them in those families which impose it. There are many things that can be legal, permitted, and available and yet be stigmatized and encourage to be avoided, or to be used in only particular circumstances. Adultery, alcohol consumption, marijuana in some parts of Europe, and so on. Making something legal or leaving legal does little to prevent people from exercising and registering some social or cultural opposition to a practice they disapprove of. While we might feel that the choice of clothing and by extension, a lifestyle, is an imprisonment to cover and shield one's face from public view, it is far worse to be imprisoned by one's faith or family against one's most basic liberties: to conduct our affairs daily as we all must in the public sphere.

Nor does the oppressive attitude to women who go out in a scantily clad method rather than tend to a home or dress "respectfully" bare itself out far from the attitudes of many Americans. Perhaps largely in our recent past, but still. I see still a very similar line taken on the behavior of teenaged celebrities for example held up as exemplars of horrid young women, even if it is less harshly imposed and enforced upon us through violent oppressions. Perhaps this is not ideal behavior, certainly not in all cases. Perhaps it would be best if women were respectful of themselves. But it is also rarely harmful enough for us to say that they should not, or that they cannot but for that they should live according to a set of precepts which we as a society define for them rather than those which they might appoint, sometimes in error and sometimes not, for themselves by freely choosing a particular path and lifestyle. Including a path that veils their face just as easily as one which exposes cleavage to open ogles.
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