Rant Number 355 15 July 2009
‘The burka, a symbol of repression, has no place in a free society’ ran a Times editorial. Splendid oxymoron. A free society is then one which takes away the freedom to wear certain clothes. Huh! Really? Funny kind of freedom one that robs you of freedom of personal choice! In this case, in a sartorial matter. A self-contradictory contention. Because freedom, if it means anything at all, must mean freedom of choice. But that the august Times negates. A pearl!
The burka, a symbol of repression. Of darkness, the editorial asserts. Useful statements. They serve to clarify what this debate is all about. Some claim to object to the burka on pragmatic grounds. A burka-wearing female cannot clear a security check. Or drive a car. Or enter a jewellery shop – all Times examples. But pragmatic objections have pragmatic answers. An articulate burka lady interviewed on radio the other day claimed she drove a car OK. Still, let us assume the burka is a bit uncomfortable to the wearer. So must be high heels. When did that stop a woman from wearing them? Similarly, the thobe, the long white loose garment Muslim men wear in Arabia. A Qatari youth told me in Doha that it was not very comfortable for walking. Yet, he elected to wear it. Why? I don’t know. But it was his choice.
As to security, fair enough. Let a female officer check the burka woman out, what’s wrong with that?
And I bet you, if a bona fide Saudi prince wanted to walk into a jeweller’s, even with his whole harem, the salivating owner would hardly wish to stop him!
A symbol of repression. This bellicose, intolerant remark lets the cat out of the bag. This debate is about ideology, not pragmatism. Pragmatism is a red herring. The Times invokes the inevitable, tedious J.S. Mill on libertarianism, tolerance, diversity and blah, blah, blah. But what stands behind statements like the burka equalling oppression is not Mill but Rousseau. Jean Jaques Rousseau. Yes, him. The writer of Emile. The founder of modern educational theory. The same creep who had five illegitimate children from a poor washerwoman – and abandoned them all to the Foundling Hospital. ‘The people must be forced to be free’ he famously wrote. Even if a woman willingly wears the burka, as a matter of personal, free choice and preference, Rousseau would prevent her. For that notorious and personally despicable forerunner of typical left wing intellectuals – of totalitarianism, in fact - freedom means not the freedom to do what you choose but the ‘freedom’ to do what the state, or the revolution, or the proletariat, or the party or the Fuhrer or political correctness choose for you. Freedom my foot!
A symbol of repression. But how can you be repressed, or oppressed, by what you freely elect to wear? Aristotle taught that a person cannot do moral wrong to oneself, if he voluntarily wishes it so. By contrast, Rousseau’s brutal view is that freedom, personal choice must be overridden when some superior, abstract intellectual will in its omnipotence decides so. The State knows best, in other words. So much for personal freedom.
A symbol of darkness. To buttress its dogmatic stance, the editorial boldly ventures into Islamic doctrine. Practices like the burka are not based on the Quran but on the hadiths, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, this (presumably infidel) theologian contends. That illustrates the supreme foolishness Western journalists are prone to when straying into Islamic theology. Even the poor priest – no a’alim him – could have told the writer that the sharia, the holy law of Islam, normative for pious Muslims, is based both on the Quran and on the hadiths. Hence driving a wedge between the two won’t do. Nor will the line that there seems to be uncertainly as the authenticity of many hadiths. Be that as it may, that is a matter for Islamic scholars to determine. I myself have my own informed opinion on this but I allow it cannot be an authoritative one for Muslims. A fortiori, even less so can Western infidels plugging liberal and permissive agendas legislate here.
The burka ‘is controversial within Islam’. Maybe so but, again, that is Muslims’ affair. And it takes more than one or two remote-controlled (from 10 Downing Street or from Tony Blair’s sinister Faith Foundation, presumably) Imams to establish right and wrong here. Whatever else it may be, the burka is certainly an Islamic practice. That no one can gainsay.
A face veil creates ‘mistrust, alienation and brake in communication’. Does it? Always? Necessarily? During a conference in Provo, Utah, a few years ago I met a large South-African Muslim lady with full burka. I soon realised she was quite brave, as more conventional Muslims shunned her. Someone said that ‘she gives Islam a bad image’. Actually, her conference speech was interesting and humorous. (‘I am not a ninja’, she joked.) Along with her husband, we got on great. ‘Father Frank, we will never forget you’ she effused when we parted. Although I never saw her face, we communicated extremely well. Her voice and attitude was what mattered to me. Indeed, I related to her much better than I do with umpteen other people, of both sexes, whose faces are, as Oscar Wilde put it, ‘such that you wish to forget as quickly as possible.’
A symbol of darkness. A provocation to ‘the values and mores of Western society’. But aren’t we told, ad nauseam, that we live in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multicultural society? That we must not judge other people’s customs, not be ethnocentric, not culturally chauvinistic, all that? Why are a few females who willingly wish to wear burka an exception to that wonderful stuff, eh?
As to provocation. Funny how in art that seems to be de riguer. (A ridiculous duo like Gilbert and George is praised for being ‘provocative’. So have Hirst, Emin & Co.) Why not in religion? So the priest cofesses he is into provocation. And subversion. In a big way. The values and mores of contemporary Europe urgently need challenging. He speaks as Christian, sure. Christianity from early on could not avoid challenging the pagans. Today’s aggressive neo-pagans must be challenged. A reason why today’s Christians are so feeble is because they have forgotten how provocative their symbol, the Cross, intrinsically is. That is why I declare: long live provocation.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Rant Number 355 15 July 2009