April 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
Here in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has green-lighted legislation that will ban women from wearing burqas in public places. This is obviously great news for the 2000 or so unfortunates – out of a Muslim female population of approximately 5 million – who actually go round wearing two man tents over themselves. Just how the French police are going to enforce these rules in public remains to be seen, but surely candidates for legal martyrdom must already be queuing.
This bill is the essence of the Sarkozy administration. French has a great word for it – “brasser de l’air”, which means to makes swimming motion outside the medium of water just to give the impression that you’re saying something, going somewhere. After floating this foolish idea around until it returned as so much egg in face, with even the Constitutional Court doubting its legality, the government must have felt itself compelled to see it through since not to do so would have made it look all wishy-washy.
And even so the government squirms away from taking responsibility for a decision that directly targets a specific faith group by couching it in PC terms. Burqas “do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women,” goes the declaration. But aren’t there other phenomena that undermine the dignity of women beyond Islamic ones, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was wont to ask?
Quite recently in the plush and altogether secular neighbourhood of the Marais in central Paris, I noticed that an inordinate number of women in their forties, fifties and sixties had inflicted some form of plastic surgery on themselves. Blown up lips, facial skin pulled tight and waxy looking, eyes drawn up into the corners, cheekbones bulged out. The effect was less unpleasant than just eerie. Trying to visualise myself as the subject, I keep thinking of those virtual reality visors back in the early 90’s that when clapped on threw you into a 3D world. Each time you moved your head, your virtual reality head followed along, just a fraction off. It got me thinking that plastic surgery is like the flipside of the burqa. The latter makes you glaringly invisible, less than human, but the former, by surgically caricaturing secondary sexual characteristics, makes you a sight beyond human.
The problem is that plastic surgery is practised by so-called empowered and independent women at the top end of society, the burqa by the stereotype of a downtrodden Muslim sisterhood that needs to be saved from itself. And yet both can be read as symptoms of an enduring and masochistic subservience to the male gaze. Only one gives rise to moral panic attacks and hand wringing about equality, however. So let’s not be confused in our progressive instincts by a government’s weasel words. Clearly, I’m not arguing for a ban on either of these practises. As I’ve mentioned previously, you cannot force dignity on anyone if they are not prepared to defend it themselves. We should also be free to ruin our lives too.
February 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
Last week, I was on the France 24 World This Week debate with John Vinocur from the IHT, Judah Grunstein of World Politics Review, who wrote this blog on the discussion, and Pierre Rousselin from Le Figaro. For Part One, click here… and for Part Two, here… We discussed Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq in which I made the point that Iraq was always a war looking for a cause, and so there’s absolutely no point, (indeed, it’s somewhat surreal) to seek to nail him on whether he really believed that WMDs, that only the most naive believed existed, existed or not. In the appalling light of the number of civilian casualties in Iraq since 2003, it also strikes me in passing that the whole thrust of the Chilcot inquiry, to determine whether the Iraq war was “illegal”, is somewhat obscene. It suggests that had the war been “legal” – with French involvement, a nod from the UN? – that mass murder could have gone by a different name. Such staggering logic like the above is not beyond George Monbiot, though, if his crusade to have Blair arrested, and who knows, thrown into the Tower of London, is anything to go by.
We also talked about the burqa in France, but you can read my thoughts on that here, and finally about Afghanistan. Like Iraq, I argued that there was never any clear reason for going into Afghanistan either. And for this reason permanent mission drift is completely inevitable. Worse, none of the so-called mission objectives have been achieved. The war started as a response to 9/11 (i.e. attacks mainly carried out by Saudis and Egyptians) then the flushing out Al-Qaeda, the Taliban with the emancipation of women bunged in for Western punlic consumption. Then it was the elimination of the drugs trade, and now there’s talk of creating democratic institutions, which in reality means the propping up of the hopelessly corrupt Karzai government that admits that it needs foreign troops on its soil at least fifteen more years. Fifteen years is the same as admitting the Afghan state will never be able to stand on its own legs, ever. As to arguments that Afghanistan would descend into civil war if Nato left, the answer is simple. Afghanistan is already in the throes a civil war, as continued Taliban attacks on Kabul make obvious. Judah Grunstein made the valid point that the Taliban don’t have much of a mission either, and that they’re hardly winning hearts and minds. This is true, but in cases of a long war of attrition like, the old maxim “better the devil you know” usually sees the day. In the end, countries just don’t like being occupied, no matter how benevolent the intentions of the occupier might be…
February 3, 2010 § Leave a comment
My latest blog at presseurop.eu
Le Figaro reports today that Immigration Minister Eric Besson has refused citizenship to a Moroccan man on the grounds that in his application he stated he would never allow his wife to leave the home without a burqa. Prime Minister Fillon has weighed in declaring he will sign said decree, with Deutsche Welle adding that the man also stated that woman is “an inferior being”. Mr Fillon declares that citizenship can be refused “to anyone who does not respect the values of the Republic” and that clearly the applicant did not respect French values of secularism and equality of the sexes. “Clearly” clinches it here. Read full article….