More burqa madness.

More burqa madness.

This week Denmark’s parliament voted to pass a law which effectively bans Muslim  women wearing either the Burqa or Niqab in public places. In this they have joined a number of other European countries in introducing such a ban ; France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland have similar bans, or partial bans, in some areas. The reasons given for these bans, including the most recent one, is always the apparently sensible need to have an uncovered face during some interactions for security or clarity of communication. However, despite the protestations that these bans are not aimed at the Muslim populations particularly it is clear that this is not the case.

The Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen was quite clear that he though these aspects of religious observance by Muslims were not welcome in Denmark when, in 2010, he said

“the burqa and the niqab do not have their place in the Danish society. They symbolize a conception of the woman and of the humanity to which we are fundamentally opposed and that we want to fight in the Danish society,”

I also think it is unlikely that any undecided voters could have mistaken the intention behind the poster used by the Danish Peoples’ Party who supported a stronger version of the law, including prison sentences, which quite clearly has Muslim women in its sights :-

DegrUbdW0AAHbR1It is clear that, despite all the protestations that these laws and bans are in place to improve communication and safety and that they have no particular religion in mind, these laws all stem from a desire to make life difficult for Muslim women in these countries. It is disingenuous to say otherwise and to try and present them acts of a liberal society.

Across Europe there have been many changes to societies and these have included the effects of mass migration. Cultures which were previously Christian now find themselves largely secular and populations which were previously homogenous are now much more mixed. While there are aspects of these changes which are welcomed and beneficial there are also many aspects which people find disadvantageous and worrisome. This is particularly so to the elderly and the working class.

The elderly see the erosion of faith and religion in their culture and the growth of new, and strange, faiths. Often these religions appear hostile to each other. The well published wars raging in the middle-east and the importation of terrorism to European cities will cause, more than just the elderly, to become fearful. And in this regard the term islamophobia may be correct, they do fear the growth of  Islam, and are not reassured when they see the persecution of Christians in the Middle East or local police activity oin their capitals.

The working class believe mass migration has allowed their wages to be undercut and living standards to fall and made them fear for their and their families future. In times of stress they see their welfare states failing to meet the demands placed upon it and start to question whether it is being spread too thinly. Welfare states survive because we all feel “we are all  in it together”, it is the governmental form of our collective identity, and it operates best when people feel a sense of social cohesion. We all want the best for our neighbours as we can understand  them and their predicaments. However, as societies become increasingly diverse that cohesion is loosened and the willingness to share with those we don’t recognise as “like us” is reduced.

These groups, and others, think on the group level. They think about “them” not about the individual, not about their specific neighbour, not about A’ishah and Zarif and their kids next door. The more people know people from other cultures the less they fear them. Those who report the most hostility to strangers are those who have the least interactions with them. It is true to say that those living in the very diverse cities tend to have less xenophobic feelings to those living in small rural backwaters.

Day to day, first hand experience, does a great deal to counter prejudice and bigotry. Knowledge is the best antidote ignorance and the best source of knowledge is communication. Unfortunately communication in this particular area has been bvery poor. The major migration shifts were never discussed and now the problems people perceive, rightly or wrongly, are not discussed either. When attempts have been made to question aspects of migration which are seen to be adverse all too often the response has been to shut the debate down with cries that “You can’t say that. You are being racist“. While this does effectively shut down conversation it does not sort the problem. Those with concerns still have concerns but now know they are not allowed to discuss them.  They know that they are no longer seen as part of polite society.

Unable to discuss their concern they have to try new strategies. They switch from unacceptable concerns (“I’m worried about my job prospects”, “I worry there are not enough maternity beds”) to proxy concerns “I think it is terrible the way these womens’ faces are covered” which allows them to attack the group without appearing to do so. This is what is happening with these clothing bans, although with very little that obscures the true intention.

As an aside, a further danger of this refusal to discuss these concerns, is that it actually creates the problem that is feared.  If someone can’t discuss their worries, and feels they are defined as a racist for doing so, may come to think  “I’m as well hung for a sheep as a lamb” and start listening to those who wish to foment racial tensions and divides. Much of the success of Brexit, Trump, and the populist parties in Europe can be seen as a popular response to a ruling class which will not honestly debate concerns – they are then forced to listen.

I fear that this Danish ban, and the others preceding it, are signs of the tension that arises from problems with our social cohesion. The European Court of Human Rights  has allowed these bans as they (Denmark, Belgium, France) stating that it is reasonable to infringe the individual’s right or religious freedom for the sake of “living together” and “community values”. The hallmark of a tolerant society is that it people live together despite having different views of the world and different habits and behaviours. A tolerant society is one in which the minority is tolerated and not forced to bend to fit the majority’s wishes. The EHCR ruling flies in the face of basic Human Rights by supporting the idea that some individual human rights can be jettisoned for the benefit of the greater good. This approach is always fine when you are one of the majority. Those who support this strategy should consider their future. Their delight at banning the burqa might in hindsight seem misguided, if (although unlikely) 50 years from now the majority population were Islamic. Sometimes our mistakes are much clearer in retrospect.

This ban will also fail to do what we need. We need more integration and this only comes from communication. As we intermingle and interact with others we learn of each others beliefs and opinions. Through this we adopt and change, we integrate. Over time cultures live side by side and benefit equally from each other. I look at the many Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other who are fully integrated members of my community. Certainly they practice a different religion but otherwise you could not tell them form any other member of our society. They are shopkeepers, doctors, plumbers, taxi drivers, neighbours, friends and , increasingly, family much more than they are Jews or Bhuddist or whatever.

These bans push us apart and cause us to see others as “them”. It increases the divides between us and increases the fears and worries that are there. If we really were worried about the woman’s role in Islam this is completely the wrong way to proceed. An observant woman is not going to abandon her faith just because of an ill-thought law.  This law may mean that the woman doesn’t venture out now in public places and be less influenced by aspects of our culture which promote female equality and liberation. It may keep her in the home, where she is much more so under the influence of her cultural leaders. If we really wish to help woman relinquish the burqa the way to do so is by showing that living a good and moral life without is entirely possible and discussing the issue. Unfortunately you are unlikely to discuss things with people who seem to be attacking you.

You can not compel someone into a religion.  Obedience is not observance. If we wish to see religious and moral beliefs change it will occur by example. By showing that an open culture is a successful culture, by showing that equality and religion and good bed-fellows, people may start to think. If your moral beliefs and religious ideals are superior to others then your life and actions will showcase them. You will become the example and encourage others to follow. Many people come to Europe because it is a liberal and tolerant culture. We must display that tolerance and openness if we want it to continue. This is especially important at times when we feel uncertain or afraid, it is when we are tested that our true metal is revealed. If we think freedom and religious expression are important we need to defend them. Not just for ourselves but also for others.

 

 

Intellectual Dark Web

Intellectual Dark Web

Today’s daily prompt of “rebel” was timely as I realised I would be able to offer a little bit of public service to those of you who wish to rebel against stifling conformity and try a bit of free thinking. In an excellent article in the New York Times Bari Weiss discusses the new intellectuals who are changing the face of current debate and starting to offer some hope that free thinking and debate have not died. She suggests that there is an Intellectual Dark Web where rebellious debate is gathering momentum, it is really worth  a few moments of your time to check this out.

 

Google’s Shame

Google’s Shame

The story of the “Google Manifesto” continues and becomes more worrisome. For those who do not know what this is about it refers to a document written by one of Google’s engineers, in which he expressed his views on gender differences, and for which he was sacked.

The full text of his document is here. I give this link as often this document is commented upon by people who have not read it. They describe it as a “rant”, a “screed”, a “diatribe” or a Men’s Rights Manifesto. While there have been rants about the document and many diatribes about the author (often by women keen to show that they do not conform to any stereotype by using aggressive and hostile language) the document itself is not one of these.

It is an article considering the reasons that gender disparities exist and suggesting that there may be evidence that, at least in part, these differences have biological roots. It further suggests that Google, as an organization, has become to wedded to one world view as to be blind to the possibility of any other divergent views.

Considering first the gender differences; whether he is right or wrong about the relative importance of nature versus nurture in the differences between the sexes, or races, or individuals, he is clearly not wrong that this plays a part. (Anecdote alert n=2) I have recently watched my grandchildren, a boy and a girl, raised by modern forward thinking parents who eschew gender stereotypes, and it was clear that despite their rearing their biology still determines aspects of their behaviour.

The author of the Google Document felt that nature is more important than is generally credited but he does not suggest that individuals are bound by their genes. Further he is clear that these effects affect groups and averages and does not imply that no individuals can outperform others in in

It really would only be either a fool or an ideologue who felt that nature played no part whatsoever. Unfortunately is seems a lot of the latter hold positions of influence inside Google. But it really doesn’t matter whether he is right or wrong on this matter, as long as he is neither abusive or threatening, he should be allowed to express his views. How else can he recognise any errors he may have, how otherwise can others learn what he thinks.

But his views are seen as a heresy – too dangerous to be allowed to be heard for fear that they might damage the faith. Just as the Church of old used to snuff out any discordant views (and often the discordant person at the same time) the clerisy of present day thinking about diversity will not tolerate views that are out of step.

This was the second theme of his paper; that Google was intolerant of divergent opinions. Unfortunately he has proven his thesis is a very sad manner, after the involvement of the Head of Diversity, he was sacked because he “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender”. He had written that he worked in an “ideological echo chamber” and having “shaming culture and the possibility of being fired”. There could not be more proof of this than his own fate. It truly is Orwellian and would not be at all out of place in “1984” to read of the Diversity Officer arranging the firing of the employee for his divergent views.

I am very disappointed in Google. I had often though their “Don’t be Evil” tag meant something but clearly not. I had allied myself with their services for this reason, but it seems it is time now to distance myself.  I don’t want to use a search engine that thinks there is only one truth that can be heard. I do not wish to share my data with an organisation that feels it can decide what is appropriate to be in someone’s mind. So the search is on to find ways to reduce the revenue I generate for them. I’m away to rediscover Edge and DuckDuckGo.

Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me.

Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me.

Many writers had commented that 17880067George Orwell’s “1984” had made its way back into the best sellers lists on Amazon and elsewhere. The general opinion was that the concerns with “fake news” and fears about the growth of the popularity of right-wing populist politicians had driven this resurgence of interest in a great classic. It is excellent that this book is being re-read as it is an excellent warning about the dangers of limiting free speech and a clear exposition of how those who control language and discourse also control thought and opinion. However, an interesting article suggested that this book was not the best guide to the recent events, to which we are witness, but rather another dystopian classic, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″, held that distinction. It was for this reason I reread the book.

This book has not aged at all in the 55 years since it was published. It is still a fresh, fast-paced exciting read today and I can imagine if feels even more urgent now than it did then. It describes a frightening future when literature is banned, thought and discussion discouraged and, as an alternative, an overstimulating popular culture full of noise and movement is provided (with adjunctive psychotropic drugs as needed). In this future the duty of the fireman is to find and burn books.

Unlike “1984” in this future the  state has not forced these changes on an unwilling public but rather has promoted the changes as necessary and beneficial, as a means to protect a diverse community from distress and harm.

‘Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities.’

‘It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.’

‘Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace,’

It was also seen as a way to ensure the avoidance of distress of all. Choice requires decisions and decisions can be difficult and promote conflict, best to avoid them. Any discomfort, no matter how integral to the human condition, could be used as an excuse to restrict choice and action.

‘You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.’

‘Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man’s a speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn them all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.’

Indeed in this nightmare of a future all we need is pleasure and fun and just enough knowledge to allow us to be productive.

‘School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?’

‘So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your dare-devils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex.’

This is a libertarian novel, one which clearly promotes the individual over the group, one which warns against conformity, no matter how enjoyable, and promotes responsibility and cooperation with our fellows. There is no wastage in this novel, each page carries the story forward, either adding to the adrenaline rush of the chase or offering interesting and challenging insights into our society. We are often warned that if we ignore history we may repeat our mistakes and this is true. But when we also have warnings as clear as this, about our future dangers, we really have no excuse if we end in trouble.

‘But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it’s up to you now to know with which ear you’ll listen.’

Exquisite Irony – Milo’s “Dangerous”

I felt that there was an  exquisite irony dangerouswhen I noted that Milo Yiannopoulos’ book ‘Dangerous‘ was heading the amazon best sellers list before his book was even available for sale. Since his book deal with Simon & Schuster was announced there has been a flurry of critical press. As the glamour boy of the alt-right Milo has also become the bogey man of the  left’s twitterati and social media groups.

There were early calls to ban the book from Sarah Silverman and Jud Apatow (1) and The Guardian’s comment pages were awash with calls to ban the book.  Later the Chicago Review of Books announced (2) that it would not review any of Simon & Schuster’s output in 2017. A storm of indignation was raised before a single word of the book was available to be read.

The liberals were apparently oblivious to the illiberal calls they made – book banning, book burning and suppression of authors are tactics whose history is often associated with the totalitarian right (Though as George Orwell described in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ the totalitarian left has become very able at this strategy).

But more importantly the liberals have forgotten the reasons that book-banning and censorship is a bad idea. Sure, it is morally wrong to try and suppress ideas discordant with your own as it denies the equality of other peoples’ opinions. Also, it is rather silly as it is unlikely that you can presume you will always be correct and, come the time you are wrong, you will need access to different ideas to adapt to new circumstances. But, at a very basic level, it is also a bad idea because it does not work. Refusing to discuss issues with people who think differently never causes them to change, indeed it may tend to promote in them a confidence that their views are correct. Your refusal to debate is not seen as a sign of moral strength but rather as a sign of weakness, a sign that you can’t debate, and a sign that you are aware that your argument is inherently weak.

However, at the very basic level it should have been clear that this was a stupid strategy because it is likely to backfire and be counter-productive. It should have been obvious that much of the success of the alt-right, and Milo in particular,  rests on the pleasure gained from upsetting the hierarchy, the pleasure found by saying the unsayable, and the simple pleasure from witnessing easily prompted outrage and indignation. To deliver these shows of outrage and upset feelings before a word had been printed was a free gift to the alt-right’s keyboard warriors who quickly booked their pre-orders for the book.

No matter what review the Chicago Review of Books may have given Milo’s book, whether it be good, bad or indifferent they could not have given more publicity, and increased sales, than had they tried. They have not only guaranteed home more sales and a wider initial audience, they have also increased his profile and cemented his poster-boy status.

The only thing of which we can be certain is that following this campaign more people will have read the book  than would have done otherwise. It certainly helped the sales of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and, as Oscar Wilde stated, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

 

via Daily Prompt: Exquisite

 

  1. http://heatst.com/politics/sarah-silverman-and-judd-apatow-join-movement-to-stop-publication-of-milos-book/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/04/simon-schuster-alt-right-hate-breitbart-milo-yiannopoulos
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four