Clothes as magical objects

Oh, ffs. How many spurs to blog ranting can a woman take before noon on a Sunday morning?

The Big Question on BBC is debating the question “Should Britain ban the burqa?” (The basis of the topic is French president Sarkozy’s burqa ban) The answer is so obviously “NO” that you wonder how small a question has to be to qualify as “big.”

There follows a fair bit of debate about the burqa and its religious and social significance. There’s a burqa-clad woman saying it’s a religious issue for her. Another one defending wearing a veil as a personal choice. A male muslim scholar saying that burqa-wearing is not an integral part of Islam, anyway: it’s purely a cultural, rather than religious, garment. Nobody really deals with the implications of a ban.

Fortunately, there are no overt BNP speakers, this week, but the show does bring on Peter Hitchens… (Mail on Sunday columnist. Paleoconservative, scourge of political correctness. Christopher Hitchens’ brother – could be seen as almost his Evil Twin.)

The discussion never focuses much on what the concept of a burqa ban really means.

You have to dismiss instantly the argument that banning burqas will somehow “liberate” muslim women. In Europe, there must be already be many avenues of recourse for women who feel that they are pressured into wearing islamic dress, without having to compel those women who want to wear it – for whatever reasons – to abandon it. (Just like the careworkers who feel their very being is threatened if they can’t wear crosses at work.)

It doesn’t matter if their choices are incomprehensible to the rest of us.
Dress or ornaments are forms of communication. If the things being communicated seem absurd or offensive, surely we can challenge them or – Toutatis forbid, on current showing – just live and let live.

If the state gets engaged in ruling about what communication is acceptable, it comes bang up against the concept of freedom of expression.

And Sarkozy as feminist spokesman, indeed. A man whose only interest to the non-French world is his trophy wife.

(A wife who seems to have blithely overlooked Sarkozy’s lack of physical or mental charms, on the basis that he was the French president, in a way that seems unlikely to have happened if he was a shop assistant. Which makes even his wife seem like an odd feminist, unless you can expand the meaning of “feminist” to imply – “does whatever it takes to get wealth and power for herself”.)

Even a Spectator columnist, Rod Liddle, pointed out that
“Saqrkozy’s burqa ban panders to racism not feminism.”

Spot on. A burqa ban is a symptom of racism, not secularism, nor feminism.

Indeed the whole idea could be designed to polarise French society and provide new recruits for muslim extremism – in the same way that the Xian fundies are using every worker who’s told to remove a cross or promise ring to recruit people to their mad groupings.

As if the world isn’t dangerous enough, without creating more and more intolerance. Ah, there’s finally a convincing explanation on NewsBiscuit

Ask a silly Big Question

If you could save the solar system from being extinguished by setting fire to your only child, would you do it?

Bloody stupid question. At best, it’s a thought experiment and even then it’s basically setting up an impossible scenario.

The BBC’s Sunday morning programme The Big Questions, which discusses moral issues, was talking about torture today.

One man made an intellectually dishonest pro-torture argument, which is basically as realistic a scenario as the “save the solar system” question I posed above. Paraphrased – because I am not going to watch the show and take notes – this argument is “What if you had to save the lives of thousands of people by torturing one man?”
This was discussed as if it was a real case to answer.

I am still in shock at finding myself in total agreement on this issue with Anne Atkins so I may not be too coherent.

This imaginary “save thousands by torturing one person” is meant to imply that those who oppose torture will happily sacrifice thousands to salve their own conscience. However, it is a complete crock.

As the token academic pointed out (sorry I didn’t catch his name), this scenario is from Hollywood, not real life. (24 is fiction, ffs.)

There are no conceivable circumstances in which you could know that the person in front of you was (a) the right person to torture to get the answers to your questions; (b) wouldn’t tell you lies which could endanger many more people and (c) would break under torture in such a way as to tell you the exact truth, rather than go mad.

So, there’s not even a need to bring in the standard arguments against torture to challenge this nonsense. The moral issue – although it is the basis of every decent human value – is actually irrelevant, here. The issue, of the practical consequences – the fact that using torture creates implacable enemies – is also irrelevant.

This argument leads us into the worst kind of moral morass. It softens us up for thinking that torture is bad but, just maybe, in really extreme circumstances… etc (As if the definition of which circumstances were extreme enough to justify it wouldn’t immediately be subject to an ongoing downhill standards creep.)

In fact, if a government’s knowledge is precise enough to confirm that they can save the lives of thousands on the basis of the evidence of one definitely-guilty person that they have captured, then they would already know enough to avert the imaginary catastrophe.

If they don’t have the exact right person, they are just torturing for nothing, which even the pro-torture-in-an-extreme-scenario voices on the show agreed was horrendous.

And just as a little topical torture aside, the Guardian website reported today that the supposedly threatening letter from the USA – that prevented the case of Binyan Mohamed being discussed in a UK court – was actually written at the request of the Foreign Office.

A former senior State Department official said that it was the Foreign Office that initiated the “cover-up” by asking the State Department to send the letter so that it could be introduced into the court proceedings.
The revelation sparked fresh claims that the government is trying to suppress torture evidence relating to Mohamed, who is expected to be released this week after four years and flown to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. (From the Guardian)