Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Banning the Burka and the BNP - the edge of tolerance

Mr Sarkozy certainly knows how to stir things up. For a number of political reasons his statements about the form of dress from Afghanistan used to enforce visual apartheid between men and women ( mostly at the expense of the women - only Japanese Ninja's seem keen on covering up. If the visual sight of someone's face is such a problem how come its always the women who have to walk around in an inverted sack ? ).

Sarko has his argument thought through to some extent, pointing out that the burka didn't exist in the time of the religion of Islam's prophet Mohamed, which points out the hypocrisy nicely of some of the Islamacist movements people who's first question on anything is "What did Mohamed do ?" - which outlaws music, TV etc but not apparently RPG's or Kalashnikovs.

His logic appears to have been accepted by the UK pressure group the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who counter in terms of feelings and perceptions, rather than an argument about their scriptures. After all this line of self generating grievance, where the self appointed victim can say their feelings are beyond question and must mean changes to everyone else's behaviour. One of the obvious counters to this is for the person with the opposite view to present themselves as a victim also with perceived hurt feelings - but all this does is put all sides into the power of the state to which the appeal to use its arbitrary overwhelming force to support their case ( note this is an anathema to a free society ).

Personally during the last elections I saw a woman covered from head to toe int he form of dress popular in Saudi Arabia come into the polling station. I found it intimidating and threatening, and yes I thought much less of Islam as a result. It made me think about if where the limits on toleration are.

Notice we have two competing forces here. Emotion made law - the perceived injustice case as argued by the MCB. A common minimum national standards - for example its still illegal to walk down the street naked.

At some point a nation may make laws which mean that some people in that nation find it intolerable to continue to live there. The case of covering women in cloth to hide them will either make life intolerable for Muslim women who don't wish to do so who are easily singled out and other people who live in Muslim areas, or some Muslim women who have genuine devote reasons for covering up may find an insistence not to do so intolerable.

It strikes me that the only answer to this is different nations in different locations with people free to move between the two.

Due to its history and heritage, which was clearly understood by voluntary immigrants over the last 500 years I would put England down in the non face covering category. There is no way everyone can be satisfied here and giving the impression that everything is to play for just encourages a whole series of grievances and counter grievances that will work against the cohesion of our nation.

What of applying the same argument to the move to neuter the BNP by applying new equality laws to its membership and employment strategies ?

I personally find the use of the law here very disturbing as the idea is to prevent a political party from being able to operate as it wishes. But using the same logic as before the UK has, in principle if not always practice, been a race blind country. Its a point that would be at the edge of our tolerance, in just the same was a Islamic female apartheid is. Perhaps the difference is that there are no other nations for the BNPs supporters to go of and live in.

In an ideal free society both forms of dress, peoples reactions to them and the political beliefs and how they wish to organise them would all be free. But we know that freedoms impinge on each other, and that obligations matter also.

If the BNP and Islamic separatist/colonists were minor issues with small number the English answer would always be as it started tolerance. But now the freedoms of others are being impinged by the actions of these groups.

I have no idea if Nicholas Sarkozy's statement will be enacted - denying some people either freedom of dress - or if the BNP will be closed down by legal action - denying its members their democratic right. But we are approaching the edge of tolerance, and these will be difficult times.

Update: See Saira Khan's take on this. She sees the Burka as an instrument of oppression .


Elby the Beserk said...

The problem in the Uk is that the government has decided and legislated that we, the hosts of immigrants, must make allowance for our guests; i.e. - we must change our ways to accomodate our new guests, not them.

When in Rome, sez I. If you don't like our ways, don't come here.

Nota bene. I have lived in a very well-adjusted and integrated area with a largely immigrant population. It cab be done; whilst Oxfam were removing Christmas tress from their shops in case they upset anyone, our Muslim neighbours would wish us "Happy Christmas" on Christmas day.

This government fucks up EVERYTHING it touches. I fear the UK is FUBAR.

Man in a Shed said...

Like you I have had good Muslim friends and the Muslim parents I meet at the school gate are amongst the friendliest and most polite of all.

Its the small minority that get appointed at "community spokespeople" and then used by the government to deliver the vote in exchange for various concessions that cause the problems.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what the fuss is all about in connection with the burkha. If we're a free society, why shouldn't anyone of any sex be allowed to dress as they wish? If we want to make some issue about 'gender apartheid', that's quite ridiculous, as our own social norms enforce differentiation between the sexes: different clothes, cosmetics, hair styles, etc. etc. If Muslim women feel forced to conform with increasingly rigid standards from their own communities, it's up to them to oppose them, either by appealing for protection from the rest of society or by taking a stand within their own communities. It's not up to us to fight their fight for them; but if real abuses are taking place, our laws should intervene: if we're free to wear what we want, this also means being free not to wear what we don't want to.

As for the BNP issue, maybe the authorities could exercise a little unwonted common sense: there's hardly any point opening up their organisation to members that that very same organisation would rather they left the country. It's like 'allowing' vegetarians to eat meat! Sure, it's a freedom; but not one they're going to want to exercise.

Elby the Beserk said...

Mind you, if we all wore Burkas they could take down all those CCTVs, couldn't they :-)

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