“The European Court of Human Rights Tuesday upheld France’s ban on full-face veils such as burqas and niqābs, in a ruling that sets out how far governments can go to limit the display of religious symbols.”

UD is not surprised. She is, however, very happy to see this confirmation of a decision by France (and growing numbers of other countries, all of whom will be encouraged in the right direction by this decision) to ban the burqa.

If you click on this post’s category – democracy – you’ll find UD‘s many posts about the burqa.

Here is a longer piece she wrote about it, for Inside Higher Education, in 2010.

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THE BURQA, AND BEING IN THE WORLD

Cesare Pavese, the Italian writer who killed himself in 1950, when he was 41, once wrote: “Every luxury must be paid for, and everything is a luxury, starting with being in the world.”

One of the strange blessings of the burqa – the black robe that entirely hides a woman, even her face – is the way its presence among us reminds us of this truth. Existence, we remember when we pass blank sheaths on our streets, is a luxury – a brief, beautiful luxury, a flash of light before darkness. We should not extinguish that light.

The darkness of the burqa, the blindness, constriction, anonymity, and silence within it, intend to annihilate a person’s existence, to make her invisible, expressionless, lifeless. Yet far from accomplishing this erasure, the burqa has done no less than rivet the eyes of Europe. It has become one of the most expressive artifacts of the modern urban setting. It has drawn from people and governments such strong responses that, by overwhelming majorities, one European nation after another is banning them.

Why is the burqa so riveting? Why is it generating such intense responses?

I think it has to do with the way it parades total darkness, total rejection of life – a woman’s life. It parades self-nullification for oneself — and also for one’s daughters, small children just beginning their lives. And there is no way around it — however complex personal motivation on the part of the mother might be — and of course there can be no volition on the part of a seven-year-old — this sight is, for most free people, and certainly for most free women, terrible. It is generally terrible in the totality of darkness it expresses, and it is particularly terrible in its suppression of the existence of women.

Western literature features a few symbolically burqa’ed characters, whose total rejection of life with other human beings, whose refusal to have an identity, profoundly disturbs the people around them. Non-beings like Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener and Kafka’s hunger artist draw fascinated crowds to the spectacle of their dissolved being; their absence from the human story is so complete as to be ostentatious.

Certainly there’s a morbid curiosity about the sort of people who exhibit the possibility open to any of us to say no to existence while still maintaining a shadowy silent aspect on the street. But like the lost-to-public-existence woman in the burqa, these fictional characters also tend to make the people around them more aware than they were before of the luxury of being in the world. By showing us what it looks like when you stop the world from happening to you, when you elaborately outfit yourself to arrest the slightest overture from the human realm, these people sharpen our awareness – an awareness we usually don’t have, because almost everyone we know is letting the world happen to them – of what it means, of how precious it is, to be an existent human being in the world.

The burqa, in fact, is at once the most inexpressive and most expressive object in the city. The appareled energy it brings to the policing of every digit of a woman, its elaborate abolition of a self, tells us precisely how much some people have to pay for the luxury of being in the world. It tells us that being is indeed a luxury, for which some of us must pay very dearly.

That is what it says to us. This is what the burqa says to the woman – or child – inside it:

Yes, you may exist. If you insist. But in order to be allowed to exist, you will have to pay the ultimate price – non-existence. No one may see who you are. You may never exchange a smile on a street corner. Your thoughts you may keep. To yourself. The burqa covers your mouth, conveying to you, and to the world, your muteness.

Our response to the burqa is a variant of horror vacui; appalled at the nullification it represents, we attempt to dress it up, give it features, somehow animate it into a person. Indeed one defense of the burqa you sometimes read among Europeans and Americans has it that the burqa really makes no difference: If you look closely, you can discern a woman’s smiling or frowning eyes behind the mesh; and if you talk to her, and she talks back, you’ll begin to realize she’s just like everyone else. If her seven-year-old daughter is also in a burqa, you should make the same effort to treat her as you would any other child.

The enormously strong opposition to the burqa in much of Europe suggests that efforts like these to regard it, and the women and children inside of it, as part of normal multicultural human life have failed. Again, why?

More often than not, when women who wear the burqa are interviewed, they say little or nothing about religion. Typically, they speak of their fear of male harassment. The burqa, they say, protects them from men.

Outside of countries like Afghanistan, it is abnormal to harbor so extreme a fear of public interaction with men that you feel you must wear a burqa. Women this traumatized, this imprisoningly beset by distorted perceptions of the world, should be helped to overcome their distortions and rejoin the human race. It’s bizarre, and inhumane, to respond to women who say these things by nodding your head understandingly and keeping them in their sacks.

Or do these women say these things because their husbands have made them afraid of men? Because their husbands have told them that if they go outside uncovered their husbands will kill them? That if they ever look at a man in public their husbands will kill them?

If my husband told me these things, I would certainly be afraid of men. I would also be living in a situation in which the courts of my country should take an interest. But since I’m afraid to say anything because of my husband’s threats, there is no way for the state to know that I’m living with a criminal. As are my daughters.

It is also possible that there are burqa wearers who truly believe that men will rape them or harass them mercilessly if they walk outside wearing a dress rather than a sheet and a mask. I mean, these women believe this on their own; they have derived a sort of Andrea Dworkin on steroids sex philosophy in which it is literally true that the act of being a visible woman in the world is simply impossible. Can’t be done. Woman equals red flag to a bull.

When interviewed, these burqa wearers typically berate women who go outside in jeans and blouses and make men rape them. They express a complacent moral superiority to loose women who instead of parading their nothingness parade their life, their equal share of the world. Women do not get to have a world. Only men do. Good women know this.

Self-nullified women, today’s Bartleby’s, tell modern democracies that they can extend equal rights to all, but there will always be some people who disdain the hard-fought right to exist, to be part of the social world. Not for them the luxury of being; it costs too much, this business of leaving your private retreat and venturing into the world of other human beings. These women will live in horror – they will teach their daughters to live in horror – of the free world. They will parade that horror every day.

This self-nullification, imposed or embraced, is why, one after another, the countries of Europe are saying no to the burqa. The burqa is one luxury no self-respecting democracy can afford.

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UPDATE: Reactions to the court ruling:

I

French politicians in favor of the ban have continued to argue that the government is acting to “protect gender equality” and the “dignity of women.” Some have even referred to it as a “walking coffin, a muzzle.”

Calling a burqa a muzzle! Imagine that!

II


“Shocked… shocked… shocked…”

And yet how can that be? Are these people and organizations unaware of the broad support for the burqa ban in France? Unaware that the law passed “by overwhelming margins,” and that

82 percent of [French] people polled approved of a ban, while 17 percent disapproved… Clear majorities also backed burqa bans in Germany, Britain and Spain…

This has been known for years.

Defenders of the burqa are in the awkward position of believing their position to be morally obvious and unassailable, while at the same time having to deal with the fact that huge majorities of populations do not agree with them. Given this awkwardness, their choices are few. They can condemn much of the world – citizens, courts – as morally degenerate. They can – by expressing shock at outcomes like this latest one – pretend that right-thinking people agree with them and these little blips – 82% of the French population, increasing numbers of court decisions – are just … little blips.

These do not strike UD as winning strategies.

“Instead of promoting a secular state education system, with a shared educational framework that would ensure that all children are taught to a common standard, the government has encouraged different minority communities to define their notion of education and to devise their own curriculum.”

An important reminder that the gender apartheid we’re seeing in public events at British universities is nurtured before women get to British universities.

See UD‘s posts on enforced gender segregation at universities here.

University College London: Enforced Gender Segregation …

yes.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, no.

Israel’s …

Doctor Who.

An Adjunct Union Might Help…

… but I don’t think J.D. Winteregg does unions.

College-Prep, Birmingham, England: Preparing girls to sit in the back and boys to sit in the front…

… and introducing them to the thoughts of certain zealots… all at taxpayer expense! – so that when they get to university they’ll be ready to be forcibly sex segregated while listening to the zealots…

Here in the States we complain about all sorts of ridiculous stuff our taxes go toward; but turning our daughters into compliant … the favored term is sisters … is not, I think, one of them.

The University of East London Doesn’t Fuck With that Shit.

But you’ve got to let them know. There have to be people out there watching for sex-segregated events at university campuses. Thank goodness there’s Peter Tatchell. He told UEL what the school was about to host, and UEL immediately cancelled the event.

OTOH… It occurs to UD to ask… Why didn’t UEL know about this? The organizers sent out via Facebook and all a big poster trumpeting the enforced segregation of women… Trumpeting also the preacher who instructs us to throw gay people off of mountains…

Handel’s…

Messiah.

Okay, so UD has a slightly different take on the…

… controversy currently raging about Brandeis University having changed its mind about the honorary degree they announced they were going to give Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a very outspoken – really, at times, an over the top – critic of Islam.

You’re supposed to be on one of two sides about this: She’s a pernicious Islamophobe and good riddance; or, she’s not all that different in the ferocity of her some of her statements from other people who have been honored in this way by Brandeis so what the hell.

UD‘s thing is: Whatever brings more attention to this woman’s powerful attacks on female genital mutilation and full veiling is a good thing. Instead of Hirsi Ali getting a nice little notice in a Brandeis University alumni magazine, she’s getting immense tons of coverage from the world’s media. Brava.

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UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan gets it said.

Mr UD’s Colleague, Karen Dawisha…

… (she left the University of Maryland a number of years ago for Miami University) writes a manuscript about organized crime and Vladimir Putin that scares the bejaysus out of Cambridge University Press. Libel laws! No can publish.

This is from Karen’s response to the editor there:

Last week the EU and the US Government issued a visa ban and asset freeze on the very inner core that is the subject of my book. Many works will now come out on the makeup of the list and why each individual was placed on it. The answers to these questions are in my book. Isn’t it a pity that the UK is a ‘no-fly’ zone for publishing the truth about this group? These Kremlin-connected oligarchs feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools. And as a result of their growing knowledge about and influence in the UK, even the most significant British institutions (and I think we can agree that CUP, with its royal charter, 500-year history and recent annual revenues in excess of $400m, is a veritable British institution) cower and engage in pre-emptive book-burnings as a result of fear of legal action…. [Perhaps some day we] can once again turn to CUP with the knowledge that it is indeed devoted to publishing “all manner of books” and not just those that won’t awaken the ire of corrupt Russian oligarchs out to make a further mockery of British institutions.

Nicknames: The Last Frontier.

George Washington University’s just-hired Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Public Health is Lawrence “Bopper” Deyton which made UD laugh… I mean, quote Bopper unquote? No mention of Bopper’s childish moniker appears in this totally straight account (Harvard education, community outreach, etc.) of his executive entry into GW… But UD wonders… Would… I dunno… would, say, Sheila “Boom-Boom” Fitzgerald retain, in her public documents, her nickname?

Extensive research reveals the unlikelihood of this:

Frank Nuessel, a professor of language at the University of Louisville and editor of NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics [says,] “Interestingly, female CEOs appear to prefer to use their full names and not nicknames, which could signify that they want to be taken more seriously and want co-workers to think of them in a more professional light.”

Of the women leading the 1000 biggest companies in America, Patricia “Pat” Woertz of Archer Daniels Midland is one of just a few to use a nickname…

“Pat.” Far out.

“I find it insanely appalling that the head of arguably the most important university in Egypt said that her clothes were to blame.”

Hide under that veil, university girl, or be punished for having provoked men to attack you… here in that big ol’ democracy, Egypt.

“YORK UNIVERSITY VOWS TO SHIELD STUDENT FROM INTERACTING WITH ALL WOMEN”

Definitely the best headline so far.

See post just below this one for details.

Hear what I say! Girls keep away!

Don’t mess with… Whatever the fuck this guy’s name is. Is he even a guy? The beauty of online courses is that the York University student complaining about having “to meet [just once, I presume] in person with a group of classmates [some of whom may be women] for a mandatory assignment” could be a woman, a child…

Let’s say he’s a guy. His thing is, he didn’t sign up for an online course in order to rub up against the Whores of Babylon.

The professor and his department – sociology – rejected the student’s request outright, correctly noting that bigotry against women is a no-no at a public and secular university like York. Remember the humongous dust-up last month after efforts to allow gender apartheid at British universities? Same deal.

J. Paul Grayson, the heroic professor at the center of this mess (higher-ups at York told him and the department that they had to give in to the student’s demand), makes the same point they made in England:

“You have to nip this in the bud, because what you’re dealing with here is a basic hornet’s nest,” Dr. Grayson said in an interview. “What if … I said, well, my religion really frowns upon my interacting with blacks?”

******************

The irony of this latest effort to make universities bow to fanatics is that the student, told that his request was rejected, immediately caved. Although he had initially insisted that – as Grayson paraphrased him – “due to my firm religious beliefs … it will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women” – he now said

he would “respect the final decision” to deny the request, was pleased with the way it had been handled, and has since met with his learning group.

Of course, the higher-ups at York are still on their high horses, insisting that the university’s all set up to respect people who refuse to interact in the physical world with women.

And the sociologists at York who stood their ground are, I certainly hope, laughing in their faces.

*************

UD thanks Ian.

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Update: UD‘s pleased to say that it gets better:

In an October 18 email, the Dean specifically told Mr. Grayson that if he was worried about the “course experience of our female students” he would make sure they “are not made aware of the accommodation.”

What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em, dude. Just shut up!

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And just so we’re clear: Events like these help us understand and know how to respond to the idiocy of statements like this one from Katha Pollitt:

[R]eligion is what people make of it.

Grayson, just to be absolutely sure, consulted orthodox Jewish and Muslim religious leaders on this, and both expressed astonishment that anyone would conclude that these religions call for no appearance in the public realm for men if there are any women also in that realm.

Religion, Katha, is not what people make of it. Religion is many things, but not all things. (“What is disturbing is an apparent increasing tendency to view each claim for accommodation as legitimate and worthy of support. Indeed, the notion that not all claims should be accepted would come as a shock to the morally relativistic fingernail biters that roam the hallways in some academic buildings.”) A university dean, gripped by litigation fears when he reads the word religion in an email from a student, may believe that the mere invocation of the word religion constitutes religion; Pollitt may believe that if I happen to “make of” religion the removal of infants’ sexual organs this constitutes religion. The rest of us must follow Grayson’s lead.

‘[Cassandra] Belin did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, a fact that was “deplored” by magistrate Florence Perret, who said that she would have been prepared to discuss a sentence of community service [rather than incarceration] if the accused had been present.’

Fighting in the public realm for your right to have no presence in the public realm is a conundrum.

The Frenchwoman appealing her conviction for wearing a burqa sent her husband to court, or her husband insisted on going in her place or whatever…

This seems to have annoyed the judge, who was apparently ready to hand down a much lighter sentence (the woman – or rather the group of males acting on her behalf – lost the appeal) if the complainant had demonstrated even a faint personal commitment to her own case.

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