Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sarkozy and the Burqa

French president Nicolas Sarkozy's recent controversial statements about the status of the burqa or niqab have divided the French blogosphere (according to a news article I read somewhere). No big surprise there. The complete veiling of Muslim women has always been something of a controversial issue in the West, so it's no surprise that such a strong stance against it, in a country with the largest Muslim population in western Europe, would draw considerable comment. Especially since the small number of veiled Muslim women in France is growing.

In a statement from Verseilles on Monday, M. Sarkozy said that to veil or not to veil was not a religious issue, but one that dealt with the subjugation of Muslim women, and finally that "la burqa n'est pas la bienvenue sur le territoire de la République française," (the burqa is not welcome in the French Republic).
"In our country, we cannot accept women imprisoned behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all
identity. That is not our idea of dignity for a woman."

- Nicolas Sarkozy, translation by me from this article

It isn't, or often isn't, a strictly religious issue -- I'll give M. Sarkozy that. But his comments betray an enormous ethnocentrism on his part. Westerners tend to view the niqab, the burqa, and even the hijab as a restraint forcably imposed on Muslim women by their misogynist or mistrustful male relatives, garments that keep women in their subjugated place. However, Muslim women tend to have a very different view of the role of veils. Ladies, how many of you have noticed a marked increase in wolf-whistles, creepy compliments, and other generally pervy behaviour on the parts of strange men (frequently on public transit or at stoplights for some reason) during shorts-and-t-shirt weather? Muslim women have figured this out, and they've realized that shapeless clothing makes you invisible to creepy pervs. For them, being veiled is not about being subjugated or objectified -- rather the opposite. And they have different standards of what is considered appropriate. In the same way that you wouldn't wear short-shorts or a tube top to your job at the bank, Muslim women don't want to go around with their necks and hair hanging out there for just anyone to see.

That being said, M. Sarkozy has a badly-phrased point. The burqa "issue" is one that goes back -- last summer, a veiled Muslim woman was denied French citizenship. Although the report made little mention of her niqab, the media made much mention of it, suggesting that the xenophobic immigration officials just wanted to keep Muslims out of the country. However, the real reasons for citizenship denial were rather more alarming.
A report from a French government commissioner submitted to the council said the woman told officials she was unaware of her right to vote, and would only remove her veil after men left the room. "She lives in total submission to the men in her family ... and the idea of contesting this submission doesn't even occur to her," the government report said.

There is nothing wrong with denying citizenship to someone who is unaware of their right to vote. Citizenship is far more involved than merely living in a country. Citizenship requires civic, social, and cultural education. To become a citizen of a new country implies a willingness to learn about and fit into it. Not being aware of your right to vote could not be phoning it in more. If this woman wanted to be a French citizen, she could have at least glanced at the workbook.

Bearing in mind that citizenship means accepting and integrating into a new culture (not necessarily abandoning your old culture, but not just taking advantage of the economy and living standards of a new country), a case can be made for abandoning veils. Eye contact is extremely important in Western culture, and we become unnerved and a bit weirded out when we are speaking face-to-face with someone we can't identify visually. And yes, women who choose to wear the veil must understand that it is perceived very differently in the West and that there are some who are going to feel pity and assume that it is a sign of subjugation, no matter the actual reasoning behind it. Perhaps those who criticize M. Sarkozy for stigmatizing and marginalizing Muslims in France should consider that, by choosing to dress differently from the traditional garb of the country in which they have chosen to live, these women are marginalizing themselves.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bilingual sign analysis time

One of the things I love most about living in the Ottawa/Montréal area has to be examining the translation idiosyncrasies in bilingual signage. Nothing ever quite reaches Engrish levels, but there are sure some interesting translations nonetheless. Today's bilingual sign comes from the window of a Montréal city bus.

Indeed, 'twas but a partially-opening window.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The ignored abortion debate

Garson Romalis: Why I am an abortion doctor

The "abortion debate" between the left and the (frequently religious) right that centers on whether or not abortions should be legal is irrelevant when dealing with situations such as those described by Dr. Romalis. The pro-choicers versus the pro-lifers caught up in the issues of the right to life versus the right to choose what you do with your body (and any other smaller bodies which may be contained therein) is, philosophically, about as useful as whether or not war is a good idea. Very few people are pro-abortion. And of course, the legalities of the issue are not unimportant. But wars and abortions are going to happen whether they are legal or not. Theoretically, a woman does have the option to procure abortificants, or at least throw herself down the stairs or get a friend to punch her in the abdomen. No amount of legislation or pro-life ad space is going to change that. Sure, making safe abortions illegal might result in a few more unwanted, unhappy, impoverished babies being toted around by their unhappy, impoverished baby-mamas and -daddies, but it will definitely result in a lot more gruesome failed backalley or DIY abortions and dumpster babies.

The real issue is not abortion versus no abortion. It's safe, legal abortion versus horrifying deaths and illnesses resulting from illegal abortions. This is not about women being able to choose when to reproduce -- it's about women having access to proper physical and psychological care. Attacking abortion doctors because some women choose -- or are cornered into -- abortions is like attacking police officers because crimes have occurred.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pro-life murderers: a further exploration of mental deficits among select members of the Religious Right

There's been another abortionist shooting -- the first since 1998, but alarming nonetheless. The man was shot on a Sunday morning, while in church. I am sure that the pro-life groups, not to mention Jesus, are very proud of you, Mr. Roeder.

Probably the vast majority of people (most of those involved in pro-life groups included) can condemn this as anything from a really bad course of action to a crime against humanity. But, like many fundies in the near-theocratical USA, certain people have slightly disturbing views on the matter. From the New York Times article:
'Of Dr. Tiller’s death, Mr. Leach said, “To call this a crime is too simplistic,” adding, “There is Christian scripture that would support this."'

Oh. My. Fuck. For the benefit of Mr. Leach (and perhaps, unfortunately, others, who do not understand that disestablishmentarianism was one of the founding principles of America), let's review what "crime" really means.

Crime (noun):

1. An act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction.
2. Unlawful activity: statistics relating to violent crime.
3. A serious offense, especially one in violation of morality.
4. An unjust, senseless, or disgraceful act or condition: It's a crime to squander our country's natural resources.

Apparently, Mr. Leach missed the part where it did not say, "An act not supported by Christian scripture. KJV only. Acts condemned by other religions still fair play." Because the act perpatrated by Mr. Roeder quite clearly fits definitions one through four (minus the stats bit).

Perhaps yet more disturbing were assassin Scott Roeder's apparent motive. You have to give credit, however begrudgingly, to someone who stands up for the defenseless and all that s/he believes to be good and right.
Someone named Scott Roeder posted a message on the Operation Rescue blog about Dr. Tiller that read, in part: “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”

However, someone who's just trying to chuck a scapegoat on the flames in order to save his own ass from "judgement"? You know, Mr. Roeder, I am not sure that offing a guy in church is the best way to avoid God's wrath. Jokes aside, statements like the above are apalling all on their own, even without the accompanying murder.