Saturday, May 22, 2010

A veil on libertarian freedom

(Apologies for the lack of links. Google Chrome doesn't like me today. Which is only adding fuel to my ranting. Will try to repair this asap. The links, I mean.)

If you take a quick scan through the French news websites, you quickly see that Europe is facing some grave economic crises. But still the French cabinet found the time to discuss a draft law banning the wearing of full-face veils in public places. Spain has just slashed public wages and is on the verge of economic collapse, yet the Minister of Work voiced his support to prohibit full Islamic facewear in the streets. Last month, Belgium’s coalition government dissolved and there was talk of splitting up the country, yet the parliament managed to unite 136 out of 138 deputies to vote through a law banning the burqa and niqab.

Why, in such difficult economic times, are European leaders investing such energy in the matter of women’s facewear?

Unless my French has failed me, it appears the burqa-ban laws were introduced with such displays of speechmaking that it is easy to assume the fate of these countries hangs on this single point of principle. One Belgian deputy admitted that ‘the image of our country abroad is more and more incomprehensible’, but said this near-unanimous vote banning the burqa and niqab rescued ‘an element of pride to be Belgian’. A French commission on the veil said the veil was ‘contrary to the values of the Republic’ and the parliament should make it clear that ‘all of France is saying “no” to the full veil’. The Spanish work minister said this clothing ‘clashes fundamentally with our society and equality between men and women. The values of our society cannot go into retreat'.

So how many women in Belgium wear these face-coverings that engaged the whole national parliament at a time of near-dissolution? France has studied the matter and judges that there are 1,900 women in the country wearing the full-face veil. When Denmark passed a law in January limiting full veils in public spaces, there were 200 women wearing the niqab and three women wearing the burqa.

Of course, the niqab is objectionable; it is indeed a mark of women’s oppression and isolation from the public world; it obstructs women’s communication with others, not to mention their vision and general mobility. And yet, at base, this is a piece of cloth. The cloth does not cause oppression, but merely reflects it. The corset and wired skirts did not cause the marginalisation of Victorian women, nor did foot-binding cause the oppression of Chinese women. When English women started to enter the public world, to demand votes and to do jobs, they soon swapped their corsets for the loose-fitting simplicity of 1920s dresses, and then, finally, for trousers.

As Muslim women become liberated, logic tells us they will take off their burqas by their own volition. A programme for the liberation of Muslim women – or immigrants in general – would be a fine thing, and yet this would involve changing their conditions of life and aiding their full participation in society. To ban the burqa is to take on the question of marginalisation at the most superficial level; it is to attack the symbol, to tear off the niqabs and to believe that this is liberation.

These burqa bans do not really ring true as genuine efforts to liberate Muslim women. The measure is less for the benefit of the woman than for the gallant state posing as her protector. In all those high-faluting speeches about their values, politicians reveal the real reason for these laws, which is to create an occasion for their own performance. The draft French law also includes a new crime, targeted at Muslim husbands, of inducing somebody to cover their face, which bears the penalty of a year in prison and a €15,000 fine. And so the state poses as the chivalrous knight rescuing women from their husbands.

There is a new and coercive element to these bans, too, which is the idea that citizens should be visible to the state at all times. It is because of ‘public security’ that Muslim women must show their faces, politicians said in both the French and Belgian parliaments. Who knows what they could be plotting behind those niqabs?

The reason for banning the face veil is illiberal through and through: we must show our faces so that we can be scrutinised by state security. For all the fine talk of openness in social relations, welcoming Muslim women into society and so on, the bans are also a cry of ‘Show your faces!’. A person must show their face so that they are identifiable and scrutinisable. In this sense, the burqa bans share the same impulse as bans on hoods in the Coastlands shopping mall in Paraparaumu on the basis that they might be a ‘security risk’.

Even if you argue that the niqab is illiberal, how much more illiberal is it that the state should tell a woman that she cannot wear one?

Banning is not the answer, to ailments that are either modern or traditional. Banning is never the answer: it is just an excuse for grandstanding and self-justification on the part of the state. Sarkozy may pose as the defender of liberty and equality; in fact, opposing the ban on the veil is the proper libertarian position.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


My life is a complex litany of jargon.  Some of it is useful. Most is just annoying or confusing.  I feel pained when new jargon is added to my addled brain.

Enter the organogram.

In case you are too uncool to get this one, organogram  is a description of a company’s structure.  It is presumably a truncation of organisational diagram?

I am assured by people who like to use this word that it is a common business term.  But this does not change the fact that it is a travesty of the English language.

For your benefit, I did some value for money empirical research, and discovered that the original spelling was organigram (more correct, but still a travesty), and it can be dated back to 1962.  What makes this slightly acceptable is that we seem to have acquired the word from French, in which organigramme has been recorded as long as ago 1952.  Oddly, the first example in the Oxford English Dictionary spells it with an o (rather than an i).  However, for the next few decades, the i form was dominant.

But, all hail the HR professional. In the early to mid 1990s, someone in the HR business decided that, in order to justify their existence in an era of redundancies, organogram with an o looked sexier than with an i.

This does not mean that you need to use this word. I challenge you to make you life more interesting by never using this word.

It is a confusing word, that looks confusingly like it should mean a telegram on organic paper, or a unit of weight.  “Two hundred organograms of my best figs?  Coming right up, Ma’am!”

If you are compelled, or forced on pain of the most barbaric death imaginable, to use this word, at least spell it with an i.  Suffice to say, I will not be using this word in the hope it faces the same fate as the dinosaurs.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fluffy ducks

Homepaddock wins the prize for being the only person today to make me smile.
Three women died together in an accident and went to heaven.
When they arrived, St Peter greeted them then said, ‘We only have one rule here in heaven: Don’t step on the ducks.’
When they entered heaven they found there were ducks all over the place.
It was almost impossible not to step on a duck, and although they try their best to avoid them, the first woman accidentally stepped on one.
Along came St. Peter with the ugliest man she’d ever seen. St. Peter chained them together and said, ‘Your punishment for stepping on a duck is to spend eternity chained to this man.’
The next day, the second woman accidentally stepped on a duck. Along came St Peter. With him was another extremely ugly man. He chained them together with the same admonishment he’d given the first woman.
The third woman observed all this and, not wanting to be chained for all eternity to an ugly man, was very, very careful where she stepped.
She managed to go for months without stepping on any ducks. But one day St Peter came up to her with the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on.
St Peter chained them together without saying a word.
The happy woman turned to her new companion and said, ‘I wonder what I did to deserve being chained to you for all of eternity?’
The bloke replied, ‘I don’t know about you, but I stepped on a duck.'