Covering up your face and smothering liberalism

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This long feature about the tendency for many young Muslim women to veil themselves in Europe is interesting. Granted, the author clearly abhors the trend, and much of the text is impressionistic, but with the Shabina Begum affair, it seems apropos. Back when I was a pretty doctrinaire libertarian I used to joke about Maggie Thatchers quip that “there is no such thing as society.” No longer, humans are social creatures and the norms that we espouse shape how we interact with each other, social conservatives and communitarian liberals both draw from a deep vein of human reality. My ruminations on religious pluralism should make it clear that I think increased diversity will generate social anomie.1

In the specific case of women declaring that their taking up of the hijab or niqab is a personal statement (i.e., “I am no longer evaluated for my sexuality”), I think in most cases it is clearly fabulation. My experience on the “inside” is that the number one reason given within the community is that the only men that should see women are their closest male relations and their husband. But an important social and psychological parameter has to be the need to demarcate group barriers. In One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them, the Reform rabbi comes close to taunting the Orthodox scholar1 about the fact that he “dresses like a 17th century Polish nobleman.” Now, granted, this jab was partly a reaction to the fact that the Orthodox scholar nakedly questions the Reform rabbi’s Jewish authenticity repeatedly. I was interested to note that the Orthodox scholar finally responded by making an analogy to a girl with tatoos and piercings who wishes to express difference and distinction from society. I have used this analogy in the context of women who ostentatiously (in my view) demand acceptance of both the most extreme forms of Islamic “modesty” as well entering into the public world where they are exposed to a level of interpersonal contact that would be shocking to “traditionalists.” I recall as a child listening to my father expressiong confusion upon hearing of a woman who he knew of who had recently had a “religious awakening” and veiled herself…but remained at her job as a loan officer at a bank!!! If you do not understand my father’s confusion, the common interpretation of shariah bans interest.

The last example suggests that in the case of veiling we need to decompose two aspects of the issue, 1) individual/personal driven factors, 2) the social-cultural context. Many of the women who are causing the greatest social tension do so because they juxtapose a modern and pre-modern worldview simultaneously, and demand that they be accepted on their terms. On a social-cultural level the withdrawl of women into purdah would be less tenditious simply because their visibility and friction with the mainstream would be mitigated. On the other hand, students and professionals who assert their modesty make it an issue by their projection into a world that does not share or understand their purported values or religion. I say purported because the simultaneous assertive modernity in goals (i.e., becoming a professional) of some Islamist women and their appeal to a melange of progressive (self-respect, liberty) and religious (“my religion demands I do this”) talking points is a disorienting phenomenon which I don’t see the mainstream being able to grapple with very well even though its legitimacy could be questioned through several angles of deduction from espoused axioms. When someone asserts that their religion demands a particular set of actions or beliefs, there is often a lack of retort that it is actually their interpretation of their religion. Without the latter there is an implicit marshalling of an entire religious tradition in the service of their personal opinion. To use another case as illustrative, I recall in high school an acquaintance of mine who declared in biology class that their “religion said that evolution wasn’t true.” I happened to know this individual and asked to confirm that they were Roman Catholic, which they assented to, at which point I offered that Pope Pius XII stated in an encyclical in 1950 that evolutionary theory was reconcilable with Catholic belief. This burst my acquaintance’s bubble rather well.

Another issue is the social stress that different cultural mores induce. Most non-Western, and frankly, non-Anglo-Saxon, cultures have a different idea of “free expression” than is norm in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. The chilling of speech offensive to Muslims in Europe is a harkening back to the all-to-natural human norm. The attack on a theater in England by Sikhs was bestial. Not that absolute defense of freedom of speech is a universal characteristic of even all Americans, I recall back during the 1990s that William Donohue of the Catholic League floated ideas about enforcing sanctions against blasphemy via publically accepted community standards. In Catholicism and American Freedom I got the distinct impression that the Irish and Irish American hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church were uncomfortable both with the pluralism of American society and its minimal protections for the dignity of the Church.3 In fact, as the 20th century wore on Roman Catholic activists who had battled the WASP elites and Know-Nothings shoulder-to-shoulder with Jewish intellectuals felt betrayed when the latter would periodically align themselves with secular anti-clerical WASPs to attack the Church as an anti-democratic institution. Donohue didn’t have a coherent heuristic when queried in depth, but clearly there are those who would not shed tears at the death of liberty for Diderot.

I bring up the Roman Catholic example to emphasize to those sanguine about the rise of muscular Islam that elbow room offered to a marginal minority might be a tool used against the liberal order over the long term. Concessions in the interest of expediency and tolerance may be the first cracks in the high stress edifice of modern liberal democracy predicated on individual rights. Additionally, I believe the liberal democratic system is buttressed both by a particular relation between the state and individuals, and the pairwise interactions between individuals themselves. Clearly there are many segmented societies, but their social dynamics are often less than ideal. If social and political legitimization is granted a minority of “activists” from the increasing panoply of diverse communities, I suspect we will see a future where every man can be a Sharpton. As individuals and communities many will still thrive, but I believe the world will suffer the lack of liberal-individualistic witness.

What does the liberal democratic nation-state stand for? Well, sometimes it is easiest to define what one doesn’t stand for….

1 – Contrary to the title, Yaakov Yosef Reinman declares himself a scholar of particular legal issues, not a rabbi.

2 – The point of this post is that liberal individualism is good, so some social anomie is OK by me. My point is that systems have breaking points, and when you transform a society characterized by gentle graded variations into one clustered around particular modes the primary vehicle of social organization and expression will shift from the individual to the groups.

3 – Attacks against the Church, many of them clearly libelous, were not generated by secularists as much as Protestants in this case. Ironically, the Roman Catholic Church, despite its lack of affirmation for the separation of church and state until deep into the 20th century, was probably the single most importance vehicle for the push toward non-sectarianism in public schools from the 1850s on.

18 Comments

  1. At a parent-teacher meeting last week, the rabbi of my son’s nursery school said, “Children don’t want to be different, children want to belong”. 
     
    I think this is a useful, and true, way of looking at it (i.e. saying “belong” instead of “conform”) it reveals that the desire to conform is not wholly negative, and that it comes from a value (like it or not) that is psychologically very important to most of us. We should work with it, not against it.

  2. Shabina Begum was a tool of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to some sources. Her older brother, who was her guardian, was behind it, and the whole thing got a lot of attention because the Guardian journalist who wrote about it was also a member of the Hizb ut-Tahrir. She won in court even though her brother spoke for her. Of course the lawyer who defended her was the wife of the prime minister, which couldn’t have hurt either, but certainly raised a lot of questions in hindsight. We are all tools, I suppose. 
     
    http://www.muslimwakeup.com/main/archives/2005/03/muslims_in_the.php#more

  3. children want to belong 
     
    the key is, to what? one must be a stranger in a strange land before one can become a native. speaking as a grizzled old veteran of a 1980s pre-multiculturalist childhood the colored immigrant youth of today are coddled in their ethnic cocoons and their unique ‘heritage’ is cherished and nurtured. this is no way to shape roarks who will go out and rape the world.

  4. the key is, to what? 
     
    Yes, that is the key. I was making what I think is a statement of fact, not a value judgment. My value judgment comes when (if people feel like they don’t “belong” and try to solve their problem) I don’t like their solution.

  5. Sex and Money are great levelers. People want to conform to the best power structure around, as cheaply as possible.  
     
    When being part of an insular ethnic “society” means being broke or sexually frustrated, people will choose society at large. Maybe not overnight, but sooner or later. 
     
    Immigration and ethnic minority status is not new to the modern experience. The nation states of the world are filled with the descendants of once-inimical tribes and ethnic groups, who eventually barried their hatchets and had sex and worked together. The exceptions prove the rule.  
     
    IMO, what might seem a horrible, impossible situation of ethnic/racial tension to one person might, from an historical view, seem a remarkably smooth process of integration.

  6. “is that the only men that should see women are their closest male relations and their husband.” 
     
    You can say that again. I heard stories from Abu Dhabi contract workers that a wife gets to be passed among the other relative males who cant afford to buy a wife.

  7. I think wearing that shroud is of basic survival skills. 
    Women in Islam are more revered and respected if wearing the veil and Islam boys, sexually hungry as they are would attack women who are not wearing a veil. 
     
    I think the European boys should teach those veil-wearing girls a lesson that that stupid shroud is not superman’s cape. To keep Europe as Europe, protect their own European non-Islam women, those veil-wearing girls should be taught to play the field evenly.  
    The non-Islam European women AND Islam women should be kept from wearing the hijab to keep Islam from spreading in Europe.

  8. Immigration and ethnic minority status is not new to the modern experience. The nation states of the world are filled with the descendants of once-inimical tribes and ethnic groups, who eventually barried their hatchets and had sex and worked together. The exceptions prove the rule.  
     
    IMO, what might seem a horrible, impossible situation of ethnic/racial tension to one person might, from an historical view, seem a remarkably smooth process of integration.
     
     
    This is an important point, and one lost on the ethnic nationalists. 
     
    The sexual receptivity of the women from the host poulation is a key factor in integration. 
     
    South Asian males who usually have success with white women in the United States cannot get it going in Southeast Asia, where women are congenitally prjudiced against dark skin, viewing it as a stigmata of lower class origin.

  9. Pismire, 
     
    As I mentioned previously, my sister-in-law lives in Australia, is about 5’8″, pale complexion, blonde, blue-eyed, former air hostess (AFAIK), and married a South Asian, 5’6″, very dark almost black complexion, black hair and dark brown eyes, medical doctor. 
     
    They have 2 adorable children, which I saw photographs of when last in Ireland. Their son, who is 19 or so, was pictured surfing, and looks to have a deep tan, light brown eyes, wavy brown hair, 5′ 10″ – in fact looks the typical surfer dude, one would find in Australia or California. If I didn’t know better, I would guess he was Greek or some Meditteranean type. 
    This race mixing, it’s a beautiful thing!

  10. where women are congenitally prjudiced against dark skin, viewing it as a stigmata of lower class origin. 
     
    though he doesn’t publicize it, it is known that mahathir mohammed’s (former PM of malaysia for the past 25 years) father was a tamil muslim.

  11. Liv, 
    The woman is allowed to see her close relatives and not the close relatives of her husband. I think you got that confused. 
    Also could you please cite a link for your Abu Dhabi story.

  12. “South Asian males who usually have success with white women in the United States cannot get it going in Southeast Asia, where women are congenitally prjudiced against dark skin, viewing it as a stigmata of lower class origin”. 
     
    This is so true. South Asians are almost universally shunned by local women in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

  13. Speaking of social anomie, have you seen today’s headline about a Belgian suicide bomber, who happens to be female: 
     
    excerpt: 
    The paper says she is Muriel Degauque, 38, from Charleroi, who converted to Islam after marrying a radical Muslim. 
    Degauque’s mother Liliane told the paper that she knew her daughter had been involved before police told her she had carried out the attack on 9 November. 
    “She became more Muslim than Muslim,” said Mrs Degauque. “When she first converted, she wore a simple veil. That was not so far from normal, even if it is strange for a Belgian. But with her last husband she wore a chador [Islamic dress covering women from head to toe].” 
    Her daughter – believed to be the first female European bomber in Iraq – later travelled through Syria to Iraq, where she died in a failed attack against US troops on 9 November, the paper said.

  14. Al Mujahid, you’re the one whose confused. It was sarcasm. 
    Reread my post, no link, real stories from contract workers coming home from Abu Dhabi. 
     
    What are you, a third grader who cant understand English? I bet you’re AG, the same AG who copies her “scientific” answers from the internet. LOL.

  15. Ask any contract worker in Arab countries, they would tell you that you should never meddle with Islam ways. Or their court will behead you.

  16. Liv, I still have no idea what joke or point you intended to convey.  
     
    Now, maybe I am a third grader too, but at some point if enough people don’t get it is not the fault of the readers…

  17. liv, watch the personal attacks. AM’s question was in good faith, no matter if he mistook your tone or intent. also, FYI he isn’t “AG.”

  18. Don’t shoot the messenger. 
     
    Just because its not on the internet, it doesnt mean its not happening. Just figure it out, the poor men who cant buy a wife, probably because women are so scarce, due to the polygamous elders, what can they do? There are no prostitutes. So a man buys one wife, share her with his brothers and father too. It happens, sometimes they used donkeys too. And male contract workers. There is a big difference between moslem Europeans and moslems in arab countries. Now there is still a big difference because not every woman is wearing a shroud yet in Europe. Just wait and see. In Arab countries, you can’t even read a bible in public, nor display one.  
     
    My apologies to AM. Work stress. I work with ex-military guys, I perfected snapping at and hating men. Really sorry. :)

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