Monday, July 12, 2010

Ban the Burqa!

Veiled Threats? - Opinionator Blog - NYTimes.com: "that the faculty with which people search for life’s ultimate meaning — frequently called “conscience” ─ is a very important part of people, closely related to their dignity. And we add one further premise, which we might call the vulnerability premise: this faculty can be seriously damaged by bad worldly conditions. It can be stopped from becoming active, and it can even be violated or damaged within. (The first sort of damage, which the 17th-century American philosopher Roger Williams compared to imprisonment, happens when people are prevented from outward observances required by their beliefs. The second sort, which Williams called “soul rape,” occurs when people are forced to affirm convictions that they may not hold, or to give assent to orthodoxies they don’t support.)


How important are "conscience" and "dignity"? They aren't. They're luxury items for rich sentimentalists that don't have anything real to worry about. Questions about "life's ultimate meaning," to the extent that they're intelligible, are of no interest to the vast majority of the human race--nor, arguably, should they be.

Maybe we value these high-falutin' items because of our historical memory of the Church "built on the blood of martyrs." More likely we value them because we're too rich and comfortable for our own good. We evolved to do hard, physical work and deal with adversity. If we don't do strenuous manual labor, we need to exercise instead. If we're materially well-off, without real worries, we conjure up concerns about conscience, dignity, and life's ultimate meaning. And instead of viewing rich hobbiests who are concerned about this bullshit as the silly asses they are, we valorize them.

As the the burqa, conscience, dignity and religious commitment are not what is at issue. In Western countries Muslim costume is a symbol of non-assimilation. In addition to marking wearers as ethnically diverse it makes ethnicity more salient and so sets back the interests of others who prefer to assimilate.

We have a narrative, of ethnically diverse individuals, pressed by the dominant culture to assimilate who would prefer to retain their ethnic identities. In fact the real story is one of ethnically identified individuals who are not allowed in to the dominant culture--not only by hard racism which excludes them outright but by the new soft racism that promotes ethnic diversity and demands that they identify with ancestral cultures.

There is an irreconcilable conflict of interests between a cultural-preservationist minority, which wants to retain ethnic distinctiveness, and an assimilationist majority. The wearing of distinctive costume and other markers of ethnic identity looks prima facie like a purely self-regarding practice, that has no serious consequences for anyone but those who choose to engage in it. But it isn't. It makes ethnicity more salient and so affects all members of the ethnic group, including those who want to assimilate.

4 comments:

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Alan Cooper said...

I agree with your closong paragraphs, but you deeply misunderstand the importance of "dignity".

Far from being a luxury item for "rich sentimentalists", it is something which is most deeply felt by the most deprived (viz primitive Afghan peasants and urban gangstas, or the 17th child via the 10th wife of a wealthy businessman), and the reason for "rich sentimentalists" to be concerned about it is because young males who feel it threatened can be very very dangerous.

H. E. said...

Alan Cooper, I just had a think about that and you're correct. If you have nothing else and aren't likely to improve you lot, dignity, honor are all you've got.

But what does one do about the young males who have nothing but their honor and machismo? Keep them happy by sacrificing virgins? Make sure that they have women to lord it over so they don't run amok?

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