Sunday, August 2, 2009

Can't Help Scratching That Itch

In comments to this post, Leo chides me, properly, for breaking my own vow to say no more about the burqa, MCG berates me, improperly, for refusing to say that the burqa is inherently "degrading,"and now Francis recommends here that I correct my erroneous views by reading this. In this latest contribution to the debate, Jamil Sayah contends that not only the burqa but also the headscarf are examples of "la violence faite aux femmes" and proof that "Islamic fundamentalists" have already won their battle against laïcité. Both, he says, are symptoms of the confinement of women to a "zone of non-existence" and representations of woman as "an inferior being reduced to an object of pleasure."

I don't quite follow the logic here. In Catholicism, women are also represented as inferior to men: they cannot be ordained. Some Catholic women choose to dress in habits symbolizing both their hierarchical inferiority to certain men (priests) and their superiority to other women (they have married Christ and thereby entered a realm of purity free of carnal taint). Not everyone in the ambient society accepts these tenets of faith, but the symbol embodying them is nevertheless not banned from the streets. It is banned from the schools. Traditionally, laïcité meant exactly this kind of drawing of boundaries. Now, on metaphysical grounds that go well beyond the usual understanding of the demands of laïcité, M. Sayah wants to prove himself a laïque zealot.

The phrase "more Catholic than the Pope" comes to mind.


MCG said...


Correction of fact. You write, "MCG berates me, improperly, for refusing to say that the burqa is inherently "degrading."

In fact, I never berated you. And in fact, to my knowledge, you never refused to call the burqa degrading. What a surprise to be criticized for doing something improper, when I did not do what I am accused of at all.

Where do these concoctions come from?

Unknown said...

OK, you challenged me to say that the only issue was whether the burqa is degrading, as if that were some sort of objective judgment. Clearly, some consider it degrading, others don't. I certainly wouldn't choose to wear one, but it's not my judgment that matters. That's why I consider voluntariness an important criterion. You don't. So let's agree to disagree. Sorry if my choice of words was intemperate.

FRANCIS said...

Since Jamil Sayah's paper didn't convine you, let me quote another author from muslim origin, Necla Kelek, a Turkish German author. Unfortunately most of her articles are in German, but I found some in English. Responding to Ian Buruma on multiculturalism ( she writes : "I can tell you, Mr Buruma, why Italian beaches reserved for Muslim women are "so much more terrible." Unlike kosher dining or a case of the flu requiring hospitalisation, the beach is a Muslim attempt to bring about change. Whether it is headscarves or gender-specific separation of public space, political Islam is trying to establish apartheid of the sexes in free European societies. A Muslim hospital is fundamentally different from a Catholic hospital. In a Muslim hospital, patients are separated according to gender. Men may be treated only by men, women only by women. Muslim female nurses, for example, may not wash male patients, they may not even touch them."