24 August 2016

France’s Burqa and Burqini Ban: Illiberal and counter-productive.

France has toyed with the idea of banning the burqa at various times in the last ten or fifteen years. Now a few towns in France have banned the burqini. The burqini is essentially a spandex body suit, with a hijab or hair covering. The idea of bans has always been both appealing to me, and troubling. The weight of my feelings about the idea of a burqa ban in France slanted always toward unease and opposition, though not always intense unease. I’m a fairly sharp critic of Islam, but I often find myself defending Muslims from illiberal polices proposed by conservatives in the US, who seem to not want intense competition in the conservative, woman-hating theocracy game. Understandable given the historical context. Christianity’s collision with modernity has left it largely-though not completely- toothless. It just doesn’t manufacture zealots like it used to. Well, not violent ones anyway. Islam globally doesn’t seem to have this problem, and even in Western Europe Islam can reliably produce radicalized people, willing to get into trucks to drive over people, find firearms to shoot people, or deliver bombs, or be bombs to blow up their neighbors. But that is all on one side. The burqa ban doesn’t really, can’t really address concerns about terrorism.  Muslim women just aren’t often sources of radicalized violence. Any ban of the burqa, or its sibling the burqini can’t really be justified by the idea that such bans would have even a mild effect on radical violence.

I mean I don’t like it, but should
it be banned?

So why has the idea of a burqa ban even kind of appealed to me? Because even if you factor out terrorism, Islam is, from the perspective of a secular humanist, a multifaceted problem. It tends to be conservative in nature, taking a dim view of classical liberal ideas (by liberal I am referring to the ideas of John Stuart Mill, and the civil libertarians- not to be confused with the confusing modern libertarians). The luminaries of Islam seem to look at freedom of speech, of the press, with a bit of skepticism, if not outright derision. The idea of a separation between Church and State seems anathema to many Muslims. Fortunately for the West, Christianity grew up in the shadow of state power, and that guarded that power jealously. As such the framers of Christian doctrine had to thread the needle vary carefully. Christian leaders certainly wanted temporal power, and influence, but they also wanted to avoid being annihilated, and so the bible is replete with face saving ways for the Church and the people it influenced to exist within a State. Islam doesn’t seem to share this evolution. It evolved not in the shadow of another power, but was the power that grew. That is probably an oversimplification readers can correct in the comments section.

In western Europe, perhaps more than the US, Islam tends to toward a conservative view of its scriptures. Women are less than men, must be chaperoned, must be covered. Communities are insular. It is that insularity, coupled with religious conservatism that has always made me question whether or not Muslim women in Western Europe really have much of a choice in the matter of what they wear. If you can be shunned, beaten or in cases that aren’t rare enough, even be killed, and have few avenues of redress if you are bullied or tyrannized by family and community how much choice can you really be said to have in the matter of what you wear? This treatment of women, has very real costs for women in Islamic communities. Being chaperoned means they cannot speak freely with doctors, police, or other care givers. Face covering deprives people dealing with Muslim women of a very key piece of human communication, as well as making it sometimes difficult to know even to whom you are speaking. But really my major concern, above all the troubles the burqa might create in western societies, is the idea that women wearing them may not really want to wear them but feel they have no recourse. The choice to wear a burqa, or even the less restrictive burqini may not really exist. This is largely why I sometimes find myself not as strenuously objecting, while still objecting, to calls for bans. In these moments I wonder if a ban were passed would it not provide Muslim women a breathing space to exercise their own autonomy.

But wait, would you ban this? 

Thinking honestly about a subject means entertaining doubts though, and so I continue to have this debate with myself every time calls to ban burqas come up. To this mix I can now add the burqini which has actually been banned from beaches in some French towns. While I think all these woman hating clothes are awful I can’t support a ban on them because such a policy would necessarily violate a person’s right to practice their religion, while unfairly singling Muslims out. One can’t imagine that the ankle length denim skirts worn by women in hardline Pentecostal  communities represents an overabundance of choice for the women who wear them. Yet, we are largely silent on the matter of those women. It is hard to imagine a way any ban on Muslim dress can  foment meaningful changes in the conservative attitudes about women that seem rife in Islam. Such bans, will only increase insularity, prevent Muslim women from interacting with a broader community, and increase opposition to secular governance, and secular values. It would probably also represent a source of radicalizing propaganda. On top of this bans would necessarily penalize the people I would most like to help, Muslim women. Banning the burqa, and burqini would mean that Muslim women would go out less, enjoy less.

16 August 2016

The Troubling Case of Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort is a lobbyest. In some more honest moments Manafort will admit that "influence peddler" is, at least, a somewhat apt description of what he does. He is currently the chairman of Donald Trump's imploding presidential campaign. This week the New York Times published a story about Manafort that can only be damaging to the Trump campaign mired as it is in links to Putin's Moscow.

In the Times article Manafort's name appeared, along with names of companies he sought business with, in a secret ledger used by the ousted President Victor Yanokovych. If the handwritten ledger is to be believed, Manafort received 12.7 million dollars in undisclosed cash payments between 2007-2012. The special investigators trying to untangle the web of corruption that characterized Yanukovych's Putin friendly, administration are quick to point out that the ledger doesn't constitute direct evidence that Manafort actually received these payments. Unsurprisingly, Manafort denies ever receiving off the books cash payments. For me though, the cash payments are the very least of my concerns. That Yanokovych would be corrupt and make illegal payments to people whom he wanted to influence, or have influence others is hardly surprising. Corrupt folks do corrupt things. Interestingly, Manafort's shady business in the Ukraine was why McCain chose not to hire him in 2008.

Whether Manafort received unreported cash or not, the story produces some more troubling links to Putin's Russia as well as a willingness on the part of people of power and influence close to Trump, and whose opinions Trump values, to be deal with some awful, awful people. Manafort and his firm have represented some reprehensible people and regimes over the years. Prior to his firm's work advising Yanokovyvh and helping him win election, Manafort and his firm also represented Philippine dictator, and all around piece of shit Ferdinand Marcos. But representing less than savory characters, and trying to win influence for them is a big part of what Manafort does. This is part of the problem of course.

But Manafort's close association with Putin friendly oligarchs and presidents coupled with his association with Trump cast many of Trumps own pro-Putin, pro-Russia comments in a harsher light. Trump's financial ties to Russia are significant in their own right. What conclusions can we draw from Manafort's close ties Russia with the fact that the Trump campaign forced the GOP to soften its platform on the annexation of Crimea? Or onn Trump's less than supportive ideas about NATO? What of the growing consensus that Russia hacked the DNC to benefit Donald Trump? We probably can't say anything too concrete, but surely Trump's associations must fail to inspire confidence.

It may be premature to suggest this but I suspect a Trump administration might ape the Yanokovych Administration. State coffers would be raided, and funneled into private hands, and those hands are likely to be Russian ones.