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Archive for June 24th, 2009

Nicolas Sarkozy wants to outlaw the wearing of the burqa in public places in France:

The problem of the burka is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman’s freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France.

I suppose the logic goes something like this: The burqa is demeaning; it offends my values. So the woman who chooses to wear it, whether out of social pressure or personal choice (*), is not truly free. Thus, I must make them free by taking away this choice from them.

Come to think of it, this kind of argument is a remarkable tool. Sarkozy did not invent it — precisely the same justification is used all the time to critique everything that the vanguards of public morality consider degrading: from prostitution to pornography, taking drugs to working for low wages. But he — like other petty dictators of this world — sees the real power of this infantilizing logic, because it allows him to restrict individual freedom by invoking supposedly liberal values. That’s masterful. Of course, most people do not understand or care about the fundamental difference between the moral and the legal, the personal and the political, social disapproval and actual coercion; thus this charade continues.

*I am discounting from this discussion any women who are actually coerced (by threats of violence or similar means) to wear the burqa; obviously we need to prevent this from happening, but there are already laws to deal with such situations.

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1. I am currently in Hawaii. It is most wonderful. And there is something truly special about doing math on the beach. Some day I hope to find out if it is as good as having sex on the beach.

2. I am in the final couple of months of my US stay. This is not the post to express all the things I feel about the last five years of my life — that would take far too long — but I’ll just note a few things. Doing a PhD, at least in math, is much more about learning than research. The USA has its good and bad sides, but I came here, like a lot of Indians, with a somewhat negative view of this country and over the years I have come to love it and much of what it stands for. I really enjoyed my grad life and I think I grew as an individual — my political and philosophical views got more refined, my view of relationships and people got more mature. I will be sad to leave, sad to no longer be a student, sad to leave my friends, a close ex-girlfriend and a lover behind on this continent. But change is a wonderful thing, in spite of everything it entails; and while there are many aspects of my identity I consider significant — libertarian, atheist, mathematician, dreamer — I am perhaps above all a dynamist.

3. Talking of girlfriends and lovers, I completely agree with Kerry Howley’s take on the issue (stated only for marriages, but surely applicable to any meaningful relationship).

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