Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A mark of separation


Saddam Hussein accuses the prosecutors in his trial of dividing Iraqis by giving evidence of his repression of the Kurds, and selflessly offers to give up being tried. For the children. For the children.

Speaking of children, everyone should lay off Madonna. That’s her African baby, she’s got a receipt and everything.

Tony Blair has weighed into the British discussion of whether Muslim women should wear the veil. Any feminist substance in this debate was sidelined pretty early on, perhaps because of the paradox of trying to claim that Jack Straw was just trying to protect Muslim women from being told what to wear by men when he, a man, was telling them to take their veils off, but more likely because British politicians and pundits don’t really care about the women as individuals but as symbols of Muslim Otherness.

Blair said that the veil is a “mark of separation, and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable.” Clearly, then, they should take their lead from Tony Blur himself, who has never quite admitted to being a Catholic because it would have been bad for his political career, and who changes his accent according to what audience he’s addressing. He says there is a need for British Muslims to get “the balance right between integration and multi-culturalism,” which may be more or less true as a general principle, but becomes coercive and intolerant when expressed as a command by the prime minister. As for the notion that bigots people outside a community who feel uncomfortable should have some sort of a veto over the appearance of members of that community, that’s a shameful argument to still be hearing (in the nineteenth century, this logic was used to ban Salvation Army processions, which often came under attack from hooligans, until Beatty v. Gillbanks [1882] overturned that logic of the mob veto and said that peaceful activities could not be banned simply because other people reacted to them violently; the point of my historical digression is that Blair’s line of argument was considered and rejected as being unfair to people peacefully practicing their religions by those epitomes of tolerance, the freaking Victorians) (and the Sally Army had those great big drums, which is surely a lot more annoying than the inability to see a woman’s hair). (Update: just as I was ready to post, I saw Blair’s press conference on C-SPAN. He didn’t just say that the Muslims need to get the balance right, etc, he said “people” meaning non-Muslims “need to know that” British Muslims are getting the balance right. So the judgment of what the right balance is, how much Muslim-ness Muslims are allowed to express, is to be made not by the Muslims but by everyone else.)


While Blair is whittering on about getting the balance right between integration and multi-culturalism, the Rev. Ian Paisley may become prime minister of Northern Ireland next month, although maybe not because he just stormed out of talks in an attempt to force Sinn FĂ©iners to swear an oath supporting not just the law, but the Northern Irish police (whose current name I forget, but were provocatively entitled the Royal Ulster Constabulary until a couple of years ago) (No wait, I remember there was a plan to call them the Northern Irish Police Service, then someone realized what the acronym would be...)

Blair also said that British military forces would not “walk away” from Iraq or Afghanistan. I should hope not; that would be quite a long walk.

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