Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama and the head scarf

Barack Obama said many important and interesting things in his Cairo speech today, and here is one comment I especially appreciated:

... it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

This is exactly right. Attempts to prohibit women from freely choosing to wear head scarves or other clothing that expresses their religious beliefs is, under the guise of defending women's right to choose or keeping religion out of public places such as schools, an act of hostility towards their religion and their liberties. In France, for example, many liberals and even leftists have managed to convince themselves that this is a wise policy, when it is not only oppressive but provocative and likely to backfire. Moreover, it is the height of hypocrisy because in France Christian students are allowed to wear crosses around their necks as long as they are "discreet."

Freedom of religion is just as important as freedom from religion.

And I hope I don't need to apologize for using a photo of a beautiful woman to illustrate this post.

Interfering in Israel's "internal affairs"? Glenn Greenwald has a good post today on the reaction to Obama's putting the squeeze on Israel over its settlements in Palestine. Apparently the Israelis think Obama is meddling in their private business. Excuse me? An occupation, like that of the West Bank, is an international issue subject to international law. Now if Obama said that Jews and Arabs should be allowed to marry in Israel, which they currently are not, that might be meddling in Israel's internal affairs... or, on the other hand, perhaps it would be championing human rights. I guess there is no such thing as "internal affairs" in today's world.

Even American Jews are realizing the jig is up for Israeli settlements. See this editorial in the Jewish Daily Forward for evidence (with thanks to Talking Points Memo.)

Empathy on the Supreme Court? A superb column by Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times about how a little empathy in 1927 might have spared thousands of people from being sterilized against their will by eugenicists.


jqb said...

Here's a more critical view:

"But he didn't come at the issue from the perspective that was promised -- by addressing Muslims in Muslim countries. If that were indeed the case, we should have heard his analysis of women who are compelled or forced to wear hejab in these countries and women whose lives and livelihoods are severely impaired by the segregation of sexes that pervades much of the Muslim world."

"With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

Michael Balter said...

Perhaps Obama should have said more about abuse of women in the Muslim world, but his comment on the Western attitude towards the hejab was very sound in my view. Muslim extremists want to force women to wear them; Western bigots, often posing as liberals, want to force women not to wear them. Both attitudes are wrong.

Anne Gilbert said...

I tend to agree with Michael Balter that President Obama's viewsw on Muslim women in Western countries wearing head coverings is right. Particularly in the US, where there's less pressure on Muslims, Muslim women often, quite voluntarily, since there's nothing in the Quran, exactly, about wearing head scarves(just mainly injunctions for menand women to dress decently) adopt "hijab" dress(which usually includes "modest" dresses, etc.) as a badge of identity, just as some Muslim men adopt beards and skullcaps. However, there are situations where this kind of garb is not freely chosen; it's the result of pressure on women(and sometimes men)to adopt a certain kind of "religious" garb and attitude. In other countries and societies,it's a much harder call, because the conditions are different, and there is no monolithic "Islam" -- unlike what some people think. Attitudes toward these things are far different in, say Indonesia,than they are in, for example, Afghanistan. I think, to his credit, the President is quite well aware of this, though how well this is going to come across in various parts of the Muslim world,I don't know.

jqb said...

"his comment on the Western attitude towards the hejab was very sound in my view"

I agree, except for his identifying this attitude solely with "many liberals and even leftists". Shortly after I read and posted here, I saw Joan Wallach Scott, author of "The Politics of the Veil", on UCTV, and she properly identified these attitudes as rightist. Of course it wouldn't be the first time that some liberals and leftists adopted rightist attitudes, and I gather that she discusses the French cultural factors at play in her book. She also talked at some length about the issues of identify and political empowerment behind the voluntary wearing of the hijab, which was new to me.

"Both attitudes are wrong."