Why “Belgium” is the most offensive word in the galaxy

For its offenses to secularism:

Belgium’s lower house of parliament has voted for a law that would ban women from wearing the full Islamic face veil in public.

The law would ban any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street. No-one voted against it. The law now goes to the Senate, which is also expected to approve it. It would then become law by June or July.

The ban would be the first move of its kind in Europe.

Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million. The BBC’s Dominic Hughes in Brussels says MPs backed the legislation on the grounds of security, to allow police to identify people. Other MPs said that the full face veil was a symbol of the oppression of women, our correspondent says. The ban would be imposed in all buildings or grounds that are “meant for public use or to provide services”, including streets, parks and sports grounds. Exceptions could be made for certain festivals.

Those who break the law could face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£27) or a seven-day jail sentence.

The Muslim Executive of Belgium has criticised the move, saying it would lead to women who do wear the full veil to be trapped in their homes.

If the Muslim Executive of Belgium hadn’t made the point, I would have. Muslim women who are comfortable moving in public in full veil (or women who are only permitted to move in public in full veil) are never going to assimilate if a.) the Belgian government acts in a way they can only interperet as hostile to their deeply held convictions, and b.) if they can’t acutally leave the house anymore.

Quebec’s legislature is considering a similar bill. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t get this far there, and it doesn’t go any further in Belgium.

About the link: I understand civic secularism to be governmental neutrality on religious or metaphysical questions, which entails not forbidding any religious practice which directly harms no persons, animals, or property. 

(And, also, unrelated to the issue at hand, I think secularism also necessitates a positivist paradigm for all legal and legislative language. Insofar as the Constitution makes no metaphysical claims about the authority of the American government to enforce its laws, it is reconcilable with secularism. However, if it claimed the rights of citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property were founded on rights bestowed by a Creator, then I would wish to see it amended.)

About the headline: Read this.


Iran cracks down on tanned women

Suntanning is bad for your health. It elicits skin cancer and visits from the Revolutionary Guard. Via the BBC:

Brig Hossien Sajedinia, Tehran’s police chief, said a national crackdown on opposition sympathisers would be extended to women who have been deemed to be violating the spirit of Islamic laws. He said: “The public expects us to act firmly and swiftly if we see any social misbehaviour by women, and men, who defy our Islamic values. In some areas of north Tehran we can see many suntanned women and young girls who look like walking mannequins.

“We are not going to tolerate this situation and will first warn those found in this manner and then arrest and imprison them.”

Iran’s Islamic leadership has in recent weeks launched a scaremongering campaign to persuade the population that vice is sweeping the streets of the capital. National law stipulates that women wear headscarves and shape shrouding cloaks but many women, particularly in the capital, spend heavily on fashions that barely adhere to the regulations. The announcement came shortly after Ayatollah Kazim Sadighi, a leading cleric, warned that women who dressed immodestly disturbed young men and the consequent agitation caused earthquakes.

Another preacher warned Tehran’s citizens to flee before the inevitable punishment for flagrant behaviour was visited on the city.

“Go on the streets and repent for your sins,” Ayatollah Aziz Khoshvaqt, one of the country’s highest clerics, told worshippers during a recent sermon in northern Tehran. “A holy torment is upon us. Leave town.”


From Kant’s Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. “Sapere Aude! [Dare to know!] Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.

Mississippi high school disappeares lesbian student from yearbook

Via the Jackson Free Press:

When Veronica Rodriguez opened Wesson Attendance Center’s Yearbook on Friday, she didn’t find a trace of her lesbian daughter Ceara Sturgis after a long battle with school officials to include a photo of her daughter wearing a tuxedo in the school’s 2010 yearbook. “They didn’t even put her name in it,” Sturgis’ mother Veronica Rodriguez said. “I was so furious when she told me about it. Ceara started crying and I told her to suck it up. Is that not pathetic for them to do that? Yet again, they have crapped on her and made her feel alienated.”

Rodriguez has attended Wesson Attendence center for twelve years, and was an honor student. But now she’s not even acknowledged in a list of graduating seniors.

BC Catholic school recruits, then fires lesbian teacher

Via the Vancouver Sun:

Lisa Reimer said Wednesday her music classes were cancelled and she was told to work from home marking papers until her one-year temporary employment contract with Little Flower Academy expires in June. She said the effect of the orders, which came after the school apparently received complaints from parents who didn’t like a homosexual instructor teaching their children, amounts to dismissal. “I feel like I’ve been fired with a payout,” she told reporters at a news conference. “All the families have been told I am on a personal leave, which I am not.” She said the school took the action just as she was preparing to return to work after a three-week leave following the birth of her son. But in a statement issued late Wednesday, Celso Boscariol, the chairman of the school’s board of directors, said Reimer “has not been fired, and she remains in the services of LFA until June 30 and will continue to be paid accordingly.”

He said school administration met with Reimer when she wanted to return to work “to discuss projects consistent with the music theory curriculum. The school understood that her proposed role was acceptable and the matter was resolved.”

However, he said he would look into Reimer’s allegations that she was told not to come to the school or have direct contact with any students. B.C. Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said she had only heard of the case through media reports but was concerned.  “I am concerned about what I have heard and I have asked ministry staff to look into this,” she said. “Stepping way back, there are labour laws, human rights laws in British Columbia and they have to be followed. They apply to everyone. The law is the law.”

Reimer told reporters she was recruited by Little Flower Academy last year to take over as a music teacher and choirmaster on a one-year contract while the regular teacher was on maternity leave. At the time, she was on a leave herself from the Vancouver School District, and she will return to the district in September.

Reimer said she signed a contract with Little Flower Academy that included a clause indicating that as a non-Catholic she would not speak out against the Catholic faith or try to influence students with non-Catholic values, something she said she would never do anyway. She said her sexual orientation was never discussed. She said she met with school principal Marcelle DeFreitas and vice-principal Diane Little in January and was told the school doesn’t give parental leave but that she could take up to 15 days sick leave to be with her partner. At the time, they were excited for her future child, she said, but they also warned her that if word got out and parents complained, they “might have to dismiss me.” Reimer said she took sick leave three weeks ago after her partner gave birth to a boy. She said she expected to return to work last Monday, but a few days before that she received an urgent e-mail from DeFreitas saying they had to meet to discuss her future. When she went to the meeting, she was told that parents had complained about the image of a lesbian teacher teaching their daughters, she said.

She said she’s angry about the message the school is sending to students. “I think it tells them it is OK to be bigoted and to be homophobic and that it’s OK to make deals behind closed doors with no witnesses,” she said. “I really care about the girls and am really proud of them and enjoyed working with them.”

A personal remark

Last January, I learned my mother had been told I had Asperger syndrome when I was eleven. Later, I would review the paperwork myself, and see the diagnosis was not a diagnosis, but the informal opinion of a Cleveland Clinic neurologist.

The week after that, the opionions of several friends and a psychiatrist I had known all of two hours made me doubt the opinion. But I still wanted closure on the question, so in the next few weeks contacted Marquette’s Autism Clinic to undergo a formal diagnosis. The waiting list was months and months long,  and I only heard back from them in the early days of this current semester. For the last two months or so, I’ve been subjected to several structured and unstructured interviews, and cognitive and ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) tests.

I got the results this morning: In all three of ADOS’s diagnositc criterion, I scored within the range of Asperger syndrome. In interviews, I apparently displayed poor eye contact, formalized and idosyncratic speech, abnormally few gestures, and limited insight into social norms, also typical symptoms of Aspergers. My childhood history, marked by negative reactions to being held or touched, lack of immaginative play, and difficulty socializing outside my nuclear family also pointed to the diagnosis.

Also, though neuropsychological testing would be required to verify it by DSM standards, there is a strong indication I have a nonverbal learning disability, specifically a mathematics disorder. My difficulties with socialization have translated to an anxiety disorder, which itself begat dysthymic disorder, a chronic variety of depression.

I’m not really looking for sympathy in noting this, but think neurodiversity and mental health are topics worthy of disclosure, kind of like gay rights; the conversation will never change if no one speaks up.

“A desirable spiritual exercise”

Any moral ideal ought to push us to be more than we are. However, an ideal necessitates we become something we cannot possibly be is to be discarded, before the continual and inevitable failure to live up to it leads to guilt, distortion, and laxity of virtue.

The notion of “universal love” I take to be such an impossible standard. Despite the insistence of a “universal family” in much of our discourse, the rest of our moral language gives hint to the unattainability of this communion; would we really waste time cultivating a sense of “duty” or “obligation” if we could teach ourselves to love everyone? Obviously not; those things love obliges us to undertake do not feel like “obligations,” but are undertaken freely and with joy.

 We can tolerate people, both their existence and their needs which need fulfilling; if we cannot do this, there is no hope for civilization, because we will not be able to love them.

I was relieved to learn I was not alone in this opinion. The undeniably E.M. Forster repudiated love as a civic virtue, and recognized tolerance, this “dull, boring, negative virtue” as the most necessary of things. As England was rebuilding after the Second World War and the Blitz, he composed a remarkable essay on the topic, which I quote here:

Love is a great force in private life; indeed, the greatest of all things; but love in public affairs does not work. It has been tried again and again: by the Christian civilizations of the Middle Ages, and also by the French Revolution, a secular movement which reasserted the Brotherhood of Man. And it has always failed. The idea that nations should love one another, or that business concerns marketing boards should love one another, or that a man in Portugal should love a man in Peru of whom he has never heard—it is absurd, unreal, dangerous. It leads us into perilous and vague sentimentalism. “Love is needed,” we chant, and the world goes on as before.

The fact is, we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much. In public affairs, the rebuilding of civilization, something much less dramatic and emotional is needed, namely tolerance.

Tolerance is a very dull virtue. It is boring. Unlike love, it has always had a bad press. It is negative. It merely means putting up with people, being able to stand things. No one has ever written an ode to tolerance, or raised a statue to her. Yet this is the quality which will be most needed after the war. his is the sound state of mind we are looking for. This is the only force which will enable different races and classes and interests to settle down together to the work of reconstruction.

The world is very full of people – appallingly full: it has never been so full before, and they are all tumbling over each other. Most of these people one doesn’t know and some of them one doesn’t like; doesn’t like the colour of their skins, say, or the shapes of their noses, or the way they blow them or don’t blow them, or the way they talk, or their smell, or their clothes, or their fondness for jazz or their dislike of jazz, and so on. Well, what is one to do? There are two solutions. One of them is the Nazi solution. If you don’t like people, kill them, banish them, segregate them, and then strut up and down proclaiming that you are the salt of the earth. The other way is much less thrilling, but it is on the whole the way of the democracies, and I prefer it. If you don’t like people, put up with them as well as you can. Don’t try to love them: you can’t, you’ll only strain yourself. But try to tolerate them. On the basis of that tolerance a civilized future may be built. Certainly I can see no other foundation for the post-war world.
For what it will most need is the negative virtues: not being huffy, touchy, irritable, revengeful. I have lost all faith in positive militant ideals; they can so seldom be carried out without thousands of human beings getting maimed or imprisoned. Phrases like “I will purge this nation.” “I will clean up this city” terrify and disgust me. They might not have mattered when the world was emptier: they are horrifying now, when one nation is mixed up with another, when one city cannot be organically separated from its neighbours. And, another point: reconstruction is unlikely to be rapid. I do not believe that we are psychologically fit for it, plan the architects never so wisely. In the long run, yes, perhaps: the history of our race justifies that hope. But civilization has its mysterious regressions, and it seems to me that we are fated now to be in one of them, and must recognize this and behave accordingly. Tolerance, I believe, will be imperative after the establishment of peace. It’s always useful to take a concrete instance: and I have been asking myself how I should behave if, after peace was signed, I met Germans who had been fighting against us. I shouldn’t try to love them: I shouldn’t feel inclined. They have broken a window in my little ugly flat for one thing. But I shall try to tolerate them, because it is common sense, because in the post-war world we shall have to live with Germans. We can’t exterminate them, any more than they have succeeded in exterminating the Jews. We shall have to put up with them, not for any lofty reason, but because it is the next thing that will have to be done.
I don’t then regard tolerance as a great eternally established divine principle, though I might perhaps quote “In my Father’s house are many mansions” in support of such a view. It is just a makeshift, suitable for an overcrowded and overheated planet. It carries on when love gives out, and love generally gives out as soon as we move away from our home and our friends and stand among strangers in a queue for potatoes. Tolerance is wanted in the queue; otherwise we think, “Why will people be so slow?”; it is wanted in the tube, or ‘”Why will people be so fat?”; it is wanted at the telephone, or “Why are they so deaf?”; or conversely, “Why do they mumble?” It is wanted in the street, in the office, at the factory, and it is wanted above all between classes. races, and nations. It’s dull. And yet it entails imagination. For you have all the time to be putting yourself in someone else’s place. Which is a desirable spiritual exercise

 “On Tolerance” was collected in Two Cheers for Democracy, an anthology of Forster’s writings on politics and culture, now tragically underread. If I were asked to elucidate my political philosophy, I would hand my inquirer a stack of Spinoza, Mill, Popper, Berlin, back issues of The Economist, with Forster’s remarkable book on top. It is a modest but stalwart defense of civilization, irony, liberty and humanism. The prose is lucid but never quite beautiful; but Forster would probably tell us any political language designed to be beautiful is to be approached with skepticism. And I would agree.