Rhetoric

Graham Hartman on sneering:

Sneering is a way of distinguishing yourself from that at which you sneer. And normally, a sneer is a last resort, since a clear argument or presentation of facts is generally a more satisfying triumph than a sneer. Namely, the sneer comes when you start to worry that there isn’t too much difference between your position and the one you wish to critique. Having run out of healthy and convincing options, you sneer.And let there be no mistake, it is a universal human risk. The authors you like probably do it as much as the ones you don’t like. In fact, going through any author and looking for the sneers is a good way to find their weak spots. (Dennett has a nice variant on this when he tells his students to look for rhetorical questions as the weak spots in an argument. A commenter on Leiter’s blog said to look for places where authors say “obviously” and then challenge those very points. And of course, anything in scare quotes can always be challenged pretty effectively: remember that “sneer quotes” is one of the older terms for scare quotes. In like manner, “obviously” can function as a sneer at the ignorant and inferior, and rhetorical questions are also sneers.)

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Fed. judge blocks part of AZ immigration bill, claims encroachment on fed. laws, “extraordinary” burden on immigrants

Via the NY Times:

In a ruling on a law that has rocked politics coast to coast and thrown a spotlight on the border state’s fierce debate over immigration, United States District Court Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix said some aspects of the law can go into effect as scheduled on Thursday. But Judge Bolton took aim at the parts of the law that have generated the most controversy, issuing a preliminary injunction against sections that called for officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times. Judge Bolton put those sections on hold while she continues to hear the larger issues in the challenges to the law. “Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely preempted by federal law to be enforced,” she said. “There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens,” she wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Australia’s Dateline

Vatican to defrock practicing gay Roman priests

The Italian magazine Panorama recently published an expose on the subculture of Roman priests who frequent gay sex clubs. The Vatican has promised to seek out and defrock any clergyman to be connected to the story.

So why, after ten years of having the conspiracy out in the open, hasn’t the Magisterium made a similar promise to seek out and expell pedophiles? The promise to expell Rome’s cruisers was made immediately upon publication of the article; but an accusation of pedophilia initiateds a process of review that can take a decade to produce a quiet, private defrocking, if one happens at all.

Why is this? Because many church administrators, up to and including the highest office, have for decades been sitting on their knowledge of their own participation in actively covering up abuses.  To move against any abuser or concealer of abuse, they would be indicting themselves. The thing really paramount to them, their first and last obligation, is protecting themselves, and by extension, the image of their institution. Even the expulsion of the priests featured in the Panorama piece is framed in image-control terms. Via the above linked Newsweek article:

Cardinal Agostino Vallini, head of the Rome diocese, is in charge of purging the offending clerics, and he has called on all gay priests who cannot respect the basic tenet of celibacy to get out of the priesthood. “Priests who are living a double life have not understood what the Catholic priesthood is and should not have become priests,” he said in a statement responding to the Panorama expose. “Consistency demands that they be discovered. We do not wish them ill, but we cannot accept that because of their behavior the honor of all the other priests is dragged through the mud.” [Emphasis mine.]

“Otherness is the challenge that Europe never mastered”

Leon Wieseltier on France’s burqa ban:

Where the face is covered, ethics cannot exist. I have been pondering all this again on the occasion of “the bill to forbid covering one’s face in public,” or the anti-burqa measure recently passed by the National Assembly in France. It has been defended on grounds of human rights. France, declared its minister of justice, “does not accept attacks on human dignity. It does not tolerate the abuse of vulnerable people.” Uh-huh. I confess that I am watching the French struggle with the distinction between Islam and Islamism—I mean the French who are struggling with it at all—with a certain malicious delight. Is the distinction really so slippery? When did France become the homeland of l’Autre, naturally tolerant and welcoming to cultures unlike its own? (The philosophy of Levinas was, among other things, a prophetic castigation of France.) And the same question may be asked of other European societies whose suspicion of, or hostility to, the Muslims in their midst has a foul familiar air. Otherness is the challenge that Europe never mastered. (I apologize for the gross historical generalization, but I have been immersed in Jordi Savall’s monumental reconstruction in music of the Cathars and their destruction.) And now, to fight Islamism in France, the power of the state, the frightened state, is being used to forbid the free practice of religion. It is of course shocking to encounter a person in a burqa, as it is to encounter a person tattooed from head to toe: it is a mutilation of personhood. But by what right does the state intervene? If some Muslim women are forced into their hideous sartorial prison, the state will not relieve them, and the Muslim men who are solicitous of their humanity, of the need to dissent and to rebel—of the rupture of modernization, which can only occur within, as it did in Christianity and Judaism; and if many Muslim women cover themselves consensually, the state should leave them be. Intolerance is a poor security policy. Moreover, the face is not all it’s cracked up to be. The face may be manifest but deceptive, and no disclosure at all; or it may disclose anger and hatred and violence. A visible face may be more dangerous than an invisible one. I am thinking of nineteen faces in particular.

Who’s better on DADT, Obama or O’Reilly?

The answer may depress the hell out of you.

Estimated 2,000 UK girls to endure genital mutliation over summer holidays

Video opens with a scene of a mutilation:

Via The Guardian:

Like any 12-year-old, Jamelia was excited at the prospect of a plane journey and a long summer holiday in the sun. An avid reader, she had filled her suitcases with books and was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when her mother came for her. “She said, ‘You know it’s going to be today?’ I didn’t know exactly what it would entail but I knew something was going to be cut. I was made to believe it was genuinely part of our religion.”

She went on: “I came to the living room and there were loads of women. I later found out it was to hold me down, they bring lots of women to hold the girl down. I thought I was going to be brave so I didn’t really need that. I just lay down and I remember looking at the ceiling and staring at the fan.

“I don’t remember screaming, I remember the ridiculous amount of pain, I remember the blood everywhere, one of the maids, I actually saw her pick up the bit of flesh that they cut away ’cause she was mopping up the blood. There was blood everywhere.”

Some 500 to 2,000 British schoolgirls will be genitally mutilated over the summer holidays. Some will be taken abroad, others will be “cut” or circumcised and sewn closed here in the UK by women already living here or who are flown in and brought to “cutting parties” for a few girls at a time in a cost-saving exercise.

Then the girls will return to their schools and try to get on with their lives, scarred mentally and physically by female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that serves as a social and cultural bonding exercise and, among those who are stitched up, to ensure that chastity can be proved to a future husband.

Even girls who suffer less extreme forms of FGM are unlikely to be promiscuous. One study among Egyptian women found 50% of women who had undergone FGM “endured” rather than enjoyed sex.

Cleanliness, neatness of appearance and the increased sexual pleasure for the man are all motivations for the practice. But the desire to conform to tradition is the most powerful motive. The rite of passage, condemned by many Islamic scholars, predates both the Koran and the Bible and possibly even Judaism, appearing in the 2nd century BC.

Although unable to give consent, many girls are compliant when they have the prodecure carried out, believing they will be outcasts if they are not cut. The mothers believe they are doing the best for their daughters. Few have any idea of the lifetime of hurt it can involve or the medical implications.

Jamelia, now 20, who says her whole personality changed afterwards.”I felt a lot older. It was odd because nobody says this is a secret, keep your mouth shut but that’s the message you get loud and clear.” She stopped the sports and swimming she used to love and became “strangely disconnected with her own body”. Other girls have died, of shock or blood loss; some have picked up infections from dirty tools. Jamelia’s mother paid extra for the woman to use a clean razor. It is thought that in the UK there are one or two doctors who can be bribed by the very rich to to carry out FGM using anaesthetic and sterilised instruments.

Comfort Momoh works at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, in one of the 16 clinics up and down the country who deal with FGM and its health repercusssions. Women who have had much of their external genitalia sliced off and their vaginas stitched closed, but for a tiny hole, also come to be cut open in order to give birth.

There are four types of female circumcision identified by the World Health Organisation, ranging from partial to total removal of the external female genitalia. Some 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to FGM and an estimated further two million are at risk every year. Most live in 28 African countries while others are in Yemen, Kurdistan, the US, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Canada.

The UK Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 makes it an offence to carry out FGM or to aid, abet or procure the service of another person. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, makes it against the law for FGM to be performed anywhere in the world on UK permanent residents of any age and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. To date, no prosecutions have been made under UK legislation.

“Obviously in summer we get really anxious. All activists and professionals working around FGM get anxious because this is the time that families take their children back home. This is the time when all the professionals need to be really alert,” said Momoh.

“There is no hard evidence in figures about what is happening in the UK because it’s a hush-hush thing. It’s only now that a few people are beginning to talk about it, which is good because change will only come from within and the numbers coming forward are rising. But there is a lot of family pressure. When I first started in 1997 we had two clinics in the country, now we have 16.”

One woman told the Observer how a midwife examining her had raced retching and crying from the room. She had no idea she was “abnormal” before that happened. There is a clear need for women who have suffered FGM to be able to visit health professionals who understand what has happened to them. Momoh said that for those who wanted it, some surgical reversal work could sometimes be done on women with the most severe FGM procedure, Type III. For those with other types, counselling and support is all that can offered.

“Periods are agony – you get a lot of women who are determined to have reversals while they are having their period but then when the pain has stopped they lose their nerve again,” said Leyla Hussein, 29, who has had to have years of counselling to cope with her own anger and distress at what was done to her as a child. It has helped her forgive her own mother’s complicity in the mutilation she endured, though the older woman could not understand why Hussein would not have her own child, now aged seven, cut. But Hussein has vowed that she will be the last generation of women in her family to suffer.

“It was my husband who said on our honeymoon, ‘We are not going to do this thing to any child of ours.’ I was quite shocked, I hadn’t questioned it. But I now realise a lot of men are not in favour of FGM, not when you tell them the woman is not going to enjoy herself.”

Hussein is among a slowly but steadily growing band of women who have reacted against what happened to them with courage and a determination to stamp out FGM. Hussein has run support and discussion groups for affected women and for men, and formerly worked at the African Well Women’s Centre in Leyton, east London.

“I can really relate to some of the women who are very angry, but how do you blame your mother, who loves you yet planned this for you? There is a lot of anger and resentment. Many women blame themselves and of course there are flashbacks to deal with. I had blackouts – anytime I had to have a smear test, I would pass out because lying in that position brought it back to me, but the nurse is used to me now and allows a little more time with the appointment.”

“The new generation, born and raised here in Britain, they are used to expressing their views and it will be a lot harder to shut them up. Last month was the first ever march against FGM [in Bristol where 15 to 16 mothers protested] and that is a sign of something new.”

Asha-Kin Duale is a community partnership adviser in Camden, London. She talks to schools and to families about safeguarding children. “Culture has positive and negative issues for every immigrant community. We value some traditions, and most are largely good.

“FGM is not confined to African countries. It has no basis in Christianity, it has no basis in Islam; none of Muhammad’s daughters had it done. For some parents it is enough to let them know that and they will drop it completely. Everyone needs to understand that every child, no matter what the background or creed, is protected by this law in this land.”

She said there needed to be an understanding of why FGM took place, although that was not the same as accepting that the practice had a cultural justification.

“FGM has a social function and until this is understood by social services and other bodies they will never stop it. It is a power negotiation mechanism, that women use to ensure respect from men. It prevents rape of daughters and is a social tool to allow women to regain some power in patriarchal societies. With girls living in the UK there is no need to gain the power – it has to be understood that girls can be good girls without FGM.”

For Jason Morgan, a detective constable in the Met’s FGM unit, Project Azure, the solution lies with those girls themselves: “Empowering youth, giving them the information, is the way forward. They are coming from predominantly caring and loving families, who genuinely believe this is the right thing to do. Many are under a great deal of pressure from the extended families.

“Sometimes it might be as simple as delivering the message of what the legal position is; sometimes we even give them an official letter, a document that they can show to the extended family that states quite firmly what will happen if the procedure goes ahead. The focus has to be on prevention.”

Project Azure made 38 interventions in 2008, 59 in 2009 and 25 so far this year. For Morgan those statistics are just as important as getting a conviction. “We know it happens here although we have no official statistics, but we have seen very successful partnerships and we don’t want to alienate communities through heavy-handed tactics.

“While a prosecution would send out a very clear message to practising communities, really it is very difficult and you would be relying on medical evidence, and in turn that would all hinge or whether the child consents to an examination.”

But Naana Otoo-Oyortey is not so content with the softly-softly approach: “We have anecdotal evidence that it is being done here. So someone is not doing their job: it’s an indication that the government has been failing to protect children. The commitment is hollow.”

Head of the leading anti-FGM charity Forward UK, Otoo-Oyortey said people value the FGM tradition as something which holds a community together and gives it structure. “It’s seen as a party, a cutting party because it’s a celebration – people expect it as a way of welcoming a girl. A lot of women will mention to us that there have been no prosecutions here so why do we worry about the law? At the end of the day who will know?

“And we cannot just blame the women as the men are silently supporting it by paying for it. The new government’s lack of a position on FGM is very worrying. We don’t know what they will do, but we do know that the summer holidays are here again and we will be left to pick up the pieces in a few weeks’ time.”

And for those who will be “cut” this summer, the effects will be lifelong. Miriam was six when she had her cutting party at her home in Somalia, two years before war arrived to force her family out.

When she was 12, doctors were horrified to find that what they thought was a cyst in her body was actually several years of period blood that had been blocked from leaving her body. Unable to have children, she now lives and works in England and worries about other girls. “I’d seen so many people circumcised, all my neighbours, so I knew one day it was going to happen to me. We knew what was happening,” Miriam said.

“The little girls who were born in Europe have no clue. They will be traumatised a lot more. The only thing they know is that they are going away – that’s what they say, ‘We’re going on a holiday’.

“Then her life and her head are going to be messed up. It’s amazing how many people are in mental health care because of their culture. Don’t get me wrong, I have religion and culture and I love where I’m from and I love what I stand for. But culture should not be about torture.

“Why would anyone want to go and cut up a seven- or eight-year-old child? People need to wake up — you are hurting your child, you are hurting your daughter, you’re not going to have a grandchild, so wake up.”

The article is followed by a fact sheet:

■ Female genital mutilation, also known as cutting, is practised in 28 African countries. The prevalence rate ranges from 98% of girls in Somalia to 5% in Zaire. It also takes place among ethnic groups in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand.

■ Until the 1950s FGM was used in England and the US as a “treatment” for lesbianism, masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy and other “female deviances”.

■ A survey in Kenya found a fourfold drop in FGM rates among girls who had secondary education.

■ Reasons for the practice include conforming to social norms, enhancing sexual pleasure for men and reducing it for women, cleanliness and chastity.

■ No European country accepts the threat of FGM as a reason for asylum.

■ In Sudan, 20%-25% of female infertility has been linked to FGM complications.

■ In Chad, girls have begun to seek FGM without pressure from their immediate family, believing that to be “sewn up” proves they are virginal and clean. The fashion has led to uncircumcised girls being labelled “dirty”.