“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.

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Harry Potter actress’ father, brother threaten “honor-killing”

Via the Zap2it via Hemat Mehta:

The 22-year-old actress’s father and brother have been charged with threatening to kill her, says the Daily Mail. The altercation occurred at the family home in Manchester, England. In addition to threatening her, Afshan’s brother, 28-year-old Ashraf, is also accused of physically assaulting Afshan and “causing her bodily harm.”

According to People [Magazine], Afshan’s Muslim family was angry about her relationship with a Hindu man…

Afshan is said to be staying with friends in London.

The NY Post  Afshan herself:

Ashraf told the Daily Telegraph that the family will suffer as a result of the scandal.

“We are going to get trouble from the community now,” he said. “It is bad news for our safety, her safety.”

“Her career could be ruined. When she goes to a premiere or something, they are going to ask her about this, not the film,” he added.

“My younger brother is going to get harassed at college,” Ashraf said. “All our family is going to be harassed by the community because of this.”

It might be somewhat callous to say this, but some great good could come out of this great evil, if Ashraf is willing to talk about her situation. She could be the catalyst for an open discussion about the violent traditionalism in unassimilated Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian and African communities–and be an inspiration to the tens of thousands of women and girls living under Sharia-inspired domestic tyranny.

“What isn’t wrong with Sharia law?”

British activist Maryam Namazie wants legislation in the UK prohibiting religious courts:

The recent global day against the imminent stoning of Sakine Mohammadi-Ashtiani in Iran for adultery is an example of the outrage sparked by the brutality associated with sharia law’s penal code. What of its civil code though – which the Muslim Council of Britain’s Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra describes as “small aspects” that concern “marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children”? According to human rights campaigner Gita Sahgal, “there is active support for sharia laws precisely because it is limited to denying women rights in the family. No hands are being cut off, so there can’t be a problem …”

Now a report, Sharia Law in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All and Equal Rights, reveals the adverse effect of sharia courts on family law. Under sharia’s civil code, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s. A man can divorce his wife by repudiation, whereas a woman must give justifications, some of which are difficult to prove. Child custody reverts to the father at a preset age; women who remarry lose custody of their children even before then; and sons inherit twice the share of daughters. There has been much controversy about Muslim arbitration tribunals, which have attracted attention because they operate as tribunals under the Arbitration Act, making their rulings binding in UK law.

But sharia councils, which are charities, are equally harmful since their mediation differs little from arbitration. Sharia councils will frequently ask people to sign an agreement to abide by their decisions. Councils call themselves courts and the presiding imams are judges. There is neither control over the appointment of these judges nor an independent monitoring mechanism. People often do not have access to legal advice and representation. Proceedings are not recorded, nor are there any searchable legal judgements. Nor is there any real right to appeal. There is also danger to those at risk of domestic violence. In one study, four out of 10 women attending sharia courts were party to civil injunctions against their husbands.

“In this way, these privatised legal processes were ignoring not only state law intervention and due process but providing little protection and safety for the women. Furthermore … husbands used this opportunity to negotiate reconciliation, financial settlements for divorce, and access to children. Settlements which in effect were being discussed under the shadow of law.

An example of the kind of decision that is contrary to UK law and public policy is the custody of children. Under British law, the child’s best interest is the court’s paramount consideration. In a sharia court the custody of children reverts to the father at a preset age regardless of the circumstances. In divorce proceedings, too, civil law takes into account the merits of the case and divides assets based on the needs and intentions of both parties. Under sharia law, only men have the right to unilateral divorce. If a woman manages to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, she will lose the sum of money (or dowry) that was agreed to at the time of marriage.

There is an assumption that those who attend sharia courts do so voluntarily and that unfair decisions can be challenged. Since much of sharia law is contrary to British law and public policy, in theory they would be unlikely to be upheld in a British court. In reality, women are often pressured by their families into going to these courts and adhering to unfair decisions and may lack knowledge of their rights under British law. Moreover, refusal to settle a dispute in a sharia court could lead to to threats, intimidation or isolation. With the rise in the sharia courts’ acceptability, discrimination is further institutionalised with some law firms offering clients “conventional” representation alongside sharia law advice. As long as sharia courts are allowed to make rulings on family law, women will be pressured into accepting decisions which are prejudicial.

The report recommends abolishing the courts by initiating a human rights challenge and amending the Arbitration Act as Canada’s Arbitration Act was amended in 2005 to exclude religious arbitration. The demand for the abolition of sharia courts in Britain, as elsewhere, is not an attack on people’s right to religion; it is a defence of human rights, especially since the imposition of sharia courts is a demand of Islamism to restrict citizens’ rights.

Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not for beliefs and parallel legal systems. To safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no religious courts.

Germany to launch hotline for recovering jihadists

Via Der Spiegel:

Germany has been offering programs for people who want to leave the neo-Nazi scene for years. Now, in a bid to combat the threat of Islamist terrorism, authorities are setting up a telephone hotline for those keen to give up jihad.

Could it be that Islamists just need a helping hand to turn their back on extremism? That, at least, is what Germany is hoping — and has set up a new program to facilitate the process.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, will launch the so-called exit program at the end of June, agency chief Heinz Fromm announced Monday, speaking at the presentation of the service’s annual report for 2009 in Berlin. The agency is to set up a telephone hotline that militant Islamists can call if they want to leave radical Islamist groups. Multilingual specialists will be available to give potential quitters advice in Turkish or Arabic, as well as German, Fromm said, without giving further details of the program.Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière described the scheme as a “valuable preventative effort.” Fromm however warned against overly high expectations for the scheme. “We’ll have to wait and see if it gets a big response,” he said. The agency’s programs for neo-Nazis wanting to quit their milieu, which have been running for several years, have only met with moderate success.

Fear of a Palin planet

John B. Judis passes along a passage from John Heileman and Mark Halperin’s Game Change:

In late October [2008], Obama’s focus group maestro, David Binder, was conducting a session with a group of swing voters in a Cleveland suburb. A middle-aged woman let loose with a string of not-unfamiliar broadsides against Obama. He’s a Muslim. He’s soft on terrorism—because he’s a Muslim. He doesn’t put his hand on his heart during patriotic rituals. We’re not even sure he was born in this country. Binder was confused. This was supposed to be a group of undecided voters. If you think all these terrible things about Obama, he asked the woman, how can you possibly be undecided? Because if McCain dies, Palin would be president, she said.

Saudi woman fights back against religious police

Via the Jerusalem Post:

It was a scene Saudi women’s rights activists have dreamt of for years. When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition.

But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.

For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.

According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.

“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”

“The media and the Internet have given people a lot of power and the freedom to express their anger,” she said. “The Hai’a are like a militia, but now whenever they do something it’s all over the Internet. This gives them a horrible reputation and gives people power to react.”

Neither the religious police nor the Eastern Province police has made a statement on the incident, and both the names of the couple and the date of the incident have not been made public, but on Monday the incident was all over the Saudi media.

Should the woman be charged, she could face a lengthy prison term and lashings for assaulting a representative of a government institution.

Our sympathies are obviously with her.

In non-Marquette news

I.) Today, the episode of Glee guest-starring Neil Patrick Harris and directed by Joss “My Master” Whedon airs. Which means I have eighteen episodes of Glee to catch up on in nineteen hours.

II.) The British elected a new Prime Minister. Well, not really. Nobody won a majority, so the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be forming a coalition government, under the permission of the suddenly relevant Queen Elizabeth II. I am sure she is as surprised as anyone.
I’ve always had a fondness for the LibDems, but the realistic part of me wanted the Tories to win. So this is like the best possible result for me, personally.

II.a) The incoming Tory PM, David Cameron, is appointing Lady  Sayeeda Hussain Warsi chairwoman of the Conservative Party, has appointed the first Muslim woman as a Cabinet Minister in UK history.

III.) Laura Bush, who was always roughy 98 percent more likable than her husband, has now come out for full marriage equality.