Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 5 Sep 2016
Burkha, Toplessness, Sunglasses, Beards, and Flu Masks
Partially amended (September 2016) in the light of current media coverage of French preoccupation with the iconic bare-breasted Marianne — symbol of the French Republic. This bares comparison with the recent preoccupation in the USA with the erection in a number of cities of statues of the Republican presidential nominee — Donald Trump — bare-assed. Both cases are indicative of emerging forms of national psychosis in a period of so-called “post-truth politics” marked by bare-faced lying by the highest authorities.
This is an exploration of the focus given to the challenge to French cultural identity by women there wearing the full-body burkha (burka, burqa) garment obscuring any view of the face in public. The matter was a feature of an historic occasion — the first presidential address to the French Parliament since 1875 — delivered on 21 June 2009 at the Palais de Versailles following a change in the constitution. President Sarkozy stated:
The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom. (Angelique Chrisafis, Nicolas Sarkozy says Islamic veils are not welcome in France, The Guardian, 22 June 2009)
The matter had been given an earlier focus by the previous president of France who called for legislation banning the public wearing of conspicuous religious signs, notably in schools (as discussed in Religious “Plastic Turkeys” — Hermes vs. the Hijab, 2003). This concern is evident to a lesser degree in other countries with an increasing proportion of Muslims.
The question is further complicated by challenges including the right to personal choice in clothing, differing understandings of public decency, and the possibility of identification by security facilities. It is of special interest because of the manner in which it is used by some as a vehicle for less clearly articulated agendas — possibly evoking other questions.
Societies are increasingly challenged by the incapacity of processes of governance to address fundamental differences more creatively. A particular concern is therefore the question of whether the active focus on dress codes constitutes a focus on the superficial in order to be able to claim it to be an indication of the capacity of government to act decisively on matters of fundamental significance to the population.
In France the issue is now the focus of a special parliamentary commission to report in 2009 — during a period in which provision has been made there for the availability of one billion (surgical) face masks as protection for the population against the swine flu pandemic (Un milliard de masques disponibles contre la grippe A, Libération, 1 juillet 2009). There is every probability that members of that commission and their families will be wearing such masks — however unacceptable covering the face is deemed to be. Burkhas may in fact then prove to offer better protection.
As a case study, the response to the burkha provides an excellent example of the application of binary logic to a multidimensional complex of psychosocial issues indicative of far richer and more profound understandings of identity. The case is noteworthy both for collapsing distinctions significant to such understanding and its responsiveness to the extremes of passing fashion — but in the name of values acclaimed as fundamental. As such it embodies the extremism it abhors. The argument is developed by exploiting the confusion of terms and thinking associated with the face and the facile in relation to the challenge of necessary diversity in a global society threatened by various forms of imperialism.
The burkha is also explored as a metaphor mirroring several problematic features of western society.
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