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It is, of course, the women who don’t get to fly home to New York—or indeed leave any airport without their husbands’ consent—who truly deserve international attention. And yet these are the very women our Western politicians, media outlets, and academicians barely acknowledge because, as I was constantly advised by European and American diplomats in both Egypt and also the Sudan when I visited, “We have no right to pass judgment on the customs and mores of other countries.”

Here are just a few of those customs and mores: in Turkey, a nation often cited as “moderate,” wife beating is so common that 69 percent of all female health workers polled (and almost 85 percent of all male health workers) said that violence against women was in certain instances excusable. In April, a new epidemiological study in the European Journal of Public Health revealed that one out of every five homicides in Pakistan is the result of a so-called honor killing.
And in Mauritania, the age-old practice of force-feeding young girls—a life-threatening process that is intended to make them round and therefore “marriageable”—has seen a renaissance. Girls as young as five are herded into “fattening farms.” Those who resist are tortured.
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This is not a part of my essay on The Veil.

The icon is a clandestinely taken shot of the public execution, allegedly by her brother-in-law, of Zarmina. The alleged facts of the case are here, at the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan website.

I'm interested in locating the fallacies in my thinking about Zarmina and The Veil, as well as those who argue against it.

I have used Zarmina's execution as the symbol for why the veil should not be worn. The riposte is, she wasn't killed for wearing, or not wearing, a veil.

I disagree. I think people whose faces you can't see are much easier to kill, with your bare hands, and to deprive of every other right, legal, sharia, civil, human, than people whose faces you can see. I think covering faces is the fundamental act of dehumanizing women into brood mares and beasts of burden of whom you are permitted to have several, and who you are permitted to divorce, disown and to kill basically with impunity, and therefore, to deny literacy, and work outside the home even if she is divorced or widowed. I think it is the objective correlative of a legal system designed to sub-humanize women. Literally, that if you cover your face you begin the process by which all these things will inevitably happen. You are covering your face so Other Men will not See you. Being Seen is the first step toward achievement of human status, and not the status demanded by fundies who say God has given us dominion, which means the ruthlessly cruel treatment of women, children, and animals. I have a book around here, which based on Benjamin-ish thought around modernity and identity, argues that Jews were first Seen in 19th century Paris as Haussmann's boulevards cut through medieval ghettoes and mixed everybody on the sidewalk. The argument is that once seen on the sidewalks of Paris, Jews inspired the virulent anti-semitism of the 20th century. Once citizens, once humans with whom one could make eye contact, their status becomes real.

(If I am arguing that covered, unseen women are more genocidally discriminated against than Seen ones, which I am, then unseen Jews would be more objectified and persecuted? Yes, I think that's true, though the Nazi genocide deployed elements of the previous millenia of racist objectification. Submission to the gaze is a terrible event, as Ralph Ellison would testify, but it is the first inevitable step to enfranchisement in the grinder of modernity in which we all live. Is it the veiled or the unveiled woman who is submitting? I deeply feel, and must think through, that it is the veiled woman (both in Muslim and non-Muslim society) who is acquiescing to gender performance as spectacle.)

I think you could say my argument is sort of based on genocide studies and Ralph Ellison, the creation of an Other who is murderable as a class of people, beginning with saying they all look alike, and I do not see them.

I am not aware of any clinical research on this matter, except the MIlgram type of stuff in which Nice Young White People are perfectly willing to torture unveiled Nice Young White People. I'm saying that the line over which you pass to become literally a torturer and murderer is very, very fine and easily stepped across. Part of what's so disturbing about the veil is its genocidal taint, the fact that a whole class of people must cover their faces.

The Invisible Woman is a veiled woman. And it is the first lethal step to becoming the murderable woman. And, anybody in any Sharia legal case -- or indeed any other in any society -- who is wearing a face veil is going, I assure you, to be found guilty. It is -- and was, before 9/11 -- the universal marker for someone whose rights should not only be abrogated, but who is volunteering, by marking herself out, for abuse.

The best argument against this position is that Zarmina wasn't killed for wearing a veil, but killed for murdering her husband.

Let us just assume (which I do not) that the facts of her case as RAWA presents them are true. She killed her husband because he was torturing her and her children. She was executed publically in a stadium after being paraded around it in the back of a truck. Her execution was followed by public amputations of other miscreants.

She was immediately taken to prison following the death of her husband, with her baby twins. She was tortured, and she stayed in prison, with the children, for three years. There was no trial. Her older daughters, one of whom allegedly swung the sledge that killed their father, were allegedly sold as virgins to a man in Khost, and this event delayed Zarmina's execution. (This has the scent of bullshit, the delay.) With the girls fate made known to Zarmina, her execution followed summarily.

It was the centerpiece of a spectacle of Islamic justice which thousands attended. While they want you veiled, they also want thousands of people to see you shot through the head. Twice, since the first shot allegedly only creased her skull. They want you veiled possibly for the same reason they used to hood the heads of people to be hanged: either to make you a spectacle by erasing your identity, or out of kindness to the executioner who is not required to look you in the eye.

It is the veiling that makes you the cynosure of all eyes even in your own Taliban society. You are the spectacle and the example of sin which may publically -- by veiling in public, by execution in public -- be extirpated.

Veiling is the very act by which impunity is extended to a society which wishes to execute women without trial. It would be nice to say it is in itself an execution, but technically it is not. It is the first step in the Othering of women as a class of people who may be violated, along the lines of genocide, without sanction.

It was suicidal to wear a face veil before 9/11 and it is now, all over the world, the way to get your ass arrested. The pro-veil Muslim women say, it sets us on a pedestal to be cherished by our men.

In. your. dreams.

When it stops being your meal ticket? When they let you start to own your own children? We'll begin to talk.

Here's the video of the 1999 execution of Zarmina, shot, at the risk of her life, clandestinely by a RAWA worker -- from under her big blue burqa -- supplied with a camera with donations from women all over the world, including me.


The other argument is the essentially nihilist/libertarian one, which is, to proscribe what women wear is to become a Talibani. It is basically the argument of Third Wave feminists, the reductio ad absurdum of which is the flash of the hairless pillhead starlet crotch descending the SUV at Butter. Let them wear bulls' eyes so I can wear booty shorts to work. It is my wight to be a spectacle. It is my wight to expwess myself. May I point out that Britney is now under conservatorship and serious anti-psychotics, and Lilo is in jail? Oddly, both the crotch-flashing and the veil are part of the reduction of women to spectacle, with the appalling approbation of women who take the "performance" of gender to a contemptible fake liberation place. (The place where I look at Judy Chicago's pussy on a platter Dinner Party, and say, oh this is what you had to do -- more crassly than Hefner -- to get yourself into a museum? Shame on you. And me. The place where I hear the black drag queens saying I get more respect in women's clothes than I ever would as a black gay man, and the white ones saying, I get more attention as a beautiful woman than I do as an effeminate man.)

The you're-a-Nazi argument is pretty much beneath contempt, now that I think about it. It's the most petulant, narcissist and elitist of Suzy Creamcheese rhetoric. Expressing yourself is fine as long as you don't want to get a job, or an education, or the right to raise your own children. The only rule for intervention in somebody's life I have is a seriously thought-through and practiced one: Will I be complicit in this person's death if I do not say something? It comes up surprisingly often, and while it rescues no one who does not wish to live, it might make a difference for those few who some day might want to try. But I do it for me.

The 6/11/10 NYT Piece About Albuquerque's Covered Women Which Started Me Thinking )
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I first encountered the liquidity of appointments engendered by the cell phone 10 years ago, trying to get the California Closet bitch to come to Dupont Circle from Suzy Creamcheeseville, which she was bound and determined not to do, because she had heard there were Negroes in the city.

I was outraged.

Now Fabian and Dylan, the rockstars who are bidding to rerock my garden, are doing it again. As really does everyone under 35 -- Walter, the vegan compost guy at Soilutions, called me five times yesterday when one phone call would do.

An old and minor case of PTSD has been reactivated mainly by my mother's taking to telephoning me 20 times a day about four or five years back. So it bothers me more than it would normies.

But I now understand that Fabian's changing his appointment four times -- via seven phone calls and four emails -- to offer me a bid on a five-figure job is just the way it is.

Nevertheless, I'm ab.so.lute.ly horrified.

For various reasons, including that the parental woofs were feral in the most upright 19th century way, with moral authorities being Pickwick and Calvin, I have no, absolutely no, sense of strategery. Work hard, tell the truth, love thy neighbor because he's the motherfucker who's going to piss you off worst, is about the size of it. It is why the Old Husband called me Billy Budd and accounts for a great deal of the purity of the juice.

So it's really shocking when somebody like [personal profile] villagecharm points out really simple and obvious solutions to me -- about the disastrous and dangerous failure of strategery in the French ban on the veil, where the U.S. strategery of letting the Old Amish marginalize themselves is both fitting and just. He's no smarter than the rest of you, he does -- like me -- hew to certain antediluvian codes of ethics in the nicest way, and he has a poker champion's sense of when to hold 'em. Go, charm. And thanks.

The elegance of the paradigm is the sure evidence of its truth. There are some things I could and would argue about, the Old Amish being white people and not "guest workers" for starters. I still think, with Max Weber (go 19th century!!!!) that free education is the very touchstone of democracy, France has it, it is available to the grandchildren of the guest workers, and that high school is absolutely the assimilationist tool of [racist and sexist] capitalism, and that the social contract requires even former slaves to assimilate. If they want the goodies. Part of what is on the table here for me is the excellence of French education, and its free availability to the highest reaches of Parnassus to anybody who can pass the exams. Okwui Enwezor, the first African curator of a modern African art retrospective, is such an one and he is completely revolutionary, and totally French, in the very best way.

And if the Euro Muslims do not want the goodies -- aside from the fact that Muslim guest workers in France and Germany are people of color -- the veiled ones will marginalize their own asses. This is the nut of the brilliant observation of my Old Hell Freezes Over Friend about Germany: If you want a shitty job, put on a headscarf.

Your choice, feminist Muslimaaaaaaaz.

[I have to add, there is also the criminalized aspect of Muslim wear brought on by 9/11. I think Muslim pride, especially among the young, is playing with this Mau Mau aspect of the trad outfits and -- what? Bottom line, dressing like a slave to piss off the slave masters is a suicidal idea; and suicide has a terrible romance for young Muslims. I offer as evidence that the successful jihadis -- let's say, the 9/11 hijackers -- wore Western clothes, and Muhammad Atta was educated (in structural engineering, was it?) in Germany. So if you're a real revolutionary, and not a gas bag, you'll lose the headscarf and get yourself the finest free education in the world. It wasn't Islamic society which invented the box cutter.]

The Veil 5

Jun. 23rd, 2010 07:49 am
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"God does not give a rat's ass," the old hippie said, "about what you wear." She went on to say she was not certain that God gave a rat's ass about whether or not she had a body.

She has a point. But as a young woman, she pointed out, the hotpants she wore to work at Yale -- like the profoundly veiled middle-class coeds of 1979 in Tehran and Cairo -- were part of the revolution, and the outrage of the squares it predictably elicited was part of the martyrdom of youth, of the liberty to choose slavery.

I belabored her with the idea that the Quakers would not doff their hats as a matter of bringing down the priestly hierarchy which stands between God and the people. No, God does not give a rat's ass about the Quakers' hats. I belabored her with the idea that the Muslim coeds of 1979 putting on the veil is a matter of re-establishing the priestly hierarchy which stands between God and the people. No, God does not give a rat's ass about the Muslim coeds' veils.

So it's all men? I said.

She just gave me a look and tucked into her free-range eggs.

Well. As Ru-Paul says, we're born naked and after that it's all drag.

Part of the idea of transsexual gender reassignment, however, is a well-documented attribute of the spiritual experience people across time and space undergo. Scholars of experience including concentration camp survival call it variously veracity or radical nakedness, and you probably first became aware of the phenomenon when you fell into the existential abyss emplaced by Job, Mohammed, Rumi and King Lear.

Job (ca. 100 BC-100 AD) says, "Naked came I from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away...."

Mohammed (ca. 570-632 AD) says, in Yousuf Ali's translation, [Koran 7:26] "O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies [literal: "shameful genital private parts"], as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness [literal: "the fear and obedience (of God's) cover/dress, that (is) better"]. These are some of GOD's signs, that they may take heed."

Rumi (1207-1273) says

Love comes sailing through and I scream.
Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.
Love puts away the instruments
and takes off the silk robes. Our nakedness
together changes me completely.

King Lear (1603-06) says, "Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies...Unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art."

I know of no one else aside from William James who has systematically surveyed the memoirs, biographies and testimony of people who underwent religious experiences, no matter of what creed. I hate to use him as the only source, but I don't know of any other written by a sympathetic atheist as James was. He describes the impulse toward veracity in his chapter on attributes of saintliness. He calls it "purity of life". It is an emotion spontaneously felt by people undergoing spiritual experiences all over the world. Whether or not it is of God, and whether or not God gives a rat's ass, is a mystery, the answer to which we may some day hope to know.

Purity of life, or the impulse for veracity James describes as follows:

The saintly person becomes exceedingly sensitive to inner inconsistency or discord, and mixture and confusion grow intolerable. All the mind's objects and occupations must be ordered with reference to the special spiritual excitement which is now its keynote....Mixed with this exaltation of the moral sensibilities there is also an ardor of sacrifice, for the beloved deity's sake, of everything unworthy of him....The ascetic forms which the impuslve for veracity and purity of life may take are often pathetic enough....These early Quakers were Puritans indeed. The slightest inconsistency between profession and deed jarred some of them to active protest.

The scholar of concentration camps, Terrence des Pres, describes "radical nakedness" as follows:

In the Nazi camps, a typical method of 'thinning out' sick and exhausted prisoners was to force thousands of them to stand undressed for hours in winter weather. Then the survivor's nakedness was radical indeed, nor could he escape the terrible conclusion that in extremity everything depends on the body. All about him stood that 'poor, bare, forked animal' which is, as old Lear said, 'the thing itself'.* None of us would wish to depend on something so puny, so frail and easily harmed as the human body. But for survivors, there is nothing else.

*Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on 's are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself; unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.
-- Lear, King Lear, Act III, Scene iv

to be continued

Common Law

Jun. 22nd, 2010 05:07 pm
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Is there a history of common law in Islam, whereby those outside the law force the tyrants to sign a Magna Carta kind of thing?

Uh yes.

If anybody has access to a digital law library and can gank me a copy of this, I'd appreciate it.
Makdisi, John A. (June 1999). "The Islamic Origins of the Common Law". North Carolina Law Review 77 (5):

Collecting string:

Islamic Feminists Best Practice Proposition for Sharia )

Sisters in Islam SMOKIN' Eat Shit 'n' Die Brief Against Hijab )

The Veil 4

Jun. 21st, 2010 08:08 pm
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Whether or not God is at work in the history of men's power relations, and whether or not it is incumbent upon us, as God's children, to enact politically his will for us, is a matter of debate among people of good will. The agenda of Islamists is to make the law of Islam, sharia, the law of the nation, a project much discussed among Muslims of good will explicitly along the lines of a liberal and democratic Islamic state.

I appreciate the degree to which the Protestant ethic has formed capitalism, and vice versa, as well as the codes and imperialisms of the liberal democracies, and the varying degrees to which liberal democracies morph as theocratic constituencies vote their agendas into power. But this is fair; it is the dictatorship of the proletariat as required by the tenets of democracy.

Islamist theocracies, and their agenda to unite in a new world-wide caliphate, may come down to this: if Osama bin Laden relies upon the internet to organiz eJihad, kidney dialysis machines and cell phones, as he is alleged to do, he must also accept the political -- and not just the technological -- results of the scientific method, capitalism and the protestant reformation, the combined force of which now impels liberal democracy. Or, to deploy a more demotic commodity, if the newly sexualized soap operas of Turkey, and their stars, are the cynosure of the Arab world, in which some people are not aware that kissing may be a part of married love,* then the democratic impetus for sex as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be halted. It has long been a Catholic joke that the Protestant reformation started when Luther wanted to marry a nun -- a Taj Mahal built on a fuck, in Lawrence Durrell's immortal phrase. The struggle to regulate men's -- or is it women's? -- sexuality may be the fulcrum of power relations through history, with Luther's right to take the nun in marriage as the first stone thrown against the Bastille of Roman-Christian hegemony. Was the Holy Roman Empire itself -- and thus the caliphate -- just basically the droit de seigneur? This insight may be the great contribution of queer theory to the pushing out of the light inch by inch against the darkness.

It is not a matter of debate, among people of good will, that the enfranchisement of racist national policy -- for example, the Gush Emunim argument that victory in the 1967 war meant God wants Israel to settle the west bank, or the U.S. government's decision to "kill the Indian and save the man" by forcible transfer of Indian children to government boarding schools, or the fatwa against Salman Rushdie who, no matter how bad a writer he is, must be allowed to do so -- often borrows awful power and compels obedience by the conscription of God's will to political expediency.

If there is a God, people of good will may agree that there is only one, not one who hates Jews, and another who hates Palestinians, and a third who hates Christians and the godless Chinee.

There is one who loves us all, and if this is not true, then a God who hates my enemy is not worthy of worship by me. The exact nature of the debate in Islam over whether or not Mohammed requires war, and precisely what that word means, is unknown to me. I suspect it mirrors that of Christendom -- because religion, as opposed to God, is about human emotion; even the universally-documented sensation of the presence of God is said to be a biochemical event. Jesus says we are to love our enemies as ourselves, because they are close relatives, and to fight evil -- not our enemies -- without ceasing. It is certain that Mohammed's reputation for war and Jesus' for pacifism are much obscured by text provenance, politics and interpretation, and that even the actual revelation direct from God that his avatars experience must be conformed to the time and place in which the experience was undergone. We can only recall James' three criteria for pragmatic spiritual practice: a revelation itself, the direct experience of the prophet, must have immediate luminousness, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness for it to have any bearing on the systems of ethics by which people of good will seek to conduct and console themselves two thousand years after one man's revelation.

Quite independent of perplexities on the existence of God, one may take note that fashions in what God requires of his ministers on earth change. It was thought to be God who ordered the 19th and 20th century Protestants and Catholics to torture Irish orphan and Indian children in their care, in the name of extirpating the demons in them. If God today requires the torture of Muslim women, he will cease to do so tomorrow and the Islamist governments will award women, as the Canadians recently did the survivors of the Indian schools, $2 billion in reparation for genocide. The United Church of Christ, whose medical missionaries were in the forefront of torturing Indian children, is working on an apology in the wake of being accused of genocide by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the native Canadian residential schools. We can look forward to the Taliban's apology in God's time.

What we believe God requires of us is often wrong, frequently genocide, and it changes, as every scholar of Islam, the hadith, and sharia understands.

Back to the idea that you can wage war with what you wear on your head.

to be continued
arafat's keffiyeh, the guest workers, the blackwomans guide to understanding the blackman, and the quakers' hats
women's literacy, islamic canon system and protestant reformation

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/rwright.htm liberal democ and prot ref
http://www.drsoroush.com/English/On_DrSoroush/E-CMO-20040314-1.html souroush, mu'tazilites

*NYT 6/17/10 on Turkish Soap Operas )

The Veil 3

Jun. 21st, 2010 08:49 am
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In modernity, therefore -- the history of the democratization of religious experience as persuasively posited by James -- we may discard as barbaric certain Gods. These James defines as follows:

Nothing is more striking than the secular alteration that goes on in the moral and religious tone of men, as their insight into nature and their social arrangements progressively develop. After an interval of a few generations the mental climate proves unfavorable to notions of the deity which at an earlier date were perfectly satisfactory: the older gods have fallen below the common secular level, and can no longer be believed in. To-day a deity who should require bleeding sacrifices to placate him would be too sanguinary to be taken seriously. Even if powerful historical credentials were put forward in his favor, we would not look at them. Once, on the contrary, his cruel appetites were of themselves credentials. They positively recommended him to men's imaginations in ages when such coarse signs of power were respected and no others could be understood. Such deities then were worshiped because such fruits were relished.


There is much to quibble with here, starting with the notion of inevitable progress to which the even the eternal nature of God himself is subject.

But this is not what James is talking about.

He is talking about a God whose personality changes as men's power enactments change. In other words, the character of God and his utility morphs with the character of the power relations of men in history. I think we can, all of us, red and yellow, black and white, accept this idea because we can all clearly see that it is true in our own lives and in what little we know of history and the lives of others.

My grandfather, the devout scion of 25 generations of nut-cuttin' Franco-Scots-Irish Protestants and a vigorous Darwinian professor of biology, could do both. And it did not trouble him for more than a minute to solve the problem. As a scholar of Greek and Latin, as all Presbyterian gentlemen born in 1860 in South Carolina were, with some Hebrew and probably Aramaic thrown in just so's you could read your own Bible like a good Presbyterian, Grampa Juice was clearly aware that most of the creationists' (and many other) problem(s) were problems of inaccurate translation of the Bible into English. The earth could have been created in seven "periods of time", I believe, was his argument, seven "days" not being precisely accurate. You know somebody like this in your life, whose point has such "immediate luminousness" -- one of James' criteria for the usefulness of spiritual phenomena -- that it changes the way you live your life permanently. Like the way God is supposed to.

So, then, we are not talking about the character of God, which is eternal, and a mystery, but how the history of power relations among men, and women, changes religion. Scholarship of the canonical texts of Mohammed, and his exegetes, parallels precisely modern scholarship of the Bible in the west. One Moroccan scholar, Fatima Mernissi, has carefully gone through both the Koran and the Hadith searching for Mohammed's own view on the veiling of women, and subsequent incrustations of Hadith misogynism which do not reflect, it is argued, Mohammed's intention but rather the history of the interpretation of the Koran, and the times in which its interpreters lived. I am certain that women throughout the Muslim world are discussing these matters, even as the United Nations imperializes the unveiling of Islamic women by linking it to human rights violations, and thence to World Bank loans. Thus does wearing a veil become, perhaps, a defiance of the U.S. imperialists one can see denounced with ferocity on the feminist website of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. It is RAWA's clandestine photograph of the Taliban's execution of the veiled Zarmina which is the icon for these posts.

Again, anyone who believes in God would be hard put to justify this feminist veiling (or unveiling) as God's will, or Mohammad's, when deployed in defiance of western imperialists. I think we can agree, red and yellow, black and white, that it is not God's will to make war with something you wear on your head. It is P.R.. I think we can agree that aligning ourselves with the will of God is an inside, and possibly a secret and humble, job that no amount of posturing or physical effacement will achieve. Veiling for war is rather another move in the long history of human power relations. For believers in God, the question of the veil as a nationalist and war-mongering symbol rather than the will of God -- Arafat folded his keffiyeh over his right shoulder in the shape of Palestine -- is a serious matter.

to be continued
arafat's keffiyeh, the guest workers, and the quakers' hats
women's literacy, islamic canon system and protestant reformation

The Veil 2

Jun. 19th, 2010 08:57 am
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Having said that the argument against veiling Islamic women must be argued in the world where God exists, leaving behind the world in which God does not exist, leaving behind the world of human rights in which any direction or proscription of women's being by Western feminists is viewed as a human rights violation and ergo, of the patriarchy, or vice versa, leaving behind the world in which whatever is enacted is either of God or an entitlement, leaving behind the cultural world in which the wearing of the veil is a Muslim Brotherhood nationalist badge of courage for the daughters of Egypt's middle class, or the imported foreign workers of France and Germany, and also leaving the world, therefore, in which nothing is right and nothing is wrong, I have to talk a little about what remains.

We have William James.

We have the Protestant reformation.

We have the troubled ethics of intervention.

It is Western. It is feminist. You may now veil your eyes and go read something else. But it's all I got, and I don't think so little of the west, or feminism, or my civic obligation to intervene when otherwise I will be complicit in someone's elses' death, to throw out the democracy with the bath water. Nor do I think so little of Muslims that I believe that there not is a world as complex as mine in the suppressed history of women in Islam, how they came to be veiled and banished from the mosques, and how it came to mean death or disfigurement to she who dares to go to school.


Yes, they don't disfigure girls who go to school in Morocco -- Islam is not a monolith and the king's wife, Lalla Salma, is a beautiful, unveiled, light-skinned, redhead who was the valedictorian of her college class. But only 13 per cent of her countrywomen get post-secondary education, according to one Islam-funded scholar. His statistics on literacy among women in the rest of the Islamic world are sobering, a point to which the Islamic mirror of the Protestant reformation speaks. If you can't read the Koran, or its exegesis in which women come to be veiled, the Hadith, then you have to take the God the men tell you about.

I am shamefully ignorant of Islam. About all I know is a little about its civilizing influence on Spain, the famous apotheosis of the caliphate all the young jihadis skirmish for. That civil civilization was known for its beauty, tolerance, erudition and humanity rather than for its iron imperialism. It is a true loss which we may lay squarely at the feet of the Catholic church and its imperialist, Queen Isabel the Inquisitor. I am pretty equally ignorant of the religions of the west, including the various ones I grew up in. I am not a Bible scholar, although I've read a lot of the books written by Elaine Pagels, who points to alternate Bible texts, more contemporary with Jesus, texts banned by bishop Irenaeus because they posit a different dogma of Christianity than the one we now follow as the word of God himself. It's not. It's the narrative Irenaeus chose for political reasons. Too, modern Bible scholarship has revealed a number of interesting things, for example that the bits of St. Paul in which it is claimed he ordered women to submit to men in marriage (Eph. 5: 22-33) ?* Were not written by St. Paul, but later, some say by people who could not stomach Paul's authentic preaching that real Christians -- by which I think he meant those who could, on the boddhisattva theory of Christianity, available to everyone, heal the sick and raise the dead -- had to be celibate. (Since the incarnated world is a mistake or co-eval with Satan, it is not Of God to kill or reproduce. This is a strong thread in the history of religion across space and time because it is a persisting human emotion.)

What I have instead is William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. It is about how kinds and threads of religious emotion and experience are the same across space and time. It is especially persuasive because James himself was an early psychiatrist, an inventor of Anerican pragmatism, and because he was himself an agnostic. No one has written better or more open-mindedly than James about the benefits of the religions of the world, and about their deficits. It is James who says that there are Gods worthy of worship. And Gods who are not. I know at least one of you thinks of James as a Victorian gasbag. I submit the Victorians, who grappled with Darwin, the dark Satanic mills, and living slavery, were the first real modernists and remain its shining stars. James, I submit, is among the top ten. I am not convinced that much has happened on the modernity front since then, except perhaps nuclear annihilation and genocide, which, qua apocalypse, aren't exactly modern. Get over yourself, Sartre. There is the birth control pill and the enfranchisement of some women. Ditto.

It is James who says simply God morphs over the generations. That there are barbaric Gods, the pragmatic fruits of whose worship are far behind us. That there are abiding spiritual needs, and also abiding psychoses. That there is persistent spiritual experience and anti-spiritual patriarchal religious dogma.** That there are Gods who may be judged worthy of worship, and that these will continue to exist. There are only three criteria, he says, for the pragmatic assessment of the varieties of religious experience as useful:

In the natural sciences and industrial arts it never occurs to any one to try to refute opinions by showing up their author's neurotic constitution. Opinions here are invariably tested by logic and by experiment, no matter what may be their author's neurological type. It should be no otherwise with religious opinions. Their value can only be ascertained by spiritual judgments directly passed upon them, judgments based on our own immediate feeling primarily; and secondarily on what we can ascertain of their experiential relations to our moral needs and to the rest of what we hold as true.

Immediate luminousness, in short, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness are the only available criteria. Saint Teresa might have had the nervous system of the placidest cow, and it would not now save her theology, if the trial of the theology by these other tests should show it to be contemptible. And conversely if her theology can stand these other tests, it will make no difference how hysterical or nervously off her balance Saint Teresa may have been when she was with us here below.


[to be continued]

* The significant contrasts between Ephesians and the letters we can confidently ascribe to Paul raise questions about the identity of the author of Ephesians. Many important terms of Ephesians are not used by Paul elsewhere (e.g., heavenly places, dividing wall, fellow citizen), and some of Paul's characteristic terms and emphases either are given new meaning (e.g., mystery, church) or are completely absent (e.g., the Jews, justify). In addition, the verbose style of Ephesians, especially the use of complex, long sentences (many of which have been divided in the NRSV), is not characteristic of Paul. Theological differences, especially Ephesians' emphasis on believers' present salvation (1.3-12, 2.4-10) and the use of household rules (5.22-6.9), are also evident.... As a result of the combined weight of these differences, many scholars hold that Ephesians was written in the late first century by a Jewish-Christian admirer of Paul who sought to apply Pauline thought to the situation of the church in his own day. A minority of scholars hold the author to be Paul, who was writing at the end of his career while imprisoned, probably in Rome; different theological emphases are attributed to developments in Paul's thinking and the particular situation addressed.

Introduction, The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, pp. 320-1.

** Churches, when once established, live at second hand upon tradition; but the founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine. Not only the superhuman founders, the Christ, the Buddha, Mahomet, but all the originators of Christian sects have been in this case;- so personal religion should still seem the primordial thing, even to those who continue to esteem it incomplete.
Lecture 2, The Varieties of Religious Experience

The Veil

Jun. 18th, 2010 09:23 am
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Living, for the first time since I left my parents' house, in a big house with all my books, has brought among other things Leslie Stephen: The Godless Victorian by Noel Annan back to me.

The great British tradition of trained debate and a really good education is one of the sub-themes -- the theme being how Stephen (1832-1904) drove the bus from the 18th century abolitionist Clapham Sect to atheist, socialist, queer, pacifist, feminist Bloomsbury. Which, as the foremost critic, after Arnold, of the latter half of the 19th century, and the likely founder of muscular Christianity and later, ethical atheism, Stephen did.

One of the many tidbits of gossip in it -- for scholars of Virginia [Stephen] Woolf -- that I'd forgotten, was the long tradition of incredibly hard work, manic talking, several nervous breakdowns and starving yourself to death among Virginia's paternal forebears. Nothin' feminist about it. Her father was known as the Old Serpent in one of his Cambridge debating or rowing societies -- the same name she called her road dog Lytton Strachey. And, last but not least, Queenie Leavis, one of V. Woolf's most implacable critics, took up the cause of Sir Leslie's literary reputation -- she was for him -- some 40 years after his death. Oh that Queenie was a piece of work, to ally herself with the man who tortured his daughters and deprived them of an education.

The real thing is this. Queenie, in her long contemplated and closely argued defense of Sir Leslie, said, "Art is not immoral, and everything is not as valuable as everything else."

Before you flame her as a running dog of the Aristo -Telian or -Cratic hierarchy, you have to understand that Queenie was a big ole Jew at Cambridge, not a good place to be, one of the smartest Jewgirls of the century, a pioneering woman scholar, and the incredibly hard-slogging, poverty-stricken, servantless, academic wife of F.R. Leavis and the champion of -- well let's just say D.H. Lawrence over what she saw as V. Woolf's rather sexless elitist perplexities. The Leavises were the first serious critics of Bloomsbury, which they (wrongly) saw as elitist.

Everything is not as valuable as everything else is an interesting thing for a supposed proletarian to say. It touches on what I think is wrong with the argument that women who wish to veil themselves must be allowed to do so because what women wear, or choose, has been dictated for far too long. Concommitant is the argument that freedom to choose means freedom to wear the veil, and all the alleged permutations of "freedom" to "choose", including sexual freedom to be, and to enact in public, sexual slavery.

My views on the latter -- the performance of sexual slavery -- are well known. You can be anything you want to in private. I am unalterably opposed to enacting or performing slavery for pleasure in public. Because it's wrong.

But I think the freedom to choose the wearing of the veil is a bad argument. I can't say right now if my problem with the wearing of the veil is entailed in my proscription of the enactment in public of slavery, because I don't think veiling has the pornographic privilege the pomoes like to claim for play parties and -- let's just call it slave porn. Actually, I'm okay with play parties. But not with slave porn. (One is sex and the other is slavery.)

I think many defenders of the veil, or the freedom to choose it, are reacting against racist bastards on the right, and atheist bastards on the left. But this ignores the real arguments against the wearing of the veil, which I think have to be conducted in the world where God exists.

Let's just say he does. (I choose to believe he does because there are a number of problems I simply can't solve myself. I call him he pretty much to annoy you, as much as your calling God she annoys me. My grandmother, also named Pure, was an imperial wizard of the Christian Science church. Founded by a woman. The childrens' prayers are addressed to "Father-Mother God." As imperial wizard, I saw Grama Pure every Sunday morning up in the pulpit in a formal morning dress. I'm over it. Women are just as crazy as men.)

And let's just confine my thinking to societies in which women may choose to wear the veil, not those in which 16-year-olds like Aqsa Parvez are killed by their father and brother for not wearing it. Ooops, that was here in laidback diverse Toronto, land of the free.

First of all, I would wager that every Muslim woman in the world, whether or not she can read, knows the story of Aqsa Parvez and has taken it to heart. Men fear women will laugh at them, as that notable feminist Gavin DeBecker points out. Women fear men will kill them.

This puts the idea of the "choice" women have to make to wear a veil in its proper context, a context in which all women live every day. It is a choice with which I am familiar as a scholar of genocide -- the survivor's choice: to die today or die tomorrow. It sharpens the mind marvelously to think that once the patriarchy is finished with Aqsa Parvez, they're coming after you. The idea that the veil protects women from men's violence is incorrect. It is men's violence.

But let's take this out of the hands of the patriarchs, and back to God. Who, if he exists, must love us all.

[to be continued]

Veiled Americans )


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January 2012



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