In the past fortnight, we've had stories of
teachers suspended for wearing the niqab
British Airways workers sent home for wearing the cross
; We've had claim and counter-claim, windbaggery of all hues, pompous opinion-mongering from every conceivable angle and the capitalisation thereon so, seeing as everyone's making fat-headed comments on this, one more seems like a grain of sand on a beach of indignance.
This issue is political dynamite precisely because you can spin it to touch on any of a number of "great issues" troubling the world today that you might be keen to debate. If you want to talk about immigration, you can use it to
end; the war on terror likewise; ditto the debates on religion and secularity; the issues of spin and political expediency also; the cynicism and power of the media; the rights of individuals versus those of society; the power of the state etcetera etcetera ... It's a blow-hard's charter. Party on, Garth!
I've read and listened to these debates in a state oscillating between those of cynical, misanthropic stoicism, detached analysis and livid bluster. Billy Connolly used to do a routine about the F-word, stating how all his portable radios ended-up "furry" as they became "pebble-dashed with muesli" from reacting to broadcast fatuity: "
FFfffucking ... Bwarstar ... Bllloody ...
" etc. This week, I know what he means.
Firstly, there's the natural frustration that this issue is
occupying a disproportionate share of the nation's media bandwidth; it's not that it isn't worth discussing, but it's been something akin to a
at times. Secondly, there is the disheartenment felt when,
, someone hijacks the issue to talk about something related, but not the issue being discussed. Thirdly, there is just bad logic; Clifford Longley, on this week's
which, like messages in Mission Impossible, will self destruct after one week] rather sneeringly referred to the reaction as being to do with a rising tide of "aggressive secularism". How any religious adherent who doesn't secretly harbour dreams of theocracy could ever be
a strand of robustly-defended secularity is beyond me; it's "aggressive
" you need to be worried about, bro'.
At its core, the issue has only ever
been about the collision of two noble but only semi-enshrined liberties: The right to wear what one likes versus the right to interact with other people how one wishes (both within "reasonable" limits: The "wearing" of automatic weapons is frowned upon, as is having people interacting with your fists etc.).
I hate suits. One of the few times I've agreed whole-heartedly with Tony Blair was when he spoke wearily of "the tyranny of the tie". Fortunately, I often work from home, which means that you'll frequently find me shoe-less, unshaven and wearing baggy jeans (in various states of shabbiness) and a sweatshirt. I don't expect to be able to get away with such louche couture in the office, however. Likewise, I'm sure my line manager would rather accept the delusion that I'm up at 5:30am, dressed with militarily crisp cleanliness and working diligently for the greater corporate good.
These trivial examples hide a serious point. The right to wear what we want is only a "soft" right as is, equally, the right to deal with people on our own terms. Your right to swing your arms ends at my face etc. The issue becomes complicated, however, when
money and services get involved. My bank and my employer can largely choose the terms upon which they wish to deal with their customers and employees, but there is no consumer market in governments, although money is taken for services rendered just the same.
is when these vague types of right seem to become overbearingly important.
When the French debated the wearing of the
in schools a couple of years ago, we watched with fascination as a French minister told Jeremy Paxman that the idea of children wearing the hijab "
is a kind of violence to us
". France is perhaps the most avowedly secular society in the world; their organisational
are the result of a rational division process (much as it also served to disintegrate feudal loyalties); the metric system was originally a french product and yet they see no inconsistency in declaring the wearing of the hijab "a kind of violence". One could debate for hours what that comment meant, but I think most people can understand it in a socialist (with a small 's') context. I'd remind you that they were talking about
, not the wider cultural liberties. Despite being so avowedly secular, religion of many stripes flourishes in France, especially in the south.
When I read Jack Straw's original article (linked above), I remember wondering what the fuss was about. He is well within his rights to ask, and his constituents are well within their rights to refuse. The
to the whole affair, though, speaks of a country ill-at-ease with its cultural priorities. Nothing in our laws or cultural heritage justify either the bloviant accusations of racism aimed at Mr. Straw
accusations of militancy, terrorism and fanatical intransigence directed towards the niqab-wearers. Taking a leaf out of Mr. Sartre's book, what we have here is a situation where the crime is actually a failure to
; a dithering hope that things will sort themselves out in the wash without society-level proclamations of principle.
We don't do society-level proclamations of principle very well in this country; they are something akin to "a kind of violence" to us. We're British. We "muddle through". We find a happy medium. We have "stiff upper lips" and "quiet determination". We drink tea. Well, that last bit is true, at least. We are a secular nation, albeit one with an official religion. We are a democracy, albeit one with a sitting monarch. We believe in freedom of the press, but doubt the public value of what they print, We have over a thousand years of law and heritage, but no constitution. It's a compromise. It's a mish mash. It's a hack. It's a mess. It kind of works, though.
Except when it doesn't.
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC]
which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002)
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999)
which are good places to start.