BDSM and Burqas: an argument against the veil

 

When one thinks about BDSM, first things that come to mind are leather costumes, nipple-clamps, collar belts, whips, and so on. But believe me when I tell you that BDSM actually made me rethink my stand against ban on burqa.

I can assume that most liberal-minded (for the lack of better words) out there, even after being repulsed by the practice, would tolerate it as something confined to a private space, which is an individual’s sexuality (I sincerely hope so since I do occasionally indulge in it). What makes it so tolerable? The things that people do in the name of BDSM can be categorised as torture, slavery and even rape. There is a good amount of possibility that physical injuries will be inflicted. But there is one crucial factor that makes BDSM so radically different from torture, slavery and rape, and even tolerable for many. Consent.

But, questions arise. Why should consent sanctify something that is otherwise considered morally reprehensible? Thought experiments on consensual slavery is brought up, to drive the point home. But another crucial difference between a consensual whipping and inflicting of pain, and a hypothetical consensual slavery would be that the former allows one to retain their agency. When I enter into an agreement with a partner to be whipped or slapped, one thing is very certainly and explicitly agreed upon: I can unilaterally withdraw my consent at any point in the act, even for no reason at all. That’s why we have “safewords”. My point here is that, consent is only morally valid if the party concerned doesn’t have to give up their agency, i.e., the liberty to choose and the liberty to withdraw consent. It is such consent that differentiates (hypothetical) consensual slavery from any kind of unpaid labour, rape from sex, and BDSM from torture.

Now let me come to the Burqa and the bans instituted by France and Belgium, and reinforced by the EU court. One of the central arguments, or at least the ones I have come across, against the ban is that the right of a woman to choose to cover her face in public, even if she cites religious reasons. The big question that comes here is, while they “choose” to cover their face in public do they retain their agency? For me the answer was completely clear: No. It never has and it never will. Without a face, I’m pretty sure it’s extremely difficult for a person to assert their identity as an individual. And when that happens exercising one’s agency is very complicated. But if one assumes that a woman with her face covered can somehow retain their agency, then the assumption would entail a possiblity that the said woman can say no to the niqaab at any point? Notionally, it should, but it doesn’t. One only has to look around the world, to see that societies that doesn’t require woman to have a full face covering have very small proportion of women actually wearing the veil, and most of the time there would be external factors influencing the decisions of these women.

It is this lack of agency that one must take into account before defending the veil, no matter what you call it, burqa, niqab, jilbab, etc. But do I still support the blanket ban on face-covering by Belgium or France? I’m not sure. The anarchist in me is still reluctant to embrace it. If such a ban were introduced in India, I would have fought against it vehemently. Here I’m also considering my right to wear whatever I feel like, without having to give a reason to anybody, including the state.

The Inversion of Responsibility

“Be Responsible”, requests the sign. It’s titled “Hate Mongering” and was seen recently in the city of Pune:

Sign seen at a traffic intersection in Pune (see article for text of the sign).

Sign seen at a traffic intersection in Pune (see article for text of the sign).

Who is it addressed to, you might wonder. Is it addressed to the terrorists of the Hindu Rashtra Sena (“Hindu National Army”) who went on a rampage in the city last month and beat a Muslim man to death? No, it’s addressed to… people on Facebook. The sign advises its readers:

Choose carefully what you Comment, Like or Share on Social Media.

And it adds an upside-down image of a Facebook “Like” icon – i.e. a thumbs-down – for emphasis.

[Read more…]

A Retort to Bret Stephens

This WSJ article is making rounds declaring that “a culture that celebrates kidnapping is not fit for statehood”, referring to the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers. With an assertion that one has to ask uncomfortable questions, Bret Stephens (the author) demands to know why Palestinians condone and celebrate the violence committed by some people among them.

Two things that came to my mind while reading the article:

a. The decree that a purportedly violent culture doesn’t deserve statehood.

Whether or not the Palestinian/Muslim culture is violent is a separate question altogether, but the assertion that for statehood a nation has to be non-violent is laughable. The very fundamental of any given statehood is violence. It is in fact, described as a social community that monopolises violence.

And also look who’s talking: a person coming from a nation-state built on the legacy of mass-murder, mass-kidnapping, mass-thievery, and at least two centuries of chattel slavery. But the same is the case of every other nation-state in the world. Each has a legacy of unspeakable brutalities committed in their name, and none have actually repented or gone through “moral rehabilitation”. India, Pakistan, ChinaTurkey, almost every other Western European nations, and any nation-state you name will have its own baggage of violence.

The author cites post-war Germany as having gone through moral rehabilitation, which in itself is questionable, but one can’t help but overlook the fact that anti-semitism was neither an indigenous invention of the Germans nor was it a patented ambition of the Nazi Germany. There was a reason why Hitler, Mussolini and Franco came to power, and were allowed to do the things they did against the Jewish people. There is a reason why almost all of the European nations were keen to have them leave for Israel. And there is also a reason why most of the Jewish refugees either left for the US or were sent to Mandate Palestine. I hope Stephens do not forget that.

b. The expectations of moral integrity from Palestine, without expecting the same from the Israelis.

Are the latter not guilty of condoning everything that Israeli state has done to the Palestinians, including the virtual disenfranchisement of an entire population, occupation of Palestinian homes, killing and displacement and forced impoverishment? Or is it so that because it’s done by the military and not average Israeli citizens it becomes legitimate? Maybe I misread him but at one point it seemed like Stephens was implying that getting killed by the military is different than getting killed by average people. Such blanket absolution for sovereign state militaries is quite common. We hear it in cases like Kashmir, Tibet, and Sri Lanka. And it’s such normalising and legitimising of state violence that is problematic, because it sends out a message that violence inflicted by any powerful authority is fine and justified.

Also such high expectations put on the colonised to be peaceful and morally upright, is reminiscent of the expectations of moral integrity and non-violence that the British colonial discourse had put on the Indian anti-colonial movement, especially after the Chauri Chaura Incident of 1922.