A place for everyone

Laws against prostitution are usually supported by people who want to help women break free of men who are coercing them into that line of work.  When one asks why it is that such laws usually include criminal penalties for the very women they are supposed to help, the answer is often that only when police and prosecutors have such penalties to use as threats can they be sure that women will turn against their exploiters. 

In practice, those laws often seem to have the opposite effect.  Arrested, a woman needs money to make bail.  If she is under the influence of a pimp, she will likely call him or an associate of his.  Labeled a criminal, she will find it no easier than it was before the police picked her up to find other employment.  So, the law which may have been advertised as a way of helping her find a way out of prostitution may in its actual operation push her deeper into it.  The law marks prostitution as her place and acts to keep her in that place.

What reminded me of this was a column by Katha Pollitt in the 14 June 2010 issue of The Nation.  Pollitt does not mention prostitution, but mentions a set of proposed laws that seem to be designed to work the same way: bills pending before the French and Belgian parliaments that would prohibit Muslim women from wearing headscarves, face veils, or other garb traditional to women of their persuasion.  Like laws against prostitution, these bills are marketed as means to pry women loose from men who are coercing them into a demeaning way of life.  Also like those laws, the bills include penalties against the women themselves.  Pollitt expresses the fear that men who are in fact coercing women who live with them into covering up more than they would like would respond to a ban by keeping them from going out at all; surely this fear is well-founded.  Moreover, whether a woman wears the veil freely or under compulsion, the threat that if she does go out the police will arrest and search her, then take the men of her family into custody and threaten her with criminal sanctions unless she gives information against them will hardly convince her that France is her home and the Franks are her ancestors.  Quite the contrary, I should think; with such a threat looming in the background, even a woman who would not have been likely to cover up otherwise might feel herself a traitor to the only community that really wants her unless she does put on traditional Muslim attire. 

In the same issue, a number of experts argue that the direction education policy has been taking in the USA in the last 20 years has been gravely counterproductive.  I only wanted to note one of these, by Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University’s education school.  Darling-Hammond looks at the country-by-country league tables for average student achievement in various subjects, pointing out that American students were not performing especially well in 1989 and that their average performance has been declining ever since.  In some subjects, the decline has been steady, in others catastrophically rapid.  Meanwhile, American schools have become more thoroughly segregated by race, the number of subjects offered has shrunk, and the prison population is booming.  Darling-Hammond not only points out these evils; she also  gives examples of countries where the same years have seen movement in the opposite direction.  While the current system tends to lock students into whatever social position they inherited from their parents, Darling-Hammond argues that it is still possible for public education to open doors for social mobility.

Movement from one social status to another often comes in tandem with physical movement from one place to another.  A review of a couple of books about African American history, under the title “Movement and Rootedness,” discusses ways in which the theme of migration has reshaped thinking about that subject in recent years.  It includes a quote from scholar Ira Berlin: “The history of the United States rests upon movement, and then embrace of place.”  The new scholarship on which the review focuses finds ways in which African Americans managed to embrace some places that would strike most of us as quite unembraceable.  While the integrationist story that has been the academic orthodoxy since the 1960s tends to reduce African American history to the relationship between African Americans and whites, so that relationships among African Americans are pushed into the shadows, the new scholars want to find out what sort of communities African Americans built for themselves even during the grimmest days of slavery and Jim Crow.

The Nation, 13 July 2009

nation 13 july 2009Alex Cockburn rages at the Americans who cheerlead for the protests in Iran while they ignore politics in their own country, giving the Obama administration carte blanche to break every promise Mr O made to help working people and curb the national security state.  As for Cockburn’s view of Iran, readers of his newsletter Counterpunch are familiar with his suspicion that the protests are something of a phony put up by advocates of war.   

An editorial about the Obama administration’s approach to the righs of sexual minorities begins by pointing out that in Mr O’s first bid for public office, for the Illinois state senate in 1996, he was asked where he stood on same-sex marriage.  Unlike other candidates, who either checked “yes” or “no,” Mr O went out of his way to add the sentence “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”  At that time no state recognized same-sex marriages, and many criminalized same-sex sex.  Now, the country has moved on.  Even the governor of Utah has endorsed civil unions for same sex couples.  And Mr O has moved backward.  Now he opposes same-sex marriages, presides over the continuation of “don’t ask- don’t tell,” and hasn’t lifted a finger to support legislation to protect sexual minorities from workplace discrimination, legislation 89% of Americans say they favor.  The editorial sums it up: “At this rate, Obama is in danger of being outpaced on gay rights not just by the American people but by the nonsuicidal wing of the Republican Party.”  

Lisa Duggan celebrates Salt Lake City’s surprisingly visible, surprisingly politicized sexual minorities.  Countering those who have called for a boycott of Utah to protest the role of Mormons in the campaign to end gender-neutral marriage in California, Duggan quotes Salt Lake City residents who’ve called for a “New Queer Pioneer Movement,” one that would emulate the sect trains of the Mormon nineteenth century and flood the state with same-sexers. 

Joseph Stiglitz claims that the current global economic crisis presents us with a stark alternative: either we adopt nationalistic policies of subsidy and protection that mean we renounce economic globalization, or we adopt United Nations-based regulatory schemes that mean we embrace political globalization.  As Stiglitz is the head of the UN’s Commission of Experts on the crisis, it will not come as a complete surprise that he favors the latter option.


Burqa Officially Unfashionable, Per France



President Sarkozy declares burqa “not hot.”

Muslim women’s dress

Our own Lefalcon examines the Quran and Hadith to find out how Muslim women are supposed to dress.  He raises some interesting questions along the way; I came away from it thinking that the Quran sounds a lot like Immanuel Kant, at least as regards the place of rule-governed activity in ethical life.  http://qfm2wge8hpjv.wordpress.com/

Women’s Dress

I got this off the Internet.  (I’ve modified it slightly for readability.):“God, the Most Merciful, gave us three basic rules for the dress code for women in Islam:

“1.The BEST garment is the garment of righteousness.

“2.Whenever you dress, cover your chest (bosoms).

“3.Lengthen your garment.

“While these three BASIC rules may not sound enough for those who do not trust God, the TRUE believers know that God is ENOUGH.  God could have given us more details to the point of having graphs, designs and color rules, but He, the Most Merciful, wants to give us exactly these very basic rules and leave the rest for us.  After these three basic rules every woman is more aware of her circumstances and can adjust her dress for her situation.  Any addition to these basic Quranic rules is an attempt to correct God or improve on His merciful design.

“What better than to quote God’s words in description of this trait of the human race:

“‘We have cited in this Quran every kind of example, but the human being is the most argumentative creature.’ (18:54)

“We have no obligation to follow but God’s rules, just as His messenger did all the time.  Innovations and fabrications that added thousands of rules to the women’s dress code are nothing but idol-worship and should be refused.

“STAY WITH GOD.  That is where the winners go.

“May God bless us with His mercy and guidance.”


My reason for being interested in the passage above is as follows:

I have heard people make statements about what is (supposedly) obligatory dress for Muslim women, statements in which these people claim to have very specific information about the guidelines and the permissible range of choices prescribed in the Islamic religious system.  However, people can be a bit vague about where these guidelines are located.  Maybe the fault is mine, for not pressing them hard enough to give me “chapter and verse.”

In any case, it is easy to throw around religious claims.  It is more challenging to cite passages of Qur’an and Hadith and then to explain how you interpret these passage to arrive at the desired conclusion.

I cannot verify the 100% accuracy of the quoted material above.  However, if it is indeed the case that the Qur’anic injunctions regarding women’s dress are that sparse and that open to interpretation, then I would say the following:

The position that the absolute minimum for women’s public dress is a loose-fitting black garment called abaya and a head cover with a face opening, seems much less authoritative than some would maintain.