News and Views - Madoff; Burka (not connected!)

I had planned a couple of posts for the past week - one on the Madoff sentence and the other on banning the burka in France. But it's been one heck of a hectic week - and about to get even more so!

Therefore, I will just leave you with my own "summarized thoughts" on these issues plus a few links for other views on these topics.

Madoff first. Of course what he did was really bad - some would say evil - but, seriously, 150 years? Seems a bit excessive, a bit vindictive and - partially - mis-directed. Seems to be an outlet for anger and frustration - fully justified - over the whole situation, which was caused by Madoff of course, but also by bad policies, insufficient regulation and everyone's greed - not just Madoff's. All of us succumb to this greed - we go along with the bad policies and the inadequate regulation, or the manifestly stupid self-regulation by big corporations, when times are good. We criticize countries like China for their lack of human rights and low safety standards, but if the price is right, we still buy from them. Etc etc. Madoff seems to have taken on atleast a hundred of those 150 years as a lightening rod for our frustration over the fact that the good times didn't last forever.
Read the New York Times report on the sentencing.

And now the burka. Like Mona Eltahawy, I too am a feminist and I too "detest" the burqa (unlike her, I am not a Muslim). I think, like Eltahawy, that it's an attempt to make women disappear - become invisible. However, I do not believe we can be free and also tell people what they can and cannot wear. This is the principle of the thing. It may seem overly idealistic, but I do believe principles are important and idealism is good, and so one can never be "too idealistic."
And, on a practical level too, enduring change comes through a change of heart and a change in one's thinking - not through imposition from the outside. If one looks around the world today one can quite easily see that in the longer term, one cannot force people to behave a certain way. Countries do not stay together forever through force (witness Tito's Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union); neither do blocs (Eastern Europe). China is facing this truth now in Xinjiang, after ignoring it for decades in Tibet. People do not "modernize" at the command of a Shah (Iran). Fundamental change takes time.

Another point, involving both principle and practicality. How much can one democratically regulate? There is a trend in France to ban all religious symbols - what about a cross worn discreetly on a chain around the neck? Or the Sikh turban, or the Indian - some say Hindu - bindi? If we ban the bindi, are we not putting ourselves in more or less the same category as the racist "dot busters" of some years ago? Meanwhile, what if I find this Chanel outfit offensive (picture, right) because the woman's face is covered by a veil (front page in today's International Herald Tribune, Asia edition)? Can we ban that too? This regulation of what one wears is, I feel, a very slippery slope.

Instead, one might consider ways of supporting girls and women who would like to resist any social/family pressure to cover up. One could encourage greater debate on women's rights, ways of dressing etc. More education. In short, persuasion rather than coersion.
Read Mona Eltahawy's very valid views, persuasively expressed.
And Ronald Sokol's equally valid and well expressed opinions.

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