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May 16, 2010

French Burqua Ban: Liberating or Tyrannical?

by TomStrong

I can almost guarantee that the overwhelming swap of Liberty Papers readers were sympathetic to the creators of South Park in the recent controversy. In fact, I’m sure some of you are planning on participating in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

Given that, I have to request reader thoughts on the French ban of the burqa (a Muslim face-covering for women). My first intuition is a firm “no” against the ban, simply based on my strong emotional attachment to the tenets of freedom of religion as expressed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Christopher Hitchens makes the case over at Slate that the ban isn’t a ban at all, but actually a sort of state-mandated liberation of women from the tyranny of Islamic theology:

The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers “only” the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a “ban.” To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.

After reading the article, I’m not sure what to think. Hitchens makes a strong case, but he is a master manipulator of words and verbal gymnastics are on full display in “In Your Face.” What do you think?


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32 Comments

  1. Intentions are meaningless. The facts are that it will be yet another government-imposed ban on certain behaviors. There is no ‘freedom’ in this action.

    I have no problem with the French government grinding their heels further into their citizenry, it is none of my business. However, trying to impose such a ban here in the USA would be absolutely unacceptable.

    Comment by Dogboy49 — May 16, 2010 @ 12:25 am
  2. It’s fucking obnoxious. If husbands are forcing their wives to wear obscuring clothing, that’s simple assault and should be prosecuted as such. If women choose to wear that clothing, they’re well within their rights to do so whether the rest of us like it or not.

    It seems to me that Burqua bans are the socially-acceptable manifestation of anti-Muslim prejudice, in the same way that (say) gun bans are a socially-acceptable form of prejudice against the rural working class. “Oh, I’m not… against… Islam — I’m just, uh, supporting women’s rights! Yeah, that’s it!”

    Comment by bluntobject — May 16, 2010 @ 12:47 am
  3. I agree, “bluntobject.” I have met Muslim women who make pretty articulate explanations for why they don the hijabs. Many women do seem to seek out the religion voluntarily. Nevertheless, many don’t and we shouldn’t be so cowardly as to avoid stepping in to stop such acts of compulsion.

    Comment by Michael O. Powell — May 16, 2010 @ 12:56 am
  4. When I ask myself what I think about banning burqas, all the reasons I come up with supporting a ban stem from fear. For example “Is this women really a women?”, “Is this person who they say they are?”, “Is this women a terrorist?”, or “Is she being forced to wear that?”. In reality, these are all irrational fears in the United States. Maybe those fears are more rational in France. I don’t know. Rational or not, nobody has the right not to feel fear.

    It seems to me that this ban along with others like the ban on minarets are being used as a hedge against shifting cultural norms in Europe. I have to admit that I’m sympathetic to such a cause, but I don’t agree with the methods. It would be much more effective in the long run to support more freedom of the kind that runs contrary to the principles of religious fundamentalism. Something like “extreme freedom”. You have to create an environment so free that tyranny doesn’t have have a air to breathe.

    With regards to Hitchens’ article, he makes some interesting points, but I would much rather see him attack the religion as a whole instead of supporting discrimination thinly veiled as liberation of women.

    Comment by nicolas — May 16, 2010 @ 2:09 am
  5. I don’t see what’s so special about Hitchens’s argument that makes it different from a thousand other attempts to portray a curtailment of liberty as its opposite.

    He writes: “On the door of my bank in Washington, D.C., is a printed notice politely requesting me to remove any form of facial concealment before I enter the premises”

    That is the right of the bank to require of those who visit its private property. But that does not mean that the state has the right to demand it over the entire territory.

    He writes: “I would indignantly refuse to have any dealings with a nurse or doctor or teacher who hid his or her face”

    Fine, then, let individuals refuse to have dealings with women wearing burqa if they so choose. It is not a matter for the state to decide.

    He writes: “Society is being asked to abandon an immemorial tradition of equality and openness in order to gratify one faith”

    As far as I know, nobody is proposing a coercive law requiring people to accept the burqa. So when he says that “society” is “being asked”, I take that to mean that Muslim women are going to ask the owners of banks to let them in the building without taking the burqa off. The banks might or might not choose to allow them in. Either way, what business is it of the state?

    “I am not going to have a hooded man or woman teach my children, or push their way into the bank ahead of me, or drive my taxi or bus, and there will never be a law that says I have to.”

    What law is he referring to? Who has said anything about a law that requires that private citizens must get into taxis driven by women wearing burqas?

    He writes: “It is incompatible—because of its effect on peripheral vision—with activities such as driving a car or negotiating traffic.”

    If it poses a genuine problem (not proven), then presumably a “driving burqa” can be designed that avoids the problem.

    He writes: “we have no assurance that Muslim women put on the burqa or don the veil as a matter of their own choice”

    We don’t know for a fact that they want to do it, and therefore we should ban it? Is that a serious argument? If I see a person walking a dog, I don’t know for a fact that the person is doing it voluntarily. Maybe there is someone at his house holding his family hostage forcing him to walk the dog. Should we therefore ban walking the dog?

    “Mothers, wives, and daughters have been threatened with acid in the face, or honor-killing, or vicious beating, if they do not adopt the humiliating outer clothing that is mandated by their menfolk.”

    If the only way to deal with alleged systematic coercion is to ban the activity that is supposedly being coerced, then the justice system has utterly failed. Normally one attacks coercion at the root of the problem, by prosecuting those who commit assaults and murders. Why are we now to make an exception for Muslim women, to treat Muslim women differently, addressing the supposed coercion not by prosecuting the coercers but by banning the coerced activity?

    He writes: “Religion is the worst possible excuse for any exception to the common law.”

    But as I understand it, the issue isn’t whether there should be an exception to the common law, but whether the proposed (or passed) law should be there in the first place.

    Well, maybe I have the issues wrong, but Hitchens’s article sure didn’t set me right.

    Comment by Constant — May 16, 2010 @ 2:34 am
  6. He [Hitchens] writes: “On the door of my bank in Washington, D.C., is a printed notice politely requesting me to remove any form of facial concealment before I enter the premises”

    That is the right of the bank to require of those who visit its private property. But that does not mean that the state has the right to demand it over the entire territory.

    Agreed. Back in the days when I was allowed to ride motorcycles (pre-kids), I was making a quick stop at the bank on my way home from work. I parked on the street, was still in the process of removing my helmet when I entered the bank, and had pretty much already put my helmet back on when leaving the bank. A few cops who saw this from outside were understandably concerned, and decided to “chat” with me until they could ascertain that I had not, in fact, robbed the bank. All in all, it was a minor (and understandable) issue, and left me with a pretty good story — especially since the cops weren’t trigger-happy with a taser.

    This is about the only legitimate reason that I can see for barring the burka. However, I think it’s a bit of a weak reason, as concealment of most dangerous materials/weapons do not require one to hide ones face.

    I’d say that banning the burka is an unacceptable infringement of liberty, for two reasons:

    1) It is an infringement on the freedom to follow a religion.

    2) Women who want to avoid wearing a burka can always defy or change religions — it’s not always easy (I know several ex-Mormons, and they basically get completely ostracized from their whole community), but it’s a lot easier than moving to a different country, which would be the alternative to actively practice your religion in a country that bans burkas.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 16, 2010 @ 1:20 pm
  7. I am completely for the ban. The reasons stated are good reasons. In this world today it is simply a security risk to allow people to completely cover their faces. Also, it is a health issue. It is not beneficial or wise to not expose yourself to the sun. I also see those burkas as oppressive towards women. People are trained their whole lives to have good and articulate answers for their actions.
    I think it is ridiculous for women to dress like that or be expected to dress like that. I understand the freedom of choice but Islam is a very male-driven religion where women do not have much of a voice is any. To me, those uniforms are a symbol of their oppression.
    I would say the same of any headcovering for women in Christianity or any other religion.

    Comment by Angela — May 16, 2010 @ 4:18 pm
  8. Hitchen’s analogy to the KKK is interesting, but actually makes the opposite point for me. Is it, or should it be illegal for a KKK member to walk around in public in a pointed hood?

    Whether one is cloaked because she is participating in a religious observance (however popular), or because he’s an ignorant bigot (however odious), name a valid reason why that person’s right to wear what he or she chooses should be intruded upon by the state.

    When not in public, but on private property, the answer is even clearer. Ask the owner.

    This logic leads me to reject any outright bans in “free” countries like the U.S.

    If authorities have an articulable suspicion that a crime is at hand, then they do have the authority and responsibility to investigate. If not, there’s no functional difference between these people and someone on street corner wearing a hot dog costume advertising a restaurant.

    Comment by Akston — May 16, 2010 @ 4:31 pm
  9. Angela,
    Do you think a law is going to keep those women safe or change bad behavior? In actuality it could put more women at risk. Its not liberating them. It is an excuse for the French not to have a visual of Islam. As usual, they are holding the women responsible for the moral actions of men. The law is blatantly sexist.

    Comment by VRB — May 17, 2010 @ 3:39 am
  10. I am also against the ban. I see it as an infringement on liberty. If in fact, the women are being forced to wear them, this does nothing to address that.

    For those who are for the ban of an article of clothing women may or may not be forced to wear, would you also consider banning the largely Jewish and Christian practice of circumcising male children?

    There are many religious and cultural

    Comment by John222 — May 17, 2010 @ 4:11 am
  11. VRB makes a good point. This law won’t make those women any safer, it will only make them less visible to the rest of French culture.

    I personally think the burka is demeaning. But the burka is only a symptom of a wider culture that demeans women, and outlawing the symptom doesn’t stop the culture.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 17, 2010 @ 6:59 am
  12. The burqa is not a religious item. It is a cultural/societal item and the easiest way to position it is as a form of chastity belt.

    As for women wanting to wear them, read up on the Stockholm Syndrome or the statements from women who have been in a one-sided abusive relationship yet, when asked why they stay, will tell you that they must have somehow deserved the beatings.

    And .. when I’ve moved countries I have felt that it was up to me to fit into the cultural norms of the country that I chose to move to.

    In a crowded society it is not always possible to get away from a situation that you dislike so one person’s liberty can form another person’s chains. The freedom to smoke anywhere any time means that non-smokers lose their freedom of access to clean air. The freedom to listen to your music as loud as you want whenever you want means that your neighbours lose their right to quiet.

    Given all that, banning a specific item of clothing is pretty meaningless. My preference would be to ban any form of clothing where the wearer cannot be identified – so that covers the KKK, bank robbers – and motorbike riders :-)

    Comment by Marshall — May 26, 2010 @ 6:09 pm
  13. Marshall, I generally agree with your assessment of the burqua. Nevertheless, the case for banning it seems pretty weak since, unlike smoking or playing loud music, it’s simply something somebody else is wearing and doesn’t affect you, even if the cultural rational behind it is nothing short of oppressive.

    Comment by Michael O. Powell — May 26, 2010 @ 6:46 pm
  14. Michael,
    I find that being faced by someone whose face I cannot see very confronting. I note that the failure to see the face is a major theme in most horror movies so I don’t think I’m alone in this.

    One of the most confronting photographs I’ve ever seen was from England and showed a muslim woman in a headscarf with two (apparently) white males in the background wearing hoodies covering their heads and Union Jack scarves across the bottom half of their faces. The woman was obviously intimidated, as I would have been. Photographs of the KKK in full regalia create the same response in me.

    So yes .. I’d like to see some sort of general law that says that in our society your right to individual expression – in a public arena – stops when you try to hide yourself completely. The face seems the main item of “identity” so at least your face must be visible (I’ll ignore the possibility of using extreme makeup to make it unrecognisable since we’re really only dealing with emotional reactions rather than identification – and face recognition software ignores makeup :-).

    Comment by Marshall — May 26, 2010 @ 7:35 pm
  15. Marshall,

    I can certainly see your point there. However, if we were to go with Hitchens’ argument that the burqa is a mark of oppression, which it certainly is, the French authorities may soon be on a legal rode to one day banning the hijab. The hijab seems, at least in my experience with Muslim women, to be far more common. Banning that would be a clear violation of religious freedom.

    Comment by Michael O. Powell — May 26, 2010 @ 9:31 pm
  16. Michael,
    I think you’re making a huge jump here.

    When people (mobs) panic they can do the most amazingly stupid things so I can’t say you won’t be proven to have been right – just that there is no evidence for it at this time.

    To me the line in the sand is from moving through society but not being part of society, as is done in-your-face via the burqa, versus being at least visually part of the society.

    The English photograph I mentioned had the women in a Hajib (which is why I said that she was muslim). I have my own opinions of the self-negating style of dress but they are no more than opinions and I would no more attempt to enforce them than I would be happy for the law to tell me what I am allowed to wear (says he who hasn’t worn a tie to work, much less a suit, for decades :-).

    Comment by Marshall — May 26, 2010 @ 9:50 pm
  17. What do you work in? I may have to follow your avenue of work.

    Comment by Michael O. Powell — May 26, 2010 @ 10:39 pm
  18. IT .. as a contractor in a (very) long term contract. But I do (quite often) wear shoes at work :-)

    Comment by Marshall — May 26, 2010 @ 10:42 pm
  19. Marshall -

    Have you read “Nomad” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali? I just read the first two chapters and nearly found myself reversing the skeptism about the burqua ban I showed here. In it she describes women in London who had a whole other layer velcroed over their burqua so that there was no way they could be seen by men.

    I’ve had two very good Muslim female friends. They both hung on to an emotional attachment to Islam, but refused to wear the hijab and dressed western. Muslim men, of course, gave them very bad looks of disgust and guilted them constantly. One of them was even scared to be seen with me. The culture is certainly one of extreme oppression of women.

    Comment by Michael O. Powell — May 27, 2010 @ 11:31 pm
  20. Michael, I have no doubt that the Burqa is used as a tool to enforce male dominance (as was the chastity belt). However using the Law to ban it is unlikely to work as a tool for change since one tool/practice can easily be replaced with another.

    For example http://www.theage.com.au/world/an-infidels-progress-20100515-v5ik.html suggests that “Muslim women in the Hague were found to have high instances of vitamin D deficiency” was due “to the fact they were deprived of sunlight because they didn’t have permission to leave the house until their husbands came home at night.”

    Is going out inside a cloth cage better than being de facto locked up in a bricks-and-mortar one?

    If you want to change society then the only way that I can see is to target the next generation before it becomes brainwashed into any form of us-good them-bad garbage.

    Children are easily brainwashed. They are inherently “programmed” to believe adults during their early years – those that decided to check for themselves whether that “nice pussy” was really the sabre toothed tiger that their parent’s had warned them about didn’t live long enough to pass on their genes :-). I think it was the Jesuits who labelled 7 as being the point where the child starts to question what s/he is told.

    So to start breaking the cycle would require a uniform educational curriculum that required that all children up to the age of 7 were only to be taught a very small subset of “facts” (language, arithmetic, geography, social studies etc) – and a large slab of logic and research – basically that they be taught to question everything. This wouldn’t stop their parents from trying to convince their children that their group was somehow special or that other group(s) were bad or anything really – but this false “knowledge” would be balanced by the increasing ability of the child to ask why .. prove it.

    Of course this means that all “faith” has to be kept out of classrooms at least until the child is 7 so the chance of it happening in my lifetime is indistinguishable from zero.

    Comment by Marshall — May 30, 2010 @ 10:38 pm
  21. Most social engineering starts with good intentions. Almost all end with negative unintended consequences. Be careful that the cure you propose is not far worse than the disease.

    My ethics say that I have no right to force-feed your children my view of the truth. I also hold that you have no right to do that with mine.

    Isolation breeds intolerance and hostility towards foreign concepts and people. The most effective and ethical way to bring tolerance to cultures is to offer global communication and global markets. Global markets bring these isolated cultures out of grinding poverty. Communication allows them to make more informed decisions.

    Cultural oppression is better fought with communication and trade than with well-meaning oppression from outside the culture.

    Comment by Akston — May 30, 2010 @ 11:15 pm
  22. Akston .. I agree with what you are saying in principle and I’ve certainly lived through a number of such well-intentioned disasters.

    But surely the increasing globalisation of communications and markets is just as much an instance of Social Engineering as any of the more directed ones? Since the myriad of decisions making up this massive change are driven by monetary considerations, how are they more likely to produce ethical results than decisions made on ethical grounds (which we know from experience too often fail)?

    (Much as I’d like to) I can’t agree with your thesis that global markets and global communications are sufficient (or even necessary) to reduce the hostility between groups. We have had 65 years – two to three generations – since the end of the Second World War with ever increasing globalisation of communications and trade with no evidence that a reduction in group-group animosity has followed. If anything the reverse appears to be true.

    Think Africa, South America or any members of the former Communist Bloc.

    Given that, I have said before that I don’t believe that the Law is the best way to change societies.

    Incidentally … “My ethics say that I have no right to force-feed your children my view of the truth. I also hold that you have no right to do that with mine” … are you saying that it your right to brainwash your own children with your beliefs?

    At what age do our children gain the right to not be brainwashed?

    If you re-read what I said I made no mention of “Truth” (capital T intended). I used the neutral term “facts” intending to cover only things like Arithmetic and Logic and English and Geography and … things that no-one is arguing about. (of course where does that leave Evolution :-)? Maybe Darwin goes into the too-hard-and-bring-out-again-after-7 basket?

    Comment by Marshall — May 31, 2010 @ 2:45 am
  23. Akston,
    As for individual decisions by companies being ethical in the individual, consider the environmental damage being done to the US as the result of BP’s commercial decisions – and what appears to be attempts by BP to cover up their actions and the size of the consequences.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/31/bp-clashes-scientists-sea-oil-pollution

    Then look at what another petroleum company (Woodside Petroleum) is currently doing in pushing through another major project, which could be sited on the mainland, against the wishes of the sovereign state (East Timor) which (part)owns the oil field. I assume that Woodside have a commercial reason for wanting to do it this way but it places all the environmental risk onto East Timor .. and minimises the monetary and infrastructure gains for the country.

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/timor-ready-to-block-joint-gas-project-says-gusmao-20100530-wnkc.html

    So we’re left with assuming that there is some sort of self-balancing of the myriad of decisions. But that can only work when those decisions are truly independent. What is happening is the ever increasing size of the companies (Woodside’s revenue last year was ten times the (2004) GDP of East Timor and the ever increasing power of communications and computing leads companies to make similar decisions or to recognise the decisions of its competitors early enough to piggy-back on their decisions or adopt their strategies.

    This creates a market made up of only a small number of independent players – a de facto monopoly.

    Comment by Marshall — May 31, 2010 @ 2:09 pm
  24. After answering one question, I’ll bring the discussion back to the original thread.

    The question: Incidentally … “My ethics say that I have no right to force-feed your children my view of the truth. I also hold that you have no right to do that with mine” … are you saying that it your right to brainwash your own children with your beliefs?

    My answer: Of course. Young children always learn from their parents’ beliefs and understanding of the world. Anything but the most oppressive state indoctrination will not change this. We all like to think our own views are the most objective and enlightened. We all have bias anyway.

    Back to the original thread:

    In a free society, I reject the idea of laws prohibiting clothing which make identification of the wearer more difficult. The state should have no blanket need or authority to identify every citizen at all times. Agents of the state do have the authority and the obligation to investigate behavior which raises a reasonable suspicion that a crime is at hand. Private property owners may choose to restrict entry only to those who can be readily identified. But other than those definable situations, your freedom should not be subject to the hysteria of a fearful observer.

    Family and cultural oppression, coercion, and physical abuse are separate issues. Many of these are (and should be) crimes of their own accord.

    Comment by Akston — May 31, 2010 @ 7:48 pm
  25. Incidentally … “My ethics say that I have no right to force-feed your children my view of the truth. I also hold that you have no right to do that with mine” … are you saying that it your right to brainwash your own children with your beliefs?

    Define truth.
    Define brain-washing.

    There are some questions of truth that are always under debate. One question of truth is whether there is a god, and whether that god demands women to cover themselves. I personally don’t believe either, and think that the religious (Christian, Muslim, Scientologist, Zoroastrian, etc) are all a bit nutty.

    Do you trust me to decide which of your truths to raise your children are wrong and declare them to be brainwashing?

    Do you trust to let the government define them for your family?

    I don’t trust you or the government to do so for my kids.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — June 1, 2010 @ 8:31 am
  26. Brad .. brainwashing and Truth are not on the same continuum.

    “Truth” is too wiggly for me so I’ll just define brainwashing.

    It’s brainwashing when the recipient doesn’t have the opportunity to question what s/he is being told. “Truth” has nothing to do with it.

    It may not be true, but it isn’t brainwashing if I tell you that the Easter Bunny is real and has just signed a contract with Disney since you can question and research any part of it.

    It may be true, but it is also brainwashing if I feed you drugs (or hypnotise you or do anything to turns off the reasoning part of your brain) and tell you that the sun rises in the east. It’s brainwashing because I have done so in a way that makes you accept it as “Truth” without having had an opportunity to filter it for yourself.

    Children (until around 7?) are uniquely vulnerable in being in an unreasoning state of acceptance … sort of as if they were being given my “drugs” at every meal … and so their rights need to be specially protected.

    So yes I teach my children my ideas but paramount amongst them is their right to question anything I say and to disbelieve it unless I can prove it to be correct.

    That is why I said that I would like to see children taught the tools to question and research as early as possible and try to restrict the curriculum to only the vanilla skills and facts such as arithmetic and geography and languages and … until they have moved to an age where they can apply that critical thinking to the more contentious issues.

    Comment by Marshall — June 1, 2010 @ 2:11 pm
  27. Akston,
    I see society as a continuum and the laws there to keep people acting somewhere around the middle so that one individuals actions don’t impinge too far into other people’s freedoms.

    When faced with “absolute” arguments such as those that you advance, I find it useful to identify the arc upon which the argument rests then create artificial extremes to both sides (a variant of reducto ad absurdum). If the “absolute” argument can’t handle these (absurd) extremes then it is actually a relative argument dressed up and we need to determine the range. I find most “absolute” arguments fail this test.

    One extreme for dress might be for people to walk around nude with the other extreme being (say) wearing full battledress, carrying live weapons and wearing an opaque helmet. We have laws against public nudity so why not against the other extreme? Since we have nude (public) beaches maybe we should also have burqa beaches to provide balance – with both extremes limited in public shared spaces?

    On the children argument, I didn’t say that you couldn’t teach your children anything. I did say that I’d like the education system to teach them tools to enable them to question and develop their own belief system in parallel before they were taught material which is disputed and upon which I would like to see them form their own opinion.

    Children (under 7) are uniquely vulnerable to “brainwashing” as noted in an earlier post so where do you see your limits in your responsibility to protect them and your power over them?

    To push it to extremes .. I note that some social groups still advocate genital mutilation for girls and, at one time, Chinese society used to bind the feet of girls so they could never walk properly. Would you support the right of parents to do this to their children?

    Comment by Marshall — June 1, 2010 @ 2:24 pm
  28. We have laws against public nudity so why not against the other extreme?

    I’d support the repeal of all public nudity laws. People wear clothing to conform to social custom, not to obey nudity laws (and I’m glad they do, given the average American shape). And while this wouldn’t even make my top 100 concerns for reform – in a free country, how a citizen dresses should not be controlled by law.

    I did say that I’d like the education system to teach them tools to enable them to question and develop their own belief system in parallel before they were taught material which is disputed and upon which I would like to see them form their own opinion.

    I don’t assume that an “education system” is required for citizens to educate themselves and their children. Involuntary public education may be well intended, but when there is no way to opt out I’d argue that brainwashing is much more likely in this environment than in a marketplace of schools and consumers.

    As you write: “It’s brainwashing because I have done so in a way that makes you accept it as “Truth” without having had an opportunity to filter it for yourself.” I’d agree, and add the element of force. When combined, we arrive at the dictionary definition:

    Brainwashing 1. Intensive, forcible indoctrination, usually political or religious, aimed at destroying a person’s basic convictions and attitudes and replacing them with an alternative set of fixed beliefs.

    If we compare a free market of education providers versus a state-run mandatory “education system”, which most resembles the definition above?

    Comment by Akston — June 1, 2010 @ 4:54 pm
  29. Children (until around 7?) are uniquely vulnerable in being in an unreasoning state of acceptance … sort of as if they were being given my “drugs” at every meal … and so their rights need to be specially protected.

    Okay, so again let’s get to my religion question (since we’re talking about the burqa here). Most religions start their training pretty young, usually pre-7. Here it’s “Sunday School”, although I don’t know what the equivalent is in Islam. And my general take on it is that critical questions (if a kid under 7 were to even come up with one) won’t be exactly welcome in either case.

    In both cases I think it’d fit both your and Akston’s definition of brainwashing. Shall we craft an exception to the first amendment, then for kids pre-7? :-)

    That is why I said that I would like to see children taught the tools to question and research as early as possible and try to restrict the curriculum to only the vanilla skills and facts such as arithmetic and geography and languages and … until they have moved to an age where they can apply that critical thinking to the more contentious issues.

    Again, do you trust the government to do this? This is why I’m opposed to mandatory pre-K. It’s taking some of those most unquestioning, formative years, and putting kids in the hands of people whose very paychecks are paid by the state.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — June 1, 2010 @ 7:34 pm
  30. But the real question is at what point you involve the coercive power of the state?

    We can all make statements about what kids should and shouldn’t be taught, but at what point do you start taking kids away from them?

    After all, you think that the burqa ban is legitimate. Do you think that Islamic parents who teach their kids that burqas are appropriate should have their kids taken away?

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — June 1, 2010 @ 7:41 pm
  31. Akston,
    Clothing .. I agree in principal but in practice there are always going to be limits placed that reflect public (i.e. majority) views .. so why not at both ends?

    On religion and parents rights, I’d repeat again that all I’d like to see is children taught the basic tools for questioning .. questioning the State, questioning their parents, questioning the text books, questioning whether the Earth is really a sphere and not flat. So I’m assuming that parents will still get their beliefs across to their children by some mixture of explicit instruction – or just by example.

    On brainwashing I’ll stick to my original definition. I don’t see the need to include coercion as part of the definition (unless you see the removal of the brainwashee’s ability to question as being coercion). I would claim that children who are “taught” using methods that don’t allow them to question are being brainwashed, regardless of the methods used or of the validity or otherwise of the material or attitudes or beliefs being “taught”.

    On education, I’m Australian and we have a strong “private” education system running in parallel with the government run system. At the primary/secondary level I can’t think of a single school that isn’t being run by a special interest group (mostly religions). So the answer here is unequivocally that the private schools meet your definition of having a vested interest in “indoctrination”.

    Our public services are more independent of government interference than yours so curricula and standards are set by bureaucrats, not “government officials”, and hence are more stable and more open to public inspection and debate. (Of course a stable bureaucracy brings with it its own problems but they are just as present in the work force of large corporations).

    Even if your schools are run for profit, does that mean that they aren’t trying to form the student’s basic attitudes?

    And both of you (Brad included) could you give me some idea of what indoctrination you believe that the State is trying to do to (you and) your children? What is this “coercive power of the State” . What are people “whose very paychecks are paid by the State” likely to do that those who are paid by a not-for-profit or commercial entity would not do? (my capitalisation).

    Your Pre-K sounds a bit iffy to me. My children went to day-care so we could both work, but there was nothing formal about it and they weren’t supposed to be there to prepare them for school. While some of the groups are commercial enterprises, others are run by local councils as a service or even by groups of mothers (all have to meet health and safety standards).

    And if you want to spend time on a good conspiracy theory .. choose a non-profit entity that runs schools (probably a religion) and see if you can come up with the proportion of money/resources spent by them on working with children up to say 10 years old versus how much they spend on working with other ages within the population (hospitals and retirement homes and other social services). I think you’ll find the numbers totally disproportionate and hence supportive of the idea that they are aware at some level that they are “brainwashing” the children (they would probably say they were just helping them to form their opinions :-)

    Brad .. I’m not going near the idea of when a family is so destructive that the children “should” be taken out. That is a definite lose-lose situation.

    Comment by Marshall — June 2, 2010 @ 1:57 pm
  32. in practice there are always going to be limits placed that reflect public (i.e. majority) views .. so why not at both ends?

    I agree that in practice there are many steps in the wrong direction. Why not oppose new missteps?

    all I’d like to see is children taught the basic tools for questioning

    Me too. How should we do that? We agree that parents will guide their children by instruction and example – even when that instruction and example is odious.

    Is there another way to achieve this standardization than government requirements?

    I’d define “coercive power of the State” as a government that employs its power to tax, require attendance, and enforce curriculum.

    In a free market of education providers, parents pick the learning they desire for their children. My desires might match your desires, or they might not. With a market, we can both choose what we prefer – secular or religious, advanced studies or egalitarian co-dependence. The providers’ profit motive creates incentive to provide the best service at the lowest price. If the service provider (school) fails to deliver the service we want at the price we want, we can fire them and try a competitor. This applies downward pressure on prices, and upward pressure on responsiveness.

    In state-run education, one size is provided for all. The provider cannot be fired. There is no motive (other than personal integrity) to provide competitive service. Teachers acquire tenure and become fire-proof. Prices are taxed by “coercive power of the State”. No amount of money thrown at the system by legislators and voters ever seems to result in better education.

    The bottom line is: free markets provide better goods and services – more cheaply, more efficiently, and more ethically – than government solutions. This applies to retail goods, doctors, garage mechanics, auto manufacturers, food, shelter, and schools.

    Comment by Akston — June 2, 2010 @ 10:02 pm

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