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Thursday, 1 April 2010

Belgian awful

Belgium has just banned all wearing of clothing which obscures or semi-obscures the face - in a clear attempt to stop certain religious clothing most often associated with women of a certain faith - on the absurd grounds that no one should be allowed to "see but not be seen" in public. Are bans on tinted car windows and sunglasses to follow? Bans on security cameras? We in the West live in a pan-optical society, and the right to look extends far beyond the right to be seen. Otherwise x-ray specs would be enforced. We have a right, surely, to protect our dignity, modesty, person - and even privacy. More to the point, is religion such a threat to the secular powers that be (namely so-called democracy and capitalism) that it must be basically cleared from the market place and the public squares, as a contagion, like second-hand smoke? Religion threatens humanist mastery, and especially the aims of instrumentalism. It gestures to realms and spaces less visible, and less scientific - indeed, the mystical, the spiritual, perhaps the magical, and, at times, of course, the musical and artistic. At the least, the need or desire for religion is a deep and valid psychological one. Whether there is a God (and we must hope there is, or could be) there is definitely an historic belief in one, extending over thousands of years. It seems churlish and simplistic to seek to rescue these women from garments they have no wish to rend. Such laws are inhospitable and utterly infantile. True freedom would allow for each of use to choose how we wish to be arrayed and disport ourselves. Clothing makes the man. Symbols have power. Without religious symbols, religion is drained and purified, desalinated to the point of evaporation. Then again, perhaps God exists finally in the thin air the State demands he disappear into. To trouble our minds no more.
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