Archive for April, 2012
The Washington Post has an anniversary piece for the profile of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad that appeared in Vogue magazine last year, just before the vicious bloodshed in Syria began.
“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” writer Joan Juliet Buck began her profile of Syria’s first lady in Vogue last year. Amid descriptions of Assad’s “energetic grace” and Christian Louboutin shoes, Buck wrote: “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’ ”
Well, perhaps. But just as Buck’s profile appeared, Assad’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, began a bloody crackdown on his opponents. Since then, about 9,000 Syrians have been slaughtered by security forces loyal to Assad, Syria’s hereditary president.
The article points to the below NPR interview with the profile’s author, Joan Juliet Buck. I particularly want to point to the question that begins around the 1:10 mark.
When asked what the intention of the piece was, Buck says:
I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking First Ladies — because they’re a combination of power and beauty and elegance, that’s what Vogue is about – and here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore qualified to be in Vogue; and Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time.
Uh huh. So that’s what it takes to get into Vogue — “extremely skinny and very well-dressed”. No other questions asked about this beautiful and elegant leader of one of the most despised regimes on the planet. No consideration whatsoever for the reasons why she may have been so aloof from international attention.
That exposes the extreme vacuity at the heart of the fashion world, where those involved are incredibly out-of-touch with the world that you and I live in.
As Jacqueline Alemany wrote recently, the high-fashion magazines have seen dramatic drops in circulation as other options have presented themselves and people with an interest in fashion have rejected the “pretension and delusional reality” that Vogue et al are trying to sell.
The issue is not with targeting of the affluent, it’s the pretension and delusional reality that they project in order to target them that is sometimes so off-putting to so many readers, especially to some of the subscribers they have lost to online blogs. It is these blogs that have capitalized on the notions of accessibility, inclusivity, and affordability in an economic time period that encourages this. Racial and cultural inclusivity is also abysmal in many of these magazines from the models and actresses featured on the covers to the people covered in articles.
Not to beat a dead horse, but it is articles similar to the one written by Dara Lynn Weiss in Vogue’s “Shape” issue entitled, “Weight Watchers.” In reporting her struggles to slim down her ‘obese’ 7-year-old daughter, Weiss comes across as hateful, self-absorbed, impatient, and shallow as she recounts incidents in respects to policing her daughters dieting plan. Weiss made us resent her all the more by describing specific outbursts over Starbucks and a salad nicoise. Vogue seemed to miss the obesity mark by placing a spotlight on a mother projecting her own body image insecurities on to her daughter rather than covering other powerful and exemplary obesity initiatives that are occurring throughout the country. Considering the strategic Wintour-Obama relationship that has blossomed, it is all the more surprising that a more tasteful and less tone-deaf article regarding childhood obesity was not included in this issue or in any fashion magazine body issues in the United States considering what an enormous problem childhood obesity is.
One final point on the NPR interview: it is very interesting how Buck describes the Assads not as bloodthirsty tyrants, but as people living in their own world and pretending that nothing is happening — dehumanising their victims as “software” as they are being slaughtered.
The irony of the situation with regard to the fashion industry is definitely obvious, but I can’t help but feel that we are all guilty of this to some extent in Western society. In a lot of instances, we know that things we do cause huge suffering to people we don’t know, yet we ignore this the way Bashar and Asma ignore the people their security forces are torturing and shelling.
Remember that Mark Latham article about listening to scientists that didn’t ask any scientists what they thought? Well, continuing this trend, for the ‘Climate Debate’ on Q and A tonight, the guests are:
- Rebecca Huntley – social researcher and writer
- Nick Minchin – Former Liberal Minister
- Anna Rose – founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition
- Clive Palmer – mining magnate
- Dr Megan Clark – Chief Executive of the CSIRO
Megan Clark is the closest thing to a climate scientist there — but she’s a geologist/engineer-turned-businesswoman. She may have scientific credentials, but she is not an expert in atmospheric science. Otherwise, we have a social scientist, a politician, an NGO-worker and a billionaire mining magnate.
I cannot see this happening for any other scientific debate. Try and imagine if they had a show about whether black holes are real, but did not invite a single astro-physicist; or a show about evolution without a single biologist.
As I have argued before, the climate change debate has long-ago ceased to be remotely about science. There is nothing scientific happening here whatsoever.
I’m sick to death of being preached at about “listening to scientists” by people who couldn’t tell you what “GCM” even stands for, let-alone how a GCM is constructed.
But then, “the science is in”, no?
Lee Smith on the anti-nuclear “Fatwah” that no one seems to be able to find anywhere, but must exist somewhere, right?
Consider, for instance, the New York Times account of the anti-nuclear fatwa: “[S]ome analysts say that Ayatollah Khamenei’s denial of Iranian nuclear ambitions has to be seen as part of a Shiite historical concept called taqiyya, or religious dissembling. For centuries an oppressed minority within Islam, Shiites learned to conceal their sectarian identity to survive, and so there is a precedent for lying to protect the Shiite community.”
Yes, taqiyya—or deceiving nonbelievers in order to protect yourself—is a significant concept in Shia Islam, but so what? If, say, a Shia burglar is caught with stolen goods in Brooklyn, and he tells the NYPD that he actually just found the TV and toaster, is he practicing taqiyya, or is he simply lying? When we’re dealing with Muslims and the Middle East, Americans have proven virtually incapable of seeing matters clearly. There’s always some exotic interpretation on offer when the more mundane explanation seems politically incorrect.
In effect, this country’s intellectual and political elite—including policymakers from the Bush and Obama Administrations—consistently entertain Orientalist conceits. The Muslim world, in their view, is a region of surpassing strangeness that can only be comprehended, and even then only dimly, by familiarizing ourselves with alien concepts, like taqiyya and fatwas.
Similarly, we seem incapable of grasping how Muslim leaders are motivated by the sort of mundane desires that consume their Western counterparts, like power and wealth. No, that’s banal, and insufficiently Oriental. The Iranians don’t really care about becoming the hegemon in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and lording it over their Sunni Arab neighbors; all they’re really interested in is the return of the 12th imam. After all, they’re so different from us; they write fatwas!
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has a piece in this month’s Foreign Policy on the problems faced by women in the Arab world. This is a very important article and I would encourage you all to read it, but I want to highlight the central point in her thesis — which has been proven overwhelmingly by the response that has exploded literally hours since her article went online (the print edition is not even out yet).
Eltahawy begins her essay with the point that when anyone normally brings up the issue of Arab women, they are shouted-down with problems women face in the West. As if this is a reason not to speak about something far, far worse.
This is the third-worldist cultural relativism that I have highlighted a few times. It is the insipid prejudice of low expectations — using “cultural differences” to justify holding others to a lower standard. It’s hard to even imagine the outcry that would follow a white, American pastor coming out in support of female genital mutilation — yet one of the leading clerical celebrities in the Arab world does so unashamedly and no one blinks. He even gets invited to hang out with London Mayoral candidate and career antisemite Ken Livingstone.
If no one says anything, nothing will ever get done about this. Good on Eltahawy for standing up to the cultural pressures trying to crush her into silence. Elections in Egypt will not bring democracy so long as female candidates cannot even have their faces on electoral material.
So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.
But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either. …
First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women.
Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.
I have just had to read through the entire ICJ decision on the Jurisdictional Immunities (Germany v Italy) case, including the mammoth dissent by Brazilian Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, which was longer than the leading judgment and all of the other separate and dissenting opinions combined. I’ve been reading up on the guy a little and it sounds like he’s the ICJ version of Michael Kirby (anyone who has studied law in Australia would know what I mean).
I did come across one portion of his judgment that I thought would be worth reproducing. The case in general concerned judgments made in Italy against Germany for war crimes committed between 1943 and 1945. The issue was whether Italy had the right to put Germany on trial for war crimes or whether Germany had state immunity.
Trinidade thought they should, and he spent 88 pages constructing a legal system where the interests of humanity prevail over the interests of States and people subjected to massacres and slave labour would be entitled to justice in any legal jurisdiction. Fanciful? Maybe, but definitely compelling.
This is the best point that he made IMO, it concerns how the State creates a collective identity that dehumanises the individual to the point where atrocities like the ones committed by Nazi Germany can occur. These acts could never have been carried-out by individual people without the State structures giving them the physical means and resources, as well as the psychological impression that they were “doing their job” rather than committing acts for which they were accountable.
XVII. The State-Centric Distorted Outlook in Face of the Imperative of Justice
172. The beginning of the personification of the State ⎯ in fact, of the modern theory of the State ⎯ in the domain of International Law took place, in the mid-XVIII century, with the work of E. de Vattel (Le Droit des gens ou Principes de la loi naturelle appliquée à la conduite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains, 1758), which was to have much repercussion in the international legal practice of his times. The emphasis on State personality and sovereignty led to the conception of an International Law applicable strictly to the relations among States (the jus inter gentes, rather than the jus gentium), that is, an inter-State legal order; it amounted to a reductionist outlook of the subjects of the law of nations, admitting only and exclusively the States as such.
173. The consequences of this State-centric distortion were to prove disastrous for human beings, as widely acknowledged in the mid-Xth century. In the heyday of the inter-State frenzy, individuals had been relegated to a secondary level. To G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), ⎯ apologist of the Prussian State, ⎯ for example, the individual was entirely subsumed under the State; society itself was likewise subordinated to the State. The State was an end in itself (Selbstzweck), and freedom could only be the one granted by the State itself. Hegel endorsed and justified the authoritarian and absolutely sovereign State; to him, the State should be stronger than society, and individuals could only pursue their interests within the sovereign State.
174. From the late XIXth century onwards, legal positivism wholly personified the State, endowing it with a “will of its own”, and reducing the rights of human beings to those which the State “conceded” to them. The consent of the “will” of the States (according to the voluntarist positivism) was erected into the alleged predominant criterion in International Law, denying jus standi to individuals, to human beings; this rendered difficult a proper understanding of the international community, and undermined International Law itself, reducing its dimension to that of a strictly inter-State law, no more above but rather among sovereign States. In fact, when the international legal order moved away from the universal vision of the so-called “founding fathers” of the law of nations (droit des gens ⎯ supra), successive atrocities were committed against human beings, against humankind.
175. Such succession of atrocities, ⎯ war crimes and crimes against humanity, ⎯ occurred amidst the myth of the all-powerful State, and even the social milieu was mobilized to that end. The criminal policies of the State ⎯ gradually taking shape from the outbreak of the I world war onwards ⎯ counted on “technical rationality” and bureaucratic organization; in face of the aforementioned crimes, without accountability, individuals became increasingly vulnerable, if not defenceless. It soon became clear that there was a great need for justice, not only for the victims of their crimes and their relatives, but for the social milieu as a whole; otherwise life would become unbearable, given the denial of the human person, her annihilation, perpetrated by those successive crimes of State.
176. It was at the time of the prevalence of the inter-State myopia that the practice on State immunity took shape and found its greatest development, discarding legal action on the part of individuals against what came to be regarded as sovereign “acts of State”. Yet, the individual’s submission to the “will” of the State was never convincing to all, and it soon became openly challenged by the more lucid doctrine. The idea of absolute State sovereignty, ⎯ which led to the irresponsibility and the alleged omnipotence of the State, not impeding the successive atrocities committed by it (or in its name) against human beings, ⎯ appeared with the passing of time entirely unfounded. The State ⎯ it is nowadays acknowledged ⎯ is responsible for all its acts ⎯ both jure gestionis and jure imperii ⎯ as well as for all its omissions. In case of (grave) violations of human rights, the direct access of the individuals concerned to the international jurisdiction is thus fully justified, to vindicate such rights, even against their own State.
Number one: being the son of Holocaust survivors makes you left wing.
Manne grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, having lost his grandparents to the Nazi horror. This linked him instinctively to the politics of the left. After the war, however, when other young left activists were blindly defending Stalin and Mao, Manne looked to the evidence and saw evil – thus commencing his pilgrimage to the anti-communist right. Fifteen years ago he broke from this neoconservative cadre on another matter of historical record, the tragedy of the stolen generations.
Number two: you can write a 2,000 word essay about “listening to science” without quoting a single scientist or giving a single piece of scientific information.
Confident in their professional training and achievements, middle-class citizens are prepared to challenge the academic elites. Successful people in the suburbs see themselves as in-tune with the real world, while scientists are absorbed by theoretical abstractions. In the Information Age, it seems, everyone is a master of every subject they hear something about.
This phenomenon reminds me of the Isaac Asimov novels I read as a teenager: a sci-fi vision whereby society is so well educated, with so much exposure to information, that science has lost its place in the pecking order of respect.
The irony, it’s killing me…
My last post led to a war of words with a friend who is, shall we say, on the Orthodox side of things. We ended up agreeing to disagree – I think Israel should recognise Mazorti Judaism in its legal framework, he thinks it’s unfair to use the word “archaic” to describe the belief that women can’t be good leaders, because it has connotations of being outdated when that view clearly isn’t.
Meanwhile, I also had to explain my view on gay marriage to a different friend – who, thankfully, did not take quite as much of an issue with the Mazorti movement – and I saw a few Facebook conversations going on regarding the revelation that Tony Abbot has a gay sister and has *gasp* not shunned her. In fact, he treats her quite well.
Why is that a “shock”? Well, Tony Abbot holds the point of view that “marriage” is something that happens between a man and a woman. To numerous proponents of gay marriage, this means that he is a priori a homophobe. I definitely saw at least one comment thread (that I couldn’t comment on…) where someone accused him of trying to “hide” his “bigotry” through treating his sister well when he clearly is actually a bigot because he is against gay marriage.
This is a stupid argument to make. There seems to be this horrible tendency amongst fanatics to assume that anyone who disagrees with them must be doing so out of prejudice. I see it all the time with the Middle East conflict. Being anti-Israel is antisemitic, and being pro-Israel is Islamophobic and homophobic and sexist and normative and imperialist and neo-colonialist and… you get the picture. It also happens with immigration, feminism and plenty of other areas. It’s a very simple argument, it’s almost always wrong and it actually works against your point – no one is ever going to agree with you if you keep calling them a sexist because “Israeli occupation hurts Palestinian women as well as men”. Especially when you have a month-long summit on the global status of women and this is the only condemnation you could come up with – as if everything is fine and dandy everywhere else in the world (it isn’t). Yeah UN Commission on the Status of Women, I’m looking at you.
Big M little m
The problem is that they are arguing about different things. To gay marriage proponents, “marriage” is a right. To Tony Abbot, “marriage” means the marriage described by Lord Penzance in Hyde v Hyde & Woodmansee (1866) LR 1 P & D 130, at 133:
The position or status of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ is a recognised one throughout Christendom: the laws of all Christian nations throw about that status a variety of legal incidents during the lives of the parties, and induce definite rights upon their offspring. … I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.
When he said “Christendom”, he meant “Christendom”. He actually distinguished between “Christendom” and Turkey, where the Sultan had a whole harem of wives and “marriage” was between one man and one or more women.
Notice, though, there are two different components to “marriage” that the good Lord was talking about. Let’s call them “marriage 1″ and “marriage 2″:
- The first component is the “status” of husband and wife. As he said, this status gives the married couple certain legal rights and also may give rights to their children. What rights are these? Well Lord Penzance couldn’t pin that down, mostly because it varies from place to place. For a whole variety of reasons, marriage law is slightly different everywhere, although everywhere has some kind of marriage law.
- The second component is this controversial sentence that half of Australia wants to remove from the Marriage Act and the other half is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep: “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”.
Protect what institution again?
This is why there is conflict. When Henry VIII broke from the Vatican and founded his own church, it was because he disagreed with the Catholic idea that you could not be divorced without approval of the Pope – and preferred the more progressive Anglican idea that you could not be divorced without permission from the King. He created the Anglican Church, appointed himself as its head, and declared that as the embodiment of the Church and the Sovereign, he could marry whomever he damn well chose.
So began the Anglican institution of Marriage that is now being strongly championed by Australia’s Catholic community – an involuntary union, forever, of one common church and one common law, to the exclusion of all others.
I believe that State marriage is destroying marriage. Enforcing marriage 2 in a legal system is done today in some Muslim countries and the results are horrible and inhumane. This is where adultery is criminalised and punished – in some cases with death by stoning – or where boys and girls are married-off by their families for money or social status and then never permitted to separate. Thankfully, “Christendom” has become “the West” and we no longer have a taste for this kind of thing. What that means, however, is that marriage has been watered-down over centuries.
What does marriage mean today? To some, it means permanent residency in Australia; to others, it means a tax break; to others, it means a baby bonus; to others, it means inheritance. It also does not carry much weight – the idea of a union “for life” is disappearing throughout society. Marriage is becoming a temporary arrangement, whereby a man and a woman can join in a union for a few years, one gets an Aussie passport, the other gets some nice inheritance, and both get tax breaks. Meanwhile, neither of them “excludes all others” and they eventually get divorced, meaning that the whole “for life” thing didn’t happen either.
What I have just described is the legal institution of “marriage”, as it exists in Australia in 2012. However it may be defined in the Marriage Act, this is clearly not “the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. So here is my question: why would any Catholic like Tony Abbot even want to keep that? Let alone exclude two men or two women from being a part of it. And how is excluding gay couples from that institution “saving marriage”? Do you really think that allowing two people of the same gender to “marry” is the silver bullet that will tear down the institution?
Honey, we need a divorce
This is why the whole debate is so wrong. The people who want to “legalise gay marriage” do not want to change marriage 2, but they want gay people to participate in marriage 1. The people who oppose “gay marriage” want to preserve marriage 2 and so they refuse to change marriage 1.
To put it another way: marriage 2 does not discriminate – any person, regardless of sexual preference, is able to become part of a “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. Marriage 1 does discriminate – it gives legal rights to heterosexual couples and denies homosexual couples those same rights.
So what do I want? I want a divorce – of church and state. I want to sever the centuries-old union between legal marriage and Christian marriage and allow each to go back to where they should be: one in court, the other in church.
I want to abolish the Marriage Act and replace it with something called the Civil Unions Act or similar. An Act that would allow two consenting adults to be joined in whatever over-politicised legal mess they want, but would leave marriage out of it.
Marriage can go back to being “a union between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others” in substance and not just in name. Different religious denominations could marry whoever they want however they want and could choose whether to recognise each other’s marriages according to their beliefs. The State would no longer need to be the arbiter of who can and cannot call themselves “husband” and “wife”.
My bet? Marriage would mean something again, because it would be something that people do when they believe in it. It also would also mean that marriage advocates could concentrate on things that would actually save marriage – like more accessible couples therapy and childcare.
Gay marriage is not the issue, there are plenty of provisions in the Marriage Act that have already eroded marriage beyond recognition. We need to stop talking past each other on gay marriage and realise the real enemy here – the Marriage Act. If you want to save marriage, stop making it a political issue and let it be about morals again.
Been worried about technology taking away jobs? Here’s Walter Russel Mead to put you straight:
We must fight the perversity, the blindness, and the gibbering pessimism that tells us that this is a bad thing. It is like getting so caught up in the financial problems of Social Security that we lose sight of the big picture: that Social Security is in trouble because we are living longer and healthier lives. It is like crying about the problem of what to do with all the people who no longerhave to cut sugar cane in the hot sun now that the mechanical harvesters are taking those jobs away. It is like worrying about how bored and deprived the ten-year-old chimney sweeps will become once we find ways of heating our homes that don’t require naked urchins to shimmy up and down narrow pipes in cancer-causing tar.