8th August 2009 | Draft
Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism
burkha, toplessness, sunglasses, beards, and flu masks
- / -
Extremes of bodily representation of identity
Facialization of identity -- enabling engagement with the soul?
Confusions relating to facism
Face negotiation and loss of face
Requisite variety to encompass multidimensional
Collapsing the space of sustainable dialogue
Challenges to facist identity and identification
-- Possible covert agendas of facism: encoding the Great Games
-- Mono-sensorial vs poly-sensorial identity
against the sight-challenged
-- Discrimination against the facially-challenged
against the traumatized
-- Premature closure regarding the meaning of identity
Problematic history of dress codes
-- Passing conventions of fashion vs. fundamental, enduring cultural
-- Quantitative measures of appropriate exposure
Faces of Citizens vs Fasces of the State: a legislative dilemma?
Justice and the burkha
Burkha as metaphorical
mirror for imperious culture?
-- Mirroring facelessness of citizens in governance of democratic
covert strategies, cover-up and denial
constraints on choice in a consumer society
full-body cognitive imprisonment
uncertainty, the unknown and the unconscious
-- Mirroring the threat of confrontation with death
-- Mirroring capacity of future response to extraterrestrials
Partially amended (September 2016) in the light of current media coverage of French preoccupation with the iconic bare-breasted Marianne
-- symbol of the French Republic. This bares comparison with the recent preoccupation in the USA with the erection in a number of cities of statues of the Republican presidential nominee -- Donald Trump -- bare-assed
. Both cases are indicative of emerging forms of national psychosis in a period of so-called "post-truth politics
" marked by bare-faced lying
by the highest authorities. [Original also available in a PDF version
This is an exploration of the focus given to the challenge to French cultural
identity by women there wearing the full-body burkha (burka,
burqa) garment obscuring any view of the face in public. The matter
was a feature of an historic occasion -- the first presidential address to
the French Parliament since 1875 -- delivered on 21 June 2009 at the Palais
de Versailles following a change in the constitution. President Sarkozy stated:
The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of
liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience
and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France.
In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off
from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom.
(Angelique Chrisafis, Nicolas
Sarkozy says Islamic veils are not welcome in France, The Guardian,
22 June 2009)
The matter had been given an earlier focus by the previous president of France
who called for legislation banning the public wearing of conspicuous religious
signs, notably in schools (as discussed in Religious "Plastic
Turkeys" -- Hermes vs. the Hijab, 2003). This concern is evident to
a lesser degree in other countries with an increasing proportion of Muslims.
is further complicated by challenges including the
right to personal choice in clothing, differing understandings of public decency,
and the possibility of identification by security facilities. It
is of special interest because of the manner in which it is used by some as
a vehicle for less clearly articulated agendas -- possibly evoking other questions.
Societies are increasingly challenged by the incapacity of processes of
governance to address fundamental differences more creatively. A particular
concern is therefore the question of whether the active focus on dress
codes constitutes a focus on the superficial in order to be able to claim it
to be an indication of the capacity of government to act decisively on matters
of fundamental significance to the population.
In France the issue is now the focus of a special parliamentary
commission to report in 2009 -- during a period in which provision has been
made there for the availability of one billion (surgical) face
masks as protection for the population against the swine
flu pandemic (Un
milliard de masques disponibles contre la grippe A, Libération,
1 juillet 2009). There is every probability that members of that commission
and their families will be wearing such masks -- however unacceptable covering
the face is deemed to be. Burkhas may in fact then prove to offer better protection.
As a case study, the response to the burkha provides an excellent
example of the application of binary logic to a multidimensional
complex of psychosocial issues indicative of far richer and more profound
understandings of identity. The case is noteworthy both for collapsing distinctions
significant to such understanding and its responsiveness to the extremes of
passing fashion -- but in the name of values acclaimed as fundamental. As such
it embodies the extremism it abhors. The argument is developed by exploiting
the confusion of terms and thinking associated with the face and the facile
in relation to the challenge of necessary diversity in a global society threatened
by various forms of imperialism.
The burkha is also explored as a metaphor mirroring several problematic features
of western society.
Extremes of bodily representation of identity
Any systematic approach to this matter requires an identification of the range
of issues relating to bodily exposure that are variously considered significant
to expression of identity and the subject of debate. Discussion of the burkha
and identity is then set within a wider context of possibly full facial or
full bodily covering. These include:
- face: cosmetics, tattooing (whether permanent or temporary), cosmetics,
cosmetic surgery, piercings, masks (cosmetic, decorative, ceremonial, disguise),
veils (fashion, religious, ceremonial)
- eyes: glasses (sun, mirrored, decorative), contact lenses
- hair: treatment (colouring, styling, possibly partially covering
face), wigs, transplantation, facial hair (beard, moustache), hair removal
(including for religious or disciplinary reasons), pig tails
- pigtail / cutting hair beard:
-- rites of passage
( Japan, Judaism, Sikh, shave off -- skin head -- profiling)
- breasts: covering, padding, enhancement bras, cosmetic surgery (implants),
- genitalia: circumcision, piercings,
G-strings, enhancements and coverings, including the codpiece (favoured
in early European fashion and currently in the leather
subculture) and the
penis sheath (notably of
current importance in some tribal cultures)
- leg covering: skirt length, ankle covering
- jewellry: fashion, insignia (membership, religion)
- body profile: padding, corsetry, implants, height enhancement
covering: religious clothing, military, etc
These expressions, considered variously significant
to the expression of identity, may be clustered as:
(identity / status affirmation, identity disclosure, bodily exposure
(status disguise, privacy,
environmental conditions, bodily exposure)
- enhancements (concealment of defects, enhancement of assets)
In each case the preference may be rationalized in terms such as: respect,
decency, expression, appropriateness, community solidarity, affirmation of
The preferences may be variously conflated and embodied in other behaviours
- desert peoples (Touaregs, Bedouin, etc), arctic peoples (Sami, Inuit,
- masking whether for ceremonial purposes (notably tribal peoples), for protection
(worn in Japan by the infectious in consideration of others), as covering
of defects (as with the Japanese mythological figure Kuchisake
Onna hiding scars around the mouth, or traditionally with lepers
- curtaining of windows, with the contrasting community preference in the
Netherlands for visibility into rooms by passersby
- residential fencing and gated communities to ensure privacy
- segregation of sexes (separate houses/clubs/fraternities for men as distinct
from women), harems
Facialization of identity -- enabling engagement with the soul?
Window to the soul: There is a long history to the association of identity
with the face -- and especially with the eyes. During a major televised debate
on the burkha issue for a French audience, the well-known French philosopher Elisabeth
Badinter (wife of a former French
Minister of Justice) reaffirmed that: The
eyes are the mirror of the soul (Les yeux sont le miroir de l'ame).
Such an affirmation might itself be considered an unresolved issue in a society
with rational and secular pretensions -- notably in the light of the
burkha issue. To what extent can "soul" be
held to be a universally applicable category in the legislative framework of
a secular society?
In the form The eyes are the window to the soul the proverb
has been traced back in English to Regiment of Life (1545), although
known much earlier. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is quoted
as saying, Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi (The face is
a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter). The Latin proverbs,
Vultus est index animi or Oculus animi index, are usually
translated as The face is the index of the mind (Gregory Y. Titelman,
Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, 1996). The
eyes are the mirror of the soul is also a Yiddish proverb.
Anthony Corbeill (Nature
Embodied: gesture in ancient Rome,
2004) notes that:
In his survey of the ways in which the various body parts contributed to
the functioning of the body as a whole, Pliny points to the superiority
of the eyes as an indicator of the various emotions -- pity, hatred, happiness
-- and states that the soul in fact "lives" in the eyes. Roman
texts from poetry to rhetoric to philosophy concur with this notion, commonly
held in antiquity, that the eyes are the mirror of the soul. (p. 146)
Locus of the soul: The subsequent importance of the matter in European culture
is reviewed by Martin Henry Porter (Windows
of the Soul: physiognomy in European culture 1470-1780, 2005).
Arguments over the locus of the soul persisted in Europe until almost the
end of the sixteenth century. An explicit characterization is offered by
Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, S.J. (The
Eyes Are the Mirror of the Soul, 1878) in commenting on a relevant
verse of Ecclesiasticus by a renowned
exegete of the 17th century:
of the body and the laughter of the teeth and the gait of the man show what
he is (Ecclesiasticus 19:27). Just as one discerns and knows a person
by his appearance and way of being, one also knows the secret of a person's
soul by his face. The face of the hypocrite pretends to have humility, equity,
and justice; however, if the prudent and wise man examines him long and attentively,
he will detect the hypocrisy. The face, therefore, is the image of the heart,
and the eyes are the mirror of the soul and its affections. One finds this
principally in tumultuous and vile men who conceal their badness for a long
time, but when they are distracted and unaware, it suddenly appears in their
face and eyes. Therefore, the face and the eyes indicate the joy or sadness
of the soul, its love or hatred; so also, honesty or treachery and hypocrisy.
(Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram, Paris 1878, vol. 9, p. 541).
The soul has been variously associated with different organs of the body,
at different times and in different cultures:
- the brain according to Pythagoras
- the digestive system according
to Galen (although by his death around
AD 200, the brain had been reinstated as the body's central organ and locus
of the soul)
- the digestive system, as claimed by the 17th-century Christian
monk, Jean Baptiste van Helmont, who believed that the stomach was
the centre of human anatomy, namely the locus of the soul
- heart and its passions, notably in relation to the many Christian references
to the sacred heart
- the pineal gland, by the French philosopher, René Descartes,
namely the place where
body and soul influence each other
spirituality assumes that the ultimate
reality resides in a person's heart, the locus of the soul or spiritual dimension;
in the tradition of the Qabbalah, the five distinguishable levels of the
- Nefesh (natural/animal soul), seated in the body in general and the
abdomen and genitals in particular,
- Ru'ah (spirit), seated in the chest
and head in general and the heart in particular,
- Neshamah (eternal/over-soul), seated in the the head and the mid-brain
in particular (when incarnated)
- Hayah (anima mundi), surrounding the body and generally
external to it
- Yehidah (literally "singularity", but generally
referred as "infinity"), located everywhere equally surrounding
the whole universe and interpenetrating all
- Of course these five
are interconnected through a complex dynamic system of communications.
Related concerns are evident in Eastern traditions, as for example Swami
Locus of the Soul) and comment
by Ramana Maharishi (Sat-darshama
Bhashya and Talks with Maharishi, 1953):
The Sanskrit term
Hridayam connotes that it is a centre, a locus of the soul.... The
doubt may then arise if the self is limited by and dependent on anything
but itself. To remove such a doubt, the self itself is named the Heart....
For it is
the free eternal self which is centred in the living being as the Heart,
the real "I," the self-being, and is rightly viewed as located there unattached
to his self-becomings as mind, life and body. This unattachment means freedom
from the movement while giving support to it....
Thus the sense is clear that the Heart and the self in every individual are
identical, for the reason that both refer to the same intense root-consciousness
of self -being, to the same supreme awareness.
With such a range of understandings, how skilled are people assumed to be
in reading the soul of another -- and to what depth?
Secular indications: Reference continues to be made to the challenge of the
locus of soul, as with James B. Ashbrook. Interfacing
Religion and the Neurosciences: a review of twenty-five years of exploration
and reflection. Zygon:
journal of religion and science, 31, 2005):
Where is the locus of the soul, or is there privileged tissue in the brain?
Soul marks the core or essence of a person (or group).
In an increasingly secular society, concern with the locus of the soul is displaced
by concern regarding its loss, as articulated by Richard K. Fenn and Donald
Losing the Soul: essays in the social psychology of religion,
When the soul was believed to have its locus in the liver, the fact that
the soul could exact a price for our efforts to live as disembodied spirits
-- as "hearts lifted from the body in the sublimest autopsy" --
could not be ignored. Now the soul is an empty and vacuous notion, and digestive
disorders are merely of medical interest. They are not, as they were in original
theories of melancholia, symptoms of a sick or pathologizing soul. The spirit
need no longer answer to the soul, as the soul itself has been rendered innocuous.
For some this loss of soul is related to a concern with the soullessness of
society -- notably as articulated by some politicians of the European Community
of "soullessness" -- beyond the "pillar-ization of Europe", 2004)
"Animascope": There has of course been a remarkable
development of new technologies for detecting the very large and the very small,
whatever the size or distance -- with telescopes and microscopes of every variety
-- with the proposal for macroscopes to explore holistic systems by an eminent
French scientist (Joël
de Rosnay, The Macroscope:
a new world scientific system ,
1979). As might be expected, the challenge of detecting the soul through a
"soul-o-scope" or "animascope" has also been considered.
The company Animascope manages
a wide set of the, presumably requisite, non-invasive technologies (magnetic
resonance imaging, optical imaging, ultrasound imaging, x-ray computed tomography).
Of greater interest, in metaphoric terms is the extensive thought given in
the Buddhist tradition to questions of identity in relation to the mirror
of the mind (Paul Demiéville, The Mirror of the
Mind, 1991). This
is especially interesting given the importance attached to vision-based metaphors
in contemporary strategic thinking as well as to the extensive development
of complex optical systems to manage images in "scopes" of whatever kind.
Dynamics: The Buddhist approach highlights the possibility that any quest
for the locus of the soul -- and for identity -- may be inadequately framed
by simplistic understandings of material metaphors. An excellent example is
provided by the mistaken framing of the Human
Genome Project from whose results it was possible
to conclude that the physical characteristics of human identity were not adequately
defined by genetics as previously assumed. As a result the necessary contribution
of the dynamics of epigenetics became
The role of dynamics in understanding identity is notably evident in the
extent to which music is held to be the locus of the soul in a secularized,
commercialized society. With the death of Michael
Jackson (at the time of writing), it
might be argued that he embodied the struggle between a tragic commitment to
conventional facial identity (cosmetic surgery, dark glasses, hair-covered
face) when his identity was celebrated worldwide through the genius of his
movement in relation to music and song.
Might identity come to be associated more fruitfully with dynamics in the
future, as previously suggested (Emergence
of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity Sustainability as "psyclically" defined,
Multidimensionality: That identity should be considered as
uniquely associated with any one portion of the body has of course long been
contested from a spiritual perspective, as for example the comment by Paul
A. Byrne and George M. Rinkowski (Why "Brain
dead" is False, Catholic Apologetics):
To consider the brain as the site or the location of life of the body is
a misconception of either the soul or the life of a person. The soul is the
life of the body; the person is not an insert located someplace within the
confines of the body. The reality of soul and life are whole and entire in
the soul and whole and entire in each part. The soul has no parts but the
person formed by soul and body has parts. A better way of portraying the
locus of the soul is to realize that the soul contains rather than is contained
in the body....There
is dishonesty in the false restructuring of the human body and changing
the definition of the human person to assume ownership with title
to dispose of parts. There is no consideration of justice and rights of the
individual substance of a nature that is rational.
It is possible that the most relevant current approach to the face-related
identity issues of the burkha is the face-to-face
relation as developed by French
Levinas (Totalité et infini: essai sur l'extériorité,
notably articulated by Bernhard Waldenfels (Levinas
and the face of the other, 2002, pp. 63-81). He cites Levinas
to the effect that: The dimension of the divine opens forth from
the human face, arguing that it is obvious what Levinas has in mind:
the way to God passes through the face of the other. Of relevance to the burkha
debate, for Levinas, the Other is not knowable and cannot be made into an
object of the self, as is done by traditional metaphysics. Of
related value is the study by Tina Chanter (Feminist
Interpretations of Emmanuel Levinas, 2001) on the asymmetric dilemma
his approach implies:
The ethical orientation of Levinas's philosophy assumes a subject who lives
in a world of enjoyment, a world that is made accessible through the dwelling.
The feminine presence presides over this dwelling, and the feminine face
represents the first welcome. How is this feminine face to be understood?
Does it provide a model for the infinite obligation to the Other, or is it
a proto-ethical relation?
From a secular perspective, a related understanding might be derived from
the arguments of the mathematician Ron Atkin ( Multidimensional
Man: can man live in three dimensional space? 1981). Yet to be fully
explored are insights expected to emerge from the ongoing debate
regarding quantum consciousness, quantum psychology and quantum
the emphasis being not on whether such insights offer valid explanations
from an "external" (objective) perspective but rather whether they offer insights
for those engaged with such experiences (subjectively). Such insights might
be consistent with the articulation of Robert Pollack (DNA
and Neshamah: locating the soul in an age of molecular medicine, Cross
Let us suppose that every one of us does have a soul, and that while we
are alive it has a natural location somewhere in this mortal world... If
we simply connect these ideas an unexpected answer emerges, one based on
the history of our species. The location of the soul of any one of us need
not necessarily be in our minds or bodies or brains. Instead, it could be
in the minds, bodies and brains of each of the people whom we have nurtured,
and the minds, bodies and brains of those who have nurtured us.....a distributed,
socialized, delocalized, mortal soul...
An array of interwoven issues tends to be evoked with regard to identity and
identification in terms of the face, whether or not they are openly stated
rather than of covert significance, whether seeking to gain advantage or not.
Perhaps the core question is who has the right (or the capacity) to look through
of the soul", whether it is a two-way window, and whether it is effectively
transparent rather than opaque. Who has the qualities and capacities of such
a "seer"? When is the effort to "know" another to be experienced
by the other as invasive "rape" to some degree?
Communal relationships: The sense of community is typically
associated with an ability to recognize others -- notably by the face. Community
might then even be said to be "facially dependent". Hence the concern
in modern society with a degree of uncertainty and potential threat from those
who seem to have excluded themselves from that contract by covering their faces
-- whether with any combination of burkhas, scarves, glasses, facial hair,
cowls or hoods. There is an unstated assumption that the ideals of an open
society are directly associated with facial openness.
This raises questions about the nature of community, if it can exist, where
for whatever reason faces are covered. Extreme examples include conditions
of extreme cold (from the ski slopes to the arctic) or exposure to wind-driven
sand (as in some deserts). However, by extension, it also raises the question
as to whether nudism increases the degree and quality of bonding within a community
-- as some would claim.
To what extent do people have a right to live in a
neighbourhood without seeking to be recognized as members of a community --
or to have some say in how they might be so recognized, or not? To what extent
do they have rights to use shops and other facilities (as tax payers) without
seeking such recognition of identity?
Affirmation of identity (public relations): Those seeking
visibility in communities or wider society may attach special
importance to their facial recognition, and possibly to facial recognition
by them of any special contacts on whom they seek to make an impression.
This process may involve considerable effort to enhance the impressiveness
of the face -- the "look" -- notably with the use of cosmetics
(tattoos, and even with the cosmetic surgery required for a "face-lift").
Given that face recognition is now highly mediated through photographic or
video representation (using billboards, the web, etc), much care may be taken
to ensure the most superficially impressive representation of identity through
such images -- irrespective of its relationship to daily reality or to any
underlying reality. Any impression may variously emphasize attractiveness,
fierceness, maturity or gravitas)
Whether for purely social purposes, or with other intentions, the huge success
of social networking sites such as FaceBook makes
it clear how many are focused on facial identity. However there is great irony
to the fact that only a small proportion of those so represented ever meet "face-to-face"
-- under "seeing the soul" conditions, unless it is assumed that
these are possible through videocamera. Many more interact through non-visual
electronic media, most notably Twitter,
and seemingly have no greater desire to acquire
"seeing the soul" capacity through other means.
One of the most evident phenomena on the web is the extent to which people
adopt and cultivate one or more identities through which they interact with
others in various communities. There is little suggestion that each should
affirm who they are through an authenticated image -- if they are not
inclined to do so. All are expected to be aware that identities may not be
what they appear or claim to be.
Personal enhancement / Reinventing oneself: For those dissatisfied
with affirming their identity as they are normally perceived in any community,
much more intensive use may be made of cosmetics and cosmetic surgery, tattoos
and piercings. This may be framed as "reinventing oneself" -- even "changing
one's identity". Part
of the challenge may lie in the consequences of ageing -- and reducing its
impact on the face and the identity it is assumed to convey. This raises interesting
questions with regard to any assertion that the face or the eyes are a mirror
or a window. It would imply that there is potentially a form of deterioration
of the soul with age -- or at least a problematic shift in identity. Is it
for those "looking in", or for the soul "looking out"?
To what extent is it for individuals to frame the significance of that process
for themselves, rather than seeking external approval -- or even authorization?
Should they feel any obligation to communicate any sense of change in personal
identity -- especially when it is not readily communicable? Should they have
the right to conceal such changes from others? Pregnancy, parenthood, and loss
of close relatives offer useful examples.
Judgement and discrimination : As implied by the above points,
one of the concerns in facial identification is a need felt by many to ensure
the capacity to make inferences regarding the nature of another person
through facial characteristics. This is equivalent to stereotyping,
and to the "profiling" practices
developed by security services (or by those skilled in identifying the gullible
or the vulnerable from their faces in order to exploit them). Many may assume
a degree of ability to read faces to determine whether a person is telling
the truth or inspires the confidence basic to any transaction. Many may have
developed a categorization of people based on the superficial characteristics
of faces. Determination of the category into which they "fit" may then
determine subsequent responses -- irrespective of any more subtle soul inspection
Especially problematic is when this need is felt in order to clarify relative
status and a "pecking order", notably though
the recognition of those that can be framed as less beautiful and more ugly,
if not disfigured in some way (with whatever that may be held to imply regarding
the soul of such a person). The widely commented case of singer Susan
Boyle has offered a recent
dramatic example for millions.
Whilst some may indeed feel far greater reassurance from maximum knowledge
of the other -- if only by facial inferences -- it is an assumption that this
is true for all. Does the need to make such definitive judgements imply an
unadmitted sense of insecurity?
It is also appropriate to ask what proportion of western women (or men) might
be considered more attractive fully veiled rather than conventionally exposed
-- to whatever degree.
Protective security: There is of course a major
need for determination of identity by security services. It is for this reason
that increasingly legislation requires that faces be visible (rather than scarved
or hooded), notably in public places where CCTV cameras are in operation. Using
such facilities, facial recognition is now considered fundamental to control
of public order in the event of demonstrations.
Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in attention to matters
of personal identification, especially through "facialization of identity"
and biometrics. Joseph Ferenbok (Configuring
the Face as a Technology of Citizenship: Biometrics, Surveillance, and the
Facialization of Institutional Identity. International
Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society) notes that Face
Recognition Technology (FRT) has gained significant momentum since 9/11:
And when faced
with alternative technologies, FRT seem to be the most benign. In practice,
faces are already used as visual signifiers of institutional identity (eg.
a driver's license) and citizenship (eg. Passports) in Western Culture.
Consequently... biometric identification schemes could be
viewed simply as a technological extension of existing practices -- the
status quo. But technologies have politics, and face-based biometrics not
only make network surveillance conceivable, but may also one day allow for
human identification at a distance. Yet very few questions have been asked
about the modern facialization of identity. What are some of the implications
of the FRT? And how do face-based biometric technologies alter the status
quo? The implementation of the face as the central technology of modern institutional
identification practices may ultimately change the social constructions of
the face. This paper discusses the theoretical position of the face as an
abstract technology of ideology and citizenship with a broader study of institutional
identification systems and their implications for national identity and security.
Indicating the lack of knowledge of "identity" on which such FRT
is based, Andrew Clement (Performing
Identities), in a proposal submitted for a research grant (2008-2011),
makes the point that:
New technologies, systems
and policies are being actively developed by governments and businesses with
the promise of improved forms of identification, but this is happening largely
without an adequate understanding of what this means for the millions of
identity subjects, nor an appreciation for the serious personal and human
rights concerns implied. Academic research in this area can offer little
help unless it is informed by empirical studies of identity and identification
practices from the perspective of individuals. This research seeks to fill
these academic and practical gaps in our understanding of how people perform
and experience their individual identities in their everyday encounters with
identification based services and technologies.
This research will contribute to a better understanding of 'identity' in
the social sciences as well as in such practical matters as the design of
organizational information systems and policies. Further it will contribute
to the articulation of 'identity rights,' as human rights distinct from other
informational rights such as privacy. This will also provide the basis for
the development of sound 'human-centred' identification devices,
systems, policies, legislation, agencies and practices.
There are obvious degrees of
inconsistency in assumptions freely made
regarding identity determination of scarved tribes people
in areas of insurgency -- then targetted for elimination as "terrorist suspects".
In addition to facial recognition technology is the use of other identification
technologies: finger printing, DNA profiling, full-body X-ray scanning.
Repressive security: Many of the above issues of "protective
security" are reframed with respect to "repressive security". The intention
to "repress" by those with the power to do so may then be simply justified
as a measure of "protective security". This is most evident in the politically
correct framing of "Ministry of Defence", there being no implications that
its resources are ever applied in a pattern of repression. This is equally
evident at the community level. Security services may even be presented as
"peacekeepers" ensuring "law and order" -- whether or not they act on any mandate
to repress. It is in this context that identification may in fact be primarily
for purposes of repression.
Self-protection: There is a cluster of identity issues relating
to self-protection, with disguising identity held to be an appropriate measure in
avoiding possible threats to personal security:
- Privacy and anonymity: In an increasingly invasive society,
many have good reason to protect their privacy through various means. Witnesses
to ocrimes, potentially vulnerable to intimidation and reprisal, offer an
example. Privacy may be offered by wearing dark glasses (even mirrored
glasses), wearing veils or scarves, use of dark (or mirrored) car or office
windows, to residences surrounded by high walls or hedges.
- Subversion and criminality: There is an obvious challenge
in the tendency of those engaged in some form of social disruption to
mask their faces in some way. Whether or not their activity is legitimate,
as in a demonstration, it may be subsequently held to be suspect. Clearly
those of criminal intent have good reason to avoid subsequent identification.
Curiously security forces (as with commando and SWAT Teams) are themselves
increasingly heavily masked, if only through the nature of the protective
gear they wear. Of related concern are practices involving the hooding of
those under interrogation -- presumably to avoid exposure to their soul --
and of the interrogators themselves, in order better to intimidate and to
avoid subsequent retribution.
- Status and importance: Celebrities are deemed justified
in their efforts to protect themselves from intrusive photography by masking
their identities to enable them to travel incognito -- notably to reduce
vulnerability to harassment and kidnapping
Such strategies raise questions about their relationship to the challenge
to the protection offered by the burkha.
More generally, all might be deemed different techniques of "cloaking" whereby
people seek to control their relationship to a potentially invasive community
-- experienced in some way as threatening. Is it the right of the individual
to act on a felt need for such protection, or is it for others to determine
whether such protection is justified (and authorized)? Curiously the Second
Amendment to the US Constitution asserts the right of citizens of a democracy
to ensure their own armed protection.
What right does a person have to cover their face and their eyes when they
are, appropriately or inappropriately, sensitive to their facial abnormalities?
What right do others have to look upon the face of someone purely out of curiosity
and in an effort to establish relative advantage or status? The tragic case
of albinos in some African
cultures merits reflection (especially when such exposure may lead to them
being attacked for their body parts).
Administration of justice: Beyond issues relating to the
hooding of interrogators or their subjects, masking is an issue in the administration
of justice where it is typically claimed that the accused have the right to
know who are their accusers. Hooded witnesses are nevertheless a feature of
certain trials, or it may be the accused who is masked. There are cases where
it is the justices themselves who are masked -- as is routine in Peruvian
counterterrorism trials [more |
Human-rights groups estimate that as many as 1,000 Peruvians are languishing
in jail after being wrongly accused of involvement with guerrillas -- and convicted
by such masked judges sitting on anonymous military tribunals [more].
Further complicating the argument is
that the deities by which justice is represented in various cultures may well
be typically blindfolded (as noted below).
Environmental protection: Examples include conditions of
extreme cold (from the ski slopes to the arctic) or exposure to wind-driven
sand (as in some deserts). Milder forms may include the heavy use of protective
sun cream. Some consider it appropriate to wear a tin
foil hat, namely a piece of headgear made from one or more sheets of aluminium
foil or similar material -- in the belief that they act to shield the brain
from such influences as electromagnetic fields, or against mind control and/or
A major example of protection from the environment -- and of the environment
-- is the use of face masks, as in the case of the swine flu pandemic. Another
long-used technique is that of netting as a protection against insects. As
veils, they have also been worn by women to protect the complexion from
sun and wind damage (when un-tanned skin was fashionable), or to keep dust
out of a woman's face, much as the keffiyeh is
used today. Of particular interest is the Jain practice
of wearing a mask to avoid killing tiny insects -- in conformity
with the principles of ahimsa.
Impersonality / Anonymity: Institutions
may take steps to ensure the anonymity of their agents, whether as an indication
of impartiality or to avoid exposure to subsequent retribution (as noted with
respect to the agents of law and order). Such practices have long been associated
with priesthoods (as noted below) but have also been evident in the "facelessness"
of bureaucracy, where agents have (until quite recently) been deliberately
nameless and possibly even not visible to the public. The practice of facelessness
is however now widely developed in any access to online
What right do people have to know and see those representatives of authorities
who are effectively controlling significant processes in their lives? The matter
has recently been highlighted by the failure of security personnel to wear
their identification badge numbers during the course of their violent control
of G20 demonstrations. Is this of greater relevance than the burkha issue?
Expression of respect: Veils have
long been worn as an expression of respect. In a religious context,
their use may be intended to show honour to an object or space. As wedding
veils, they have long been used in a range of religions as part of the
bridal gown during a marriage ceremony. They are also used in
funeral ceremonies, most especially by the bereaved. and during a period of
In Judaism, Christianity and Islam covering the head is or
was associated with propriety [see Christian
head covering]. All traditional
depictions of the Virgin Mary show her as veiled. Veiling was a common practice
with church-going women in the West until the 1960s, and a number of very traditional
churches retain the custom. Facial masks may be worn in Japan by the infectious,
out of consideration for others. The term "taking the veil" is associated in
Christianity with nuns becoming a "bride of Christ".
Cultivation of mystery and significance: Historically veiling has
been a mark of higher status. Records from the 13th century BCE, note that
it was restricted to noble women and forbidden to commoners -- a feature of
of women practiced among the Persian elite
in that period. For many centuries, until around 1175, Anglo-Saxon and then
Anglo-Norman women, with the exception of young unmarried girls, wore veils
that entirely covered their hair, and often their necks up to their chins (see wimple).
Veiling became less common in the Tudor period (1485), being replaced by hooding.
Veiling and masking may be deliberately used to reframe a situation by exploiting
the excitement of a degree of potential threat from the unidentified.
Masking and veiling are also features of traditional ceremonies, whether
secular or religious. There is a long tradition of the use of masks by
priests to enhance the mystery of ceremonies. This continues in the practices
of secret societies, although it may be the neophyte who is masked in initiation
ceremonies and rites of passage. This is also a feature of hazing rituals.
It is notably a feature of masquerade
Confusions relating to facism
Facism: The importance attached to the face can readily be
understood as being associated with "face-ism" (or "facism"),
as with other forms of discrimination such as
"racism" and "ageism". An Urban Dictionary, entry suggests that facism is
like racism, but "classified by face, not race and colour".
Fascism: More curious is that "facism" is
considered a typical miss-spelling of "fascism", if not an alternative
spelling. Thus Wikipedia redirects from facism to fascism. Google offers
5,950,000 entries for "fascism" and 271,000 for "facism" (primarily
as miss-spellings of fascism).
Facial-: A facialist
is an aesthetician specializing in facial care. Much more problematic is that "facialism"
has been adopted as a descriptor of a particular form of pornography -- perhaps
to be understood as a mode of expression and an affirmation of identity, notably
in the case of men.
Face-ism: There is indeed
recognition (and quantitative measurement) of any relative
prominence given to the face in the portrayal of men and women, termed face-ism.
It has been found that regardless of gender difference, news photographs featuring
high face prominence tend to generate positive ratings in regard of intelligence,
ambition and physical appearance than those with low face prominence. In contrast,
the greater body-ism evident in the portrayal of women serves to reinforce
the stereotypical images of women as decoration of men, or sex objects without
any personalities. Face-ism may not be merely restricted to gender difference
but can apply to racial difference as well.
Arguably the burkha offers a means, however imperfect and non-ideal, to protect
women from such processes -- whilst awaiting improvements to the situation
in a sexist society.
Face negotiation and loss of face
idiomatically meaning dignity or prestige, is a fundamental concept in the
fields of sociology, sociolinguistics, semantics, politeness theory, psychology,
political science, Curiously, given the purported associations of the soul
with the face, considerable importance is attached to processes described as "loss
of face" (bruta figura in Italian) or "saving face".
Negotiation Theory was first postulated by Stella
Ting-Toomey in 1985 to explain how different cultures manage conflict
and communicate (Stella Ting-Toomey, Face
Negotiation Theory, 1998; The Matrix of Face: An Updated Face-Negotiation
The theory endeavours to explain the roots of conflict in terms
of identity management on both an individual and cultural level. The various
facets of individual and cultural identities are described as "faces",
namely the public image of an individual, or group, that their society sees
and evaluates based on cultural norms and values.
|Insights from Face
by Stella Ting-Toomey (Face
Negotiation Theory, 1998)
from Em Griffin, A First Look at Communication Theory, 1997 (figs.
32.2 and 32.3)
Clearly of great interest is the insight such a theory might offer into the "face"
of Islam in relation to the "face" of those in the West confronting
its manifestation through the burkha. In terms of that theory, conflict is
then understood to occur when a group or individual has their face threatened.
Many different strategies and factors affecting how cultures manage
identity are discussed.
Requisite variety to encompass multidimensional identity
There are a number of schemas for distinguishing biases and preferences, whether
cultural or individual. Some might be usefully explored to distinguish preferences
for the expression of identity (Systems
of Categories Distinguishing Cultural Biases, 1993). An example, widely
used in distinguishing biases characteristic of the cultures of different countries,
is that of Geert Hofstede (Culture's
Consequences: international differences in work-related values, 1984).
How should the debate regarding the burkha be understood with respect to such
The dimensions of Hofstede have been specifically taken into account in relation
to Face Negotiation
Theory (as mentioned above) by Stella Ting-Toomey (Cross-Cultural
Face-Negotiation: an analytical overview, 1992). Ting-Toomey notably
argues that in collectivist cultures,
the face of the group is more important than the face of any individual in
that group. In individualist cultures,
the face of the individual is more important than the face of the group. Furthermore,
there are small and large power distances associated with each culture. A small
power distance culture believes that authority is earned, power is distributed
equally, and everyone's opinion matters. The individual is highly valued.
In large power distance cultures, authority is inherited, power is from top
to bottom, and the boss is infallible. The good of the group is valued.
Another example is the identification of a set of "axes of biases" by the
philosopher W. T. Jones (The Romantic Syndrome: toward a new method
in cultural anthropology and the history of ideas, 1961) who was concerned
with elaborating a new methodology to deal with strongly held differences
in any debate. His interest was provoked by the unending debate on the definition
of the "romantic period" -- hence the title of the book, and presumably a suggestion
as to its relevance to debate about the burkha. The result, which he extended
to both the sciences and the arts, is one way of understanding the different
emphases which people and cultures may bring to any debate -- prior to any "rational" discussion
on substance. The biases are not mutually exclusive.
As with Hofstede's scheme, this initiative could be related to that on the
underlying preferences governing engagement in any debate on facial significance
in the expression of identity. The axes of bias of Jones are in summary (presented
- Order vs Disorder
- Static vs Dynamic
- Continuity vs Discreteness
- Inner vs Outer
- Sharp focus vs Soft focus
- This world vs Other world
- Spontaneity vs Process
Clearly these different views are not mutually exclusive and overlap in
complex ways in the case of any culture, discipline or school of thought.
The 14 views above form 7 pairs of extremes corresponding to the extreme
positions on such axes. Jones showed how any individual had a profile of
pre-logical preferences based on the degree of inclination towards one or
other extreme of each pair. Jones names scholars in each case
as examples. The contributions of participants in any meaningful debate regarding
the burkha issue merit identification in terms of such biases. Of particular
interest is whether any debate of requiste variety to encompass a complex
issue should necessarily reflect such a set of systemic biases to give adequate
expression to the issue.
Whether the dimensions of Hofstede or those of Jones, there is a problematic
sense in which "binding" the dimensions together (in a superordinate
framework) recalls the origin of fascism in the Latin word fasces.
This consisted of a bundle of rods that were tied around an axe constituting
an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of the civic magistrates -- the rods
symbolized punishment by whipping, the axe head execution by beheading.. The
symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single
rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break. Cognitive dimensions
are then symbolized by such rods.
It is of course the case that each extreme positions on any of the above axes
of bias invites deprecating characterization from any other. That is the challenge
to any supposedly rational debate in which such biases are not explicit and
cannot be effectively discussed -- the reason for the initiative by W. T. Jones.
The set of biases he distinguishes may be understood as defining the dimensionality
of a space within which dialogue may take place (Axes
of Bias in Inter-Sectoral Dialogue, 1992).
Typically in any modern dialogue a participant may be understood as positioned
at one or other end of any axis, then using the "hold" at that point to belabour
opponents characterized by the opposite extreme. "Polarized" dialogue of this
kind then bears some resemblance to quarterstaff combat
authentic dialogue and quarterstaff combat? 2003) -- "whipping" opponents,
as symbolized by the fasces, prior to an "executive decision". More generic
insights result from the framing of any such polarity in terms of positive
and negative (Being
Positive Avoiding Negativity Management challenge of positive vs negative,
Collapsing the space of sustainable dialogue
As dimensions defining the space of dialogue within and between cultures,
the 7 axes of Jones (above) suggest the possibility of
representing the boundaries of such a space geometrically. This may be done
in two dimensions as indicated in Figure 2a and in three dimensions in a configuration
such as in Figure 2b. In each case the "axes" are represented by
lines -- those in Figure 2b being the axes through the faces.
|Axes of bias as arrays
|Fig. 2a: Array in 2D of the 7 axes of bias
together defining a central dialogue "space"
applicable to the burkha issue
|Fig. 2b: Array in 3D of the 7 axes of bias
defining a central dialogue "volume" on the burkha issue
(each face is one extreme of an axis,
matched by the
other on the opposite side,
both coloured the same)
The above figures are of course idealistic representations of conditions which
would typically be far from symmetrical, notably in any particular historical
period or with respect to any particular debate. In that sense both would be
characterized by a dynamic of which the representations here are merely a possible
average condition over time.
A typical debate on the burkha might then be mapped onto such figures. Points
made would successively "bounce" from one axis to another in terms of the underlying
biases brought into play -- with the strengths and limitations of each being
highlighted. This dynamic would tend not to converge on any resolution reconciling
the various perspectives.
It is in such a context that the possibility of collapsing distinctions
becomes apparent. The length of any particular "axis" -- the range of tolerable
perspectives on any dimension in practice -- may then be severely reduced.
The space of dialogue is then itself significantly reduced and constrained.
There is however the possibility of a different kind of resolution that also
lends itself, most ironically, to a geometric representation. As illustrated
by Figure 3b, the dimensions may be "preserved" -- by binding them
together into a symbolic form -- known since the time of the Roman Empire
as the fasces. It was this key symbol that represented the power and
authority of the state and its ability to bind together the many different
cultures within that empire. This imperial symbol continues to figure in
the symbolism of a number of countries, most notably the USA.
It is intriguing that the symbol can also understood as binding
together disparate intangible cognitive dimensions and their associated values
and perspectives -- implicit at that time in the disparate tangible characteristics
of the societies and cultures of that empire. The value of this symbol in this
context is that it indicates how the space of dialogue over differences is
completely collapsed -- in contrast to the spaces evident in Figures 2a and
2b, or the example offered by Figure 3a.
Also of some interest (in relation to any facist debate) is that the
geometry of the polyhedron of Figure 3a distinguishes "faces". In
the geometry of Figure 3b those faces have been collapsed. It is essentially "faceless"
and as such perhaps an appropriate symbol for the "facelessness" characteristic
of any imperial bureaucracy. The contrast between the two images is reminiscent
of that between an erected dome tent (offering shelter) and its packed version
(enabling transport and storage).
The fasces is clearly ill-designed as a container
for the soul. With respect to any inferred locus of the soul (as discussed
above), this is more fruitfully understood as being at the "empty" cognitive
focal centre around which the "axes" of Fig. 3a are configured.
Challenges to facist identity and identification
Presented separately as Annex
B with the following sections:
Faces of Citizens vs Fasces of the State: a legislative dilemma?
Curiously in relation to the debate on the burkha, the symbolic representation
of the French Republic is through two contrasting images. Marianne on
the left and the national emblem on the right. In 1848, the government
of the newly founded Second
Republic launched a contest to symbolise the Republic on paintings, sculptures,
medals, money and seals, as no official representations of it existed. Two versions
of "Marianne" were
authorised: one is fighting and victorious, recalling the Greek goddess Athena.
She has a bare breast, the Phrygian cap and a red corsage, and has the arm lifted
in a gesture of rebellion. The other is more conservative.
In the case of France, the conclusions of a parliamentary commission will
shortly determine what kinds of legislative measures may be appropriate with
regard to prohibition of the burkha. As noted above, the commission may be
faced with the ironic situation of being obliged to debate the matter whilst
wearing protective face masks -- perhaps setting a standard for the appearance
of future legislative impartiality.
For those in favour of prohibiting the burkha
for other reasons, the seemingly strongest argument for the commission lies
in the possibility of demonstrating that it is worn by women involuntarily
-- namely imposed in some way that is an infringement of their legitimate rights.
gouvernement pourrait envisager une loi «s'il s'avérait
que le port de la burqa est subi»", Faut-il
interdire la burqa?. Liberation.fr). However, whilst appealing
to principle in an area where the quality of proof is questionable, freedom
of choice is increasingly problematic in a consumer society as noted by Neal
Consuming, 2009). In summary he argues (Do
we want to shop or to be free? We'd better choose fast, The
Guardian, 3 August
As you read this, take a look around and at yourself. You are decked in
and surrounded by symbols of consumer society. It's not just your clothes
that give it away, but your watch, jewellery, mobile, MP3 player, bag; the
furniture and the fittings; all are brands designed to speak for you....We
consume to sustain life, but over the last 30 years we have become turbo
consumers. Many people recoil at being told that, like me, they live their
life like glorified soldier ants in an army whose purpose is to reproduce
a social system over which they have no say. They genuinely feel they follow
no fashion and live a free life.... We consume to buy identity, gain respect
and recognition, and secure status. Shopping is the predominant way in which
we know ourselves and each other, and it is at the point of ruling out other
ways of being, knowing and living.
Totalitarianism, a society where alternatives are ruled out, was meant to
arrive in the jackboots of the communist left or the fascist right. It now
arrives with a smile on its face as it seduces us into yet another purchase.
The jackboots are in this season's colour and style. We are watched, recorded
and ordered not by our political beliefs but by our shopping desires. The
gulag is replaced by Gucci. Are we at the point of no return? Is the space
for other ways of being human so marginalised that an alternative post-consumer
society becomes impossible?
In such a context, how to compare the pressures to wear the burkha against
the pressures to adopt any other style of clothing or unusual behaviour (eg
Catholic self-flagellation, use of a hair-shirt,
etc)? Stuart Jeffries (Brush
up your Hegel, Sarko, The Guardian, 23 June 2009) argues
that President Sarkozy has failed to distinguish between the abstract and concrete
forms of freedom (as articulated by Hegel):
The former means the freedom to do whatever you want, which, as you know,
is the basis of western civilisation and why you can choose between 23 different
kinds of coffee in your local cafe, or 32 different kinds of four-inch wedges
the glossies tell you look sexy this summer but in none of which you can walk
comfortably. Such is the freedom of late capitalism, which seems to systematically
strive to deprive us of an identity that we might construct ourselves. For
Hegel this isn't real freedom, because our wants and desires are determined
by society. By those lights, a western fashion victim is as much a sartorial
prisoner as a woman in a burka.
Given the extraordinary prominence given to the issue of the burkha through
the formal declaration of President Sarkozy -- a garment worn in France by
some 300 people (as initially estimated) -- it might be asked what other issues
potentially affecting greater numbers (such as domestic violence and petty
criminality) merit greater legislative priority.
As noted above, any legislative provisions raise problematic questions. To
the extent that the argument is one of:
- fashion preferences: Are there are other forms of facial
covering that should be envisaged by such provisions? At what point does
heavy use of cosmetics (or sun cream) constitute a facial disguise? Could
face-based identity be effectively disguised by such means, as any make-up
artist would naturally claim? If veils were to come back into fashion, would
they be covered by such provisions? At what point is cosmetic surgery to
be considered as equivalent to disguising identity?
- therapy: How is provision to be made for those disfigured
by accidents or disease, where bandaging of the face is required to ensure
- environmental considerations: How is consideration to be given to those
desiring to cover their faces because of weather conditions (extreme cold,
- hygiene: How are the requirements for minimum coverage
(as with male swimwear), to be reconciled with those for coverage (as with
the requirement for swimming caps), notably given the hygiene argument against
swimwear conforming to Islamic requirements (see Annex
B)? What then of the hygiene arguments for swine flu face masks?
- humanitarian considerations: What provision is to be made
for those permanently disfigured (if only in their own eyes) and desiring
to cover their face in public? What if a person is in a state of extreme
distress, perhaps due to bereavement, and has no desire to expose their face
to others in public? To what extent do those suffering from unsightly skin
conditions (acne, etc) have a right to face covering?
- sexual equality: To what extent should facial
considered as covering the face unacceptably, more typically in the case
of men but recognizing the exceptions in the case of female
facial hair (the
classical bearded lady),
and the pathological conditions of hirsutism and hypertrichosis?
If a measure of excessive hair is to be defined by legislation, because
it inhibits facial identification (as with the burkha), what implications
will this have for men, especially those attaching religious
significance to beards (as with Sikhs, Hindus, Jews)? Should they
be required to remove it for any formal identification purpose? As a "religious
sign" for them, should this not be subject to the prohibitions in France
against wearing religious signs -- perhaps also to be made consistent with policies
regarding beards in the French armed forces? Also of interest, given
the concern that the burkha is worn involuntarily, is whether beards
might be said to be worn involuntarily within such religious communities.
- security: How are legislative provisions to distinguish
between any of the above in relation to security issues (facial exposure
to surveillance cameras)? Is the pressure for facial identification
to be understood as a surreptitious initiative effectively analogous to
legislative pressures for automatic
identification of vehicle number plates? How is provision to be
made for security agents to cover their faces? Are there other functions
in society where those performing them merit facial disguise to avoid any
form of vengeance or retribution? Under what conditions could celebrities
claim the right to the use of veiling to avoid harassment? Would Princess
Diana have died had she made use of such protection?
- advertising: As with T-shirts, flu face masks are now
being decoratively adapted [see images], notably to display messages. This
raises the question as to what messages are to be considered unacceptable,
especially since some may be covered by strictures regarding religious signs.
To what extent does this apply to commercial messages, beyond the logos of
fashion houses currently associated with scarves, etc ? In a world where
consumerism is increasingly a form of religion, how acceptable is a face
mask carrying the early advertising message: Buy a Buick -- Something
to Believe In ?
- "terrorism": Some severe degrees of disfigurement
are terrifying to the sensitive, especially children (as is the case with
beards in cultures where beards are only characteristic of foreigners)? At
what point should it be a legal obligation to cover the face to avoid frightening
members of the public? Given that (flu) face masks can be decorated to be
terrifying (see Annex
C), what are the strictures to be placed on their decoration?
- simulacra: Given the increasing sophistication of prosthetic
latex masks, possibly to disguise disfigurement, any legislation should
clearly take such disguises into account. One question is how to distinguish
between extensive use of cosmetics (effectively to distort the impression
created) and the use of such masks -- namely at what stage might the face
be considered as illegally "covered", as implied by "make-up" ?
Of particular interest is the theological implication for Muslims of being
able to wear a replica of their own faces, thus avoiding the need for
the full-body burkha covering (potentially to be prohibited by future legislation).
- celebration and drama: What consideration needs to be
made for traditional and ceremonial uses of masks -- some of which are deliberately
terrifying? The point is emphasized by the winners of the Eurovision
Song Contest in 2006, the heavy metal group Lordi,
whose members wear latex demonic masks. Would special permission be required
for such full face masks with "religious" implications? The issue of such
masks is notably threatening in French culture due to the
influence of the 32 volumes about the fictional character Fantômas --
master of disguise.
- (in)decent exposure: Should provisions regarding extremes
of bodily exposure be rendered coherent with provisions regarding extremes
of bodily covering? Should there be greater clarity on distinctions between
public beachwear, public streetwear, public officewear, public clubwear,
private clubwear, etc?
Although the focus is on full-body covering in the case of the burkha (with
an emphasis on the face) -- supposedly exemplifying deprivation of social identity
-- to what extent do the arguments apply to use of sunglasses, goggles or
facial masks? At what point might these be understood as being subject to the
same strictures? Can protesters be heavily goggled like the security agents
that face them? Why do some object to the quality of a conversation with wearers
of sunglasses -- as in an interview, for example?
At what point (as in the case of a full head bandage) is provision to be made
for a government "permit" for such covering? What provision is to be made
for abuse of such a system, as with "disabled parking" provisions?
To the extent that the focus is on the right of an agent of government to
request removal of the covering in order to ensure facial identity, to what
extent should account be taken of existing procedures for airline
security searches or gynaecological inspections, namely a closed environment
accompanied by a woman (if not carried out by a woman)?
Given technological advances in citizen identification, should alternatives
be offered to removal of any facial covering? Examples might include: tattooing
of numbers on the wrist (despite its dubious history), implantation of microchips
(as with pets), or some combination of existing health and security anklets?
As a country within the European Community, is it to be expected that
France should take the lead in promoting such legislative measures through
a European directive to ensure harmonisation of provisions with regard to clothing?
To what extent should each country be permitted a distinctive dress code? Given
the evolution of fashion, how should provision for evolving standards be made
in the light of the creatvity of the fashion industry and the distinctiveness
sought by celebrities? Would it be easier to resolve such matters at the EU
level with a special EU licence for extreme facial covering -- rather than
face the challenge of people crossing borders with an inappropriate covering?
Justice and the burkha
Justice is widely depicted, whether as paintings or statues, notably in a
context of courts of justice. In the European tradition inspiration is taken
from Iustitia (Justitia), the
Roman Goddess of Justice, as an allegorical personification of the moral force
in judicial systems. Since
the Renaissance, Justitia has
frequently been depicted as a matron carrying a sword and measuring balances,
and sometimes wearing a blindfold (Michael A. Dean, Images
of the Goddess of Justice, 2007). The concept of the blindness
of justice dates back to the Hammurabi code
under which the accused would sit behind a blind individual and
an official would declare a pre-determined punishment on the individual without
influence of opinion.
Although the earliest Roman coins depicted Justitia with the sword in one
hand and the scale in the other, her eyes were uncovered. Justitia
was only commonly represented as "blind" from about the end of the fifteenth
century. This provided an indication that justice is (or should be) meted
out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of identity, power, or
In the context of any discussion of the burkha, in which emphasis is placed
on the capacity of others in any community to engage with the soul of the individual,
depictions of the blindness of Justice are somewhat unfortunate. They imply
that Justice does not seek to engage with that soul and that justice is meted
out without such knowledge. The significance of such depictions is also
questionable given that a number represent Justice as bare-breasted.
In the case of issues like the burkha, Justice is called upon to seek a balance
across more dimensions than is implied by the binary symbol of the scales in
the images above. How is Justice to be understood as balancing issues polarized
across the multiple dimensions of Annex
A (as discussed above)?
Burkha as metaphorical mirror for imperious culture?
From a psychological perspective it might be asked whether the antipathy in
the West to the burkha does not signal the possibility that this derives in
some measure from its function as a mirror for a particular western mindset.
Is the West much challenged by what it sees in that mirror? What might
the burkha mirror in western society -- rightly to be considered unacceptable
and a challenge to liberty and dignity?
It is curious, but perhaps appropriate, that the deprecated global "clash
should in France be framed in terms of clothing fashions for women. The argument
above has endeavoured to show how the debate could be usefully explored in
terms of axes of bias and/or cultural preferences -- especially in seeking
to claim objectivity for any legislative measures. The argument also showed
how the "space" for dialogue in the debate, enabling a variety
of perspectives that is supposedly the mark of a civilized society, is in
danger of being collapsed into a uniformity of perspective. The fasces (Fig.
3b) is indeed an appropriate symbol of this, especially given its central
position in the French national emblem (Fig. 4b).
The question is how to recognize such processes -- to engender and sustain
a space for dialogue between different perspectives -- as the means of engaging
effectively and collectively with globality. These issues have been considered
with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes,
2009) -- notably the challenge of transcending the one-dimensionality of
conventional cognitive "alignment", so well-represented by the fasces (Engaging
with Globality through Cognitive Realignment, 2009).
Understood in this way, one of the great merits of the burkha debate is that
it makes evident the historical tendency of cultural empires to seek to collapse
the potential of variety -- succeeding in the shorter term through Pyrrhic
victories that ensure their own demise in the longer-term. The inherited
mindset symbolized by the fasces is not designed to enable an open
There is great irony to any comparison of deprecated Muslim head coverings,
as religious signs, with that promoted as the zenith of
French fashion -- the archetypal Hermès
scarf. As with
many deities of the Olympian and Roman pantheons, Hermes is
but one of the religious signs that have been coopted and trademarked in the
service of fashion -- as previously argued (Religious "Plastic
Turkeys" -- Hermes vs. the Hijab, 2003). The
Olympian pantheon -- the dodekatheon --
had the merit of explicitly highlighting the configuration of deities which
held open a cognitive space (Internalizing
a "dodekatheon" to inform the "dodecameral mind", 2009). It is ironic,
but only too appropriate in a consumer society, that the dodecameral space
should be sustained in vestigial manner by the corresponding articles of fashion.
The debate is a fruitful indication of the challenge of embodying cognitive
spaces, as argued by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy
In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought,
The challenge of such embodiment is curiously evident in the association
of the openness of society with the degree of exposure of women -- promoted
as fashion and enshrined in freedom of dress (and freedom from
the constraints of the brassiere and the corset of recent history). This freedom
is presented emblematically in France through the national symbol of Marianne
4a). The values and objectivity of President Sarkozy on the significance
such openness are potentially somewhat comprised in that the First
Lady of France has been
renowned for being depicted in the nude during her previous career as
a supermodel. Such pictures are readily accessible on the web -- one having
been recently sold (Nude
image of Carla Bruni sold, BBC
News, 11 April 2008).
Rumours have circulated that she had been shortlisted as a future living embodiment
of Marianne (Carla
Bruni-Sarkozy en Marianne 2008: une simple rumeur? Le
Post, 26 mars
Bruni sera-t-elle la prochaine Marianne? Actualité de
The matter is further complicated by representations of Justice as
a woman -- often partially unclothed (whether
or not as a deity inherited from previous empires). But more problematic for
the argument regarding the burkha is the extent to which Justice is then represented
as blindfolded (see Fig. 5).
The concept of blindfolded Justice is itself problematic in the light of
the many injustices so effectively ignored in society. Given the arguments
for being able to see the face and eyes of Muslim women -- as an essential
means of access to their souls (however dubious such invasive right of access
may be considered) -- the question of whether blindfolded Justice has appropriate
access to execute her functions on this matter is clearly a potential issue.
It might also be argued that such blindfolding inhibits access to the soul
of Justice represented in this way -- if Justice is to be held to have a soul.
Most problematic is the superficiality of facism -- despite questionable arguments
for the capacity to use superficial indicators (phrenology, etc) as a means
of understanding the complex subtleties of identity in depth. In a rational
context, in the name of which spiritual dimensions are rejected (despite curious
references to "soul"), the proof of such capacity is dubious. Were there any
certainty, those of the most doubtful character would not accede to leadership
in such societies.
By basing arguments against veiling on current fashions, ignoring those of
the past or those to come, debate on the burkha condemns itself to transient
significance and lack of depth -- achieving political points in the moment
whilst claiming respect for fundamental principles.
More intriguing is what
the burkha is held to imply for the wearers, or those who argue against
it (as discussed in Annex
C). In this case arguments regarding depth and subtlety
are indeed to be found -- whatever they themselves are used to disguise. For
example, John Brookes (Gardens of Paradise: the history
and design of the great Islamic gardens, 1990) argues:
In opposition to the Western attitude and its concentration on the external
look of a building, the traditional Islamic concern is primarily for the
feel of space within .... The result is an internal architecture... less
concerned with buildings in space, more with space itself. Such a concept
mirrors the ideal human condition: a lack of concern with outward symbols,
but space for the inner soul to breathe and develop ... The extreme example
is that of the traditional Muslim woman behind her veil, which externally
creates a walled space of infinite privacy (pp. 21-2)
Similarly Geeti Sett (Interpretation
of an exhibition entitled Kham Space and the Art of Space, New
Delhi, 1986) argues:
The geometry of architecture is clearly based on an elaborate symbolism.
In Islam, the dome, the minaret, the arch, the quindi vaults and pendentives
do not stand for themselves, as invented forms. based at times on engineering
feats; but for another, supra-reality which cannot be depicted in any other
way but pure geometry. The dome for instance, is associated with the Spirit
which pervades all beings, as indeed the vault of the sky embraces its
enclosed space. The dome unifies space and encompasses it. The arch expresses
the human soul, repeated ad infinitum soaring and aspiring towards the heavens.
The iwan, the arched doorway or corridor, is viewed as the locus
of the soul, moving between the room, seen as the body, and the garden or
courtyard which is taken as the spirit.
Why is such private space perceived to be such a threat in French (and western)
society? Why the need to invade that space and render it public? To what extent
can this indeed be considered a form of rape by a society that claims to carry
identity on its face, or on its body -- as echoed in concerns with defacement
of public statues? What is to be said of a society in which nothing is to be
left to the imagination, despite claims for its fundamental central importance
of Nothingness and Emptiness through Happening and Mattering, 2008).
Does the disapproval of the veil by President Sarkozy suggest any greater
conceptual subtlety or insight in a global society than that of the Government
of Sudan where, at the time of writing, a woman is to receive 40 lashes for
wearing pants in public? (Ex-journalist
facing 40 lashes in Sudan, The
30 July 2009).
Given the apparent degree of concern in France, perhaps a more fruitful attitude
is to welcome any legislative prohibitions as an experiment for
European society -- for the learning it will offer regarding the association
of identity with superficiality and the criminalization of the
invisible. The confusion relating to facism, and its association explored here
with the fasces, calls for recognition of the extent to which fasces has
also been associated by political satirists with faeces -- with all the
challenges that implies (Viable
Global Governance through Bullfighting: challenge of transcendence,
|Comments relating to the subsequent crisis in French politics
- France defended Charlie Hebdo's right to offend
so why can't a Muslim woman in a burkini 'offend' us too?
(Sunny Hundal, The Independent, 26 August 2016): Whether or not people feel unsafe over a modest piece of clothing is besides the point. They should have no right to impose their prejudice on others
- France's identity politics -- Ill-suited / (The Economist, 3 September 2016): It began with two terrorist attacks in Nice and Normandy, followed by a weeks-long political fixation with the "burkini", a cross between a burqa and a swimsuit, which dozens of mayors of seaside resorts tried to ban from their beaches...Manuel Valls... called the burkini an "enslavement" of women, and claimed it was part of a political project to impose Islamist rules on France. He noted that Marianne, a female figure symbolising the French nation, is classically depicted bare-breasted. The implication seemed to be that women in burkinis are un-French, while true French women go topless.
- French PM Manuel Valls suggests naked breasts represent France better than burkinis (Alexandra Sims, The Independent, 31 August 2016); The French Prime Minster has faced ridicule from historians and politicians after suggesting naked breasts are more representative of France than burkinis, after invoking Marianne - a national symbol of the French Republic - at a government rally -- "Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!"
- French PM suggests naked breasts represent France better than a headscarf (Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 30 August 2016)
- Topless Marianne remark by PM Manuel Valls stirs French row (BBC News, 30 August 2016): Mr Valls last week defended the right of local mayors to impose beach bans, although France's top administrative court has said the bans breach fundamental freedoms.
- Would France's Marianne Wear a Burqini? (Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, 30 August 2016)
- France's Burqini Debate in 10 Quotes (Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, 19 August 2016)
- Burkini ban: United Nations condemns French laws for 'fuelling intolerance and stigmatisation of Muslims' (Lizzie Dearden, The Independent, 2 September 2016): These clothing bans have increased tensions and may undermine the effort to fight extremism.
- Why should France accept the burkini? Its time to debate integration head-on (Muriel Demarcus, The Telegraph, 30 August 2016)
- French PM Manuel Valls defends burkini ban as global backlash grows (The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 2016)
- Sarkozy: "I'll change French constitution to ban burkini if re-elected" (RT, 29 Aug, 2016)
- France's Shameful and Absurd Burkini Ban (Bénédicte Jeannerod, Human Rights Watch, 25 August 2016): But what in fact these bans serve to do is create a dangerous and absurd confusion between how some Muslim women choose to dress and the despicable terrorist attacks that French people, of all religions, have suffered.
- France's complex commitment to secularism fuels burkini debate (Khatya Chhor, France24, 31 August 2016): France's highest court last week overturned a municipal ban on the full-body burkini swimsuit, a prohibition that ignited fierce debates with both sides claiming to uphold the French value of "secularism".
- Brigitte Bardot vs. the Burkini (Sophie Fuggle, Foreign Policy, 23 August 2016): If we are to believe Marine Le Pen, the palm-lined promenades, golden sands, and dazzling sea of the Cote d'Azur have become a battlefield this summer, where a fight is being waged for the very soul of France.... The problem for those who want to see the burkini gone, then, is not the arrival of the burkini itself on the French beach, but rather the perception that those sporting it are not actively participating in and maintaining existing myths.
- France's Burkini Debate Reverberates Around the World (Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times, 31 August 2016): The burkini has become perhaps the most potent symbol in France's long-running battle over its vaunted secular identity.... In Britain and the United States, the modest outfits are being seen as part of a multicultural model of integrating minorities. In China, where face-covering swimwear has long been popular among wrinkle-fearing beachgoers, many do not understand what the fuss is about.
- Marianne, le voile et les droits des femmes: les propos de Valls agacent une historienne (Le Monde, 30 aout 2016)
- The French Republic Is More Than Bare Breasts (Uri Friedman, The Atlantic, 31 August 2016)
- The burkini ban: what it really means when we criminalise clothes (Sheryl Garratt, The Guardian, 25 August 2016): To the French minister for women's rights, Laurence Rossignol, wearing as little as possible on the beach has now somehow become a feminist issue. [The burkini] has the same logic as the burqa: hide women's bodies in order to control them, she has said, seemingly unaware of the contradiction of forcing women to show their bodies instead. It is not just the business of those women who wear it, because it is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and women's emancipation.
- The Serious Purpose Behind France's Silly Burkini Ban (Tobin Harshaw, Bloomberg, 25 August 2016)
- The bare truth about French burkini bans (Steve Chapman, The Chicago Tribune, 19 August 2016)
- French resorts lift burkini bans after court ruling (BBC News, 1 September 2016): A beach in France is likely to feature some sights that would shock many Americans, such as bare-breasted women and paunchy middle-aged men in tiny Speedos. Lately it may also feature a sight that would shock many French people: females who cover up.... [The] argument goes as follows: France must dictate what Muslim women wear to teach them that no one may dictate what they wear. In the name of promoting the freedom of Muslim women, government should deprive them of the right to make their own apparel choices.
- Burkini ban demonstrates France's wilful ignorance (Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, National Post, 31 August 2016): Unfortunately, the French are still missing the point. When it comes to fighting Islamic extremism, they are attacking symbols, but ignoring the real problem: they have no idea what, or whom, they are fighting. And they only have themselves to blame for their ignorance.
- "The Way People Look at Us Has Changed": Muslim women on life in Europe (Lillie Dremeaux, The New York Times, 2 September 2016)
- Burqa Bans: As debate rages in Europe, survey shows how Muslim-majority countries feel about women's clothing (Lizzie Dearden, The Independent, 8 September 2016): As debate continues to rage about the burkini and proposed "burqa bans" in Europe, research has shown that several Muslim-majority countries prefer women to have their faces and hair uncovered.... A study found that while residents of the country and several other Muslim-majority nations said veils covering the hair were "appropriate" in public, many supported increased freedom of dress.
- Burkini : la charge bancale de Manuel Valls contre le "New York Times" (Adrien Sénécat, Le Monde, 6 septembre 2016)
- Marianne and the motto of the Republic (Gouvernement.fr, 11 July 2014)
|Given the controversial French appeals to the law with regard to the headscarf,
how indeed to reconcile classical depictions of the goddess of Justice (shown above)
as a woman both blindfolded (if not blind) and with a naked breast?
Given that the security provisions of justice depend increasingly on facial recognition,
how indeed to reconcile justice with the systematic facial masking of the forces of law and order?
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