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8th August 2009 | Draft

Burkha as Metaphorical Mirror for Imperious Culture?


-- / --

Extremes of bodily representation of identity
Facialization of identity -- enabling engagement with the soul?
Identification imperative
Confusions relating to facism
Face negotiation and loss of face
Requisite variety to encompass multidimensional identity (Annex A)
Collapsing the space of sustainable dialogue
Challenges to facist identity and identification (Annex B)
Faces of Citizens vs Fasces of the State: a legislative dilemma?
Justice and the burkha
Burkha as metaphorical mirror for imperious culture? (Annex C)
-- Mirroring facelessness of citizens in governance of democratic societies
-- Mirroring covert strategies, cover-up and denial
-- Mirroring constraints on choice in a consumer society
-- Mirroring full-body cognitive imprisonment
-- Mirroring uncertainty, the unknown and the unconscious
-- Mirroring the threat of confrontation with death
-- Mirroring capacity of future response to extraterrestrials and otherness

Annex C of Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism: burkha, toplessness, sunglasses, beards, and flu masks (2009)
Published in abridged version as Scared of our own shadow? The Burkha as a Metaphorical Mirror for Imperious Culture
(Journal of Futures Studies, 15, December 2010, 2, pp. 101-114)


The arguments in the main paper (Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism: burkha, toplessness, sunglasses, beards, and flu masks, 2009) question capacity to associate identity meaningfully with the face -- effectively assuming the validity of its projection onto an essentially flat surface, as with any photograph.

As declared by the President of France (2009):

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.

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 -- its own unintegrated shadow in psychoanalytical terms?

What might the burkha mirror in western society -- rightly to be considered unacceptable and a challenge to liberty and dignity? Is contemporary society in some way avoiding the extent which is has been debased and become subservient? What might be usefully understood as the "shadow of humanity"?

Such mirrorings can usefully be seen within a context of relative lack of understanding of how the burkha comes to be worn -- in comparison with the relatively simplistic assumptions made about it. This might be contrasted with western tolerance of unusual practices and behaviours and failure to question the extent to which they were voluntarily assumed rather than a consequence of community constraint: Catholic self-flagellation or use of a hair-shirt, sado-masochism (bondage and discipline, domination and submission). Curiously a more sensitive insight is offered from a gay perspective, given the sartorial challenges and misunderstandings experienced by that community (Eric Heinze, In Defense of the Burqa: a gay perspective, 2009).

With respect to veiling for example, as noted by Eli Sanders (Interpreting Veils, Seattle Times, 5 October 2001):

It is curious that the opposition by the Christian and secular worlds to such clothing styles should be so intimately related to iconic dress celebrated as characteristic of the birth of western civilization. Christian women may imitate the veil supposedly worn by Mary (The Veil of the Virgin Mary); the most wanted person on the planet, blamed for Al-Qaida, is regularly presented in the media in a form of dress indistinguishable from representations of Jesus in churches around the world. Together are these to be considered indicative of a profound confusion of values?

In the case of the burkha, Ellen McLarney (The Burqa in Vogue: Fashioning Afghanistan, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, 5, 1, Winter 2009, pp. 1-20) notes that in the months leading up to 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath, the media demonized the burkha as 'Afghanistan's veil of terror,' a tool of extremists and the epitome of political and sexual repression. However, around the time of Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2005, she charts the noticeable shifts in apprehensions of the burkha in the western media. In Fall 2006, burkha images even appeared on the Paris catwalks and in Vogue fashion spreads. She notes an evolution of the burkha from 'shock to chic' with a process of commodification in the Western media, specifically through its appropriation as haute couture. The latter corresponds to its original status amongst the elite long before Islam.

The following exploration of the possible metaphorical significance of the burkha for western culture is partly inspired by its use as a leading example in a radically new approach to the generation and use of metaphor -- with the burkha as its leading example. Tony Veale and Yanfen Hao (A Fluid Knowledge Representation for Understanding and Generating Creative Metaphors, School of Computer Science University College Dublin, 2008) argue:

For instance, one might describe makeup as 'the Western burqa', to communicate not just the idea that each involves a covering of the female form, but that each reflects a society-imposed expectation on the public presentation of women. Each of these roles is a manifestation of the same underlying mechanism for combining concepts, for understanding how they interact... and for determining how they are connected..., even if those connections are tenuous, hidden or not always obvious.

The following sections discuss the insights that might be drawn from metaphorical mirroring of the burkha.

Mirroring facelessness of citizens in governance of democratic societies

Although there is widespread concern at the increasing facelessness of society and of the people in any community, its implications are easy to deny because the condition is typically not effectively embodied in any visible way. Everybody clearly has a face -- and is increasingly required to have one for purposes of identification. The wearers of the burkha therefore offer a striking visible embodiment of a condition of facelessness which pervades society. Whereas a visible face at least implies the possibility of engagement with it, however superficial, a veiled face emphasizes that such a relation is precluded. The merit of the burkha is that it draws attention to the extent to which people in modern society are effectively veiled with respect to any meaningful communication, even if their faces are visible. As a mirror of the condition of contemporary society, representation of this condition is most unwelcome.

The Eurpean Community has been explored in fiction as the European Union of Facelessness (Will Self, In the Union of Facelessness, New Statesman, 18 December 1998). Facelessness, even in the case of social networking sites like FaceBook, is the subject of commentary with respect to online communities ('Facelessness' and its impact on democracy and diversity in virtual communities. In C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2002, pp. 401-407). This has been the focus of a study in a French context (Barbara E. Hanna, Face Off: Identity in French On-line Debate, Queensland University of Technology).

The challenge for citizens of a faceless bureaucracy and faceless bureaucrats has long been recognized.

Far more critical are explorations of the condition of facelessness in relation to major social issues (Jeffrey H. Barker, Human Experimentation and the Double Facelessness of a Merciless Epoch, New York University Review of Law and Social Change, 25, 1999, pp. 603-623; Karen Greenberg, Guantánamo's faceless victims. The Guardian, 11 March 2009; Phar Kim Beng (Middle East Looking faceless terror in the eye. Asia Times Online, 21 August 2003).

It might well be asked whether society is collectively entering a modality analogous to that of prosopagnosia, namely the inability to recognize familiar faces (Andrea Gawrylewski, Facelessness, faced, Research in Psychiatry, 21, 11, 2 November 2007). It is perhaps particularly appropriate to juxtapose the arguments of Roger Griffin (Fascism's new faces (and new facelessness) in the 'post-fascist' epoch. Erwägen, Wissen, Ethik, 2004; A Fascist Century, 2008) with those of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas as notably articulated by Bernhard Waldenfels (Levinas and the face of the other, 2002, pp. 63-81) -- given Levinas experiences in fascist concentration camps.

As a metaphorical mirror the burkha therefore offers an admirable reminder both of facelessness and of the inability of individuals and society to face up to the challenges of the times. The burkha is effectively a memorial to a current condition of society with which all could rightly be concerned.

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "soft focus" (implicit) extreme of the Sharp focus vs Soft focus axis

Mirroring covert strategies, cover-up and denial

There is widespread recognition of the extent to which collective initiatives now make extensive use of covert strategies -- continuing the long tradition of "cloak and dagger" governance. This pattern is widely cited with respect to multinational corporations and their "dirty tricks" and questionable "commissions", readily framed as a necessary feature of increasingly savage competition. Strategies may even be primarily "covert", however any illegality is denied and covered-up -- made subject to a code of professional omerta. The need is of course recognized in various forms of camouflage and the development of secret "stealth technology" for aircraft and ships.

Covert strategies are of course most evident in the initiatives of governments, assisted by electronic and other forms of surveillance, possibly excused as economic espionage to ensure competitive advantage (as discussed in From ECHELON to NOLEHCE: enabling a strategic conversion to a faith-based global brain, 2007). The use of covert strategies in the furtherance of French governmental agendas was exemplified in 1985 by the scandal of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior -- a boat used by Greenpeace in anti-nuclear testing campaigns.

It is appropriate to note the appointment in 2009 of General Stanley McChrystal to command the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A). He is distinguished by having previously commanded the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command specializing in covert operations. There is much current debate regarding the covert initiatives associated with extraordinary rendition and the covert complicity of European governments -- extending to forms of "enhanced interrogation", vainly denied to be "torture" (Torture - new claim of secret UK complicity, The Guardian, 26 July 2009; Revealed - the secret torture evidence MI5 tried to suppress, The Guardian, 8 July 2009; Secret evidence imperils the core values of British justice, The Guardian, 17 July 2009).

The existence of "undercover" agents of stealth can of course only be inferred -- being necessarily denied as a matter of national security, in appropriate defence of the highest values of civilization. Curiously the justification is only offered via numerous media dramatizations of their heroic actions behind the scenes -- indicating the anguishing decisions they are obliged to make in targetted assassinations of those undermining those values.

The actions of those invisible agents is intertwined with the rich culture of conspiracy theories with which an array of secretive and secret societies are purportedly associated -- the "inner circles" supposedly constituting the real leadership of the world.

One merit of the burkha is therefore as a visible reminder of the extent to which undercover activity is effectively upheld as vital to civilization -- even though its existence is formally denied.

Given the numbers of undercover agents engaged in covert activity and its cover-up -- presumably far exceeding the number of people wearing a burkha -- the burkha is a useful visible reminder of the dark side of any society that purports to celebrate genuine openness and freedom. It offers an indication of the omnipresence of the "unsaid" (Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid", 2003)

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "inner" extreme of the Outer vs Inner axis

Mirroring constraints on choice in a consumer society

The case is widely made that the development of global society is associated above all with the development of freedom of choice -- hence the concern that the burkha may signify an involuntary inhibition of such choice. There is of course a degree of irony to the fact that it is the supposed lack freedom of choice of those wearing the burkha that is considered so problematic when the possible lack of choice of those living homeless in the streets is not. There is little question of effective legislative measures to alleviate that condition.

More relevant in that respect, with reference to the imposition by men of an involuntary use of the burkha by women, is the curious parallel, notable with regard to "approval" of women by men in western societies. Whereas the burkha may be declared to be "unacceptable" by President Sarkozy as "a sign of subservience and debasement", the question this raises is the "acceptability" in western society of some women removing their clothes for men as their only means of sustenance -- in societies increasingly challenged by unemployment. Is this not also "a sign of subservience and debasement"? The ambiguities regarding how "involuntary" the burkha cover-up may be for an individual also exist with regard to how involuntary the stripping-off may be for sex workers. Is it in support of increasing men's "choice" that such arguments are made?

There is a degree of hypocrisy in focusing on the burkha as a sign of debasement when those who strip-off necessarily go unmarked and undetected -- offering no reminder of their "unacceptability" and the complicity of many in that role. Rendering a women into a sex object, notably by any pressure to strip off, effectively enshrouds her in an invisible cognitive burkha -- as real in practice as a veil of cloth.

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 Lawson (All Consuming, 2009). In a summary he argues (Do we want to shop or to be free? We'd better choose fast, The Guardian, 3 August 2009):

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? 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.

The presence in society of people wearing the burkha is therefore a highly valuable reminder of the extent to which the freedom of choice, assumed to be characteristic of freedom-loving society, may be highly constrained for many consumers -- without full awareness of the fact.

A further challenge to comventional understandings of freedom emerges from recent summmarized research (Madeleine Bunting, In control? Think again. Our ideas of brain and human nature are myths, The Guardian, 24 August 2009; Steven Poole, Out of control, The Guardian, 28 February 2009). This suggests the notion of individual autonomy, as the guiding principle currently underpinning society, is an illusion. Bunting notes the argument of Matthew Taylor (Changing Minds: preparing for an era of neurological reflexivity, 2008) that humanity is on the verge of a new Enlightenment and that the 18th-century concept of the individual self has run its course with the emergence of a new paradigm of human nature.

There is a problematic sense, explored in the fiction of George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1945; Nineteen Eighty-four, 1949), in which the acclaimed freedom of individuals in a consumer society bears increasing resemblance to the discrete choices open to animals within the sustaining processes of intensive farming with a manufactured consent (Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1988).

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "discreteness" extreme of the Continuity vs Discreteness axis.

Mirroring full-body cognitive imprisonment

A particular problem that a western-dominated global society currently faces arises from "silo-thinking". An information silo is a management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. The silo effect is characterized by a lack of communication or common goals between departments in an organization. "Information silo" is then a pejorative expression used to describe the absence of operational reciprocity. Derived variants are "silo thinking", "silo vision", and "silo mentality".

Whilst wearing the burkha is challenged and condemned in the West as exemplifying an inappropriately constrained engagement with the world, is it that sense of constraint that is captured by "silo thinking"? In which case is the burkha a challenging metaphor for such thinking? Is silo-thinking indeed to be understood as a form of "full-body" cognitive imprisonment -- supposedly exemplified by the burkha (in western eyes, or at least in France)?

In addition to the case in organizations, concern has been expressed at the constraint under which disciplines consider it appropriate to operate -- a constraint which severely inhibits the effective emergence of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary thinking required by the challenges of the times. At the same time each discipline is inspired by the integrity of its own framework and the approach it embodies -- as with the experiential justification made by wearers of the burkha.

A potentially more intriguing insight from such a metaphor is the fact that it is women -- as the archetypal other -- that wear the burkha and are purportedly constrained to wear it by men. For the latter the burkha is a protection of what is most valued against the improprieties of the world. Does this suggest how disciplines operate in their silo-thinking mode? Is it what they most value that they consider appropriate to close off from "full-body" engagement with the world?

There are various forms of burkha, some of which expose the eyes. The full Afghan chadri (also common over the border in Pakistan) covers the wearer's entire face except for a small area about the eyes. This area is covered by a concealing net or grille. Such a grille recalls, especially in French, the analytical importance in many disciplines of a "grille de lecture" (cf Bertran Moingeon, Une grille de lecture des organisations, Direction et gestion des entreprises, 145, 1994, January-February).

Translated as "grid" or analytical matrix, it is a generic term for the methodological tool for analysis of information, namely a set of relevant criteria or dimensions by which to recognize a pattern therein, notably to develop a synthesis of its significance or to enable comparison with other sets of information [more]. It might also be understood more generally as a disciplined way of apprehending or knowing.

As a metaphor for the conventional thinking of a discipline, as typically embodied in an organization, the burkha then suggests that the most valued aspects of that discipline only expose themselves to the complexities of the world through a finely developed matrix. The dimensional constraints of such thinking have been discussed separately (Metaphorical Geometry in Quest of Globality -- in response to global governance challenge, 2009).

The argument in fact mirrors that made in the widely debated study by Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006). A final chapter, entitled The Mother of All Burkas uses burkha as a metaphor. In that regard, Tim Bourke ("A Much Needed Gap": a reading of Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion, The Philosophy of Freedom) quotes Dawkins:

One of the unhappiest spectacles to be seen on our streets today is the image of a woman swathed in shapeless black from head to toe, peering out at the world through a tiny slit.  … I want to use the narrow slit in the veil [the burka] as a symbol

Bourke argues that here Dawkins opens up and shows us where his sense of wonder is, what he values in life… for he wants us to see the burka as a symbol of the human being's world view without science.  Science, in Dawkins' opinion, can free us from this 'mother of all burkas': 

What science does for us is widen the window.  It opens up so wide that the imprisoning black garment drops away almost completely, exposing our senses to airy and exhilarating freedom.

For Bourke, Dawkins uses the burkha as a representation of the possible limitations of our thinking because of our position in a universe, a 'multiverse' or 'spectrum of possible universes' in which things can be known more truly. Through science, according to Dawkins:

We are liberated by calculation and reason to visit regions of possibility that once seemed out of bounds or inhabited by dragons....Could we, by training and practice, emancipate ourselves…, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive - as well as just mathematical - understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast?  I genuinely don't know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding.  Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits

Again for Bourke, this surely is a perspective that reaffirms the position of the human being in the cosmos and expresses faith in our ability to understand: "... though perhaps here I can hear a little voice in my head whispering: 'Richard, haven't you ever wondered whether there might be more in heaven and earth for human beings to understand than just 'the very small, the very large and the very fast'?'. 

However, if the burkha is indeed a mirror of our cognitive imprisonment as argued here, Dawkins helps to clarify the extent to which his understanding of the cognitive role of science may indeed be just such a burkha. Will the future recognize no limitations to current manifestations of such understanding?

If human knowledge is to evolve, for which he argues, will it not be precisely through recognition of the limitations associated with specific modes of knowing such as science -- if only as it is understood today? (End of Science: the death knell as sounded by the Royal Society, 2008; Limits to Human Potential, 1976).

Is it not worth considering the degree of truth in the possibility that it is indeed science that is currently The Mother of All Burkhas -- especially the burkhas of all the various scientific disciplines it supposedly integrates? Is it not precisely the assumption that the sciences are without such limitations that is fundamental to their nature as "mini-burkhas"?

The tragedy of the times is that each current mode of knowing may be usefully seen as a form of burkha -- a constraint on wider understanding. That some in society should visibly wear a burkha offers a valuable reminder of the extent to which all wear some form of cognitive burkha.

As Bourke himself concludes:

Perhaps one day we will all be able to throw off our burkas and recognise that we were all, atheists and creationists, scientists and priests, philosophers and poets, striving by different paths for knowledge of the one reality.  Perhaps one day

Visibly wearing the burkha is a living reminder of the pathetic incapacity of all modes of knowing -- under their respective (hidden) burkhas -- to use their insights to respond more effectively to the global condition, other than by righteously asserting that their perspective will prove to be correct for all eternity.

A related challenge is the sense in which the burkha, as a cognitive mirror, provides a complete protective covering of that which is most threatening as a source of disruptive change to the conventional world -- namely any form of alternative. It offers a way of thinking about how the western mainstream effectively "covers" and occludes strategic alternatives in public discourse. In terms of cognitive linguistics, the theme has been explored by George Lakoff (Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: what categories reveal about the mind, 1987).

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "static" extreme of the Dynamic vs Static axis.

Mirroring uncertainty, the unknown and the unconscious

The former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld continues to be cited for his prescience in strategic and security circles due to his succinct articulation of the challenge of what may be known with any confidence in a world of increasing uncertainty. His formulation took the form of a notorious "poem" -- on The Unknown -- presented during a Department of Defense news briefing on 12 February 2002. The insight has been most recently used in the analysis by Nathan Freier (Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' in Defense Strategy Development. Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, November 2008).

Such a poem is a reminder of the extent to which knowledge of the future is effectively "veiled" -- as exemplified in some myths, notably with respect to "fate" -- despite facile assumptions to the contrary, notably with respect to present global challenges. It has been argued that there is a necessity for many to see knowledge of the future as veiled, whether because of the difficulty in understanding deeper truths in their entirely or because their terrifying nature could not be tolerated.

Hence the merit of exploring, to the extent possible, the nature of incomprehensibility in what has been characterized as an unconscious civilization (Unknown Undoing: challenge of incomprehensibility of systemic neglect, 2008; John Ralston Saul, Unconscious Civilization, House of Anansi, 1995).

Recent studies that have addressed the appropriate attitude in anticipation of the unexpected and the unknown, and its potentially surprising nature, include:

Whereas the unknown and unexpected are necessarily invisible and cannot be effectively represented, the burkha again offers a visible reminder of their presence, however much it would be convenient to ignore it in daily life.

Ironically, given the central metaphor of Taleb's Black Swan, those wearing the black burkha might be seen as vital reminders of the Black Swan effect of which he warns.

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "spontaneity" extreme of the Process vs Spontaneity axis.

Mirroring the threat of confrontation with death

The range of taboos associated with death in western civilization has been repeatedly remarked. Society might be said to be organized to avoid confrontation with its reality and meaning -- whilst at the same time investing heavily to an historically unprecedented degree in ensuring the death of those in other distant societies.

Any depictions of death -- of the Grim Reaper -- are traditionally veiled in black. Such depictions offer a strange degree of resemblance to the veiled image at the centre of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Veiling in black under a burkha, recalling funerary garb, necessarily triggers a fearful response in local communities ("cela me fait peur") -- a prime motivation for the French banning initiative.

Few societies cultivate a proactive relationship with death. A striking exception is that of some Latin American cultures in which there are regular celebrations of Santa Muerte, involving all members of society -- eliciting numerous creative representations of death, veiled, masked or not (cf Paradoxes of Tyranny and Death: Judging Saddam Hussein and La Santa Muerte, 2004).

Curiously the proportion of people in France wearing the burkha may be less than those suffering severely from terminal illnesses and desiring death. This situation invites comparison with the legislative debate in the UK (at the time of writing) regarding the rights of those seeking assisted suicide. These have been decisively influenced by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton who has long suffered from degenerative spinal atrophy. Claiming to speak on behalf of all disabled, notably those suffering from terminal disability, her speech was credited with quashing an amendment which would have granted immunity to those accompanying people to countries where assisted suicide was legal.

She sought to ensure that the government would support her continued life and its value -- and that of others like her, at a time when all governments are much challenged to provide social safety nets and care for the needy. Speaking from the House of Lords, she naively ignored the current suffering and desires of those needy commoners to whom such care could not -- or would not -- be immediately supplied.

The burkha therefore offers a much needed mirror to ordered conventional western society of the disruptive threat and imminence of death, thereby encouraging a more healthy response to it.

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "disorder" extreme of the Order vs Disorder axis.

Mirroring capacity of future response to extraterrestrials and otherness

The anxiety aroused by the burkha through the inability to determine what is beneath is transformed into a legitimate concern with uncovering the wearer. Such "discovery" is increasingly associated with concerns about security and the threat represented by any unknown. Hence the increasingly unprecedented degrees of electronic surveillance and invasion of privacy -- the "need to know" for reasons of national security" legitimated as threat detection, with which burkha wearers might well be intimately associated.

Given the worldwide need for narcotics, it might be assumed that global civilization is riven by anxiety. Curiously this might be seen as having been reframed in the manner in which the essence of humanity is acclaimed as associated with curiosity -- defensiveness proactively disguised. This is to be seen in that of geographical exploration to uncover distant and hidden lands and their hitherto unknown species. It is evident in the anthropological initiatives to "make contact" with unknown tribes to enable their civilization -- irrespective of the problematic impact on such tribes, unconsulted in the matter. This drive is above all evident in the advances of knowledge sought by science and the associated claims to intellectual property. This anxiety of course limits the possibilities open to future generations on the assumption that there will be ever more things to uncover and subject to legal claim..

Ironically wearing a burkha offers an excellent suggestive image of how any extraterrestrial visitor might be clothed in an alien environment -- as with the masked space suits worn by human astronauts. In fictional depiction, wearers of the burkha might even be compared to the Daleks of early science fiction or to the notoriously tragic Darth Vader of Star Wars -- in service to an archetypal evil Emperor. They might even be framed by western cultures as UFOs in their own right -- given the degree to which they are held to be unidentified.

Given the probabilities repeatedly rehearsed regarding such alien visitors, it would be regrettable if the possibility of educating populations regarding the challenge in reality of such encounters were to be precluded by simplistic banning -- relying instead on the zappability of fictional representations in the media.

Whatever form "alien" might take, the challenge of modern societies is to elicit more creative capacities to respond to unusual behaviours and anomalies of every kind -- especially given the extent to which the behaviourally challenged are institutionalized and rendered invisible. It is increasingly clear the extent to which modern society is effectively engendering aliens -- out of behavioural conformity with simplistic conventional social norms (Communicating with Aliens: the psychological dimension of dialogue, 2000). France itself is extremely challenged by behaviours in urban high-rise communities. Banning does not engender learning.

Europe as a whole is challenged by the otherness of the increasing numbers of immigrants. Is it realistic to expect to be able to "normalize" and "harmonize" their behavior by legislative proscriptions regarding clothing?

It is in this sense that the burkha both mirrors the existing challenge of the encounter with otherness and offers the opportunity of learning from such encounters.

With respect to the axes of bias in Annex A, this mirror might be associated with the "other world" extreme of the This world vs Other world axis.

Varieties of mask?
Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering
Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering Extreme facial covering
See other images of face masks now available


Together these different forms of cognitive mirroring, offered by the burkha to imperious western society, would indeed seem to provide a healthy insight into the shadow of conventional culture whose recognition it is so comfortable to avoid. The burkha offers a stark contrast to a candy floss image of the world in which "bad things" happen elsewhere beyond immediate ken. They can be "designed out" to safeguard a cognitive cocoon.

The degree of intimate involvement in such bad things, epitomized by the striking iconography of Abu Ghraib, can be conveniently made the responsibility of others -- as with torture, collateral damage, thermobaric weapons, white phosphorus, and the arms trade (from which so many permanent members of the UN Security Council profit so directly).

Representing as they might one extreme on each axis of bias in Annex A, in a given situation some of the "mirrors" above would be more operative than others. Those so shaded might be understood as faces on the rotating polyhedron of Figure 2b (in the main paper) -- ensuring that it was variously shaded as a whole. Also of interest is the extent to which each "mirror" offers a form of Rorschach test, raising the question of the interpretation of what it is claimed is seen in that mirror.

It is appropriate to note that the measures envisaged to prohibit wearing of the burkha in western societies are strikingly reminiscent of the predictions made with regard to 'face police' in the dystopian novel by George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949).

Curiously, in the period when the relevant legislation was being debated in France, the French media reported that a full face transplant had been carried out by a team of French doctors for the first time (French doctors carry out world's first full-face transplant, RFI, 8 July 2010). How such face replacement relates to the issues of facial identity raised by the burkha will no doubt be a matter for the future - as such cosmetic surgery becomes more common and a matter of choice.

It is in this well-shaded environment that avoidance of facing up to challenging issues is cultivated -- notably any that are a challenge to current patterns of behaviour (eg Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008). The superficial arguments with respect to the burkha readily invite a large and facile consensus. The conditions for which the burkha offers a mirror are quite another matter. It is in this sense that the visible embodiment of such mirrors within society is most healthy at this time -- for societies that the future may judge as having been terrified of their own shadow.

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