Friday, October 30, 2009

A Vice In Disguise

There is a huge contrast between Egyptians and Saudis that struck me with much irony just as I was about to depart Riyadh airport. It is no secret that the Saudi Arabian notion of virtue is one where free will hardly exists, that is to say, you should be good because your choices are limited. It is a kind of enforced virtue like that of a child who is well behaved only because he is chained and gagged. If we are to call things by their true names, it is just a hypocritical appearance of virtue which is in fact not virtue at all. The repercussions of this veiled vice are numerous, one of many being that the absence of choice leaves one unable to choose when choices appear and the time comes to make a decision. That is why Saudis when given a choice, their desire to experience something of their own choosing leads them only to the things they were never allowed to choose. It is an overwhelming desire for the forbidden fruit, which is not just the vice they were forced to stay away from, but in this case the power to choose. The desire for this kind of freedom to choose is so much more powerful than their conditioning.

It strikes me as almost futile to point out the ills of the Saudi system, for it would take too many words to state what is obvious to the average thinker and yet despite the simplicity can end up meaning to those who cannot see.

There exist within Egypt such poor thinking individuals who are mostly working class people who have lived in the gulf for some time. Escaping an unjust, tyrannical and poor Egypt, they travelled to the gulf in order to make a living. Many in desperation have adapted to the gulf manner of seeing virtue, as something that must be enforced. They have managed to acquire a foolish lesson that even the Saudi residents have had too much good sense not to learn and not to preach. Saudi residents are not too keen on spreading their way of life to other countries. When in foreign countries they embrace the freedom these countries allow to the extent of abuse.

In their blinded conditioning, Egyptians try to bring in the vice of hypocritical virtue camouflaged as piety into their country. In a way they don’t fully realize the full extent of the harm they would cause if they were to succeed. To comply with their desire of enforcing a narrow minded perceived goodness would be to take away any real goodness that Egyptians might possess through the power of their choice. In trying to fix they actually destroy.

To enforce this notion of goodness would be to force our youth to follow all the wrong paths when given a choice, would diminish their feeling responsibility for their actions more than it already is, would take away accountability and would deprive them of any learning opportunity they might come across. Worst of all, it deprives them of the pleasure experienced when one chooses to do good as opposed to being forced to doing it.

This is why I’m against insincere virtue, for it is volatile and can’t stand the test of real hardships. I’m aware of the counter point that might be raised, namely our need to prevent harm resulting from other people’s bad choices. This is absolutely valid, but how much protection do people need?

The problem is that gulf wahabi ideas are dogmatic without having much intent. It is not a matter of stopping harm; it’s a matter of stopping choice. Perhaps that’s why even with the choices Arabs might have they don’t choose well. They buy a phone every few months and stuff their garages with all the cars they can amass. They follow the golden rule, when in doubt, choose everything.

While Saudis try to escape the vices of their system by accepting freedom they find in other places, Egyptians are trying to introduce an evil into their own world by rejecting the real virtue we had in our country. Sadly those wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing are contributing to the deterioration of real virtue and replacing it with the ugliest of all vices, hypocrisy. Freedom, the greatest of human ideas which is one of the few universally accepted causes to fight for, is being replaced by the most debasing of ideas ever known to man, slavery.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Niqab: A Veiling of Humanity

I came across this article about the niqab in The Daily News Egypt and was very surprised by the content and arguments presented. The article says, “Unfortunately, most debates revealed prejudices and an unwillingness to accept differences.” I found that very naïve because the case against the niqab isn’t as simple as just prejudices, it’s about the welfare of a society. The simple logic of just comparing the niqab to the hijab unfortunately doesn’t quite cut it.

To tell you the truth, I don’t even know why the issue of ‘niqab’ is even being discussed amongst educated thinkers. It makes sense if the educated try to argue with the ignorant in order to make them see the errors in their logic. It makes sense if the poor and the ignorant debate it amongst themselves all year long, after all, it is these kind of people who end up embracing such an idea.

There are only a handful of reasons why an educated person could argue for the niqab in the modern day, and the reasons are rather subjective. The main arguments are driven either by ignorance or fear. There are other sub reasons but they all relate to either one or another. One such example is the desire to appear neutral or open minded to all ideas by hiding behind a fake pretentious façade of liberalism or human rights advocacy. This relates to ignorance because all the principles of liberalism can only be misapplied if they were to be used as an argument for the niqab. That’s to say that a person chooses to be ignorant of meaning of the principles when applying them to the niqab.

Ignorance is the easy route out in a view supporting the niqab. Unlike its counterpart, the hijab, there doesn’t exist the same distant suspicion that the niqab has roots in the original Islam, nor is it suspected to have been expected of all Muslim women. Hence, anyone arguing for the niqab from a religious perspective has no ground to stand upon. Usually those who know about the niqab know it from extreme preachers on television or are handed it down from others in poor places. It’s easier for someone to listen than to read, and those lazy to read will probably be too lazy to think. We’re faced with the impossible situation of trying to change someone’s thoughts, and the irony is that it hasn’t entered their heads through the natural means of thinking.

Most educated arguments sprout from a human rights perspective. Those who make this argument have missed the important points completely. Needless to say the argument is that it’s people’s right to do as they please, one’s dress style relates to their personal freedom and their choice can be considered freedom of expression. This argument while at first glance seems liberal and seems to make sense, it fails every kind of objective test. The first thing to point out about a right is equality. To claim something is a human right means to give it to everyone. If women have the absolute right to dress as they please, then it should follow that just as a woman should be allowed to cover up all her skin, so too should a woman be allowed to bare all her skin. As one extreme shows, both are unacceptable. The sophists may argue that showing all the body skin is indecent, but I would also say that covering up your identity is unfair, indecent and rude where manners are concerned. It’s not only rude but pretty terrifying too. The idea of big brother watching you from under the niqab is a horrifying prospect. So just as no clothing violates people’s sense of decency, the niqab threatens people’s sense of security.

Don’t get me wrong, people can do whatever they want in the privacy of their properties, cars, houses, spas. They can wear the niqab or dress up as super heroes for all I care, but that doesn’t include public places where others can’t help but be there.

While on the subject of equality of rights, would society allow men to go around in ski masks with their identity concealed? Would we allow our doctors, our butchers, or our waiters and cooks? Do we protect the right of men to hide behind the niqab thus concealing their identity and allowed in places they were never meant to be? We actually seem to be doing just that, but it doesn’t make it right. In terms of equality the argument for the niqab fails and serves only to violate people’s rights by giving a group of people unexplained and unjustified privileges. It not only fails to give equal rights to women on the opposite side, but it also fails across genders.

Let’s say we can ignore all this, let’s think of who and what we’re fighting for, if it is even conceivable that this is a human right. We’re fighting for a group of people who want only their way. If we guarantee them this as a right, we forfeit others’ rights. What I mean to say is that those who choose the niqab probably don’t believe in the rights we’re using as an argument and while some might say that this is not relevant in theory, I say that in practice it is. It doesn’t appear likely that people for whom we will ensure the right to wear a niqab would start fighting for other people’s rights of freedom even if they got what they want in the name of human rights. It would be like democratically electing a leader who doesn’t believe in democracy and would abolish it whence in power. It’s like an inciter of hate demanding freedom of speech not recognizing the limitations of his right.

The hijab managed to sustain itself because it’s a dress code that doesn’t hide the facial features that identify a human being. It can’t be used to commit a crime, can’t be used to disguise men as women, can pass as an expression of faith, and if men wear it, it’ll be weird but acceptable.

The niqab needless to say is full of problems absent from the hijab. So why then don’t the more knowledgeable, non ignorant people speak up and state the obvious as vehemently as I have just stated it? The answer is fear. It’s not easy describing the exact quality of fear that inhibits speaking up about this matter, but I can attempt to flit around it. The fear might be of being criticized for appearing less zealous over Islam than others around, for the niqab has come to symbolize piety. There is among many a trend to call people infidels for no particularly good reason as excuse to get their way, much like people were called enemies of the revolution when their views were in conflict with the leaders and the person along with his views was disposed of by mere accusations. In our descent into the abyss of extremism it has become harder to tell the truth without fear. It may be fear of a damaged reputation or sometimes fear of acquiring a damaged body part. And in our world of extreme political correctness and human rights advocacy it’s becoming harder and harder to be logical for fear of appearing less humane and more of a bigot.

There’s always a fear of being accused or misunderstood and in our effort to survive we let extremism drag us further down the bottom of an endless ocean. There’s a fear of going against the flow needlessly and there’s a fear of losing popularity if you are in the position to have your voice heard.

It’s hard to pinpoint what scares each person, but there’s a cloud of fear hovering over our heads. Even the all mighty government is afraid of touching the subject for the repercussions and retaliation against any action it might take and that’s why it’s approaching it indirectly by allowing the educated to voice out their concerns. The hijab managed to become quite near our holocaust, untouchable despite previous debates around the subject. You might think that the niqab is far from sharing this fate but one need only take a look at Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia to observe how instilled a meaningless tradition can become.

So is it possible to accept the niqab under the umbrella of human rights and freedom? I’d be a fool to pretend that we could if we are to be honest with ourselves. Under the umbrella of extremism it is possible whether it be religious or pretentious human rights. However, it’s impossible to integrate with an alien watching from behind a screen interpreting my every expression and keeping his to himself. The whole quality of human interaction is compromised much less human rights. So the question becomes are we ready for humans to give up on their humanity?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Truth or Dare

It's simple, if we assume people usually choose between extremes, they can choose between not believing almost anything they're told, and believing almost everything they're told. While both extremes are horrible there is a rationale behind each of them, an empirical formula that can help you decide which to choose. When you don't believe everything, judging by the ratio of lies to truth, you can be right about a the thousand lies you reject and wrong about the single truth you reject along the way. When you believe everything, you're wrong about lies and correct about the truth.

The alternative is simple, either be right about all lies you reject and risk rejecting the few truths that come across your way, or risk being wrong about all the lies you accept and be certain of truths you accept.

In a way those who don't dare believe anything cannot take the risk and for this, they are rewarded of not being wrong most of the time, but the real question is, does truth deserve the risk? If we don't dare to reach the truth, what should we dare for?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Worth an Answer?

Is it worth it to answer a question honestly if the answer won't be enough? I'm really wondering about this now. If you know that someone's looking for an answer that isn't true, do you tell them the truth anyway or save yourself the hassle and not give an answer.

The problem with answering truthfully is that you're effectively a liar if you don't provide the answer that someone is looking for. The problem with not answering is that you're held at fault without a chance to explain something that might make a difference.

At first I thought it was best to answer, but now I don't think it's worth my breath.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Prison Inside Out

Riyadh is a city that doesn't inspire, but it doesn't inhibit inspiration. It has its own way of making me see things. I go to work 7 days a week. I wake up at 8 to have a car pass by at 8:30 even on weekends. It makes life tough since I don't get this release at the end of the week. It makes Riyadh seem to me like a giant prison. Even without that prison car, it's a giant prison. It's not so much like Egypt, where everyone is watching you, where your freedom is inhibited by those staring eyes. It's a kind of modern day prison where you're allowed to do everything within the confines of that prison. Why does it feel that way? Is it because of the absence of alcohol and women? Though these appear to be important aspects of life, specially the female sex, yet the reason can't be this shallow.

I think it's the fact that rules are imposed, whatever they may be. And how is that different to the rest of the world? Maybe it's just that the values differ from place to place. I think at the end of the day it's the fact that these values are being enforced, and I find them meaningless and stupid. The difference between one country and the next is the degree of freedom to do what you wish, is it the degree of freedom to do what's wrong? Perhaps, but one man's wrong is another man's right. It's the certainty, that fake certainty that disturbs me the most. The air of unquestioning ideas and values.

I find this land skewed, different from what I see in other countries. In other countries, the outside is freedom and the in confines of walls and fences dwells imprisonment. But in Saudi Arabia, the outside is the giant prison, and if you manage to escape to the confines of an American compound then inside what you get is freedom. Maybe like peace, freedom also comes from within. Maybe you might find freedom within a prison of some sort. That might be the general explanation to explain this anomaly.

In compounds people act freely, there are women, there are drinks, there are pools, there is everything you may wish to find in a free society. Is Cairo a lot like Riyadh? I don't know, there's a prison within Cairo.. people, families, reputations and doormen.