Freedom of Speech, Burkas; Taliban & Al-Qaeda

Today is kinda a mish-mash based on emails I have received regarding the blog and themes I should discuss, particularly in response to my postings on Iran.

The most interesting question was “what about the Taliban’s or Al-Qaeda’s freedom of speech?” So here is my attempt to address this.

To start, what limits are there upon freedom of speech? The most obvious ones are you cannot do things that could bring eminent harm to others (shouting “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire); Then in the US and many other countries there are restrictions upon hate-speech. A less pervasive yet, to me, more insidious form of restricting on freedom of speech is the belief that you will be persecuted for a legitimate belief, typically religious.

This brings me to one of today’s headlines, that France’s Sarkozy has spoken out against wearing the burka. To a certain extent I agree with him, but in others I do not. In this case, if the woman is willing and cognizant of what the burka is, and voluntarily wears it, I am fine with it. However, if she is forced to wear it, then I stand against it.

It does strike me as ironic that Sarkozy calls the burka “a sign of subservience”, when Islam does mean “surrender”. At what point does a woman’s right of free speech become disallowed in the public sphere? At one point women across most of the West wore full body dresses that covered as far as their ankles, and showing one’s ankle was considered improper.

Now on to Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda.

The list of the Taliban’s excesses is almost too long to list. For me, two that have lingered in my memory are the destruction of the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan, and then a friend’s story of the horrors he had seen in the streets of his own town. I will not recount what he has told me, for the mental images are very disturbing.

Why do I think that the Taliban need to be rooted out? First, is their numerous crimes against people; second is their intolerance of other beliefs; third is the instability being created in Pakistan; and fourth is their support of terrorists, namely Al-Qaeda.

Free speech is an inherent right, but it ends when it comes to inciting people to violence. To this regard, the Taliban is no better than any other group of thugs who impose their will through violence, hatred and destruction. They encourage others in their intolerant views towards other religions. And perhaps, to myself, most critically, they provide or have provided support and succor to Al-Qaeda.

I will not deny that some of Osama bin Laden’s arguments might be true regarding the US. However, it is his actions against America and the slaughter of innocent civilians in the pursuit of what he deems “justice” that give lie to his actions in supporting the poor. They are used as tools to fuel his version of hated against the rest of the world.

Osama’s views that civilians, women, children, and other Muslims are eligible targets for death are particularly abhorrent. There is never any excuse for killing civilians. Sometimes they are an unintended casualty of war, and this is always regrettable. However, it is the rare case when soldiers, such as the American soldiers in combat theaters, purposefully and clear-mindedly assault and kill civilians. The public reaction to this has always been clear in America – it is not a correct action to take.

In this way, do we exhibit our rights to free speech. One does not have to agree with wars to support the soldiers. One can agree with what they do, while still being chilled by the actions of a select few. However, it is never right to let intolerance, hatred and abhorrence breed. Regardless if it takes the guise of “free speech”, the burka, or foreign governments, it must be addressed directly and not allowed to spread.

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4 responses to “Freedom of Speech, Burkas; Taliban & Al-Qaeda

  1. Creating a policy that restricts a women from choosing is wrong on all accounts. Many of my female friends wear head scarves and burkas with pride and honor. If Sarkozy is worried about repression he should not be looking at a symptom, but should be addressing the issue of control through more legitimate means and policies. I say boo!! to his chauvinism and “I know what’s best for you” type of attitude- which is so similar to the intolerance practiced by Taliban or Al-Qaeda. We cannot fight intolerance with intolerance.

  2. A nice article about Iranian women and the unrest over the election that touches nicely upon SJs point.

    Iranian women stand up in defiance, flout rules – CNN

  3. I am a Westerner living in Saudi Arabia. I have met Saudi women here who do not and would not wear a burqua, but the vast majority of women I’ve met are completely at peace with wearing their black abeyas and black burquas. They would not take those items of clothing off in a public place for anything and it is because they absolutely believe in the principle behind wearing them. I always admire people who have conviction in their beliefs. One of the wonderful things for me, living in a gated, Westernised compound, has been the completely different view points and lifestyles that the different families share inside these walls. I love it when I’m out running in my shorts and Tshirt and I run past a woman out exercising in her abeyah and burqua. Too often we wave and acknowledge each other and I can always ‘see’ a smile on her face. She is no more judging me in my gear than I am her and it feels nice.

  4. An interesting clip from an MSNBC article: “Women’s role has changed, but burqas still prevail: The status of women has improved since Taliban times. Women can walk around, unaccompanied by males, and they are allowed to work. They are free to roam in public without fear of being arrested or beaten for wearing high heels or seeming to walk in a provocative manner.

    Yet the burqa still prevails and for some women, it is a form of protection. They recall the time before the Taliban when the Northern Alliance took control of Kabul in 1992. It was a time of violent crimes, many of them committed against women. The burqa, they believed, protected them from unwanted male attention. Now with the backing of the United States and international forces, many members of the Northern Alliance are once again in positions of power.

    The female dress code has changed in ways subtle to foreigners, but revolutionary to many Afghans. Underneath their burqas, many women wear high heels, and they daringly put on brightly colored nail polish, details that may not please the conservative religious leaders who remain influential.

    Another breakthrough will occur in Athens this summer when Robina Muqimyar represents her country in the 100 meters race at the Olympics. She and one other judo wrestler will be the first women to represent their nation at the Olympics.

    Not all their compatriots will be cheering on their behalf. Islamic mullahs have criticized Muqimyar, saying it is wrong for her to display her face or body to non-Muslims in a public setting. In a compromise, Muqimyar will compete in a tracksuit, a decision made by the Afghan Olympic Committee, and will not be showing her legs. She and her fellow female competitor are part of a new generation of young women who are lifting the veil for their nation.

    Mohamed Haroon, owner of a burqa stall in the bustling central Kabul Mundawi market said he’s not worried or offended by these modern women. Sales are thriving he said, and even if more women are shedding their blue robes, they are still in the minority.”

    As said before- let the women choose, not the politicians.

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