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Freedom of expression vs. security and societal norms- JSheff

Reader comment on item: Niqabs and Burqas - The Veiled Threat Continues
in response to reader comment: Cohesiveness, conformity, and privacy

Submitted by sara (United States), Sep 6, 2009 at 19:54


Yes, it does come down to the rights of the individual vs. the responsibility of the society and its protectors. i.e. the right to live in a free society which ironically requires protection and law enforcement to be free. And that dilemma is probably the crux of the liberal vs. conservative mindset (leaving aside the loons on the extremes, i.e. anyone who has an agenda beyond what they perceive to be fair and rational thought is not included).

The issue therefore is determining the cost of individual freedom when it threatens societal norms and rules of protection. There is a balance that must be struck and agreed upon, the point at which security does trump personal expression, since this is a case where the choice of dress is impacting security.

I am in favor of smart profiling, which would make everyone's lives more comfortable, cost/time effective and sane. When you walk into Ben Gurion airport in Israel to board a plane, you will not be approached unless the highly trained operatives see something suspicious. Most people do not even know they are there until suddenly someone is approached and they will ask an innocuous question and engage in conversation to assess the situation. If they are satisfied, you go on your way. They do not waste everyone's time and money and make a production over checking a 5 year old's shoes, etc. They are efficiently profiling and assessing and they are doing it because they have legitimate cause for concern that terror attacks might occur. People who have nothing hide have nothing to worry about, as it should be. The masses are not punished for the actions of a few. Could this happen in the US with those of your mindset?

Really JSheff, we could look at all laws and rules as an invasion of our freedoms. We must watch how we speak to others (shouting Fire in a crowded theatre), how we behave with others (sex harassment clauses etc), how we dress (public nudity/indecent behavior) and countless other modifications every day. So you must agree that a limitation must be placed where there is a perceived threat to fellow humans. Muslims who understand that there is a legitimate reason to profile wilingly comply with searches because they do not need to pretend otherwise, that reality is not reality.

But here is where the argument becomes difficult, the perceived point at which security trumps personal expression. This has to do with a difference in perception between you and I (or between conservatives and liberals). That is why I brought up utopian thinking vs. realism. That's what I call it. You call it desired outcomes vs. cynicism. Who is right? Perception is everything.

You write: the religious refusal of Jews and Moslems and Seventh-day Adventists, and the non-religious, but conscience-based refusal of vegetarians to eat pork and other foods which the majority of our society enjoys, is definitely an obstacle to cultural unity

But the difference here is that food is not a threat to security (except for the banning of liquids on airplanes- does that limit your freedom? Limitng your choices in the name of security).

You write: ...banning the custom of Orthodox Jews, and therefore, of all Americans, from growing beards if it made their facial expressions more difficult to discern

Great analogy but the one flaw in it is that Orthodox Jews are not known for blowing up buildings or people and are therefore not a current threat. If this changes in the future, I would look at it IF it indeed could be proven that beards obscure facial recognition.

You write: Concerning adoption of English as the only national, official, language. I do not see this as forcing anyone to speak in any other language they choose to in public, only to require them to understand our common tongue and be able to use it for official purposes.

Yes, REQUIRING them to understand our language. How do you implement this requiring? Does it not impinge upon personal choice or freedom? Where are you setting the marker on the continuum?

You write: passing anti-dress legislation that would result in my right to ogle you superseding your right not to be ogled.

In a free world, you have the right to dress as you like but have no right to impact my reaction to your dress. I would never dream of limiting your right to ogle if I were to dress in a manner that elicited ogling. But it would be my choice to dress that way of course. In this case, wearing a Niqab is resulting in behaviors beyond the wearer's control - terrorist acts or robberies being committed in identical hidden garb. Therefore, what we are arguing about is the degree to which the niqab wearer has responsibility towards the ramifications of her wearing it, i.e. it being used for nefarious purposes.

The freedom of self expression can be accomplished without obscuring the face completely, thus setting a societal precedent that can be used by bad people to do bad things.

You write: ... this greater desire by females for anonymity makes sense, in our society as well as others.

Now ironically you are taking the feminist tack while I am arguing that actions beget reactions. If a woman does not wish to be regarded as a sex object, she need only dress modestly. She can adhere to cultural norms or not, she can wear a man's suit, a clown costume, none of these are prohibited. But showing her face is a societal norm that has an added element of protection and security, on many levels. A man wearing a ski mask walking in a mall would be apprehended, not because he is offending anyone by his freedom of expression, but because he has become a threat to security. We are all accountable and counted and that is the price we pay to belong to a society and reap its benefits.

Ironically, I grew up in Israel and am quite accustomed to walking in the streets with hijabed women (not niqabs). If there were a string of terror attacks that involved niqabs in Israel, you'd better believe they would be banned in a hurry. Israel cannot afford to mess with security, her survival depends on it.

It is good to examine our belief systems and have to provide explanations for them with civlized and rational thought. We are not as far apart as it seems. But I somehow doubt that either of us will budge,,,


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