Archive for May 17th, 2005
Sometimes I read stories that make me think the world is becoming a better place. Today I read that women in Kuwait will be allowed to vote from now on; what is surprising is that the change was decreed by Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah back in 1999, but had been blocked by Islamic elements in the Kuwaiti parliament until today.
Then there’s this story on boing-boing today. A woman living in a hard-line Islamic regime, racing cars and beating men at their own sport? If it can happen in Iran, it can happen in Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes too.
When I visited Dubai, a fairly liberal Islamic country, I saw many women walking around in normal clothes, and not just visitors either. Yet a majority still wore the djellaba, even with full face mask. I’ve been told it’s a question of familiarity as much as law; it’s what they’re used to, and it has its advantages, such as comfort, secrecy and perhaps even voyeurism. (I can see them, but they can’t see me!)
Like the soft drink and sanitary towel commercials say: women, like men, can be free to do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean they’re going to go there, of course, but it’s important to know that the door is unlocked. If there’s one thing that Islamic societies can learn from the West, it’s that societies can be largely self-regulating. Imposing the kind of control they do can be self-defeating and disproportionate, since the majority don’t need written laws to behave themselves. If sex and the city was any guide, a New York woman’s bible is the latest issue ofVanity Fair, not any religious tract.
Think about the huge size of countries like South Africa, Russia, and the USA; in remote areas there are no police to tell you how to drive, what side of the road to drive on, what speed to go. For all practical purposes, remote roads are unregulated, yet the majority of drivers stick close to the rules. When the occasional driver goes low-flying down the freeway from Cheyenne to Spokane at 120mph, the chances of harm to anyone but themselves are low, and a properly-trained driver will know what not to do.
“Put Foot” was a bit of slang I occasionally heard in South Africa, one which came across clearly in Afrikaans too; the equivalent of “floor it” or “put the pedal to the metal” in the USA – it’s not just a driving reference, it’s an expression of a wider freedom. If I was in the USA I might be called a “libertarian”, though it’s a lot more complex than that, I think. We do need rules, and governments, to set a baseline of structure and support for the minority of society who can’t take care of themselves. You could call it a bell-curve theory of society.
Before modern governments and taxation, the Church fulfilled some of that function in the West, or Emirs and Chieftains in other parts. I’m not advocating a return to any archaic method; I’m saying there are things we can learn from the past regarding the self-sufficiency of societies without tight regulation. The idea of the “nanny state” is a relatively new one, and not entirely successful, if we can find three generations of a family, none of whom have ever held a steady job, in parts of the UK. I’ve written before about Germany’s problems, the way over-regulation has led to the current unemployment crisis.
This is why the current regime in the USA is the cause of so much concern; as expressed in the US Constitution, the power of the Federal government is clearly proscribed, yet it is now being expanded into areas where was previously excluded. The Department of Homeland Security is implementing Total Information Awareness processes, trying to break down the information safeguards that were in place between different government agencies (FBI, CIA, ATF, MVA etc) and the private sector (banking, insurance etc).
OK, there’s a long way to go before the US regime becomes as restrictive as Iran’s, but if Democracy is on the wane in the USA, what the hell are they doing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Answers on a postcard, please…