The emotional stocktake of ideology is ... neutered

McCarthy and Ho, The burqa should not be an issue
Ignore the extremists and try civil indifference, write Maeve McCarthy and Christina Ho.

Another day, another burqa controversy. It's one of those issues about which thinking people are supposed to have an opinion... But the project is Sisyphean.

As soon as the thing seems thought and talked out, a provocation, such as the NSW Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile's proposal for a ban, happens. A made-for-media rally ensues, and the writers all shoulder their opinionated boulders once more. The seeming impossibility of closure leads us to suspect the public is being played. We want to try to identify the emotions being triggered and answer this question: is civil indifference an option?

Emotion 1: Fear. It is created when the burqa is discussed as a security risk, as enabling wearers to commit crimes and escape detection because their identity is obscured... Can we try not to be frightened by the burqa?

Emotion 2: Anger. There is a ''how dare you'' tone in some of the responses to the arguments equating the burqa with modesty... Getting drawn into the moral competition is harmful in that it fuels a sense of community victimisation and radical separation from mainstream society. Can we try not to take the burqa personally?

Emotion 3: Compassion. Many people who are genuinely concerned about the quality of life of women in Australia find it hard not to instinctively support a burqa ban. But any new law would require an expensive allocation of scarce police and judicial resources to enforce it ...

Our emotions are valid. But instead of acting on them, can we identify them, "park" them, and try civil indifference as our default public attitude?

In many ways this is the most ethical response to a debate that has been framed by extremists on all sides, who have elevated the burqa issue to a level out of all proportion to its significance in the lives of most Australian Muslims. The burqa should be a non-issue. Civil indifference - to both Nile and fanatical burqa defenders - will allow all of us space to identify the real challenges and opportunities of religious and cultural pluralism.
Ho hum, I suppose I should have an opinion, but it's all so seemingly impossible, so why bother? If Fred Nile can't shoulder the boulder, our goose is cooked isn't it? At the risk of an outbreak of made-for-blogging outrage by all two of my blog readers, allow me to elevate the burka to a level in proportion to its significance ...

Unmentionable Emotion 1: Identity

As unfashionable as it is, humans are hard-wired to prefer the company of their own kind. How does nature manage this politically-incorrect feat? Er, we have a stored visual norm to denote what race/ethnicity/subculture we belong to and we feel unease in the presence of all things alien.

So, it's no surprise to find France has first 'burka rage' incident because the offending lawyer "likened the Muslim woman to Belphegor, a horror demon character" (yes, even lawyers have unmentionable visceral emotions).

Unmentionable Emotion 2: Demographic displacement

As Geert Wilders says "those headscarves are ... a symbol of an ideology that is out there to colonize". Unsurprisingly, we feel unease at being colonised by an alien and hostile group. We feel we belong to people and places. So it's hardly surprising to find locals commenting: I feel like an alien in my home town.

Unmentionable Belief 1: Islam is not a religion of peace.

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C
Exhibit D

Unmentionable Belief 2: diversity is not strength

Exhibit A

I rest my case, Your Honour.

File under: driving under the influence of emotions is not a crime, it's what makes us human, as distinct from emotion-neutered and brain-dead ideologues like McCarthy and Ho who's indifference to identity will lead Australia towards a distinctly uncivilised place.

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