Author Archives: Barbara Kay

Barbara Kay: Niqab case a welcome ruling

Human rights is the great issue of our day, and yet weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) made a significant ruling that flew under the radar of North American pundits: The court upheld France’s ban on the wearing of the niqab in public.

The controversial law was effected by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in 2010 as a counter-measure to the symbolic Islamization represented by the niqab’s 2000-some wearers (out of five million Muslims). In 2011 a 24-year old French woman known only by the initials SAS initiated the ECHR case, arguing that the ban violated her freedom of religion and expression.

The ECHR ruled that the ban “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” And, to be more precise, the court found that concealment of the face breaches the “right of others to live in a space of socialization which [makes] living together easier.”

 

I welcome the ruling. The ECHR cut to the heart of the issue: If social reciprocity – or the possibility for social reciprocity – is not the default condition reigning in the public forum, then there exists a state of social inequality. If my face is visible to my fellow citizens, but some citizens’ faces are not visible to me, psychological tension is bound to colour relations between our two groups. Free people show their faces to each other, and the burden of accommodation must be assigned with a view to optimal trust in shared spaces, not the individual right to create social barriers.

As the ruling opens the door to other countries in the EU to impose a similar ban, predictable protest by human rights groups ensued. “’How do you liberate women by criminalizing their clothing?’ asked Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.”

Along with many other pundits, Chakrabarti here muddies the issue in his use of the word “clothing” to describe the niqab.

The niqab is not clothing; it is a mask. When a mask is removed, a person is still clothed. If you subtract those masks worn to protect the face from cold or germs, and those collaboratively agreed-to for specific entertainment purposes, you are left with masks that seek to conceal one’s identity, that deliberately de-personalize the face behind them. In such cases, no good motivation prevails, and no good social consequence ensues. The ECHR made the right decision.

The Hustings

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Barbara Kay: A Macleans columnist’s selective nausea trigger

Emma Teitel, a columnist of progressive views for Macleans magazine, recently walked into a north Toronto camping stores serving a largely Jewish clientele. There she saw something “that made my stomach turn.”

Pundit stomachs don’t “turn” lightly, so I braced myself for the answer. Was it a big, slimy rat poking its head out of a sleeping bag? A drug addict shooting up in a pup tent?

The answer (put off for 10 suspenseful lines) was quite a letdown: there on a table “piled high with T-shirts…sitting neatly right beside stacks of Batman and Superman shirts, a pile of forest-green tees bearing the bright yellow lego of the Israel Defence Forces (my emphasis).

Teitel then informs us she was so agitated at the very idea that “war” and “fashion” and “superhero movies” could be conflated that she took a photo of the offending T-shirts, intending to “share” them via a disapproving hashtag (#Jewsishdiasporafail strikes her as a possibility). Then she realizes this could be something anti-Semites might seize on (ya think??), and resists the temptation.

Good call, Emma!!

But let’s backtrack a bit here. The IDF is a democratic nation’s legitimate military branch. Its mandate is to defend Israel. What’s with the stomach-turning over Jewish kids declaring pride in the armed forces of a nation to which one is historically, culturally and emotionally attached?

Let me guess. Because the IDF, in the course of defending Israel from a barbarian, exterminationist gang of terrorists bent on murdering as many civilian Jews as possible, has ended up killing Gazan civilians whom they warned to evacuate buildings but who refused (or Hamas did not permit) to leave?

Teitel has fallen into the victim-numbers trap: she’s rewarding Hamas with the moral high ground because Israel actually protects its citizenry. More than any other military, the IDF routinely risks – and loses – lives to minimize civilian loss of life. To Israeli children huddled in shelters, and to Diaspora kids who feel their fear, the IDF is indeed as heroic as Superman. They merit proud sartorial lamination.

Know what turns my stomach? Impossibly high standards for Jews alone. I’ve probably seen a thousand T-shirts bearing the iconic likeness of bloodthirsty massacrist Che Guevara gazing romantically into the future. Now those are tees deserving of condemnation. But so far I’ve never read of a progressive writer, certainly not Emma Teitel, even burping at the sight of them. Check your #Jewishself-righteousness.

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Barbara Kay: In Hollywood, fathers can’t shine too brightly

In the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine, an article by novelist Sarah Boxer poses the question, “Why are all the cartoon mothers dead?” In it Boxer runs through a litany of fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and cartoon films in which the mother is either already dead or killed off early in the story: Nemo, Ice Age, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Despicable Me, Ratatouille, and many more. In most of these films, the father or father figure parents reluctantly or ineptly at first, but emerges as a protector and a “buddy.”

Boxer complains: “Mothers are killed so fathers can take over. And when plucky kids and plucky dads join forces, it looks like fun.” In short she assesses these films as “misogyny made cute.”

I acknowledge the syndrome of the absent mom, which in old fairy tales doubtless infantilized women as the weaker sex, because women were far more dependent for their security on men’s protection than they are now. But I have a different explanation for films made in the modern era.

In films like Kramer vs Kramer, The Descendants, Moneyball and A Better Life, dads are in charge because the moms have either fled the scene, are comatose, divorced or dead. They all eventually do a bang-up job of parenting, which might lead one to conclude American dads are more culturally valued.

Not the case. They are only valued when mom isn’t there. There’s an unspoken Hollywood rule that fathers can’t shine too brightly in the face of active mothering. Dads are more likely to be accorded respect when they are “coping” — in effect, when they are surrogate mothers.

The fact that they tend to be “buddies” in cartoon fare can be understood in the positive sense Boxer gives it, or it can be understood to mean that dads don’t have the emotional maturity mothers do.

The only unambiguously positive function cartoon dads exhibit is physical courage and strength in protecting their wards or children. But these good guys are protecting their vulnerable charges from bad guys. This is an accurate reflection of men’s historical function, and makes sense in films where the plot hinges on danger, resourcefulness, escape and triumph.

If the mom in cartoons were present, she would have to exhibit feminine traits to provide complementarity with the dads. I daresay Boxer would object to that too.

The Hustings

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Barbara Kay: The just cause of pitbull opposition

The National Post editor who hired me wanted more than an opinionated writer. She wanted a columnist who could hold forth on an eclectic array of subjects.

I thus found myself on the alert for, and writing about what you might call orphan topics in the news that yet provided solid inspiration for commentary on human nature’s endlessly fascinating propensity for self-delusion, my general self-appointed bailiwick.

One such orphan topic was the growing popularity of pit bulls as family pets, a topic that soon, to my own surprise as well as my loyal readers, began to consume me.

Pit bulls are bred for fighting, inflict grievous damage on the animals and humans they savage—with small children at special risk for maiming and death—and accordingly represent a much higher public health risk than all other breeds combined. That’s not my opinion. That is an evidence-based reality.

How then to account for the fact that in the last 50 years they have increased in number (in the U.S.) from about 200,000 (most in the care of realistic dog fighters) to more than three million?

One answer lies in the trickle-down effect of identity politics.

Dog fighting used to be an activity controlled by the Ku Klux Klan, a group of extreme white bigots so despised by all civilized people that their fighting dogs were tarred by the same brush. After the KKK broke up, prison gangs and bikers took over the dog fighting industry.

Amongst those who took a special shine to the dogs were underclass black and Hispanic men, for whom intellectuals felt a special sympathy. That sympathy extended to the pit bulls they identified with as bad-ass on the surface, but good inside.

The dogs were perceived as having gotten a bad rap, just like their owners so often did. The notion took hold that it was “racist” to “discriminate” against pit bulls, as though dog breeds were individuals like humans rather than artificially constructed stereotypes—and unlike humans, consumer products.

Between 1930-60 there were nine pit bull-related fatalities in the U.S. Since 2010, pit bull-related fatalities have escalated to an average of 30 a year, about 10% of them soft-hearted rescue personnel, and another 10% equally soft-hearted adopters.

Yet pit bull love remains invulnerable. Nothing is so hard to change as a false belief, and my pit bull researches daily offer me fresh evidence of this well-established maxim.

The Hustings

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Barbara Kay: A tone deaf return to Auschwitz

Let’s say, hypothetically, that nuclear energy was in its infancy, and that you were not only an expert on the practical end of things, having set up and run several installations yourself, but you were also nuclear energy’s most public figure on the issue—not just nationally, but internationally—and were eager to communicate your enthusiasm to somewhat skeptical or uninformed leaders in traditional energy fields.

Let’s say you decided to hold an instructional conference to which all these potential converts would be invited (along with spouses, and complete with good hotels and fine dining to sweeten the invitation) to reflect on the issues around nuclear energy and to reassure the uncommitted regarding its potential dangers to society.

Where would you hold such a conference? Hiroshima? Fukushima? Three-Mile Island? Chernobyl? Or none of the above? Don’t laugh: This is not a trick question.

Dr. Wim Distelmans, who is the leading practitioner of euthanasia in Belgium, and who has also chaired the Belgium Control and Evaluation Commission since euthanasia was legalized in Belgium in 2000 (a commission unique in its inglorious record of never having investigated a single death), is organizing an instructional tour about euthanasia for health care professionals to take place in … Auschwitz.

Yes, that Auschwitz, which Dr Distelmans describes as an “inspiring” venue in which to “clarify confusion about euthanasia.”

The words “tone deaf” only scratch the surface of this incredible decision. If there is one parallel in the world that euthanasia proponents want to put themselves at infinite distance from, it is the obscenity of the Holocaust, which, we must never forget, would not have happened if the mass killings had not begun with individual “mercy” killings of the disabled and mentally challenged.

The first disabled child was killed in 1939, then more and, no mass protests having ensued, more. By 1945, 5,000 sick or “idiot” children had been accorded exactly the blessed release from their deficits that constitute the main selling point for the modern euthanasia movement.

Dr Distelmans is no Nazi, nor am I accusing him of nefarious intentions analogous to those that advanced the evils of the Nazi regime. But in his failure to understand his willing association with Auschwitz University, alma mater of Dr. Josef Mengele, Dr Distelmans is displaying a lack of judgment so bizarrely offensive that his judgmental competence in all things should legitimately fall under suspicion.

The Hustings

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