Anna Baltzer, Virginia Haussegger, Tunisia

Anna Baltzer – who appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart – is actually an interesting character, who has written extensively about her first hand experiences in Palestine. Here is an example. It’s important for people from the West to try to help explain to us what life is like under the Israeli occupation.

Colonial feminism

Leila Ahmed, in her outstanding book Women and Gender in Islam identifies the phenomenon of colonial feminism. She gives the example of British officials who opposed suffrage in Britain, but on pseudo-feminist grounds demanded women be unveiled.

Now take Virginia Haussegger. She writes today in the smh that actually, the problem isn’t with skinny girls, but with fat ones. She begins as follows:

Supermodel Linda Evangelista once told Ray Martin I was a ‘witch’. I’d apparently upset her during a television interview for A Current Affair, in which I asked about her ‘use-by-date’. Evangelista was 28 years old at the time – ancient in supermodel years.

This just reminds you that sexism and misogyny is by no means limited to men. Haussegger goes on to write that it should be culturally unacceptable to be overweight. “The worst thing the Australia media could do right now is send a loud message to girls and women suggesting it’s ok to be big and chunky – that it’s normal and culturally acceptable.” Why? Because “In total, 42 percent of all Australian women over the age of 18 are either overweight or obese. You know how many are underweight? A slim 4 percent of women, and just one percent of men. Being underweight is not our national problem. Being overweight is.”

Being skinny isn’t a problem for health reasons, Ms Haussegger. The problem addressed – which she ignores – is body image. The problem is that it is so culturally unacceptable to be overweight – or even normal weight – that many women are traumatised by the immense cultural pressure and stigma associated with weight and appearance. Haussegger thinks there isn’t enough pressure on women.  She goes on:

Karl Lagerfeld was crude, rude and probably right when he suggested that the women who object most to catwalk models and call them “ugly’ are “fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television”. Fat women hate skinny women. Maybe they console their misery with more chips.

So, plainly when it comes to Australia, she should be counted as an anti-feminist reactionary. Yet she thinks Afghan women are dying to be occupied (no pun intended) so that they can be liberated. And she thinks the Burka should be banned. She describes when she saw someone wearing a burka:

The sight of this hideously shrouded figure in an Australian shopping mall is confronting and offensive. And it makes me angry, very angry.

I wanted to stop and ask why she had such disrespect for herself and our culture that she would hide her face and body under all that black cloth, designed to render her shapeless and inhuman. But her husband shot me a glance, and I was silenced. Dumbfounded.

The burka is not yet common here, but it’s only a matter of time. Australia is positioned in a region being transformed by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Radical Islam’s plan for domination is utterly incompatible with women’s equality. Put bluntly, Islamic fundamentalists view Australia, and all Western democracies, as immoral and decadent – because the women are free. Australia must not allow that radical and overt tool of fundamentalism – the burka – to be worn here. It defies our cherished values of equality and freedom.

Wearing the burka – or niqab – in Australia is an aggressive way of saying “I will not integrate into your society, and I care nothing for the cultural mores and social traditions of this country”. Instead, the woman wearing it is demonstrating that she would rather submit to gender apartheid than embrace the social norms of this place. The burka is an arrogant display of disrespect to Australia and the Australian way of life. [emphasis unintentional – I can’t be bothered figuring out how to un-bold this)

Our region is being transformed by the rise of radical Islam? How can anyone take this woman seriously? Notice how she didn’t think of talking to the woman in the burka, to find our her reasoning. The real outrage is that someone would be culturally different in Australia. If anyone’s intolerant, it’s Haussegger. In Australia, people are free to wear burkas and niqabs. They’re also free to wear weird looking punk or gothic stuff. That may be strange and confronting, and reactionaries like her think anyone conformist enough to wear things like that should be liberated.

None of this is in praise of burkas or niqabs, or Islam or even religion. It is simply to note the inconsistency and lack of seriousness (or even a single standard) when such people discuss Islam.

Oh, and the Economist on Tunisia, and a hunch why you haven’t heard outrage about their elections, like was the case in Iran.

THERE were no surprises at the polls on October 25th. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was re-elected for a fifth five-year term with 90% of the vote. Not bad—although surely something of a let-down after previous results in 1989, 1994 and 1999 when he got 99%. The slump began in 2004, when the president got a mere 95%.

Despite the opposition gaining a further five percentage points, the election results can hardly be described as a step towards democracy. Since he took power in 1987, Mr Ben Ali and his Constitutional and Democratic Union party have kept a firm grip. Though the constitution originally limited the presidency to two terms, Mr Ben Ali has twice amended it to let himself stay on. Opposition is rigorously controlled; the only candidates allowed to run against Mr Ben Ali were the leaders of parties authorised by the Constitutional Council, an institution close to the ruling party. Ahmed Brahim, the only candidate critical of the regime, won just 1.6% of the vote.

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The press is mute. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog, ranks Tunisia’s press as one of the world’s least free. Many journalists who cheek Mr Ben Ali or his regime have been beaten, imprisoned, sued or intimidated. Naziha Rejiba, editor of a banned newspaper, Kalima (“The Word”), says her office was ransacked and locked, her telephone tapped and her e-mails blocked.

But Western governments tend to keep Mr Ben Ali sweet. For one thing, he is tough on anti-Western jihadists. In Paris and elsewhere Tunisia is widely viewed as stable. Its economy has grown steadily. It is open to Western business, liberal on trade and has attracted a lot of foreign investors. Exports, especially of textiles and motor components, three-quarters of them to Europe, now account for 47% of GDP. Tourism is booming, too.


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