The French, it's generally agreed, have finally recovered their senses with the court decision that the burkini ban was unconstitutional and a violation of fundamental liberties. Which it clearly was. But of course there's the whole tradition of laïcité - the French term for their particularly rigorous brand of secularism - which colours this whole debate. Paul Berman aims to provide some nuance, looking back at debates in the past over the veil:
The French controversy over the veil—which, in the French debate, has meant the Islamic headscarf or hijab, too—got underway not with the arrival of the Muslim immigrants, but with the arrival of the Islamists. This was in 1989. Schoolgirls in the town of Creil, outside Paris, began to insist on their right to wear the Islamic veil in school. This was unprecedented, and the school authorities forbade it. The schoolgirls insisted, even so. And the question of how to interpret this dispute became, very quickly, a national debate in France, with plausible arguments on both sides.
To wit, pro-veil: Shouldn’t a woman and even a schoolgirl have the right to dress in accordance with her own religious conscience? Isn’t religious attire a matter of individual right and religious freedom? More: If Muslim schoolgirls are displaying fidelity to their own religion and its traditions, shouldn’t this be deemed an enrichment of the broader French culture? Shouldn’t the French welcome the arrival of a new kind of piety? And if, instead, the French refuse to welcome, shouldn’t their refusal be seen as the actual problem—not the pious immigrant schoolgirls, but the anti-immigrant bigots?
To which the anti-veil argument replied: No, the veil has been brought into the schools as a maneuver by a radical movement to impose its dress code. The veil is a proselytizing device, intended to intimidate the Muslim schoolgirls and to claim a zone of Islamist power within the school. And the dress code is the beginning of something larger, which is the Islamist campaign to impose a dangerous new political program on the public school curriculum in France. This is the campaign that has led students in the suburban immigrant schools to make a series of new demands—the demand that Rousseau and certain other writers no longer be taught; the demand that France’s national curriculum on WWII, with its emphasis on lessons of the Holocaust, be abandoned; the demand that France’s curricular interpretation of Middle Eastern history no longer be taught; the demand that co-ed gym classes no longer be held, and so forth. The wearing of veils in the schools, then—this is the beginning of a larger campaign to impose an Islamist worldview on the Muslim immigrants, and to force the rest of society to step aside and allow the Islamists to have their way. From this standpoint, opposition to the veil is a defense of the schools, and it is a defense of freedom and civilization in France, and it is not an anti-immigrant policy.
The French have engaged in a very vigorous and nuanced public debate over these matters. And yet, for some reason, in the reporting by American journalists and commentators, the nuances tend to disappear, and the dispute is almost always presented in its pro-veil version, as if it were an argument between individual religious freedom and anti-immigrant bigots, and not anything else. To report both sides of the dispute ought not to be so hard, however. The French government held formal hearings on these questions, with both sides represented. It was just that, once the hearings were over, the anti-veil side was deemed to have been more persuasive. Crucially influential were Muslim schoolgirls who, given the chance to speak, testified that, in the schools, Islamist proselytizers had become a menace to girls like themselves. And the National Assembly passed a law banning the Islamic veil, along with all “ostentatious” religious symbols, from the schools. The purpose of this law was not to suppress Islam. Students could continue to wear discreet symbols in school, according to the new law, and anything they wanted, outside of school. But ostentatious symbols were banned from the schools, in the hope of putting a damper on the Islamist proselytizing.
Naturally, the hearings and the passage of a law (about school dress) and then another law a few years later (about full-face veils in public) and the issuing of various regulations did not bring the argument to an end. That is because these controversies are, by nature, without any obvious resolution. On one side, in France, there is good reason for immigrants and their allies to complain about imperialist holdovers and larger bigotries in the culture, and reason to worry that anti-Islamist laws and regulations may spill over into an anti-immigrant campaign. And there has been no shortage of pious Muslim women willing to say that, in their own instance, they are not victims of the Islamists, and they wish to wear Islamic attire strictly for reasons of individual religious conscience, regardless of what anyone might say. These arguments are unanswerable.
Then again, the French public as a whole, ancestral Gauls and new arrivals alike, has had every reason to grow ever more frightened of the Islamist movement, which has grown over the years, until by now it has come to dominate the young generation in entire neighborhoods in the immigrant districts—which means the French as a whole have every reason to look for simple regulatory ways to discourage the movement, beginning with legislation against the Islamist dress code. This argument, too, is unanswerable. Here, then, is a debate that will not come to a close.
We've had similar arguments here, of course. There was the case of the Luton schoolgirl in 2005 who went to court - under the influence of her brother, a Hizb ut-Tahrir member - to insist on her right to wear the jilbab, a strict Muslim covering, to school. She lost, eventually, despite support from the Guardian and, of course, Germaine Greer.
So there's nothing uniquely French about the debate. And while it's important to understand the reasons behind the French ban on veils and on other religiously-inspired clothing, it's important as well to see that the burkini ban was a silly step too far in terms of state intervention in matters of personal dress. For a start, the beach is very different from a school.
The recent defection of North Korean Deputy Ambassador to the UK Thae Yong-ho has increased speculation about the increasing instability of Kim Jong-un's regime. Like the thirteen restaurant workers who defected from China in March, the Deputy Ambassador was well-connected: his wife is a member of the O family, whose links to the regime go back to the days when O Jung Hup fought alongside Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, against the Japanese. In a country obsessed with lineage and pure race ideology, these things matter. There's no doubt the regime is rattled. They've not just called Thae "human scum": they've gone all the way, accusing him of raping children and embezzling money.
Leading the speculation is South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who's presumably privy to information unavailable to the rest of us:
Instability in North Korea is growing as members of Pyongyang’s elite are increasingly turning back on their communist homeland, President Park Geun-hye said Monday, fueling speculation that the South is preparing for a possible regime change in the North....
“The North Korean regime is taking no account of the people’s lives, while it oppresses the people with continuous rule by fear,” she said. “Recently, even the elite in the North is collapsing and high-profile figures are increasingly escaping their homeland and defecting to foreign countries. As the signs of serious cracks emerge, the regime’s instability is growing.”
Also, Joshua Stanton:
Most experts thought the regimes in East Germany, Romania, Albania, Libya, and Syria were as stable as Lehman Brothers, right up to the moments when each of those “stable” regimes fell. Most Sovietologists failed to predict the collapse of the East Bloc and the Soviet Union. Status quo bias is a powerful thing. The conventional analyst who predicts that the status quo will go on looks smart every day — until the day when he suddenly doesn’t. The unconventional analyst who predicts doom looks like a lunatic every day until the day when he suddenly looks like a prophet. The only day history remembers is that last one....
It's a typically well-sourced and authoritative piece, which broadly supports Stephan Haggard's thesis that a financial crisis now provides the most likely scenario for regime collapse:
Defection by North Korean diplomats who have access to foreign currency holdings would make it harder for North Korea to bring in money from abroad which can eventually hasten the communist regime's collapse in the event of a financial crisis, a renowned U.S. scholar said Monday.
The analysis by Stephen Haggard, professor at the University of California San Diego, reflects the speculation of growing instability in North Korea, as seen by recent defections of North Korean overseas workers who had played a part in repatriating hard currency to the cash-strapped regime....
"Historically, I've never thought of the collapse of North Korea in terms of political collapse, but I believe in the scenario ... with respect to the possibility of financial crisis," the professor said in a seminar arranged by the East Asia Foundation in Seoul.
North Korea's thinning foreign currency income, caused by UN-imposed trade bans and the shutdown of its inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, left the country vulnerable to the possibility of a "sudden" financial crisis that can lead to a subsequent regime collapse, he said.
Now, Pyongyang is left with labor export as an only option for foreign currency earnings, with North Korean diplomats put in charge of securing the foreign income needed to keep North Korea afloat, the expert indicated.
"If a crisis in being caused partly by these activities that are being generated offshore by the ministry of foreign affairs ... labor exports and so forth, it's possible the defections could actually accelerate the likelihood that this financial crisis scenario unfolds," Haggard said.
It's coming, it's coming. But yes, we've been saying that for years....
In Scotland and in France they prefer to cloak their anti-Semitism in the guise of a principled support for the underdog, along the lines of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign, by flying Palestinian flags at football games against Israeli club opponents. In Poland they don't bother with such scruples:
A group of Polish soccer hooligans put on a horrifying display of antisemitism last Friday, setting fire to “Jewish” effigies and parading a banner calling for the burning of Jews, Polish news website Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
According to the report, some 50 supporters of the Widzew Łódź soccer team had gathered outside a local train station to rally against rival team ŁKS Łódź.
The ruffians unfurled an antisemitic banner, which stated, “19.08, today the Jews were named. Let them burn, motherf***ers.” The message was intended as a direct insult to the ŁKS Łódź team, which was founded in 1908 and is often derided as Jewish by fans of other soccer clubs.
Photos from the demonstration show effigies appearing to be dressed as Orthodox Jews being strung from rope and set on fire.
A representative of the local anti-racism group Never Again said that the demonstrators were acting without fear, and with the sense that there would be no repercussions for their actions. Police are reportedly investigating the incident....
Antisemitic and racist behavior is not uncommon among Polish soccer clubs.
In 2013, ŁKS Łódź fans invited visitors to an indoor tournament to play a game in which they could throw objects at “Jews,” models dressed in Widzew Łódź uniforms. A sign next to the game informed players that for a meager price they would be given “three throws at the Jews.”
In 2014, in a match between Lech Poznan and Widzew Łódź, fans of Poznan chanted, “Move on, Jews! Your home is at Auschwitz! Off to the gas!” Following an investigation, a Polish prosecutor declined to take action against the Poznan fans, saying the antisemitic chants were not directed specifically at Jews, rather the opposing team.
Chris Deerin, on the unshakeable faith of the Corbynistas:
The reason that Corbyn will have won comfortably again when the leadership result is announced is that there is nothing that can be said or done to disabuse his followers of the belief in their and his innate righteousness. Jeremy might make a fool of himself over seats on trains and rail nationalisation; he might oversee a movement shot through with anti-Semitic scumbags; he might be the kind of naïve dupe who shows more sympathy towards Putin and every enemy of the West than to his own country and its allies; he might be the single most incompetent individual ever to lead a British political party and employ a team of people you wouldn’t trust to wash your car; he might guarantee large Tory majorities in perpetuity; he might have helped bring about Brexit and be on the cusp of losing Labour’s few remaining heartlands to the far-Right Ukip. But to his followers, none of it matters: the incorruptible faith can never be at fault, only the faithless, corruptible world.
Photographer Mark Burns has visited all 59 US National Parks as part of the National Parks Photography Project, celebrating the centenary - or, as they say, the centennial - of the National Parks Service, formed in August 1916. There's a gallery of his photos at the Atlantic's In Focus:
[All photos © Mark Burns]
The photos are so much in the tradition of Ansel Adams that you wonder how much is conscious homage to the man, and how much is the perception that this classic black and white approach is now the kind of official visual language deemed appropriate for America's majestic landscape.
I like the new Tate Modern extension - I really do. It adds a pleasing symmetry to the place, with the Boiler House on one side of the Turbine Hall, and the new Switch House on the other. It opens it all up. There's the unfortunate matter of the lift provision - not foreseeing the extent to which the free tenth floor viewing platform would be an obvious tourist destination, so the lifts are always jam-packed (or, as Jeremy Corbyn would say, ram-packed). But apart from that, I find the new architecture an appealing brutalist-lite which combines well with the old brick power-station.
The problem, as ever, is what's displayed inside. The Turbine Hall is empty now, as it has been ever since the departure of the ridiculous Empty Lot in April. No contemporary artist, it seems, has the imagination or wit to do something with such a huge space. On the floor can be seen the vestiges of Doris Salcedo's absurd 2007 A Fracture in Modernity, which set the standard for how bad it could get. The huge walls either side are bare, painted in tasteful puce. Let some street artists in, liven it up a bit? No...inconceivable.
The Tanks are a newish space on the ground level on the Switch House side, for "performances and interactive art and video installations". These galleries "celebrate new art". There's a frisson as you go in - dark, mysterious. What challenging new works await?
Well, the main space is taken up with Rasheed Araeen's Zero to Infinity:
Zero to Infinity is a large interactive sculpture by the British-Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, which consists of a maximum of one hundred wooden open-framework lattice cubes that have been painted blue and are arranged in a square on the gallery floor. Each of the lattice cubes is composed of thin vertically, horizontally and diagonally oriented pieces of wood that are joined at their tips, and the diagonal parts bisect each of the cubes’ six faces at a forty-five degree angle, reaching from one corner to another. Each time the work is displayed, the cubes are initially positioned in an ordered structure, but the artist’s intention is for viewers to interact with its components by moving them into new configurations....
As the art critic Jean Fisher has noted, upon moving from Karachi, Pakistan, to London in 1964 Araeen was inspired by ‘the new generation’ of British sculptors, particularly Anthony Caro and Phillip King, but grew increasingly dissatisfied with the hierarchical nature of their sculptural compositions (Jean Fisher, ‘An Art of Transformation’, in Tate Britain 2007, p.4). Araeen regarded the invention of his modular and combinatorial ‘structures’ (a term he used from 1968 in order to distinguish them from traditional sculptures), each of which consisted of open lattice cubes and rectangles, as a way of introducing a more egalitarian spatial model. Fisher has described Araeen’s structures as forms
that made clear the material and structural principles of making in a move to democratize and de-mystify the art object; that began to break down the separation of interior and exterior space characteristic of modernism’s ‘autonomous’ object; and that therefore enabled the viewer to enter into a more dynamic and active relationship with the work.
(Fisher in Tate Britain 2007, p.4.)
Furthermore, Aareen has suggested that he views the gallery visitor’s act of dismantling Zero to Infinity – of breaking the symmetry of the composition – as a challenge to the fixity of British modernist sculpture of the 1960s. In a 2013 interview at Tate Araeen discussed the important participatory element of the work, stating in that he wanted visitors to dismantle the structure, ‘making one work or many other formations in their own way’ (TateShots: Rasheed Araeen’s Zero to Infinity, Tate Modern, London, 3 January 2013, The title of the sculpture reflects the potential for continual change and unlimited variation inherent in the work. As Araeen explained to Tate curator Andrew Wilson in 2008:
In terms of the body entering the work itself, touching it, changing it, transforming it constantly – its transformation can go on to infinity. That’s why it’s called from Zero to Infinity. Zero is the static structure of Minimalism.
(Araeen 2008, accessed 8 May 2015.)
Yes, there are indeed a number of blue lattices on the floor:
Just to be clear: no, you can't play with the lattices yourself. It's interactive in theory only - because "interactive" sounds good. It's not actually interactive in the sense of being - you know - interactive. A large notice tells you as much:
Any re-arranging will be done by staff members. [Imagine how exciting that must be.] Helpfully, some possible reconfigurations are visualised for our benefit:
Clearly only highly trained experts should attempt this kind of work.
You will, of course, be immediately struck by the anti-hierarchical nature of the piece, representing as it clearly does a more egalitarian spatial model than your typical modernist sculpture, and won't fail to be impressed by the powerful desire manifest in the blue lattice configuration to democratize and de-mystify, breaking down the separation of interior and exterior space characteristic of modernism’s ‘autonomous’ object, thereby enabling you, the viewer, to enter into a more dynamic and active relationship with the work.
On the other hand it might occur to you that this represents nothing so much as a child's building kit made large, and the urge to rearrange it something that those of us fortunate enough to have owned and played with such toys will remember with some pleasure from when we were about - ooh - five or six years old.
Admittedly though, we hadn't had the benefit then of an art school education.