The Paradox of the Burqa

When I first decided to repost a number of my old Blogspot posts on this newer blog, I passed this one over, since I was frankly embarrassed by how I opened it, and concerned how people might take some of my statements. I’ve grown more than I thought I had since originally writing this post, and my current views are much more inclusive, more nuanced, and less…hormonal…than depicted here. But after much thought, I opted to nevertheless port this post here (with minor style edits), since I still largely agree with my own older conclusions. ~2014-11-06


I am not a Muslim. I have never read the Koran [I since have]. I have never been to an Islamic nation. So feel free to take what follows with as much salt as you desire.

However, I feel quite strongly that what I have to say has a fair amount of validity.

So I was doing my usual daily checking of news outlets, and on the BBC News front page, a small photo from this article caught my eye. My first thought was “Wow, the amazingly attractive woman in this mini profile portrait looks like Angelina Jolie.” Then I read the caption, “Iran’s best woman racing driver hailed as new ‘Schumacher'” and was immediately intrigued, thinking “But how often does one get to see pictures of any Iranian women?”

Despite the apparent (“apparent” only because the picture is really small) stunning beauty of this woman drawing my eye enough to click on a link, I was about to pass over the article and move on with my life, until I read that she was Iranian.

Herein lies the problem: Humans shall ever want what they cannot have. I’ll expand on that….

Well, the article was actually pretty interesting, [here’s a more recent one] and it even included another small profile image of the woman in question, name of Laleh Seddigh, but it soon got me thinking about the whole issue of the burqa, and from there it was only a hop, skip, and jump to ponderances on fundamentalism, beauty, sexism, sexuality, hormones, religion, freedom, oppression, and more (you get the drift—I’m in college, after all, and supposed to be thinking deep thoughts).

Based on my own immediate personal reaction to the minute image of the face of Laleh Seddigh, Iranian Racecar Driver, I must say that the basic idea behind the burqa is sound—males and their pesky hormones and evolved mammalian behaviors are easily affected by the aesthetically pleasing and generally beautiful female face and form. By removing the female face and form from view, as the burqa is intended to do, the idea is that males will be less inclined to covet their neighbors’ wives and females would be protected from males’ aggressive advances. This does make sense, on some level.

Unfortunately, it’s also a crock of shit based on fundamentalist religiosity and wishful thinking. Fact is, males [and actually people in general] are gonna have their hormones raging in any case, the face or body in view or not, and in fact, sexual aggression and repression would be even worse for all parties due to the clearly unnatural and confining arrangement that the whole burqa idea creates. If anything, the suggestivity of the burqa, by hiding simple and not-necessarily-at-all-sexual natural beauty from view, allows imaginations to roam free, and hormones could be ratcheted up even further. This is what unconsciously and immediately happened to me with Ms. Seddigh’s picture, and for that matter what the entire luxury lingerie industry is based on—the suggestion of something can be more powerful than the thing itself.

I don’t know how many of you have ever been to a nude beach or nudist resort, but I have to say, it’s remotely as sexual and suggestive as people imagine. Modesty is a good virtue and trait, but one can be modest whether in a burqa or a thong—it’s the intent behind the clothing along with the behavior of the wearer that are more important than the outfit itself (usually, that is—assless chaps and inflatable bras are another ball game). However shocking and, sadly enough, repulsive the nude human form may be to some people, we are born that way, and how are we to return to the Garden of Eden if we don’t make the conscious effort to evolve ourselves beyond the fleeting conventions we have created for ourselves; to come full circle to our pre-Knowledge-of-Good-&-Evil innocence while maintaining the wisdom humanity has gained while traveling the circle.

People always (should) have the right to wear whatever they wish to, but however you look at it—burqas could be seen as protection from the outside world as much as protection from one’s own urges and thoughts—hiding from our fears allows our fears to continue unabated. Burqas could be seen as covering up a temptation—but covering something up and confining it is smothering, and again, when we don’t face our fears, we inevitably augment them.

I am personally on the more progressive end of this particular debate, and I will gladly support the right of people to cover themselves completely as much as I’ll support groups like RAWA. Ultimately, general human rights and freedoms are the most important, overarching issues at stake.

What Bouncers Tell Us About IDs

So, last night I accompanied some good old friends into Old City Philly for some 21st birthday celebration, which was a most interesting experience…But none of that matters, since the only thing that I feel like writing about today is the ginormous (I mean this guy was a BIG dude) bouncer at Café Spice, where a few of us ended up later on in the evening. Long story short, the guy almost didn’t let me in since he thought my ID was a fake—he only let me in on the word of another member of our party who knew him. I thought the bouncer was giving our party trouble due to the several members of our party who actually were using invalid IDs (chicks, of course), but I was informed later that it was I who was the troublemaker.

This was severely vexing for me, for several reasons. First of all, I was in reality the eldest person in our group, by several years. That in itself was enough to piss me off a bit. But secondly, this situation brought the whole ID and age-limit issue home for me.

I have a brand new Connecticut-issued Driver’s License. They have all the latest security features, holograms, thick plastic and good lamination, newfangled barcodes, etc. And in my particular case, my picture is actually quite accurate (for the time being—I happened to get my license photo taken during a shaved head period, and I’m in a shaved head period now as well). I mean, WTF? This episode is basically an admission that bouncers and security personnel and package-store counterladies everywhere are flying by the seats of their pants. This is absurd.

What needs to happen is…Well, a lot of things need to happen, of course. The drinking age should be lowered nationally back to 18, obviously, as the very first necessary and obvious step. Next, we must implement nationwide ID or license standardization. I’m NOT saying that ID’s should be mandatory or even always carried, but that better and more universal personal identification must be developed and distributed.

This goes far beyond buying alcohol or getting into bars. The whole identification infrastructure of the internet, building access, government service access, and numerous other ID-relevant sectors in our IT-driven world today must be rethought.

I will end this semi-coherent rant by comparing the ID infrastructure problem to the electrical infrastructure here in the States. As with any bureaucratically managed system, it took the 2003 NE US blackout to draw attention to the outdated and overused electrical networks in place. Will it take widespread identity theft (already occurring), security breaches, and other daily absurdities like my encounter last night before real action takes place?

Music & Noise & Thought

Always so much to say and so little time to say it, or vice versa. Currently, it’s the former, so I find myself archiving topics and notes and experiences to write about later. Anyway, for now….

I have some spectacularly, even breathtakingly awesome classes this semester. One of them is a writing class, actually, about the boundaries between Music & Noise. This may seem a vague and broad topic to some, or a narrow and specialized topic to others, when in actuality it is. Both.

One of the goals of this open-ended-type of course is to figure out what the class is supposed to be about. Examining “modern” music, “experimental” music, noise, electronic music, creative silence, found sound, ambient music, &c, contemplating the genesis and evolution of these forms and distinctions (if there are any distinctions), and deciding what it all means in the end, is a daunting intellectual task.

Even though most of the Public sees the aforementioned “styles” of music to be quite new, in fact there is already more than a century of innovation, technology, theory, practice, and philosophy in place. The invention and development of electronic communication in the 19th century (telegraph and telephone), followed by the development of mechanical recording (phonograph), and then the electronic, magnetic, and digital recording devices of the 20th century have spurred an abundance of creative cross-polination in music for centuries. Even well before recording technologies and communication lines became so ubiquitous more recently, the tides of cultural exchange have washed musical styles to and fro around the world in a perpetual feedback loop of innovation, dispersion, (re-)”discovery”, influence, redispersion, and popularity—leading to such cycles as

Tribal music → Jazz → Tribally-infused Jazz → Salsa (as one brief and incomplete example).

The recording industry, its development and its impact, also play a huge role. And this all barely touches up the influence of early innovators and theoretical explorers like John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, and many others before and after.

Goodness, I could keep going, but let me leave some sources for you to explore yourself, dear reader.

  1. Michael Chanan’s Repeated Takes contains a history lesson far more in depth than my single paragraph summary above.
  2. Audio Culture is a collection of excerpts and writings covering every aspect of “modern”, experimental, and electronic music, including their development, implications, and beyond.
  3. Most fabulously of all, John Cage’s Silence is a collection of that pioneer’s extremely interesting and poetic writings, lectures, and performances.

Anyway, life and college beckon me from beyond the computer, so to conclude today I will switch from bloggish mode over to journal mode, and leave some insights that burbled into my consciousness as we listened to some fascinating works of aural art in class today….

  • Any music, sufficiently distorted, becomes noise, so then, might any noise, sufficiently “distorted”, become music?
  • Silence can catalyze thought just as music does, so it only follows that silence, properly used, can be just as powerful as music.
  • If certain music/sounds/silences inspire thought when actively listened to, are those then Art? Then what of other inactive or background music/sounds/silences? They can still inspire—think soothing classical, encouraging muzak, pumping rock—despite passive listening, so what does this mean for Art, or Pop?
  • [Slightly tangential]: A ready, absolute answer or response to everything belies ignorance.

Creativity & the Great Quentini

This past Friday I decided on a whim to just get out and check out the monthly Gate To Moonbase Alpha (GTMBA) experimental, ambient, and electronic music night at the Rotunda. I’ve been there once before, two summers ago, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety and vitality of the performing artists, the quality of the music, and the extremely chill atmosphere of the event. I liked what I heard so much that I bought all the CDs that were being sold there, and it was well worth it—not only because $10 CDs at concerts are cheap and directly benefit the artists, but also because I discovered my favorite song of all time (so far, that is) on one of those random albums (“Trinity” on Adam Johnson‘s debut album Chigliak). It was quite an experience, and it renewed my interest in electronic music more than ever.

This time around, the night was as chill as before, and the artists just as intriguing and talented as before, yet vastly different. That is one of the coolest things about GTMBA and the experimental/underground music scenes in general—especially when compared to the lifeless, canned, and repetitive bilge that constitutes “popular” music today, this stuff and other fringe and niche genres like it are verdantly, vibrantly creative, not to mention interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

The most fascinating part of the night, though, was my first experience of The Great Quentini‘s performance art. He came out twice, doing various spoken-word, prop acting, found-sound music, and comedic acts. I had no idea what to make of him on his first appearance, as he performed the miracle of popping popcorn. I played along with confused patience until the next act (Ace Paradise) comforted me with a much more familiar and expected one-man ambient electronica set that was actually quite relaxing and immersive.

But then The Great Quentini returned, and, now in a more receptive state of mind, I soon realized that I was being entertained by a true rarity today: a holistic performer with multiple artistic talents, refreshing ingenuity, and a disarming comedic flair who had the audience deeply involved and invested in his performance, making us laugh out loud, applaud with awe, and deeply ponder his messages and meanderings all at once. He challenged our societally atrophied ears with a novel, avant-garde keyboard performance and he engaged our eyes with elaborate and original costumery and numerous props.

Most of all, though, he broadened our minds with tongue-in-cheek yet profound spoken segments about the religious superiority of gravity, and the “special purpose” that each of us has in life, and he closed with a soundly amusing and eye-opening segment about the rule of plastic today, intermixing found-sound music and dialogue with some old toys….

…But I don’t want to give away too much detail, since,
A) I’d encourage you to be on constant lookout for future performances by The Great Quentini, to go, enjoy, and see for yourselves, and also
B) things like this can never be fully brought to life with language or writing—words are merely abstract representations and are always open to the vagaries of subjective interpretation.

This leads me to my closing point:

Truly original creativity, as well as truly great art, (both embodied in the performances of The Great Quentini), are disappointingly and disproportionately lacking in the world today. Why is it that people are so drawn to complete unoriginality and lack of inspiration? Is it laziness? The fear of leaving the comfortable yet stagnant mental spaces we each create? Or maybe it’s our unconscious desire to converge on societal norms, rushing like lemmings willy-nilly to our own intellectual destruction in the seas of banality; drowning in a deluge of force-fed fad, fashion, and popular media graciously provided by monopolistic, monolithic corporations….

Or maybe none of this matters at all. Whatever. I had fun.

Until next time, dare to think a new thought!