Is Politics Noble?

Politics

To be engaged in politics, at its heart, is to care about what is beyond oneself, family and close circle of friends. In thinking about the affairs of wider society we are necessarily engaging in a partly self-less act of empathy. By adding our voice and concern to the broader debate we often benefit people other than ourselves. The more politically engaged you get, the more you concern yourself with broader identity groups that encompass more people, and thus the more people you are being active on behalf of. This rises from the narrow confines of one’s family and friends, up to the level of local community, and beyond to larger categories like one’s nation, faith and humanity as a whole.

It seems clear to me that being politically proactive (not necessarily ideological or partisan) and taking at least some interest in the affairs of society is almost a necessary component of a well-rounded and noble character. After all, all it takes for evil to take hold is for “good men to stay silent”. And women, presumably.
It is easy to care for yourself and your family, and though that ought to have great importance, it is far more difficult (and thus more laudable) to care for someone with whom you have little in common, and who you have never met. Empathy with refugees fleeing warzones, for example, or minority groups you are not a part of, is an honourable affair.

Whilst it is a potentially bold and contentious view, surely whether or not one follows the general affairs of one’s nation is surely not simply a matter of interests and hobbies, as for example following interests in business, medicine or technology might be. That is not to say those fields cannot be noble pursuits (far from it), but to follow affairs can be to satisfy one’s interests and for entertainment, or it can be to position oneself to make a positive contribution in broader debate and democratic processes. How many people actually follow the news for this purpose, however, is debatable.

Thus, it would seem natural (ignoring how the real world actually works for a moment) that entering the actual field of politics is also a noble thing. You are taking up the work of representing constituents and the general public – a great responsibility. Ultimately, most MPs could be making far more money working in the City of London and as part of a career in politics subject themselves to greater levels of scrutiny in their private lives than almost anyone has to deal with.

The Real World

How, then, has politics descended into something that is really rather grizzly? “Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.” There is nothing glamorous about the way most politicians exercise power, from the MPs expenses scandal to the stupendous daily allowances for the House of Lords, and the perpetual banter-factory that is Prime Minister’s Questions (“accountability”). Even in a mature democracy we still can’t seem to shake the unimpressive reality that those who exercise political power are often not quite the knights in shining armour we wish them to be.

A significant reason for this must be the elephant in the room; power. Whilst activism seldom has connotations of this, the actual pursuit of politics as a profession often can aggrandize one’s own sense of power, which has tempted all since time immemorial. And leads to less than ethical behaviour.

Perhaps we can concede that whilst the practice of politics is a necessary evil, political activism and engagement undertaken by ordinary people for the purpose of bettering society is indeed a desirable and moral act.

Maybe we should Stop Comparing Muslim Women to Lollipops

Lollipops

 

It is curious that a single contemporary analogy has come to be used so often across such a massive and diverse swathe of the earth’s population. The analogy is essentially a simple but effective (for some) argument regarding the hijab worn by many Muslim women.

The analogy normally involves the presentation of a picture of 2 lollipops; one wrapped, and the other not. If you came across these two, which would you prefer? Which is more clean, or ‘pure’? Obviously, we’d all prefer a wrapped lollipop… to eat. And apparently this logic should apply to the way men should view women, in the realms of purity and marriage and all the associated social spheres of life.

I do apologise for the crudeness of the aforementioned example; I cringed a little when writing it. I’m not sure what is more objectionable; comparing the ‘valuation’ of women to the selection of a lollipop, or justifying the hijab through the lens of a man’s worldview. Often the rather vocal critics of this line of thought go too far, and end up arguing that such patronizing characterisations of women ought to lead us to reject outright things like the hijab and cast off the oppressive chains of tradition and misogyny.

Whilst this critique goes beyond the pale, the point is legitimate. Far too often the key intuitive parts of the religious discussion on hijab include somewhat crude and patronising examples. If these arguments have worked in some parts of the world at other times in the past, they certainly threaten to do more harm than good with younger generations today.

It is essential these arguments are refined from within the mainstream Muslim tradition. Each Prophet came with language and narratives that appealed to their nation’s culture, and so we must do the same. Failure to do so will only push more and more disenfranchised Muslims away from religion and towards the dangerous realms of rejecting long-established pillars of the faith.

Primarily, it should always be remembered that the hijab was never initiated for the benefit of men; it is a deeply personal commandment that punctuates the individual Muslim woman’s relationship with God.
In addition, it really is not the place for random Muslim men to be enforcing rules of modesty on random unsuspecting Muslim women. I have heard too many horror stories of this kind of paternalistic enforcement in some more conservative parts of the community, and it just seems distasteful.

Furthermore, we need to bring more gender-balance to our discussion of modesty. A hijab and rules of modesty have been prescribed for both men and women. They are different, because men and women are simultaneously both equal and different, but responsibility lies on both to live their lives in an upright manner. Far too often we prize the chastity of women, whilst casting a blind eye to the comparatively adventurous exploits of men. That is a cultural imbalance that seems to manifest itself in various parts of the Muslim world, and one we could probably do without.

Such critiques are an urgent necessity – without them, others will inevitably move to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A more balanced approach is a vital step in giving people a legitimate avenue of criticism, in order to salvage the broader point on the timeless dignity of modesty.