Then, prohibition of alcohol; now, prohibition of the veil.

I was thinking recently about what it was that could be moving Muslim feminists (and feminists from Muslim backgrounds) to support a ban on wearing the veil. It makes little sense to me, since doing so won’t actually change much, other than forcing those women who actually wear that thing voluntarily to basically run around more exposed than they’re comfortable with.

And then I started reading a bit about the Temperance Movement in the 19th century. It was pretty strong at first, mostly made up of various Christian ministers, but it usually faded out eventually. Except in the States, where it actually led to the 18th Amendment. A major role in this played the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union). Many feminists and women’s rights advocates, for example Susan B. Anthony, were part of that temperance movement, because alcohol abuse led to women abuse in many cases.

Now I’m thinking that the two might be very much related. The temperance movement basically latched onto alcohol as the visible manifestation of many societal problems of the 19th century. Temperance advocates saw people drinking themselves into poverty, people committing crimes when drunk, men abusing their wives and children when drunk, etc., and decided that alcohol needed to go. However, the alcohol abuse was for the most part a symptom of other systemic problems, ones not nearly as easily identifiable or fixable, because they usually didn’t have single-point causes. To truly get what they wanted, the members of the Temperance Movement would have to lobby for a total overhaul of society as it existed at the time, with greatly improved working conditions, social welfare, laws protecting women from their own husbands, etc. And certainly, many of them did so; but Prohibition was a neater, easier defined, and evidently more easily achievable goal, maybe a sort of symbol of being able to achieve what they were fighting for.

It seems to me that this battle to ban the veil might come out of similar dynamics: it certainly is a very clear and visible symbol of what’s wrong with the strongly patriarchal Muslim culture, and just like alcohol wasn’t the cause of poverty and abuse, so the veil isn’t the cause of the suppression of women. But it’s a part of it, and making such a boldly visible step to make it go away might well be a symbol for the much more complex, difficult and long-term fights over actual, structural changes in Muslim society that will be necessary to end the horrible mistreatment of women.

And I’m afraid that another parallel is that it will be similarly useless. Banning symptoms doesn’t achieve anything at all, and merely drives it underground where it cannot be addressed at all, and where it may create even more problems.

But I can understand the need for visible, symbolic victories for the morale and motivation of those fighting the long battles. I’m still opposed to these bans (especially since feminism isn’t the only motivation for them: racism and xenophobia play a far more significant role in getting these bans passed!), but I think I’m starting to understand where this irrational desire for them may be coming from. I wish they’d find a better symbol of their fight, though…

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27 comments on “Then, prohibition of alcohol; now, prohibition of the veil.

  1. David Marjanović says:

    You said you were having brain freeze.

    You lied. You lied cold-bloodedly.

    I’m not even getting the “how stupid of me not to have thought of this myself” reaction, because the analogy you describe here isn’t that blindingly obvious, detailed and convincing though it is.

  2. Kausik Datta says:

    Massive blockquote fail.

    The only part in quote is Jadehawk’s comment in the second paragraph. Since this is WordPress, may I ask Jadehawk to kindly delete the previous comment?
    ——

    Your post moved me to think – to think about what you said and contrast it to my personal experience, having been born in a country with significant Muslim population. And more I thought, more I found myself echoing the sentiment you expressed in the last few paragraphs:

    … it’s a part of it, and making such a boldly visible step to make it go away might well be a symbol for the much more complex, difficult and long-term fights over actual, structural changes in Muslim society that will be necessary to end the horrible mistreatment of women.

    However, IMO there is possibly something more there beyond mere symbolism.

    Consider these real-life examples from several places in India, Central, Western, Southern and North-Eastern parts of the country. Village women, poor, often illiterate or barely literate, and therefore, having no knowledge of the 19th century Temperance Movement or of Prohibition, have gotten together on occasions to fight their state’s government, their menfolk and even the local liquor mafia – in order to establish a ban on the sale and distribution of alcohol in their area, braving various threats of intimidation and violence. Why? Because they found that the single common factor to many of their ills – spousal abuse and domestic violence, spousal irresponsibilities tearing apart the family, not to mention death of loved ones from consumption of illicitly brewed, cheap hooch – was the easy availability of alcohol, as well as addiction. Did this solve their problem? Partly, perhaps. But it did often move the state governments to clamp down on illegal liquor brewing and sales, and to regulate the sale of legal liquor more closely, which helped.

    At this point, I guess you’d say that such a ban is unethical and infringes personal liberties. A man should be able to buy his drink and drink it if he so wants. It’s also true that prohibition only encourages illicit and de-regulated trading which ends up costing more money and lives – as has happened in the Indian state of Gujarat (which has an official ban on alcohol out of respect for Mahatma Gandhi who was born there).

    But the harsh realities of the lives of those poor village women were such that they forced them to react and take a stand against something they considered to be the root cause. How would someone decry that?

    A similar question exists for the veil. It’s a relic from the past, a symbol of the Dark Ages meant to establish Men’s superiority and proprietary rights over Women; the symbolism goes beyond something a women may use, of her own volition, to cover her head or hair, or to make a fashion statement – the veil epitomizes a proscription, a prohibition if you will, against women to appear in public without it, often under the threat of abuse and violence in the countries that adhere to certain religious ‘standards’.

    It is not a ‘feminist’ issue; it is a humanist issue. Nowhere should women have to face the indignities that they regularly face in the societies driven by religious fundamentalism and extremism. I also beg to differ from you when you say that the veil ban is partially motivated by racism and xenophobia. I don’t think those terms apply, at least not universally. Muslim women wearing a veil can be, and are, racially quite diverse. The xenophobia may be extant in Europe, but so is the primary reason behind it – the growing reach and influence of Islamic fundamentalism. Nothing good ever comes out of it.

    In my country, even now, the Muslim fundie preachers have successfully stalled the national childhood vaccination program, and prevented a significant number of young Muslim men and women from getting potentially life-saving vaccines, including the HPV vaccine, by spreading outright lies, misinformation, and seeding FUD.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    The xenophobia may be extant in Europe, but so is the primary reason behind it – the growing reach and influence of Islamic fundamentalism.

    Well, no. Over here, the xenophobia against Turks and Serbs is very similar. The primary reason for xenophobia is that there are people who are identifiably foreign; religion (in the case of the Turks) is just one part of that.

  4. Kausik Datta says:

    Sorry, David, my bad. I should have clarified that when I used the term ‘xenophobia’, I meant it as was applied to the veil issue – not its general lexical meaning, mistrust and fear of everything foreign.

  5. Rorschach says:

    I have read comments from islamic people who have argued that all this banning of the veil will achieve is to get those women locked up in their homes.Because those men will not just say, “oh they’ve banned it, bummer, ah well, let’s go without it then”.
    I don’t think a ban(aside from the fact that it won’t hold up in any court)will achieve anything other then women being locked up in their homes, and Europeans being easily branded as islamophobes.

  6. Kausik Datta says:

    What’s your solution then, Dr. Rorschach? Consider this: those men, who want to lock up their women in their homes, would do so anyway, veil or no veil. Allowing the veil is no guarantee that these men would suddenly feel less threatened and more liberal, is it?

    I think that the symbolism associated with the banning of the veil would help – it would encourage the Muslim women to speak up, to break the shackles that their paternalistic, misogynistic traditions and culture have imposed upon them. As for Europeans, I honestly can’t decide which is worse:
    (a) being labeled as Islamophobe (which, frankly, doesn’t bother me much as an atheist), or
    (b) having to endure the knowledge that ensconced within a modern, progressive society, hundreds upon hundreds of women are being treated like chattel, subjugated, tortured, and made to bear indignities – silently, without a voice – merely because they happen to belong to a particular religion/culture (which bothers the hell out of me).

    Any official action, that promotes the discarding of Dark Ages symbolism, ought to be applauded loudly.

  7. Rorschach says:

    those men, who want to lock up their women in their homes, would do so anyway, veil or no veil.

    No, the point is, they will not let their unveiled wifes outside the house.Which makes this a worse situation for those women, while we bask in the good feeling of “promoting the discarding of Dark Ages symbolism”.

  8. Kausik Datta says:

    Wait! I am confused now. Are you, in effect, saying that any kind of movement that shows solidarity with a group of disadvantaged individuals pushes those individuals into further disadvantage?

    My point was that veil ban or no ban, the men that you refer to aren’t exactly the epitome of liberal and progressive ideas even now. They have been pushing women back into the house for centuries. Are you saying that the veil ban will potentially worsen this situation? What can be worse?

  9. Paul says:

    My point was that veil ban or no ban, the men that you refer to aren’t exactly the epitome of liberal and progressive ideas even now. They have been pushing women back into the house for centuries. Are you saying that the veil ban will potentially worsen this situation? What can be worse?

    It’s not complicated. The men are willing under some circumstances to allow women outside the house if they wear veils. If you make ban wearing veils, women that would have otherwise been able to go outside/be educated/etc will lose that option because people want to win a symbolic victory against the Muslims.

    Yes, these men are not the epitome of liberalism or progressivism. But in your fervor to rob them of one method of oppression, you’re only further entrenching the oppression of the women, and robbing them of opportunities that would otherwise be open with them. You’re basically giving them the choice of renouncing their entire culture or being slaves that can never leave their own homes.

    I’m not all that familiar with France, but when I heard about the veil being banned in schools the first impression was that it’s a culture war against Muslims (as opposed to trying to liberate the women). I’ve seen no solid justification to make it anything other than that. It’s striking at the other, not making things better for women. It simply means Muslim women won’t be able to get education or be exposed to differing viewpoints, no different in practice than the chilling effect from throwing acid in girls’ faces if they dare go to school.

  10. Paul says:

    Quite should end after the first paragraph. My closing tag was ?blockquote…

  11. Kausik Datta says:

    Thank you, Paul. I see now the point that Rorschach and you both made. However, I am afraid I am not convinced yet that yours is the only way to look at it. What if the official sanction against the veil encourages those women to throw off the veil? I don’t know. When you say that from my stance, I am “… basically giving them the choice of renouncing their entire culture or being slaves that can never leave their own homes” – do you realize that it is their (those women’s) culture/tradition/religion that has for so long made slaves out of them? So that the dichotomy that you offer is not a true dichotomy at all?

    The question is: if one wants to oppose an oppressive and demeaning practice like the full-face veil, is there any way to do so without hurting any single individual’s sensibilities, or sense of privacy, or religious fervor?

    Related questions are: does a society, especially a liberal, progressive, forward-looking and open one, have the right to demand some degree of assimilation from its constituents? Can a society demand that its members do not engage in oppressive practices? Can a society set sine qua non norms to be followed before it offers itself as a haven to its constituents?

  12. Paul says:

    do you realize that it is their (those women’s) culture/tradition/religion that has for so long made slaves out of them? So that the dichotomy that you offer is not a true dichotomy at all?

    Yes to the former question, and please don’t think otherwise. But veil bans have the potential to turn them from “slaves that can go outside under certain circumstances with the possibility of learning to recognize the injustices heaped upon them are not universally acceptable” to “slaves completely isolated from the outside world”. It’s something that needs to be addressed. Is it a fair trade-off to win a symbolic victory against the veil if that victory prevents women from being able to attend school or gain access to social services to (over time) help them escape their predicament without being willing/able to go whole hog and ditch their family/culture/religious tenets in a single bound? That was what I was trying to point out in the quoted portion. Banning the veil completely eliminates any middle ground with respect to the socialization and integration of Muslim women in fundamentalist households. Either they’re willing AND able to break completely, or they have no access to outsiders that is not completely filtered by a controlling male.

    The question is: if one wants to oppose an oppressive and demeaning practice like the full-face veil, is there any way to do so without hurting any single individual’s sensibilities, or sense of privacy, or religious fervor?

    Not likely. This is not, of course, an argument against opposing oppressive or demeaning practices, though. People don’t have the right to have sensibilities nor their religious fervor unchallenged (otherwise we’d be allowing honor killings, etc.). A person’s “sense of privacy” isn’t sacrosanct either. But in opposing oppressive/demeaning practices one needs to look at the possible outcomes of one’s tactics. You can oppose the veil without banning wearing it in public. One way to oppose it would be reaching out to the women (through education or empowerment) — but if you ban the veil in public, you lose the ability to reach out to women who are not allowed in public without a veil.

    does a society, especially a liberal, progressive, forward-looking and open one, have the right to demand some degree of assimilation from its constituents?

    Open question. Requiring assimilation in very specific, prescribed fields could easily be argued as a societal good. This is aside from the obvious requirement of one adhering to norms specified in the legal code on pain of imprisonment, of course.

    Can a society demand that its members do not engage in oppressive practices?

    You’re shifting between “does society have the right…” and “can a society…”, between abstract and concrete, so I am not sure how to answer to best address the intent of your questions. Society obviously can demand that members do not engage in oppressive practices (there are laws against intimidation and threatening behavior in many countries, for starters). Whether it is “right” or not depends on how you approach “right” and “wrong”. And this isn’t even opening up the can of worms regarding how one person’s oppressive practice is another person’s cherished purity ritual or religious tenet (with the “oppressed” cherishing them as well, see: “Purity Balls”, “Lutheran churches not allowing women to vote”, etc.)…

    Can a society set sine qua non norms to be followed before it offers itself as a haven to its constituents?

    This is what the legal system is for, ne? Don’t act against our legal norms, or you lose the right to vote and spend some time in jail? I’m not familiar with arguments against the right for society to impose/enforce a legal system. As for certain requirements before offering citizen status, these already exist in most/all countries. It seems well-established that society has the right to impose/enforce certain norms (the US, of course, has restrictions on certain classes that cannot be imposed, due to the Establishment Clause).

  13. Kausik Datta says:

    Your words carry a lot of sense, Paul. Thank you for that detailed reply. My questions may seem juvenile to you, but I am genuinely interested in these issues. One remaining concern that I have is about what you said:

    You can oppose the veil without banning wearing it in public.

    That is fine for an individual, but how does a government ‘oppose’ something – without coming out with a policy that goes one way or the other? And when arguing against the veil ban – note that by ‘veil’, I mean the full-on, completely covering niqab, and not the head-scarf, hijab – how would one address the concern raised about security risk of allowing someone face unseen at certain establishments?

    This is what the legal system is for, ne? Don’t act against our legal norms, or you lose the right to vote and spend some time in jail?

    I think that the area of ‘legal norms’ is too widely open to be an effective answer to my question. For example, if France does make the veil ban into a law, then it does become a part of the ‘legal norms’ of the French society, no? And that is precisely what you have been arguing against, right? I didn’t intend to put my question that way.

    What I meant, instead, by societal ‘norms’ has to do with my concept of the necessity of assimilation. Please allow me to digress in order to provide a bit of background. I come from a country which has long been proud of its assimilation (not in a Borg-like way!) of people from other cultures. In the history of India, many of these people have traveled from Africa, from seafaring parts of Europe, from what is now known as the Middle East, from Central Asia as well as from the Far East. Many of them have come as invaders, many as traders, preachers, refugees and so forth. In time, they have been assimilated into the Indian culture, reflected in the multitude of religions, traditions, culture and customs that you’d find there now.

    This is what my idea of assimilation is. If I go to a new country to live and work in, I don’t want to or have to sacrifice my cultural identity, but I find it important to be a productive and contributing member of the host society, take part in its processes, and follow its laws and regulations, legal norms if you will. Equally important to me is to be able to interact with various members of that society, establish a relationship and work towards a common good.

    Does this sound too unreasonable or puerile? I don’t know. But I have witnessed people from certain cultures/traditions and/or countries doing the exact opposite; I have seen it in parts of North America, as well as in certain parts of the UK. Having come to a new country, they assiduously avoid integrating into the host society; they would not embrace the laws of the new land wholeheartedly, they would refuse to learn the language; they would not interact with people in general, but actively seek out others from their own subculture or sub-tradition, form an insulated cocoon and confine themselves within that. Rather than getting to a new society and getting to know it, they bring a part of their own society with them and use that to build a wall around themselves.

    And please don’t think I am talking about only Muslims (since we started by discussing the veil); many of my own countryfolks, followers of non-Islamic religions and traditions, – as well as those from diverse other countries and cultures – may be considered guilty of the same charge under similar circumstances. Is this too open a generalization (and, therefore, wrong)? No, because there are plenty exceptions – plenty of people who successfully integrate themselves into the new society and work and live a fuller life.

    So when you say:

    Requiring assimilation in very specific, prescribed fields could easily be argued as a societal good.

    I would strike that ‘very specific, prescribed fields’ part. I would say that requiring assimilation is of paramount importance, because a well-assimilated, integrated society functions better with less inequities.

  14. Paul says:

    That is fine for an individual, but how does a government ‘oppose’ something – without coming out with a policy that goes one way or the other?

    What grounds does the government have to oppose the wearing of certain clothing? Why are we presuming it is a government’s place to oppose the wearing of religious symbols?

    how would one address the concern raised about security risk of allowing someone face unseen at certain establishments?

    If this risk is sufficient to base laws on covering one’s face in government buildings, the law should be concerned with anything that covers one’s face, from a Guy Fawkes mask to the niqab.

    And that is precisely what you have been arguing against, right?

    Well, in all honesty at first I did not intend to forward an argument at first. I was clarifying what Rorschach was saying, since it matched my earliest impressions with regards to the French veil ban (so I thought I had some insight as to where he was coming from with his statements, which varied a bit from your impression). To more accurately reflect my own views, I am not against banning certain clothing in principle. For instance, as you mentioned there could be prevailing interest in requiring one’s face be visible in certain venues due to security concerns. My main interest in the veil ban is that even with a mere superficial glance it strikes me as counter-productive. Any law should be reviewed for its suitability in furthering the motive that spawned it, and should be evaluated for possible unintended consequences. And less charitably, it should be evaluated to see if it is being used as a tool to alienate or ostracize a minority, which I am not convinced the veil ban does not do intentionally.

    Does this sound too unreasonable or puerile?

    First, thank for the digression. It helps. I do find part of your idea of assimilation conceptually troubling, though.

    In time, they have been assimilated into the Indian culture, reflected in the multitude of religions, traditions, culture and customs that you’d find there now.

    I do not have a good picture about what you mean by “assimilation into the Indian culture. Your description seems to imply it is Indian culture that has assimilated other religions and traditions, not that immigrants have assimilated into Indian culture. That is, more that Indian culture continuously redefines itself to include immigrants, instead of immigrants changing themselves to fit in with the prevailing culture. I will admit I’m rather culturally sheltered, so perhaps there is some nuance I am missing. But if I have your description right, it’s not on Muslims to alter their beliefs and practices to assimilate to what we find acceptable, the analogue would be our culture expanding to envelop their religions/traditions/culture/customs.

    I have of course experienced people that do not want to assimilate. There are a lot of people in Southern California that make no effort to speak English, and will insult retail employees for not speaking fluent Spanish. There are also of course many subcultural “cocoons” as you describe them. I am just not sure how this substantially differs from your description of India, where people continue with their culture/religion after assimilation. Normally when people talk of immigrants “assimilating” (at least in the US), they generally mean to become the same as natural born people — that is, learn the language, take up the religion, learn to love baseball and apple pie, etc. Definitely not the multicultural assimilation description you mentioned in India.

    Rather than getting to a new society and getting to know it, they bring a part of their own society with them and use that to build a wall around themselves.

    I am not sure this is a fair assumption. Are the situations between immigrants equal? If India was traditionally welcome to immigrants, they could feel welcome to participate in the overarching culture. However, in many other countries insular communities form because the community at large shuns immigrants and treats them poorly. It’s only natural for them to seek protective cocoons. This is not necessarily a shortcoming of the immigrants, or a lack of desire to assimilate as you describe Indian assimilation. But many times the issue of assimilation is framed as leaving behind their culture for that of America. While some would make that choice, some obviously want to hold onto their culture and would be drawn to form insular communities. At least in the US, we don’t generally offer assimilation into a true multicultural community. It’s “apple pie and baseball: love it or leave it”. There is little attempt to make room at the table for varying religions, traditions, cultures and customs. This is not the fault of immigrant communities.

    I would strike that ‘very specific, prescribed fields’ part.

    I would not, but it’s clear that we have rather different working definitions of assimilation. Striking “specific, prescribed fields” in the US would make the claim that it’s a societal good for everyone to head over to the local Protestant church on Sunday.

  15. Kausik Datta says:

    I can’t find any fault with what you’ve written. :D You have correctly gotten the gist of what I meant by assimilation. But you have made me realize that I may need to alter my perception of this situation, and I shall try to do so.

    A part of my thoughts on assimilation comes from an incident, or rather, a spate of incidents that occurred in Australia within the last year. I don’t know if you read about it anywhere, but on several occasions, Indian students were beaten up badly by some Australians. It had raised a huge stink in India, as well as amongst the Indian diaspora in many countries; charges of racism and racially motivated attacks were flying around, and it caused a great deal of outrage in the political circles, as well as in the social media.

    Reaction from the Australian population was generally sympathetic to the plight of the students. However, when I tried to ascertain the situation by asking my friends in Australia, a quite different picture emerged. While some of those attacks were indeed racially motivated, not all of them were apparently unprovoked. The transient Indian student community in Australia, it seems, is not very highly thought of in that country, including amongst Indians who have been residing there for a long time. These young people, mostly men, have a definite stigma associated with them: knowing that they were to be in that country on for a short time, they don’t make any effort to bond with the country or its society, though they make full use of its resources. They are often loud, boorish and insensitive to the people nearby, particularly when drunk. They have the annoying habits of carrying on conversations in their own language even in mixed company, and openly staring at women in the most ungainly manner. And these people, often belonging to rich and privileged families in India, tend to be disrespectful towards everything – for no apparent reason.

    After learning this, I admit I couldn’t feel the same outrage towards those incidents. Am I condoning needless violence and racially-motivated brutality? Absolutely not. Does this mean that everyone of the Indian students in Australia are like that, or even that the students who got beaten up deliberately provoked someone? No. But if a particular community is irresponsible enough to create such an environment of mistrust, is it not natural that occasionally sparks will fly? This, to me, seems the result of a deplorable lack of assimilation.

    While writing the lines above, I realized how uncomfortably close they seem to the reprehensible idea of ‘blaming the victim’. I hope I can get it across that in this particular example, I am not doing so. I am not making excuses for any kind of violence by anyone. But I am also not willing to pull out the race card too quickly. Am I doing it wrong?

  16. Rorschach says:

    Wrt the Indian student business, a totally different topic :

    It turned out when the dust settled that not only had people deliberately framed situations as if there had been a targeted attack on Indians, but also you need to keep in mind that many of the attacked were taxi drivers.And who drives the most taxis in Melbourne? Well, Indians (and Pakistanis) of course.
    So, you have to have that information in mind when judging those attacks.
    That’s not saying that a lot of white australians have quite strong racial prejudices.

  17. Rorschach says:

    don’t have

  18. Kausik Datta says:

    One clarification regarding my post, Rorschach. I was definitely not talking about the Indian subcontinent-origin cab drivers in Australia. Since 2007, over 1500 Indians have been attacked in Australia, according to official figures, but the incidents that I referred to took place around mid-2009 – these incidents involved Indian students, not cab drivers.

  19. Rorschach says:

    these incidents involved Indian students, not cab drivers.

    Again, I’m not trying to defend Australian’s racism, but as with the taxi drivers, lots of people get assaulted around town over the weekend, it’s part of the drug and drinking culture, and some of them will be Indians, since Indians go out at night and have a beer like everyone else does.The point here is “targeted” attacks, and of those there weren’t many, and things were deliberately blown out of proportion in the Indian media, as far as I can tell.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    They have the annoying habits of carrying on conversations in their own language even in mixed company, and openly staring at women in the most ungainly manner.

    I’m rather surprised that you put these two into the same sentence. I don’t assume that everyone is plotting against me, so I don’t see why I should be offended when people talk with each other in my presence in a language I don’t understand.

    (…OK, but then, I’m a nerd. I try to figure out what language it is, and I wait for interesting sounds… :-þ )

  21. Kausik Datta says:

    I don’t assume that everyone is plotting against me, so I don’t see why I should be offended when people talk with each other in my presence in a language I don’t understand.

    Okay. It’s official. You ARE a nerd. As am I.

    But most normal people feel left out and insulted if within a common conversation, suddenly two or more individuals start conversing in a completely unknown language. It is rude to do so, no matter how one looks at it.

    I’m rather surprised that you put these two into the same sentence.

    What exactly surprised you? Heh! I am curious now.

  22. Paul says:

    What exactly surprised you? Heh! I am curious now.

    In David’s opinion, you are putting something at worst neutral (and as he considers it, good as it gives him entertainment in trying to determine the language) with something that is rather universally considered rude. As such, it would make for a very odd sentence.

    My wife has similar sensibilities as you, for what it’s worth. She hates trips to the dentist or doctor, as everyone at the former speaks Vietnamese and the latter Spanish (except when directly addressing her for the purposes of business), and she gets rather peevish when subsets of mixed groups exclude the rest by changing languages. As for me, if someone is not interested in keeping me in a conversation I have no interest in remaining as such. I do get irritated when people start talking about me in another language assuming I do not understand them, but that is somewhat of a different thing.

  23. Kausik Datta says:

    I see. Well, I empathize with your wife. As you know well – a lot of people do feel bemused, irritated and outraged at suddenly being shut out of a common conversation because of the actions of a few. I do consider this particular action unmannerly, rude and even uncouth, perhaps to the same degree as is staring.

    My reaction to such a situation is in between that of David’s and your wife’s, I guess; whenever it has happened with me, I have – rather pointedly – left the conversation and moved away. Also, I practise what I preach, and never engage in speaking in a language which everyone present in the conversation cannot understand.

    May be, my nerd quotient isn’t high enough, or [gasp!] I am what I have been suspecting for some time – an old fuddy duddy! Sigh.

  24. Paul says:

    May be, my nerd quotient isn’t high enough, or [gasp!] I am what I have been suspecting for some time – an old fuddy duddy! Sigh.

    Eh, I’d just say you have a good sense of manners. I don’t disagree that it’s rude to hold a conversation in a language that you are aware present company can’t understand. I’m just too anti-social to really care about it all that much (and I, like you, wouldn’t imagine speaking in a language that would exclude current company, excepting cases where it was, say, an interesting turn of phrase I intended to explain). If company wishes to exclude me, it’s generally a welcome excuse to excuse myself.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    feel left out and insulted if within a common conversation, suddenly two or more individuals start conversing in a completely unknown language

    Ah, that’s something else! Suddenly interrupting a conversation and talking to someone else instead is not nice; I didn’t understand that was what you meant.

    I don’t think language actually matters much in such a situation, though.

  26. Kausik Datta says:

    Enough with the language already! Can we get back to the veil alcohol please?
    Just kidding! Enjoy your weekends.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Can we get back to the veil […] please?

    Yes. Here’s Austria reducing the issue ad absurdum: the westernmost part of Austria wants to forbid the burqa even though nobody there wears it anyway. (In German. No point in translating it. Tragically, not only the xenophobes but also the Greens and the Social Democrats are for this farce, while the conservatives aren’t sure yet.)

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