Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fundamentalism and honesty

ABC News has the AP article by Ian Deitch that tells this story impartially, but I think the headline of the Volokh Conspiracy (Washington Post) opinion piece by Eugene Volokh says it all: "Orthodox Israeli newspaper edits Angela Merkel out of photo of the Paris march". The reason? "Within the insular ultra-Orthodox community, pictures of women are rarely shown in newspapers and magazines due to modesty concerns."

As Volokh observes:

When worry about modesty and unduly inflaming the passions of men makes it impossible for you to honestly display a historic political event, that seems to me a sign that those worries occupy far too central a place in your mind.
Even Orthodox Jews are embarrassed. From the AP piece:
Shmuel Pappenhym, an ultra-Orthodox commentator and educator, said that while the community must preserve its values, the newspaper had gone too far.

"''The Hamevaser [sic] newspaper does a thing like this, tomorrow it appears in Germany, it appears all over Europe, the rest of the world. It mocks the Jewish Orthodox community. It makes us look narrow minded. It makes us look obtuse," he said.

This incident also raises the question: did the accompanying HaMevasar (as the New York Times spells the newspaper's name) article mention Merkel or any of the other female politicians and leaders at the rally? If it didn't, that would be much, much worse. Since the photo cropping has been widely mocked in the Israeli press, I assume a similar dishonesty in the article would have been noticed by now, though, so at least readers weren't totally bamboozled.

I would ask the editors: why bother running the photo in the first place if you object to the reality it depicts?

"Rama Burshtein, an ultra-Orthodox filmmaker", had this to say about the photo:

“It’s very, very, very, very, very hard for a nonreligious person to understand the purity of eyes,” Ms. Burshtein said. “By us, men don’t look at women’s photos, period. As long as you don’t know that, then it sounds ridiculous, or changing history or events. But we’re not here to get the events the way they are. We are here to keep the eyes.”
"We're not here to get the events the way they are." Does that send a chill down anyone else's spine?

You cannot call what you publish a newspaper if you cannot publish something as basic as an unedited picture of men and women engaged in a solemn, peaceful march against murderous fanaticism. What you are creating instead is a manufactured reality which diverges from the real world in ways whose consequences you cannot foresee.

That's the trouble with any fundamentalism: it denies the world as it is. I understand the impulse: much of the world is ugly and the ugliness drives people to be (more) ugly. The fundamentalist seeks either to change the world by whatever means necessary (e.g., the Charlie Hebdo murderers) or to cut himself off from the ugliness (the Amish, the ultra-Orthodox Jews). If, however, you cut yourself off, you run a serious risk that when it comes time to engage with the world, you will not understand it as it is. And your interactions with the outside world will be fraught with peril because, say, you've never seen a woman as head of state and can't conceive of it.

There is something unhealthy about your religion if a photograph of a woman in modest street clothing — a respected world leader, for heaven's sake! — is considered provocative. Your religion is turning something that should be (and, for the rest of us, is) quite ordinary into something titillating. That is what turns young men into ticking bombs of frustration.

There are many things to forbid in this world, but a picture of a soberly-dressed middle-aged woman participating in a march against fanaticism isn't one of them. Forbidding that picture is simply dishonest.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of the photo by Pete Sousa, "The Situation Room" back in May 2011, and how some newspapers edited out the women on religious grounds. (Wikipedia has a page on it, The Situation Room -- photograph) . I agree with your commentary.