France Unveils A Darker Side

Anti-Muslim and anti-women, or pro-freedom and pro-women? Or indeed, anti-Muslim and pro-women, or (here’s a combo) pro-freedom and anti-women?

It’s hard to take sides on this unusually crucial issue of French couture. I am against people hiding their faces in public, whether they choose to or are forced. I’m against Islam – and indeed religion in general.

But I am in favour of the freedom to practise whatever religion you choose, no matter how strongly I disagree with that choice, as long as you do no harm to anyone else. And I can’t really accept that hiding your face in public is harmful to others. Rude certainly, but France isn’t introducing any law against rudeness.

I will have no truck with When-in-Rome arguments. In this Rome, they do religious freedom. Or did. And it is a matter of religious freedom. There is no point claiming that the veil is not a genuinely Muslim practice. Are you really going to say to someone “Your religion is not what you think it is”? Your beliefs are what you believe they are, I think.

Does the veil oppress women? Certainly if someone is forcing a woman to veil herself that is oppression, but there is no need for a law against forcing people to do one specific thing. Indeed, it’s a very poor precedent – do we need separate laws for everything you can’t force people to do? And if she chooses it herself, then this law is oppressing her. In practice there will be winners and losers. While some may seize on this as an opportunity to unveil, it will make others prisoners in their homes. No one can say that the net effect will be liberating.

When it comes down to it, the real motivation for this law is discomfort. France is uneasy with the number of Muslims who live there, but is willing to tolerate them – as long as they aren’t too blatant about it. So they ban the practice of a small minority, basically because it’s highly visible. A country has a right to outlaw things it considers foreign to its way of life I suppose. But rather than protecting France’s revolutionary ideals, this betrays them.

Live from the Death

Gaddafi's Enemy CartoonMuammar Gaddafi delivering his address to the people of Libya. It is like watching someone die live on television. I think that this may be the longest living (prehumous?) obituary ever.

He is proudly in favour of what the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square. He thinks that he is the victim of a conspiracy between bearded Islamists and the United States – a refreshingly idiosyncratic position. The protesters are cockroaches on pills. He will execute those who commit crimes against the army.

He genuinely believes that he is protecting and saving his people – believes this so strongly that he is willing to pay out of his own pocket for mercenaries to machine-gun them.

Douglas Adams was right it seems. Evil will read you its poetry.

Tiananmen II?

It says "Thank You, Facebook"

Well it looks like my worst fears didn’t materialize. Things seem… hopeful in Egypt, though I’m almost superstitiously scared of using that word. Hope is after all a game we play with ourselves, almost a form of masochism. Is it crazy of me to see Tahrir Square as Tiananmen 2 – This Time, The Good Guys Win? Even to find, in that crushing of protesters beneath a government truck, a weird reversal of the “Tank Man” incident?

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy.

But our future is being created now, in the streets of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria. There’s a choice to be made between the explosive pressures of repression and the release of revolution, and that choice is not ours. About the best we can do is cheer from the sidelines.

But that is not nothing. I’m remembering the role that the Internet has played in this uprising and other struggles like it. One telling event: China has blocked web searches for “Egypt”. Meanwhile our governments move ever closer to a policed, regulated Internet just like they have in these fantastic countries. What can we do about this? Resist, through every legal means.

Today I came across one simple way that everyone can adopt.

Do you get paranoid about the way Google, Microsoft and other search providers record all your searches, creating a frighteningly accurate portrait of your inner life? Well I bet you do now. And not just the terms you used but the sites you chose to visit from the search results, all tied to your computer’s Internet (IP) address – or if you have say a Google account, directly to your name. It’s creepy that it can be used to target advertising at you. What’s worse though is that if some authority like the US Department of Justice happens to want to know about you, Google et al. are quite happy to hand it over. It’s their government after all. Not such a worry for you and me – perhaps. Somewhat more of a concern to a political dissident under a regime that the US might be backing.

What can you do? You can use something like Startingpage. Essentially, this does a Google search for you. It gives you the same results, but as far as Google can tell it was Startingpage that requested them, not you.

Even better though, you can then go to the websites in the results using an “anonymizing proxy”, which hides your address not just from Google but also the site you visit. And if you want to be über-paranoid you can do it all over a secure Internet connection (https), the same as you’d use when making a credit card transaction, so even a third party eavesdropping on your connection can’t tell where you’re going.

There are other similar services available, but I was impressed by how easy Startingpage is. You simply select it as your search engine, the same way as you’d choose between Google, Bing or Yahoo. It works with all the best-known browsers (except the Windows version of Safari for some reason, but who uses that?), and you can search from the address bar in Firefox with it too. It seems to be just as fast as Google, though there is a slight delay if you use the encrypted version. I’m using it for all searching now, and I can strongly recommend it. Such a service is of enormous value to criminals, perverts, terrorists and anyone else who wants to remain free.