Not just to consume. 7 lose points on security, obscurity, and authenticity

Here are seven lose thoughts on security, obscurity, and authenticity and how such properties would be relevant on individual, societal, and systemic levels. The following is delivered in raw, unpolished format with gaps that might resist simple consumption. May the gaps be anchor points for further analysis.

 

“Hijab is not just about modesty… its not just about my body… I talk about Hijab as a spiritual practice, just like someone who takes meditation as a spiritual practice … Everyday I wake up and I put my Hijab on and I recognize myself as much more than just a body for anybody to consume…. We live in a consumerist society where our bodies literally can be bought and sold. Especially in the beauty-industrial-complex, women are made to feel like they need to have all these products that companies sell to us. And I am like: No, I am gonna put this Hijab on, as an act of resistance to that. This is my own personal revolution. I am beautiful as I am and I am not just a body, but also a mind, a heart, and a soul, that is ineffable that lives inside of me and is beautiful, and pure, and perfect just the way it is. And so I wake up every morning and I put my Hijab on in recognition of that truth that I am so much more than just a body. This body is not just for anybody to consume. This is for me to do what I want with. And I respect the choice of every women to do what she wants to do with her own body too. For me this just happens to be what makes me happy, the way I express myself as a soul, and this happens to be a very powerful tool for me as a spiritual being, and expressing my spirituality, elevating my conciousness and opening myself up to those unseen levels in this world.”
Mona Haydar in “Hijab as a Spiritual Practice”

 

1. When I look around here in Pune, India there are many IT-Parks: areas of a city reserved for companies who allocated parts of their Information Technology work to a low-cost country, not only due to low cost but also due to easier and more numerous access to skilled work forces. One of those IT parks calls itself “free zone” and describes itself as “free market democracy”. Democracy in a box, so to say, protected from outside forces. In order to enter, you need an invite and an access card. It is an amazing real estate project. On the surface it is indistinguishable from what you can see in for example the United States or in Frankfurt. The more one experiences a place, the more differences become apparent. Even though global capitalism is rolled out with its uniform architecture of high towers, glass walls, steel, chrome, concrete, etc. things feel different once the “host culture” lays over. This is what actually shapes a place: The movements and actions of people, cars, things, stray dogs, sounds, rhythms, daily practices. Globalisation is not a uniform thing. Even though it might have a uniform strategy, it has its local flavors, its legacy surroundings of a local tradition. The people’s tactics inhabit these places and make them unique, not so much dependent on the ruling ideology.

There are two perspectives one can take for this:

  • Focus on principles: No matter what local flavor of global capitalism we have, they all follow the same logic of exploitation, of sucking the energy out of workers and embed them into a web of activities, that is hard to escape from and that creates asymmetries between those who exploit and those who are exploited.
  • Focus on details: No matter what the global capitalism tries to achieve on a strategic level, what escapes the “global eye” is what happens between the lines. Subversion of order, colleagues helping each other out, making friends, utilizing the infrastructure for private purposes, practicing distance to the system without leaving it totally.

2. Following the second perspective of 1: There are many forms of distancing from within a system, without going into total opposition. This is what Michel de Certeau was interested in his analysis of 16th and 17th century mystics and of the everyday walking in a city.

3. Is this what frightens contemporary politics when they see women or girls in a Hijab? Would it undermine some of the strategic goals of capitalism for hooking into people’s desires, and in turn promising immediate fulfillment? I would rather argue that capitalism is indifferent to these special needs, or even more: Capitalism shaped these differences as customer segments, that all have their special needs and products.

On another note, the advancement of capitalism globally caused (amongst other factors) waves of migration, either because of lack of (economic) perspectives, or because of exporting private structures globally and utilizing local conditions in one’s private favor, a strategy that attracts expatriates, sent from those private corporations. This led to a situation where local habitats are getting out of it’s balance, and whatever the locals thought they had long solved or never faced as a problem, appears suddenly. They thought that lots of sacrifice kept “all these problems” outside of their sight. And now with the migration, they are about to get all this problems that they considered archaic. They don’t want to have anything to do with it.

4. After the diagnosis from 3. locals tend to vote for closure, for creating some measures that try to leave those influences outside. It is an attempt to generate security from conceptually inconsistent “walls”. Their strategy is similar to those of muslim women that put a hijab on for the reason of protection from outside influences (of course it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy for those women who gain confidence and hence are able to help themselves in case of an assault). What Mona Haydar describes in the quote at the top of this post on her individual level, the locals of western countries try to do on the level of society: “We don’t want to be available for consumers who are just passing by. We have some honor and we are not just giving away ourselves like this. This place is not just for anybody to consume.” And of course, exactly this closure induces more attention.

Similarly, old-fashioned protections against port-scans in IT security were to configure the firewall in a way to make it look closed. Of course, that is one measure, but if there is actually a software running behind these ports, sooner or later it will come out. Hence the expert advise is:

“Here’s a tip – stop making security a matter of whether the attacker knows you’re there and start making it a matter of whether or not they can get in anyway.”

“Worrying about your box responding to port scans seems, to me, to be missing the point.

In other words: Window dressing and will not help to improve security and stability of a system in the long term.

5. “Do something, and do it well”. Are such proverbs working for whole societies? This would be in favor of those who want a uniform culture, where compromises are rather something that makes a society less distinct, and enhancements of this culture are to be avoided as much as possible.

Why would we deny access on a society level? Only if it threatens the country’s stability and integrity, I would say.

When I enter a theatre and start taking telephone calls or talking about something with my neighbo, the integrity of the theatre is in danger and loses its purpose. So I would rather restrict this from happening, instead of someone destroying the performance with some trivial chatter. It took the actors month to prepare, so I would ask people to show some respect.

This kind of holiness, if I may use the word, is somehow understandable. Forbidding anyone to watch the show would however not be a sensible measure.

6. Security controls by hiding or obscuring something are not too effective. This is a view also shared by the American-Egypt journalist Mona Eltahaway  who used to wear a Hijab with the idea that it would protect her from sexual assaults. Even on her pilgrimage to Mekka, the hijab did not help to protect her. Moreover, she finds the superelevation of the Hijab as a radical practice not helpful. It actually restricts some women who decide to wear it, when they get a false feeling of security. She wants to open up the idea that a muslim women must wear a Hijab as part of her identity:

“While I would defend hijab-wearing women against any act of violence, there is an idea that in order to support Muslim women against this violencce, the hijab must be held up as a revolutionary, radical thing – and I reject this idea wholeheartedly. I reject what the hijab represents, which is the modesty culture, which is an unfair burden on girls and women. Part of the reason I go around the world, I looking the way I do, is my way of saying – this too is a Muslim woman. With tank tops and tattoos and red hair.”
– Mona Eltahaway in TheWire.in: “I complicate the Image of Muslim Women

7. The integrity of society is a complex topic. A society consists of different groups of people. The promise of a fully consistent culture is not achievable. There are always contradictory elements, not just betwen “us” and “them” but even amongst ourselves. Total consistency is an illusion as long as we are alive. There is continously something coming, going, conflicting, transgressing, lacking. A surplus that cannot be assigned to the ideal of ourselves. This does not mean that we have to allow everything, and that everything goes. Security by obscurity does not help, neither in IT (hiding vulnerable applications), nor on individual level (covering one’s hair in order to get a god-given protection), nor on society level (closed borders). However on all levels, not many things work without trust and authentication. Most systems offer visitors some, but not all rights, unless they register as someone trustworthy. Well, one might argue, the Hijab is doing the same. It offers people who pass by a message: “There is something and you are not going to see it”. Yet, it is up to the passerbys what to do with this offer. And also societies might grant initially only basic rights to immigrants, that over time extend, when they proof trustworthy, and willing to contribute.

On multiple levels, we are witnessing a resistance to consume, at least of being consumed.