ONE of the things I like to tell young people is that if they do well at school, they will have more choices in life. Having choices is one of the great privileges in a human being’s life and many of us are working to ensure the greatest number of people have the ability to make the most choices for themselves as they see best.
Hence, for example, we work so that parents have a choice of where they can send their kids to school.
If their choices are limited because of poverty, then we have to address that, by either ensuring that their few options are nevertheless good ones or that they can earn enough to be able to have a wider selection to choose from.
The days are long gone when we did not have choices in our life partners. Nowadays, for better or for worse, we make our own choices.
We choose to better our lives or sometimes we do not, but it is still our choice and we live with the consequences of either one.
We also choose every few years who gets to rule us, and we live with the consequences of that too.
Although we don’t always have to put up with bad choices, we are certainly free to let our choices know that we disapprove of what they say and do. We didn’t hand over our right to have a say once we voted them in.
So choice is really the ultimate privilege and all of us should be working towards a situation where the gap between those who have the most choices and those who have the least is as narrow as possible.
Having a just and equitable society is also a choice. Steering a nation towards such a society, or not, is also a choice for our leaders and it’s amazing how they sometimes fail to exercise that choice, usually by saying that they had no choice.
However, like many things these days, the meaning of the word “choice” can be different to different people. For most of us, it means the freedom to decide something based on an array of options.
If I decide I need to get fitter, I have many different types of exercise regimes I can try and I just have to choose the one that best suits me.
But for some people, the right choice is the one that they, and only they choose, and everyone else’s choice is wrong.
For example, in a country that prides itself on freedom and equality, France is incredibly adamant that some of its female population, specifically Muslims, may not have the choice of what to wear on the beach. And it will actually enforce this limit on choice by law.
Or even against the law, since some mayors have decided to disobey the court order to overturn the ban on burqinis.
Here is a funny situation; normally court orders give you no choice but to obey. Yet here we are with municipal authorities exercising their “choice” to disobey the law.
The ostensible excuse for the burqini ban is apparently security, although how a woman in a figure-hugging swimsuit much like a diving suit may be a security threat is a question nobody wants to answer.
Someone commented that it’s the mindset, not the dress. Well that’s correct, although why would we suppose that every woman who wants to be modestly dressed for the beach is also thinking of bombing some place? And since when has modesty been a crime?
The sexism in this ban is so obvious. Any man can go to the beach in an outfit that would betray nothing about him, yet statistically he is just as capable, if not more so, of endangering others.
How can you tell what’s in his head when he’s lying there in surf shorts like anyone else? Or is the next step simply banning any Muslim from Europe’s beaches?
At home we may protest these bans by calling out the hypocrisy of countries that purport to uphold Uhuman rights. But we are no better at choice either.
We too believe that the best choice is what we think it is and not what an individual thinks is best for him or her. So if a woman makes the choice to put on the tudung, she is applauded. But if she makes the choice to take it off, hell on earth descends.
It seems there is no greater betrayal than by people who make their own choices in life, rather than bending to the choice of the self-righteous masses.
Worse still if they actually dare to be happy afterwards. And heaven forbid if it’s women exercising their right to choice!
Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. The views expressed here are entirely her own.