Americans behind bars

Seven tenths of a percent of America is behind bars. That doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, that is actually more than 2 million people. And get this: prisoners in China are only .118 percent of the total population, while Brazil locks up only .183 percent of its citizens. The data comes from the International Centre for Prison Studies via the BBC’s in depth report on prison life. Here is the full chart

 Total Prison Pop. % of the total population Jail occupancy level % Women Prisoners % 
 China1,548,498 .118 N/A4.6
 Russia828,900 .58179.56.4
 Brazil336,358 .183182.73.3
 India322,357 .031*140.23.2
 Mexico201,931 .191125.65.0
 South Africa156,175 .344164.12.2
England/Wales 76,678 .143108.95.8
 Japan76,413 .060*105.95.9

 *the zero was missing when we initially posted this


Danish Muslim Controversy 2.0

Asmaa Abdol-HamidAsmaa Abdol-Hamid, a young Muslim female Dane, co-hosts a Danish TV show with Adam Holm, a prominent atheist. The show was created to facilitate dialogue in the wake of the cartoon furor. But it's created a controversy of its own, because Hamid wears a headscarf.

A feminist group, Women for Freedom Association is protesting the show, because it finds the headscarf offensive. "The choice of Asmsa Abdol-Hamid [...] is an insult to both Danish and Muslim women," said Vibeke Manniche, the group's head, who is petitioning to have the show cancelled.

I’ve always had a hard time figuring out where I stand on the headscarf debate, but I may have come to something similar to a conclusion. On the one hand, the headscarf does remind me of the forced submission and oppression of women under the diktats of (usually male) religious zealots. On the other, I find it offensive that an individual should not be allowed to cover whichever parts of her body she wants, even at school. Similarly, I just don’t buy the “all religion is private” business. Hamid has the right to wear whatever she wants, and women's groups have the right to criticize her on the grounds that she’s not exactly setting the boldest example for oppressed women in Islamic societies.

That said, I find it wrongheaded of those groups to fight the imposition of something on women with yet another imposition on what this particular woman can or cannot wear. Are you really going to empower Muslim women by prohibiting them to wear the headscarf? While Hamid would probably help oppressed women everywhere by showing that she can take off the veil on TV, she is certainly representing Muslim women to both sides of the debate much better with the veil rather than without. And finally, wouldn’t it be more intelligent – if not useful – of women's groups to criticize the producers of the show – rather than Hamid – for not choosing someone like Irshad Manji, rather than Hamid?

In general, I think debates over headscarves are one of the least productive fights to pick for those (like me) who want secular societies where religion is fully accepted but religious practices that violate human rights are illegal and condemned. Let’s put it this way: why is all of the energy poured in headscarf debates not directed in fighting female genital mutilation instead? And yes, I know Americans have discovered these things already. But who’s going to tell our Danish friends?