It’s time for Steve Jobs to go with his dignity intact

Jobs should go in order to save his own health – and bring clarity and consistency to Apple’s leader

Iconic, turtle-neck-sweater-wearing genius or customer-service-shy megalomaniac, depending on your point of view: Steve Jobs is unwell again.

Jobs, a pancreatic cancer survivor who's been accused of lying repeatedly about the state of his health so as not to frighten the stock market, emailed staff on the weekend to say he's taking another leave of absence:

Team,

At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company.

I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for all of Apple's day-to-day operations. I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011.

I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.

Steve

He just happened to announce the news when US stock markets were closed for Martin Luther King Day. For all his superpowers he couldn't stop the markets reacting when they reopened after the holiday, though: shares lost $9.64 in the next two days, wiping almost $9bn from the firm's market capitalisation.

This is the third leave Jobs has been forced to take since 2004, but last time he said from the outset he would be out of action for only six months. In his latest letter to staff, he simply says he hopes to be back as soon as he can. That choice of words has clearly worried the markets and some analysts, too. Peter Misek, analyst at Jefferies, wrote:

Length of leave unknown. Reason unknown, but the wording of this leave is different and therefore implies a more unknown tenure to his departure. This could be extended.

But it should be extended indefinitely. Jobs is clearly still struggling with health issues and remaining CEO of the phenomenon that Apple has become cannot be helping. What's more, his chief operating officer Tim Cook has shown himself more than capable of being the next leader, having covered for Jobs before, even if he may lack some of Jobs's charisma on stage.

It's clear that when Jobs does eventually abdicate his throne, the company will lose many billions of dollars from its market capitalisation, not to mention an innovative, inspiring and passionate leader. But he can't hang on for ever, and there have been signs of late that he's not firing on all cylinders.

There was the PR gaffe over what became known as Antennagate. When customers complained that the iPhone 4 was dropping calls Jobs initially denied there was a problem, then accepted there was a problem but said it was one that affects other smartphones (a claim largely refuted by analysts and customers of those phones), and finally had to offer free "bumper cases" that helped mitigate the issue.

Then there was his bizarre and wholly unnecessary attack on the Google Android operating system and tablet computers that rival the Apple iPad. That came on an earnings call that should have been positive rather than snide, as the firm had once again announced record results. Speaking about the operating system, Jobs said:

Twitter client [TweetDeck] recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge.

To which the CEO of TweetDeck fired back via Twitter: "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't."

More muddled thinking came in Jobs's attack on tablet computers that rival Apple's iPad when he said of seven-inch tablets (three inches smaller than the iPad):

It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of the present size. Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them.

That must have come as a surprise to Apple's iPhone users: they have been tapping, flicking and pinching elements on a screen half the size of the iPad for years.

There have also been embarrassing email exchanges between Jobs, customers and bloggers.

But he shouldn't go for any of these reasons. Indeed, they are minor failings when pitted against his inarguable achievements: Apple has become the largest company in tech by market cap, it sold three million iPads in the first 80 days after the product went on sale . . . the list of milestones goes on. There's not much more Jobs can possibly have to prove.

He should go in order to save his own health, and to bring clarity and consistency to Apple's leadership. If not for himself, then for Apple's employees. As he wrote in a letter to staff in January 2009:

Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well.

So go on, Your Steveness, call it a day.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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Angela Merkel's call for a burqa ban sets a disturbing precedent

The German chancellor's plan for a partial ban of the full-face veil is a clearly political move, which will do more to harm those women who wear it than protect them.

 

In these febrile times, women’s freedom and autonomy has become a bargaining chip in the poker game of public propaganda — and that goes double for brown, Muslim and migrant women. Angela Merkel should know as well as any other female politician how demeaning it is to be treated as if what you wear is more important than what you say and what you do. With the far-right on the rise across Europe, however, the German chancellor has become the latest lawmaker to call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab.

We are told that this perennial political football is being kicked about in the name of liberating women. It can have nothing to do, of course, with the fact that popular opinion is lurching wildly to the right in western democracies, there’s an election in Germany next year, and Merkel is seen as being too soft on migration after her decision to allow a million Syrian refugees to enter the country last year. She is also somehow blamed for the mob attacks on women in Cologne, which have become a symbol of the threat that immigration poses to white women and, by extension, to white masculinity in Europe. Rape and abuse perpetrated by white Europeans, of course, is not considered a matter for urgent political intervention — nor could it be counted on to win back voters who have turned from Merkel's party to the far-right AFD, which wants to see a national debate on abortion rights and women restricted to their rightful role as mothers and homemakers.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a moment, imposing state restrictions on what women may and may not wear in public has not, historically, been a great foundation for feminist liberation. The move is symbolic, not practical. In Britain, where the ban is also being proposed by Ukip the services that actually protect women from domestic violence have been slashed over the past six years — the charity Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the UK, has seen a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts since 2011.

It’s worth noting that even in western countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, the number of women who wear full burqa is vanishingly small. If those women are victims of coercion or domestic violence, banning the burqa in public will not do a thing to make them safer — if anything, it will reduce their ability to leave their homes, isolating them further.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the UK. Hate crimes nationally shot up by 42% in the two weeks following the vote on 23 June. Hate crimes against Muslim women increased by over 300%, with visibly Muslim women experiencing 46% of all hate incidents. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become so common that self-defense videos are being shared online, showing women how to deflect the “hijab grab”. In this context, it is absurd to claim that politicians proposing a burqa ban care about protecting women: the move is transparently designed to placate the very people who are making Muslim women feel unsafe in their own communities.

When politicians talk about banning the burqa, the public hears an attack on all Islamic headscarves — not everyone knows the difference between the hijab, the niqab and the burqa, and not everyone cares. The important thing is that seeing women dressed that way makes some people feel uncomfortable, and desperate politicians are casting about for ways to validate that discomfort.

Women who actually wear the burqa are not invited to speak about their experiences or state their preferences in this debate. On this point, Islamic fundamentalists and panicked western conservatives are in absolute agreement: Muslim women are provocative and deserve to be treated as a threat to masculine pride. They should shut up and let other people decide what’s best for them.

I know Muslim women who regard even the simple hijab as an object of oppression and have sworn never to wear one again. I also know Muslim women who wear headscarves every day as a statement both of faith and of political defiance. There is no neutral fashion option for a woman of Islamic faith — either way, men in positions of power will feel entitled to judge, shame and threaten. Either choice risks provoking anger and violence from someone with an opinion about what your outfit means for them. The important thing is the autonomy that comes with still having a choice.

A law which treats women like children who cannot be trusted to make basic decisions about their bodies and clothing is a sexist law; a law that singles out religious minorities and women of colour as especially unworthy of autonomy is a racist, sexist law. Instituting racist, sexist laws is a good way to win back the votes of racist, sexist people, but, again, a dreadful way of protecting women. In practice, a burqa ban, even the partial version proposed by Merkel which will most likely be hard to enforce under German constitutional law, will directly impact only a few thousand people in the west. Those people are women of colour, many of them immigrants or foreigners, people whose actual lives are already of minimal importance to the state except on an abstract, symbolic level, as the embodiment of a notional threat to white Christian patriarchy. Many believe that France's longstanding burqa ban has increased racial tensions — encapsulated by the image earlier this year of French police surrounding a woman who was just trying to relax with her family on the beach in a burkini. There's definitely male violence at play here, but a different kind — a kind that cannot be mined for political capital, because it comes from the heart of the state.

This has been the case for centuries: long before the US government used the term“Operation Enduring Freedom” to describe the war in Afghanistan, western politicians used the symbolism of the veil to recast the repeated invasion of Middle Eastern nations as a project of feminist liberation. The same colonists who justified the British takeover of Islamic countries abroad were active in the fight to suppress women’s suffrage at home. This is not about freeing women, but about soothing and coddling men’s feelings about women.

The security argument is even more farcical: border guards are already able to strip people of their clothes, underwear and dignity if they get the urge. If a state truly believes that facial coverings are some sort of security threat, it should start by banning beards, but let's be serious, masculinity is fragile enough as it is. If it were less so, we wouldn't have politicians panicking over how to placate the millions of people who view the clothing choices of minority and migrant women as an active identity threat.

Many decent, tolerant people, including feminists, are torn on the issue of the burqa: of course we don't want the state to start policing what women can and can't wear, but isn't the burqa oppressive? Maybe so, but I was not aware of feminism as a movement that demands that all oppressive clothing be subject to police confiscation, unless the Met’s evidence lockers are full of stilettos, girdles and push-up bras. In case you're wondering, yes, I do feel uncomfortable on the rare occasions when I have seen people wearing the full face veil in public. I've spent enough time living with goths and hippies that I've a high tolerance for ersatz fashion choices — but do wonder what their home lives are like and whether they are happy and safe, and that makes me feel anxious. Banning the burqa might make me feel less anxious. It would not, however, improve the lives of the women who actually wear it. That is what matters. My personal feelings as a white woman about how Muslim women choose to dress are, in fact, staggeringly unimportant.

If you think the Burqa is oppressive and offensive, you are perfectly entitled never to wear one. You are not, however, entitled to make that decision for anyone else. Exactly the same principle applies in the interminable battle over women's basic reproductive choices: many people believe that abortion is wrong, sinful and damaging to women. That's okay. I suggest they never have an abortion. What's not okay is taking away that autonomy from others as a cheap ploy for good press coverage in the runup to an election.

This debate has been dragging on for decades, but there's a new urgency to it now, a new danger: we are now in a political climate where the elected leaders of major nations are talking about registries for Muslims and other minorities. Instituting a symbolic ban on religious dress, however extreme, sets a precedent. What comes next? Are we going to ban every form of Islamic headdress? What about the yarmulke, the tichel, the Sikh turban, the rainbow flag? If this is about community cohesion, what will it take to make white conservatives feel “comfortable”? Where does it stop? Whose freedoms are politicians prepared to sacrifice as a sop to a populace made bitter and unpredictable by 30 years of neoliberal incompetence? Where do we draw the line?

We draw it right here, between the state and the autonomy of women, particularly minority and migrant women who are already facing harassment in unprecedented numbers. Whatever you feel about the burqa, it is not the role of government to police what women wear, and doing it has nothing to do with protection. It is chauvinist, it is repressive, it is a deeply disturbing precedent, and it has no place in our public conversation.

 
 
 
 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.