Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Human Rights

So we invaded Iraq and killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and over a thousand of our citizens because (so the current story goes) Sadam was such a bad man -- and I agree, BTW, that he was a really bad man. But here's the thing: bad people are everywhere. I'm thinking we could have found better uses for all that money and effort, not to mention all those lives. I'm thinking there are better ways to mend the world.

Nicholas Kristof has a column in the NY Times today about a woman sentanced to be gang-raped in Pakistan -- under the insane justice system there -- who, instead of either doing the "right" thing by custom or seeking some sort of revenge, seeks instead to better the world.

Read on:

From : Sentenced to Be Raped


.....Usually we journalists write about rogues, but Mukhtaran Bibi could not be more altruistic or brave, as the men who gang-raped her discovered. I firmly believe that the central moral challenge of this century, equivalent to the struggles against slavery in the 19th century or against totalitarianism in the 20th, will be to address sex inequality in the third world - and it's the stories of women like Ms. Mukhtaran that convince me this is so.

....instead of killing herself, Ms. Mukhtaran testified against her attackers and propounded the shocking idea that the shame lies in raping, rather than in being raped. The rapists are now on death row, and President Pervez Musharraf presented Ms. Mukhtaran with the equivalent of $8,300 and ordered round-the-clock police protection for her.

Ms. Mukhtaran, who had never gone to school herself, used the money to build one school in the village for girls and another for boys - because, she said, education is the best way to achieve social change. The girls' school is named for her, and she is now studying in its fourth-grade class.

"Why should I have spent the money on myself?" she asked, adding, "This way the money is helping all the girls, all the children."

I wish the story ended there. But the Pakistani government has neglected its pledge to pay the schools' operating expenses. "The government made lots of promises, but it hasn't done much," Ms. Mukhtaran said bluntly.

She has had to buy food for the police who protect her, as well as pay some school expenses. So, she said, "I've run out of money." Unless the schools can raise new funds, they may have to close.

Meanwhile, villagers say that relatives of the rapists are waiting for the police to leave and then will put Ms. Mukhtaran in her place by slaughtering her and her entire family. I walked to the area where the high-status tribesmen live. They denied planning to kill Ms. Mukhtaran, but were unapologetic about her rape.

"Mukhtaran is totally disgraced," Taj Bibi, a matriarch in a high-status family, said with satisfaction. "She has no respect in society."

So although I did not find Osama, I did encounter a much more ubiquitous form of evil and terror: a culture, stretching across about half the globe, that chews up women and spits them out.

We in the West could help chip away at that oppression, with health and literacy programs and by simply speaking out against it, just as we once stood up against slavery and totalitarianism. But instead of standing beside fighters like Ms. Mukhtaran, we're still sitting on the fence.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

You Think You're So Great?

Or, You don't like abortions? Don't have one!

This is more about Jen Schroder and the other folk on the Religious Right – the Theists I’m opposed to – and it’s in response to a comment that was wondering why I see myself as any different than Schroder. Do I not oppose her, just as she opposes me? Do I not want to eliminate her and her kind, just as she would like to eradicate me and mine? True, I am willing to allow her to exist, because I have this vision of America as a place where diversity should exist, but does that actually make me any different than her, given than I really would eliminate her if I could?

First off, I would not eliminate her if I could. I do think she’s wrong. I do think her belief system is dangerous and insane. I will defend to the death her right to practice it. <-- This is what true diversity is about: the right to practice divergent ways of believing and behaving, even ones I don’t like. (Yes, and even ones Jen Schroder doesn’t like.)

Second, defending her right to practice her belief system does not preclude my right to criticize her belief system. (Not to mention deride and mock her belief system.) How do we handle divergent ideas in a free society? We do it with speech. We don’t (or shouldn’t) shoot each other, burn down one another’s houses, whap each other: instead, we evaluate one another’s ideas with words and reason. I do have to tolerate her belief system; I don’t have to approve of it. If I think her belief system is wrong and dangerous, I can say so. I can say why. I can try to persuade other people that it is dangerous and wrong and that they should not adhere to it.

What I can’t do (or ought not to do ) is eliminate other people’s access to it – by, say, passing laws that make this belief system illegal; or by passing laws that make certain aspects of practicing this belief system illegal; or by intimidating publishers so that they publish only those aspects of our history that are acceptable to a given belief system among us.

Jen Schroder is different from me because while I will tolerate and accept the existence of belief systems that are at variance from mine, she will not. She’s over there protesting at the school board because the school has the nerve to teach children about gods that aren’t Christian gods. She’s burning Harry Potter in her back yard. She and her team, the Theists, do not want a multicultural America, and they never have.

They’ve got a really good reason for not wanting one. They think their vision, of One America, under One God, is the One Right way to live. They really believe that, and they honestly think it’s the right answer. I have no doubt of that. It’s Planet Theism they’re after; where everyone is White and Christian; where every family has two parents, a father who works and a mother who stays home and wears a dress and submits cheerfully to her husband’s authority; where everyone agrees about everything and we all have the same answers all the time.

That’s their worldview. It’s not the answer I like, or the way I think this country should go. I’m in favor of multiple answers, multiple ways. That’s the sort of country we have going here – or have had going here – and that’s the sort of country I’d like to keep.

Monday, September 27, 2004

So Charles Colson argues here (, with Anne Morse apparently helping him spell the hard words, that we should curtail American freedom, because if we don’t, the terrorists win.

Colson says, in part,

Radical Islamists were surely watching in July when the Senate voted on procedural grounds to do away with the Federal Marriage Amendment. This is like handing moral weapons of mass destruction to those who use America's decadence to recruit more snipers and hijackers and suicide bombers.
One vital goal of the war in Iraq, and the war against terrorism, is to bring democracy to the heart of the Islamic world. Our hope is to make freedom so attractive that other Muslim countries will follow suit. But when radical Islamists ….see news coverage of same-sex couples being "married" in U.S. towns, we make our kind of freedom abhorrent—the kind they see as a blot on Allah's creation.
Preserving traditional marriage in order to protect children is a crucially important goal by itself. But it's also about protecting the United States from those who would use our depravity to destroy us.

Colson misses the point. This is the “destroy the village in order to save it” argument. What is important about this country is that we have freedom to live in different ways, which not every single one of us will necessarily approve of. See, if you destroy that important bit of America, Mr. Colson, then what you actually “save” isn’t America, but some other country I’m not terribly interested in preserving.

Which I do realize is the point: these guys don’t actually want to preserve the real America, but a theocracy they’re planning to build after they wreck the really good country we had going here for awhile.

To quote a little Steve Earle now…

People tell me that I’m paranoid
And I admit I’m gettin’ pretty nervous, boy
It just gets tougher every day
To sit around and watch it while it slips away
Been called a traitor and a patriot
Call me anything you want to but
Just don’t forget your history...
From “F the CC”

More Thoughts on Theism

So here’s Jen Schroder, pinched from World o’ Crap(, one of the Theists I was talking about below, boasting about her mother/son book-burning activities --( -- but don’t worry, it’s okay, God wants her to burn books. It says so right there in the New Testament.

It’s Harry Potter she’s burning, no big surprise, but on the same page she also complains about her son being forced to read about Native Americans and their pagan gods, and about Lowry’s The Giver, in which, as you know, such evil things occur as euthaniasia and the destruction of the biological family. (Miss Schroder seems to think Lowry means this society to be read as utopian rather than dystopian. Miss Schroder’s not a gifted reader.)

Elsewhere on her site, Schroder complains about her son being forced by his evil public school to read books that mention Islam without saying that it’s just a belief and not true in every sentence, books that teach evolution without saying it’s just a theory and not true in every sentence, and being forced to study about “pagan” gods, by which I think she means Greek gods, though I’m not sure – her writing skills are not any better than her apparent reading skills.

Schroder and her ilk alarm me. We have a social contract in this country. It’s an important social contract, one that is responsible for our relative lack of tribalism and pogroms.

The contract says we let each other be. I let Schroder believe what she wants – teach her kid what she wants, however destructive and bizarre I believe it to be (and I do, in fact, for the record, believe that what she is teaching her child is both insane and destructive); and she stays out of what I am teaching my child. Americans have a multicultural society in which everyone is free to practice their own culture, their own religion, their own belief system. That’s the deal.

Schroder and her ilk are breaking the deal. They are breaking the deal for a specific reason, and it is connected to their worldview.

These folk don’t want pluralism. They don’t want freedom of religion. They want one religion: their own. They know the right answer. It’s their answer. There is no other right answer. And they will admit no other right answer. This is what they believe, and it is what they are teaching their children to believe.

It’s only one step from that to the Inquisition, to the Crusades, to burning women at the stake. Hell, Schroder’s already burning the books.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Hopeful signs

It's cheering me up to see more and more Kerry/Edwards signs around our town these days -- which, considering the town I live in, where we get frequent letters to the editor complaining that our local Books-a-Million has "ungodly" books right out there on the shelf where young children can reach them, is something to remark on. Driving over to pick the kid up from the Montessori school (where we put her this year because last year at the public school she kept getting proselytized, not by the Christian children, who at five did not yet care that she was Jewish, but by the Christian children's parents, who wanted earnestly to save my child from the lakes of fire that they just knew she was destined for), I counted half a dozen signs and saw three cars with bumper stickers.

Saw dozens of Bush/Cheney stickers and signs, too -- those have been around for months, along with the giant TERRORIST HUNTING PERMIT bumper stickers and enormous flag magnets everywhere. It's the emerging Kerry/Edwards signs that are surprising and pleasing me, in this vehemently conservative community. If this place is starting to swing toward Kerry, well, hey, now.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Okay, I already ranted about this over on Dark Window (which is a cool blog you should know about if you don't already but I'm going to rant some more, since, you know, it's my blog and I can do that.

What set me off is this Christian teeshirt which shows Jacob wrestling with an angel, graphics all sappy, with a text below saying, "For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved."

Well, this once again leads me to apoplexy. Because why don't these fundies read their own text? Have they actually ever read the story of Jacob wrestling the angel? Do they know what it's about?

First off, according to the mostly likely reading of the text, it's not an angel Jacob wrestles with: it's God. (Hence the whole "I have seen God face to face" bit of their own damn quotation!)

Second off, the whole point of the story is that God can't beat Jacob. Jacob doesn't win, but then neither does God. It's one of the most interesting bits of the Torah, and I'm thinking these fundies wouldn't be putting it on a shirt if they knew what it actually meant: which is this: that God has put us on this planet in order to contend with him. Our job is to argue with God and to keep him from screwing up. Because, you know, he will, if we don't talk back and point out problems with his decisions.

Kind of like our job with the President, when you think about it.

Genesis 32.24. Go have a look.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Puritans and Deists

Okay, blogging now...

I'm teaching an introductory course in American Lit this semester, and it struck me, as I was doing the prep work for the course, that we're still fighting the battle that was being fought right back there on the edge of the country, before it was the United States: between the Theists and the Deists.

The Theists (in this corner! in the white trunks! the Puritans!) want a theocracy, a God-centered government, life, and country. They believe in a world in which God is right here, immanent, involved in every little breath we take, and believe the country should be set up according to that God's laws. Further, they believe that God is running things -- he is intimately involved with the world's events, constantly making this and that and everything happen. God at the helm.

Deists (in this corner! in the blue trunks! Thomas Jefferson et al!) believe God exists, but he's not immanent - God created the world and left it in our hands. We need to find a way to run it correctly. If it isn't being run right -- if things are going wrong (like if, for instance, terrorism happens) we need to figure out why and fix it. Deists believe things happen because humans make them happen, or because they happened according to natural law.

Deists mixed with the Enlightenment doctrine, which is what happened in America, believe that the world can and should be made better, if not perfect; and that the way to do that is to examine this world empiracally: find out what's wrong by studying it. Once we know what's wrong, we can fix what's wrong.

The problem with the Theist position become obvious pretty much at once, in America -- whose God? The Puritans begin having trouble, at first, with their own members (Anne Hutchinson ) as well as with non-members (Thomas Merton) -- and then the Quakers, and the Catholics, and the Jews show up, and Katie bar the door!

Not to mention the Native Americans who were there all along, and the slaves who the Puritans kept importing -- what to do about all those dissident voices?

Quash them, was the Puritan answer. (One big reason the Puritan Sewall was against slavery, for instance, was because it brought black people into America -- and you know black people can never be like us, he pointed out.) One God, one voice, one way, one right answer.

Well, what else is the Religious Right -- not to mention other large segments of the Right -- arguing but that, right now?