Saturday, February 25, 2006

My First Correction

Never try to summarize a long article you've just read in about 30 seconds. Ahem. Gov. Kaine actually extended an executive order passed by his predecessor, Gov. Warner. My apologies for that error and my thanks to Sarah for catching it. And yes, Sarah, Virginia is for lovers!

WaPo: The Anti-Gay Agenda

Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) of my new home state of Virginia issued an executive order banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in state employment. Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) has issued an opinion that the order violates the state constitution since the state supreme court has never given gay people protected status and the state legislature has voted against non-discrimination legislation that applies to gay people. Kaine's order, according to McDonnell, oversteps his constitutional boundaries and usurps the power of the legislature. For now, Kaine's order holds as McDonnell's opinion holds no legal weight. However, this is probably only the beginning of challenges to the order.

This is also the type of incident which proves that the Republicans aren't just "protecting marriage," but rather promoting the wholesale oppression of LGBT people. The major gay rights organizations, from the early 90's, have failed to do anything substantial to stem the tide of anti-gay legislation or to assist in the passage of vital pro-gay laws.

So, the religious right and other social conservatives (many of them Southern Democrats) have successfully passed anti-gay law after anti-gay law, from the Defense of Marriage Act and constitutional amendments barring gay marriage to laws stripping custody rights from gay parents and denying gay adoptions to barring civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians to overturning domestic partnership protections. They have also succeeded in thwarting attempts to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, and education and adding LGBT people to hate crimes legislation. Even otherwise popular prospective laws, such as the anti-bullying bills proposed in a variety of state legislatures were voted down because they would protect gay people.

As a political strategy, this has been horribly productive. Many pundits argue that Bush owes his presidency and the Republicans their legislative majority to the scapegoating of gays and lesbians. Considering that they managed to paint John Kerry as pro-gay marriage despite the fact that he was against it, the Republican manipulation of national homophobia has been successful indeed.

The major gay rights organizations traded success for access in the early 90's, spending more time than Monica Lewinski on their knees before Bill Clinton and other lying Democrats who made big promises until they got what they wanted from their favorite house homos. Even after their beloved masters showed they were working against LGBT interests, gay rights "leaders" continued to bow and scrape and fawn adoringly all over these homophobes in gay-friendly clothes. To this day, the perpetually self-deluded will swear Clinton was a great president for gay people despite the fact that his passage of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" and the Defense of Marriage Act made things far worse for gay people than they would have been if he'd just sat on his hands for eight years.

And people have the nerve to tell us not to be angry! So, I ask: If they took away your freedom, wouldn't you be angry? If they stomped on your rights, wouldn't you be outraged? Wouldn't you rather die fighting to be free than live accepting oppression as your lot? I know I would and I am.

I'm angry and outraged and I'm not afraid to show it. I will not bow and scrape before my "masters" in the vain hope that they'll toss me a handful of crumbs. I am nobody's house homo. I am definitely nobody's field dyke. I have spent my entire adult life fighting. Every speech, panel, petition, protest, article, and personal encounter has been about proving that I will not accept oppression, not mine or anyone else's. My humanity is not a matter of your opinion. My freedom is neither yours to give nor yours to take away.

The house homos like to jump all over lesbians like me, tell us that we shouldn't be so open about our sexual orientation or our anger because "straight people don't want to hear that." Ask me how much I care. I have absolutely no concern whatsoever about what straight people want to hear. I know what they need to hear, what they're going to hear: Your privilege has been purchased at the cost of my freedom, my rights, and my basic human dignity. That's a price I'm just not going to pay any more. So, deal with it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And the Award for Most Ridiculous Self-Delusion Goes To...

Unless you've been living in an Afghan cave, you're aware of the worldwide protests and riots sparked (in part) by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam. You've probably also heard the constant smug, self-righteous declarations of "You don't see Christians resorting to violence every time someone insults Christianity!" No, of course not!

We in the West are so innately superior to Muslims that we would never resort to such barbaric means to express our religious frustrations. You see, we're civilized, unlike those backward Arab types wandering the desert. When Christianity is insulted, Christians just pray for the poor lost souls who have never known Jesus. If the Muslims knew Jesus, they'd be peace-loving, tolerant, free-speech promoting, democracy-spreading saints like "us."* Right? I've got to call this one as I see it. Bullshit!

Let's begin with the basic premise of this assertion. Christians (in the name of free speech) are tolerant of those who insult their religion and never, ever resort to violence based on a mere blaspheming of their faith. We'll ignore the straw man waiting in the wings. There really is no need to delve into the ancient history of witch hunts, crusades and inquisitions. More than enough evidence can be found to refute this point in the brief history of post-World War II Christendom.

Do you remember the movie Dogma? Before it was even released, based solely on preliminary reports of the movie's contents, Catholics were up in arms over the film's supposed blasphemy against Catholicism's most sacred tenets. No, they didn't burn down the local KFC or anything. What they and other Christians did was to stage massive angry protests and boycotts, attempt to censor the film, and send over 300,000 pieces of hate mail to director (and practicing Catholic) Kevin Smith and Miramax head Harvey Weinstein. Included in this lovely tolerant correspondence -- in which Smith and Weinstein were "politely" reminded that insulting someone's religion isn't nice -- were a variety of death threats and a slew of anti-Semitic tirades.

How about the movie The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the often banned novel of the same name? (Often banned? Free speech, huh?) Beginning while the film was still in production, Christian groups staged massive protests, sent death threats to the filmmakers, and brought on the anti-semitism despite director Martin Scorsese's own Christian beliefs. But what's this? October 22, 1988. Paris. Catholic fundamentalists throw molotov coctails into a theatre in "protest." Thirteen theatre-goers are injured, four severely burned. Quel horreur! But these are Christians! Non-violent, peace-loving, tolerant Christians who wisely concede to the necessity of respecting a person's right to offend, even at the cost of having their own religion blatantly insulted and degraded. I'm so confused.

But it's different, right? Different, yes. Perhaps worse. These Christians were living in Western, predominantly Christian societies responding to images created by other Christians. There was no "clash of civilizations" playing out next door, no real threat of a non-Christian country invading and occupying a Christian nation. They had not been engaged, for centuries, with powerful non-Christian nations who colonized their holy lands and repeatedly defamed their religion, even desecrating holy shrines. They weren't living in a powder keg of religious, economic, and political frustration. They had power and the means to exercise it. They had real access to non-violent, potentially effective means of protest, such as just not watching the film or boycotting or peacefully petitioning the film's distributors or any number of things.

Does the fact that Muslims are living in the powder keg, that they are dealing with a "clash of civilizations" and the after-effects of colonialism, that they've watched a Muslim nation overthrown by a "Christian" one, or that they don't have any potentially effective non-violent means of stopping the publication of such images excuse the riots? No. But under the circumstances, while inexcusable, they're far more understandable.

Okay, so I can find a couple of examples of Christians being un-Christian-like. So what? These are just blips on the radar screen. They're anomalies. Remember 9/11? At least Christians aren't terrorists! Again, I call it like I see it. Bullshit!

The "war on terrorism" and our whole civilization's discussion of terrorism has focused exclusively on the Islamic brand with little real consideration for the realities of terrorism as a political tactic or as a tool of non-Muslim religious extremists. From our pain and rage at the most devastating terrorist attack in our nation's history, we've developed tunnel vision. We see only the enemy of the moment, the enemy who is so conveniently nothing like "us." The Muslim terrorist looming ever larger in our collective imaginations overshadows the domestic terrorists grown right here in the West. Although surely, Muslim terrorists groups are a real threat, they're also the convenient scapegoat permitting us to ignore the growing threat posed by domestic Christian terrorism.

Wait. Christian terrorism? What the heck am I prattling on about now? There is no such thing! Right? Oh, how I wish it were true. But I'm Southern, so I can't be that self-deluded. The civil rights era, not far removed for those of us born into the first generation of fully integrated Southerners, was rife with episodes of Christian terrorism. In recent days, Christian terrorism has predominantly focused on abortionists and gay people, but its most violent era lay in the not-so-distant past when the Baby Boomers were young. All things considered, the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks committed in the United States have been carried out by Christian extremists.

The greatest perpetrators of violence against African-Americans and their white supporters during the civil rights era were the "knights" of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK, oddly, considers itself a Christian organization doing G-d's will. Although most of their opponents would not consider them very Christian, just as most opponents of Islamic terrorists don't consider them very Muslim, the ideology of the Klan is based on historical Christian ideology. Before the Enlightenment replaced religious justifications for racism with secular ones, Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament held that white European Christians were the true heirs of Abraham, chosen to rule over all other peoples. According to Christian racial theory, G-d ordained the separation of the races at the Tower of Babel and cursed the entire African race as it was supposedly descended from Noah's ne'er-do-well son Ham. The KKK -- deeming integration and racial equality a threat to the order imposed by G-d -- bombed, burned, beat, and murdered its way through the South in response to the civil rights movement.

The KKK is not alone, the Christian Identity movement, embracing a similar Christian racial ideology, boasts more than 350,000 members throughout the United States and the British Commonwealth. The myriad groups that make up this movement regularly resort to terrorism.

As I mentioned earlier, however, modern Christian terrorism is now focused predominantly on abortionists and gay people. The 70's brought us many things, most of which we remember with a cringe. Perhaps the most influential and the most relevant to this essay were the gay rights movement, the Roe v. Wade decision, and the resurgence of Christian terrorism.

For the past couple of decades, the abortion debate in this country has been punctuated by the bombing of abortion clinics, the harassment and intimidation of clinic employees and clients, and the murder of abortion doctors. The gay rights debate, on the other hand, has been mired with the bombing and burning of gay establishments, the murder of gay leaders like Harvey Milk, thousands of violent hate crimes, and the occasional wingnut opening fire in a gay bar. Christian extremists like Eric Rudolph (who bombed a gay nightclub, multiple abortion clinics and the Atlanta Olympics) have been the major perpetrators of these acts of terrorism.

Yes, those who commit terrorists acts are extremists riding the fringes of Christianity. (The same can be said of Muslim terrorists.) However, these extremists are simply the unofficial militant wing of a vast network of Christian organizations that provide the fuel for the terrorist fire. The religious right's rise to prominence in the 80's and 90's put a more "acceptable" and more powerful face on the hatred and religious furor that drives Christian terrorism. But make no mistake, the religious right is just the political offshoot of Christian terrorism in America.

Just as vast Muslim religious networks provide the ideological fervor and recruiting grounds for Islamic terrorist organizations, the Christian fundamentalist movement provides the basis for violence committed against gay people and abortionists. From the insanity of Fred Phelps to the bizarre rantings of Pat Robertson, the religious right's scapegoating of gay people (abomination to G-d and threat to the sanctity of marriage, child molesters, perverts who bring the wrath of G-d down on America) and abortionists (mass murderers) aids the terrorist cause and provides the extremist with the "moral justification" he needs for his acts.

As the religious right becomes ever more powerful, the terrorists become ever more dangerous to our way of life. Unlike the Muslim extremists who may endanger our safety, the Christian extremists amongst us actually have the means to endanger our freedom. But keep focusing on the Muslims, this won't hurt a bit and it'll be better for you in the end. After all, Christian fundamentalists are good people who mean you no harm. They just want to save your souls. Right? Bullshit!

*Although I converted to Judaism many years ago, I was raised a Christian. Here, I'm referencing not my own religious beliefs but the lovely false dichotomy of a Muslim them vs. a Christian us which denies the role of non-Christians in the creation of Western civilization and the existence of millions of Muslims in the West.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

WaPo: Anonymity in the News

The most famous anonymous source in the history of journalism, Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat," proved the necessity and the value of occasionally agreeing to conceal the identity of the person providing a reporter with vital information. There are some things too dangerous to say on the record. There are some people whose identities must be protected, as revealing them would put them and perhaps our nation in grave danger. There is information so vital to our freedoms that it must be printed even if you have to bend over backwards, go to jail, whatever to protect the source of that information.

So, there's all sorts of people who not only should but must be identified by pseudonyms or vague qualifiers like "unnamed senior official." Intelligence agents, undercover police officers, whistleblowers, crime victims, political refugees and dissidents, minors, etc. deserve the protection of honest journalists serving both the truth and the people's right to know. Recent events however have shown that anonymous sourcing has gone too far, becoming simply a means to protect a reporter's access to the powerful or as a public relations ploy on the part of the administration. We have been spun.

Perhaps the worst example of the pitfalls of anonymity is the now infamous Plame affair, where "senior administration officials" revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative in order to avenge themselves against her husband. These "officials" have turned out to be senior indeed and may link back to the president and vice-president of the United States. The irony and the horror of the whole affair is that journalists pandering to the powerful concealed the identities of criminals but revealed the identity of a woman who should never have been referred to by name in the press.

Anonymity is designed for people like Valerie Plame, a covert operative working in counterproliferation, investigating Iran's weapons capabilities. Due to the nature of covert operations, we may never know the true price our country paid for the revelation of her identity. The CIA couldn't reveal that information without further endangering its operatives and damaging its ability to gather intelligence. We do know that Valerie Plame's career is ruined and that she can no longer participate in covert operations. The U.S. has lost the use of a valuable, experienced agent at a time when the CIA is struggling to maintain its manpower.

The Plame affair, however, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Beneath the surface is the unconscionable fact that the media has made itself the lapdog of the powerful, an extension of the public relations and propaganda arms of the United States government. Even the great Bob Woodward has been sunk.

Anonymous sourcing of government officials, however, is only part of the problem of self-censorship that has degraded a once honorable profession. Journalists turned away from mounting evidence of this administration's malfeasance, accepted payment to promote White House policy, remained silent during the illegal march to war, and pushed the "balance" of coverage far to the right of what it had been during the Clinton years. Blatant lies have gone unchallenged so that reporters can maintain their places in the White House press pool or have some chance of getting a question answered by an administration known to punish those who ask "offensive" or "hostile" questions.

The mainstream media whores have traded truth for access, sold their honor for dates with the big men on capitol hill. Is there any room for journalistic integrity or the people's right to know in this new media brothel?

Friday, February 17, 2006

WaPo: Senate Rejects Wiretapping Probe

Bush administration stonewalling and Republican senators' bootlicking/ass-covering may have put the kabosh on a thorough investigation into the administration's warrantless and thus illegal domestic spying program. As politics, this may turn out to be a success for the GOP. As governance, it's an unambiguous disaster for the republic.

Politically, a wiretapping probe would have been dangerous not just for the administration but for all Republican candidates seeking election or reelection in November. The press has been jumping with constitutional scholars decrying the criminality of spying on domestic communications without a warrant, as demanded by FISA. Fervent "lower case" republicans have warned of the threat to civil liberties, the constitutional balance of powers, and the survival of the republic itself. With the case made thus far in the press and in congressional testimony, little reasonable doubt remains as to the fact that Bush administration officials have overstepped constitutional boundaries and committed high crimes that call for impeachment. A thorough public investigation of these crimes would be disastrous for the GOP's already tenuous and scandal-plagued hold on majority rule not to mention the administration's grip on the reigns of power.

A refusal to investigate -- based on a party line vote-- combined with vague and no doubt insincere commitments from the executive branch provides a little ass coverage for the Republicans but no real chance for restoring governmental balance or strengthening the weakened foundations of democracy.

Perhaps the worst precedent set by the decision's blatantly partisan tenor and its timing is the bolstering of the idea that politics trumps governance in the new era of the permanent campaign. An administration that has spent $1.4 billion on spin and propaganda, often crossing the lines of legality in its interactions with an ever more complacent mainstream media, has established that marketing strategies can offset policy weakness and criminal malfeasance in office. Congressional Republicans, taking their cue from Bush and Rove-style campaigning, have learned that any legitimate call for oversight or accountability (so vital to democratic governance) can be dismissed with claims of partisanship.

After all, the only people who would want to investigate criminal activity on the part of our dear leader are shrill lefty partisans, the same shrill lefty partisans who burn the flag and kill babies and euthanize the "disabled" and make war on Christmas and hate G-d and endanger our troops and cry for the enemy and go soft on terrorists. With this reasoning, differing viewpoints (also vital to democratic governance) need never be considered. As "partisan pandering," they're automatically illegitimate. Instead of investigating the truth value of any accusation or call for investigation, we simply need to ferret out the political motives for them. In an election year, the "motive" is ready made: it's all about the campaign and the opposition's "insidious" agenda.

With the speed of a sound byte, the media coverage -- in the age of balancing "messages" rather than ferreting out facts -- turns to what a scandal means politically for each party rather than what it means for the governance of our country. Electoral gains/losses steal the spotlight from the weight of governmental successes/failures. So, when tyranny comes calling shrouded in silence and darkness, it'll be a big surprise for all but the most astute and/or cynical of political observers. After all, if you didn't see it on TV, it's not important enough to notice or worry about, is it?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

USA Today: NYC Official Condom

Yes, New York City will have its own official condom. Personally, despite the oddness of this, I think it's a great idea. We can never have too many free condoms. But I also think that NYC should have an official dental dam, latex glove, lubricant, spermicide, etc.
There's no official name for the city's new prophylactic yet, but may I suggest the "Don't Fuggedaboudit!" Advertising idea: The "Don't Fuggedaboudit!" so you don't end up with NYPD Blue-balls. OK, that's just bad.

Monday, February 13, 2006

WaPo: The Perks of the Job

What can you say about the insanity of sheriff's deputies having sex with prostitutes on tax-payer dollars? Don't worry. It's all in the name of law enforcement. Really.

You see, in order to verify without question that the woman offering to perform a sexual act for money is an actual prostitute, the fine undercover deputies for the Spotsylvania County sheriff's department have to bite the bullet and actually allow the suspected hooker to perform the sexual act for money. Then, they tip her so that the money (usually marked, I'm sure) can be admitted into evidence.

Unfortunately, in similar cases elsewhere, prosecutors have had to drop charges against women arrested in this manner, because they don't want the methods used by the police to come out in open court. So, the hooker goes free and the cop gets a great b.j. on the taxpayers' dime. It's so Pretty Woman you could cry, right?

I know what you're thinking, what about their families? These officers might have wives or girlfriends. Don't worry. Only the single cops get to have sex with suspected prostitutes. Breaking the law is one thing. Breaking those marriage vows is apparently quite another.

Despite how funny this all is, what really gets me is that police officers always have to write a report about undercover operations and any arrests they've made. Do you think, maybe, that a lot of Spotsylvania County incident reports start with "I never thought this would happen to me, but...."? Are they delivered to court in sealed manilla envelopes or wrapped in opaque silver plastic? Are the hookers described as far more attractive and much more sexuallly satisfied than they were in real life?

You have to wonder.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

E & P: V.A. Nurse Investigated for Sedition

Political criticism = sedition? You don't have to be a great legal scholar to see the horrific illogic behind that connection. You definitely don't have to be a "chicken little" conspiracy theorist to see the threat posed by government officials who investigate law-abiding Americans for writing letters to the editor suggesting that we use the legitimate tools of democracy to bring about political change.

Even in these dangerous times, especially in these dangerous times, we have to be vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms on which we now have such a precarious hold. Talk of "sedition" related to the overt and responsible exercise of free speech rights smacks of totalitarianism and fascism, as does so much of what is happening in today's political climate in the name of national security. Considered separately, these acts are disturbing. Considered together, they pose a horrifying threat to our way of life and our standing in the world. Can American democracy and world leadership survive acts such as these?
  • Warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in violation of established law
  • Infiltration of legitimate, peaceful opposition and protest groups
  • Police officers and federal agents posing as protesters, promoting and sparking violence, so as to legitimize violent police attacks on protesters
  • Investigation of legitimate political criticism
  • The U.S. government paying American journalists and media organizations to dispense propaganda, denying access to media personnel who question policy, granting access to biased and illegitimate "journalists" such as Jeff Gannon. Otherwise creating an environment of media censorship and manipulation.
  • Illegal revenge campaigns against political opponents, including leaking the name of a covert CIA operative in an attempt to undermine her husband's legitimate dispute of executive branch dishonesty
  • Attempts by all three branches of government to undermine the checks and balances necessary to the functioning of our democracy: shifting the right to declare war from the legislative to the executive, the Supreme Court usurping the legislative branch's power to determine the legitimacy of federal election results in Bush v. Gore, the executive's refusal to submit to the oversight powers of the legislative and judicial branches, the legislature attempting to undermine judicial decisions with illegal last-minute legislation in the Schiavo case
  • An executive branch that manipulates intelligence and blatantly lies to Congress, the courts, and the American people to prevent interference with its illegal and immoral policy of preemptive war
  • A chief executive who claims the power to break any and all laws at his discretion with no oversight
  • The most secretive executive branch ever actively working to prevent oversight of any or all of its decisions
  • The manipulation of public fear to promote illegal policies that do nothing to further their stated cause, national security, but do too much in limiting civil liberties
  • The executive branch cracking down on dissent within its ranks, ostracizing officials who refuse to support the party line and ignoring intelligence and expertise that would contradict or delegitimize official policy
  • The promotion of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment
  • Indefinite detention of "suspects" with no judicial oversight or habeus corpus, most of them proven to be completely innocent of any wrong doing
  • The disapppearing of persons both in the United States and in the theatre of combat
  • Illegal rendition of subjects, many of them citizens of allied countries, to secret CIA prisons around the world and to countries known to use torture
  • A Homeland Security contract for KBR to build domestic "detention centers" for (according to the NY Times) "an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space" (Hmmm unidentified "new programs that require additional detention space")
  • Attempts to break down the wall separating church and state and the manipulation of religious controversies to garner the support of the religious right, attacking vital civil liberties in the process
  • Scapegoating homosexuals, abortion activists, feminists, political opponents, liberals, secularists, etc.
  • Intentional manipulation of and deception about legitimate scientific findings and the harassment of government scientists, forcing them to lie about scientific truths in order to support government policies
  • Widespread cronyism and corruption that threatens the efficacy of government and places control of governmental policy and vital legislation in the hands of corporate lobbyists. The overall merger of corporate and political interests at the expense of the people.
  • Undermining the election process by disenfranchising minorities, supporting the use of unreliable voting machines with no paper trail, campaigns of harassment and disinformation targeting minority communities, illegally purging voter rolls, etc.

And these are just the things we know about. Considering the overwhelming secrecy of the current administration, there are probably numerous crimes we don't know about yet. Only an open investigation into the Bush administration, leading to real consequences for those found guilty of high crimes could preserve our democracy. Impeachment is a difficult process, but it may be the only legitimate means to ensuring the survival of our freedoms and our way of life. Of course, saying such a thing in this climate is apparently "sedition." Frightening, isn't it?

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Truth About Islam

What is a religion if not the practices and beliefs of its adherents? This question -- posed by Muslim refusenik Irshad Manji in her groundbreaking and controversial book, The Trouble With Islam Today -- has both enriched and complicated my lifelong reflection on the nature of religion and faith generally and my struggle to understand Islam specifically. This struggle to unravel the mysteries of Islam, deepened by 9/11 and its aftermath, began with an intellectual fascination with comparative theology in my youth and accelerated when I was 16 due to my friendship with and small crush on a Muslim girl named Miriam.

My interaction with Muslims -- incorporating many friendships and a brief romantic dalliance (not with Miriam) -- have been overwhelmingly positive. Representing a variety of countries and many different interpretations of Islam, the Muslims who have enriched my life have left me with a deep and abiding respect for their faith. So, naturally, this question of Irshad's has caused me much consternation. How could I reconcile the just and peaceful Islam I'd come to respect with the actions of extremists and terrorists? Through study and reflection, I believe I may have found a way.

In my studies of theology, history, and current events, I've come face to face with adherents of one of the world's major religions, people who have committed numerous and egregious atrocities. In the long history of this faith, its adherents have murdered millions of innocent people for the "crime" of refusing to convert and used torture, persecution, and state-approved brutality as a means of forcing conversion This faith's adherents have also persecuted and massacred ethnic and religious minorities. They have criminalized and executed people deemed sinners or heretics, at times making it illegal to practice any other religion or to interpret religious texts in contradiction to official orthodoxy. They have influenced the laws of various nations to such an extent that women were refused the status of separate legal entities and were instead defined as the property of men; married women could legally be raped and brutalized by the men who "owned" them, their husbands. Women who failed in some way to live up to strict prescriptions for attire and behavior were painted as whores and often brutalized. Women were also denied the rights to receive custody of their children in a divorce, own property, hold jobs, and receive an education. Finally, this faith's adherents have carried out hundreds of acts of terrorism in America and elsewhere by blowing up, burning down, or opening fire in public places, including but not limited to houses of worship.

If a religion is nothing more than the practices of its adherents, do we not condemn a religion such as this? No, we don't and we shouldn't. Why not? Because the religion I've described is Christianity and anyone raised in Western society knows that it has been so much more than this. We in the West, even those of us who practice other religions, can honestly acknowledge that the atrocities I've listed are just one side of a vast spectrum.

Christianity has also been a source of tremendous charity and progress. Its adherents have fought for social justice, fed the poor, clothed the naked, and healed the sick. They have struggled for peace and justice. They have been, in so many cases, simply good, honest people. Generally, they're neither "good" nor "evil," just people.

Most westerners take for granted that Christianity is not an unchanging monolith or static dichotomy but a diverse and dynamic faith. It grows or shrinks, flows or stagnates, bends or breaks according to cultural environments, historical circumstances, changing interpretations, sectional debates, political expediencies, external and internal "threats," group psychology, and the influence of singularly enlightened or brutal leaders. So intricately interconected with the real world inhabited by its followers, Christianity is rarely just itself. It is, in this way, very much like all religions and, in fact, like all systems of belief.

So is Islam. Since 9/11, we've been seeking a simple definition for Islam and a simple explanation for how it could permit the murder of thousands of innocents. Our questioning has intensified in light of the insurgency in Iraq, Hamas' electoral victory in Palestine, the rioting in response to the now infamous Muhammad cartoons, and renewed threats from Osama bin Laden. The only simple answer seems to be, "It's complicated." Islam is dynamic and diverse, influenced by the people and events of the Muslim world and its interactions with the rest of us. In its practical applications in the daily lives of more than a billion adherents, it is rarely just Islam.

In the end, I've decided that the only way to reconcile the Islam practiced by the just and the just human with that practiced by the merciless is to understand that they're just points on an ever-shifting spectrum, one end of which has become a pox on humanity. I've also realized that since religion responds to circumstance, we have a choice in whether we create situations that allow extremism to thrive or situations that deny it power and influence. So far, we haven't been doing a very good job at the latter in either the Muslim world or the West.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Military Hides Cause of Women Soldiers' Deaths

Some female soldiers in Iraq are so afraid of their fellow soldiers raping them, that they've stopped drinking water after 3 or 4 p.m.... in the desert! When the temperature is above 120 degrees! How the hell is this permitted? What part of military discipline and unit morale allows a situation where a woman in uniform has more to fear from the men she serves with than from the enemy?
The angry part of me says we should bring back field executions for any man who rapes or attempts to rape a fellow soldier or civilian. Do we have to get to the point where women soldiers have to be given a shoot on sight order for male American soldiers? Or can we expect the officers in charge to, I don't know, do their duty?
Reported rapes and rape scandals in the U.S. military have been increasing in the last few years. From rape scandals at the Air Force Academy to scandals about the military's almost complete insensitivity and inaction in responding to female soldiers' complaints to female soldiers dying of dehydration in an attempt to protect themselves from rape in the theatre of combat. In 2002: 901 sexual assaults were reported. In 2003: 1,012! In 2004: 1,700!
And still analysts believe that many if not most attempted or completed rapes go unreported because of a military environment that not only doesn't treat these assaults with the seriousness they demand but actually assists the attacker and permits women to be "punished" for reporting. Generally, less than half of military rape complaints actually lead to punitive action.
The military has tried to claim that this increase is due solely to its attempts to increase reporting of a historically underreported crime, but the stories of female soldiers and the analysis of the military's failed, ineffectual, inconsistent sexual assault policies disprove the lie. Maybe they're going up because the attackers know they'll probably get away with it? Or perhaps due to the primitive attitude amongst male soldiers that women in uniform are either bitches or whores? (In her book, Love My Rife More Than You, former Army sergeant Kayla Williams explains that, in military "lingo," a "whore" is a female soldier who'll sleep with anyone while a "bitch" is one who'll sleep with anyone but you. Williams also details her own near rape from a fellow soldier.)
So, what do they do when a female soldier dies because of her overwhelming fear of her fellow soldiers? They cover it up! Then the Pentagon recommends promotion for men like Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, whom Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly recommended for promotion despite his involvement in war crimes at Abu Ghraib and his outright refusal to protect female soldiers under his command.
How do they explain to these women's parents that their daughters, while serving their country, received greater injury from Americans than from the enemy? How do they explain to them that their daughters chose the risk of death over rape at the hands of fellow soldiers? When they hand the flag to these women's survivors "on behalf of a grateful nation," how do they look them in the eye knowing what they know?
How do we, as a nation, accept that the reward for a man's service is a medal, that the reward for war crimes and dereliction of duty is a promotion, but the "reward" for a woman's honorable performance of duty is rape, assault, harassment, discrimination, maltreatment, punishment and a cover-up? Support our troops, indeed.