Polls from Fox News and CNN indicate that around 60% to 70% of Americans disapprove of an Islamic community center being built in New York, blocks from Ground Zero. A followup Gallup poll, though, shows 65% of Americans have only heard a fair amount, a little, or nothing at all about the issue.
Either way, I find it disturbing. The majority of Americans either think their petty sense of emotional outrage is more valuable than an unambiguous right of religious freedom, or they are opinionated on an issue they are not completely familiar with. The media has gleefully fanned the flames without clarifying the facts.
“Yes,” I hear the critics of the Islamic community center say, “we all have religious freedom.”
“But,” they add, “you should be polite enough not to use it when it offends us.”
John McCain is a temporal anchor on American politics, and he’s dragging the rest of us back in time to the Vietnam era when black & white militaristic thinking got us bogged down in an unwinnable war. Oh, wait. I think I’m confusing him with the present day incarnation of John McCain who helped get us bogged down in Iraq. Perhaps, John McCain is Dr. Who, and enjoys sticking his big nose in other people’s business because he has a god complex. Ever since the US presidential election, I have to admit I can’t recognize the real John McCain. For example, does he support nation building or not?
Yes, why don’t we publicly take sides in Iran and further fan the flames of Islamic extremists? Then all we’ll need is a fatheaded congressman suggesting we send a team of advisers to Iran to help the protesters liberate the country. Apparently, someone in the US State Department already made a play and requested that Twitter delay its site maintenance so the Iranian people could still communicate their protest strategy.
I long for the day when politicians will sit twiddling their thumbs, not thinking about how to spread democracy around the world. Aren’t their domestic plates full enough?
Let’s gain some wisdom from the story of an ancient Roman politician named Cinna in his campaign for power:
They contributed money and military forces, and he was joined by many more people, including some of those who were influential at Rome, who found political stability not to their taste.
From The Civil Wars by Appian
Does an old, war dog like John McCain live for peace or conflict? I wonder.
One example of the inconsistency of religion
Trapped in the recesses of the web –like hardened chewing gum stuck for eternity in the cracks of a sidewalk– are religious forums and pseudo-news organizations with URL names beginning with “faith”, “belief”, or “answers”. They’re little worlds unto themselves, and that’s the way their readers like it. They don’t spurn reality, for they create their own; the same way Las Vegas casinos don’t cheat because they make up their own rules.
At Belief.Net a dude named David Klinghoffer has chronicled his Dialogue with Atheists. He challenged atheists to explain how life can have meaning or morality without a supernatural being bestowing them upon us. Klinghoffer stretched his argument to the extreme, though, by comparing atheists to the Joker, the supreme nihilist. He forgets, though, that the Joker also loves to expose hypocrisy.
As an atheist, I’m left wondering where religious folk find their meaning and morality. Surely it’s not in any religious text; for bestsellers like the Bible and the Quran are morally ambiguous at best. They’re all things to all people. Prohibitionists, for example, used the bible to speak against the evils of alcohol; and we know how that ended. And according to which Christians of the 19th century you consult, the Bible both supports and condemned slavery. Today, if you compare the King James version of the Ten Commandments to more modern translations here’s a hint of what you’ll find: The former says Thou shall not kill; the latter say Thou shall no commit murder. How Orwellian.
Religions are not wells of meaning and morality; they’re justifications for capricious humans. Give me reason over faith any day.
Supporters of waterboarding, or “enhanced interrogation”, or plain old, let’s-get-medieval-on-your-ass torture –if they’re willing to call it what it is– often put forth the argument that causing pain and discomfort to a terrorist will save lives by preventing an imminent attack. They might say something along the lines of “What if a terrorist knew the location of a soon-to-be-detonated dirty bomb. Wouldn’t torture be OK then?” But while they may be sincere in their belief, their little scenario is self-serving and false in the extreme.
The proponent here presumes to know what the suspect knows before the torture has even commenced. Well, they don’t know the mind of the suspect; he may, in fact, be completely innocent. This hardened thinking reminds me of Bill O’Reilly when he said all the prisoners at Guantanamo should have been shot. Did he mean to include the ones that were eventually released?
Terrorists also tend to work in groups. I don’t know about you, but if I were a terrorist, my planned attack would be postponed if one of my brethren suddenly went missing or were captured by the authorities. And I’d hit the road and look for a new headquarters. The CIA has already admitted that none of the information gained by torture thwarted an actual attack. Most of it was about the structure of Al-Qaeda’s as an organization.
Life isn’t a TV melodrama. Jack Bauer isn’t going to save the day by beating the crap out of Nina, no matter how much we despise her. Presuming to know the mind of a suspect only leads to repeatedly asking the suspect the same question, over and over again, and torturing them for the “correct” answer, whatever that may be.
In the 1990’s there was an infamous case in California of a teenage boy who was questioned for hours by police in the murder of his sister. He confessed and was convicted, even though it was later determined with compelling DNA evidence that a stranger had committed the horrible crime. Pressuring a person for the answer you want usually gets you what you want; it doesn’t get you what you need.
The ambiguities of real life make torture seem cartoonish and black-and-white, and part of a worldview credulous conservatives can get behind.
Only a cold heart wouldn’t admire Christopher Hitchens for his willingness to experience water-boarding firsthand. He broke quickly, but who the hell wants to endure drowning, “simulated” or otherwise?
The past week has left me feeling sick to my stomach. It’s when many of my fellow Americans abandoned their warmbloodness by adamantly defining water-boarding as not torture, but as an acceptable method of “enhanced interrogation”. Forget that there’s a long legal and moral precedent calling it torture.
But there are two points on this subject that I haven’t yet heard anyone bring up. First off, if water-boarding is not to be called torture, then we’re creating a ready-made legal defense for those who water-board. An American citizen held in any foreign land could be treated to this method of interrogation, and we could not stand on any moral, or legal, high ground because we deprived ourselves of that privilege. And our own law enforcement (police, FBI, DEA, etc.) could not be held fully accountable if they chose to water-board prisoners. A defense lawyer could easily argue that the venue of the interrogation makes no difference to the definition of water-boarding. If it’s not torture in the military, it’s not torture in civilian life. Perhaps it’s simply a form of assault. Criminals of all sorts would certainly find a new legal definition advantageous.
The second point is that not calling water-boarding torture shifts the whole scale. equally unpleasant techniques could be redefined, too. Water-boarding deprives a person of oxygen and is called simulated drowning. So, should choking or dunking a person under water or placing a plastic bag over someone’s head for a prolonged period not to be called torture? They’re all as dangerous and as horrible as water-boarding. One could make the case.
This discussion makes me feel like I ‘ve been dragged back in time to a more morally ambiguous era.