Friday, January 25, 2008

I Confront My Inner Fundamentalist Asshole, also Homeland Security at Work

Two stories grabbed me today, and must be discussed at all costs.

> Let's start with the big-bad terror attack that was, um, foiled today.

So, lemme get this straight:

A 16-year-old boy was arrested for planning to hijack his flight...

...after it had already landed without incident.

Also, the target was Hannah Montana. That elevates this to high comedy for me.

But once you get past the obviously extremely heroic performance of the FBI here (if they'd been a minute later... the plane still would have landed without incident!), this is actually pretty disturbing.

The kid didn't attempt and fail to take over the plane. He just sat there and, allegedly, thought about it. Had "some general plans." But you must admit, he did have handcuffs and duct tape and rope! That's pretty sinister, right?

Only all of those things are allowed on airplanes. Which is news to me, because I usually check my handcuffs, just in case. But perhaps I've said too much.

Anyway, this kid is facing felony terror charges... for what? Thinking about committing terrorism?

Look, the kid is obviously insane, but are we so low in this country that we can arrest people for thought crime? I swear to god, every day George Orwell's rotting corpse smiles a little wider.

> So that was absurd. But next up is the story that really made me sit up and write a blog post. It's a seemingly innocuous little number about Turkey.

To recap: Turkey is about to lift a ban on wearing head scarves in college, which is freaking out the secular elite, who are worried Turkey will slide into theocracy.

This story scared the crap out of me, not because of what's going on, but because of my reaction to it. See, I found myself, all ideology to the contrary, kind of siding with the secular elite.

See, for atheist/agnostic/CoFSM-types like me, there is nothing more infuriating and bewildering than religious tyranny. If you are like me, the concept of a country where the government tells you to do this or that because God Said So is insane and infuriating, particularly if what said God told you to do amounts to, just for example, gender apartheid. As I've said before, you're just not allowed to tell women they have to wear tents over their bodies or go to jail. What makes it doubly infuriating is that no one can call a spade a spade and get to the heart of the problem - the religion itself - because that would be intolerant and not PC, and lead to inane references to Hitler and the Inquisition and things of this nature.

It's easy to get angry about this stuff when your own country can't even elect an atheist. We could elect anything else - a black man, a woman, a transvestite hooker amputee, before an athiest would have a real shot. I never in a million years thought I'd find me sitting on the other side of that debate in the post-Soviet world.

But here we are. A secular elite telling the religious they can't dress the way they want.

Ideologically, there is no way in hell I can support that. Freedom is freedom, and if those women want to wear those head scarves, they should be allowed to. They should be allowed to wear anything they want. If I was a Turkish woman living under the ban, I would come to class in a full space suit, complete with helmet. Every day.

(Damn, now that I thought of that, I really wish I could have suggested it to a Turkish woman before they lifted the ban. "You'll be covering everything up! It will please Alah! You'll have more friends!" Truly, a missed opportunity.)

So yeah, on principle, I know, the correct thing to do is take down the ban. But goddamn if I don't feel a little reluctant about it. There's a lot complicating this. For one thing, there's the fact that we really do have something of a global culture war going on with the Middle East right now, and it's hard not to see every action that promotes Islam as somehow opposing the West. This has to be how the Cold War felt, where anything whiffing of communism, and certainly anything whiffing of the Soviets, seemed threatening to America in some not exactly specific way.

Obviously, most Muslims are good people. A majority of them probably hate the US, but given the US' post-WWII resume, that's not a 100% irrational stance to have. Obviously, letting the women wear head scarves isn't going to radicalize the country or signal a descent into Sharia law.

But some part of me can't help picturing the nightmare if it does, picture a Muslim Turkish state, which in my mind feels like a nightmare the way a Soviet Afghanistan must have seemed like a nightmare in the 80s.

But this goes beyond that. It goes beyond an irrational but understandable distrust of Islam.

There is also, I know, some part of my soul that just doesn't want to see these people acting in a way counter to what I believe is ideal. It is, essentially, the exact same thing that makes fundamentalists of all stripes tick. All of us, somewhere, have some things we ardently believe in, and some part of us that would dearly love to see those beliefs manifest in the world, to ban and strike down anything that doesn't conform.

It's an evil impulse. And it's been responsible for untold injustice in the world.

And until today, it'd been a good long time since I saw it in the mirror.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What If They Held a Holy Crap News Story, and Nobody Came?

Today, in case you missed it, was a crazy-ass day for news. How crazy-ass? Well, the Michigan primary is tonight, and I did exactly 0 stories on it. To give you some perspective, on the day of the Iowa Caucus, I think there was one point when every story on the grid involved the word "Obama," "Huckabee," or "Britney." (Nothing pushes Britney entirely off the grid.)

Anyway, with so much crazy-ass flying, somehow the biggest story of them all managed to fall through the cracks, and while it's somewhat easy to see why, it still confuses the heck out of me.

So yeah, in case you didn't hear, Israel killed the son of Hamas' top hombre.

You wouldn't know this if you'd read the AP feed, which said something like:

14 Die in Israeli Attack on Gaza

Which, to most Americans, reads a little like:

It's Tuesday

Sure, it was the bloodiest attack since Hamas took over Gaza, but so what? People in the Middle East kill each other a lot, and Israelis kill Palestinians all the time. It happens, who cares, where's Britney?

A little while later the headline got even crazier. In fact, it's so crazy that I'm going to copy the AP's headline verbatim and you can click here if you don't believe me.

Seventeen Gazans, Ecuadorean kibbutz volunteer killed in Israeli-Palestinian clashes


Me, I would have thought that maybe the son of Hamas' top leader was a bigger casualty than some Ecuadorian guy, but that is why I am not a highly-paid newsperson.

Wait a second, I am a highly-paid newsperson! Okay, a paid newsperson. Sort of. Look, shut up, okay? The point is, I can't imagine I'm the only one who noticed this was the big story here. Yet to look at the major news sites, this never happened. I've been watching CNN, Reuters, etc. all day, and none of them have this attack anywhere on their front page. Not only is it not featured, it's not even a crappy missable link. Nowhere.

Heck, if I hadn't read the thing, it wouldn't have gotten the red headline treatment on our site either. This is roughly how my conversation with my editor went:

Her: What are you on right now?
Me: Israel attack on Gaza.
Her: Let's have you hold on that for now, I'll get something else for you.
Me: Sure. It's pretty crazy though. They killed the son of Hamas' top guy.
Me: So you want me to do cloning or...
Her: wow, really?
Me: Yes.
Her: Do Gaza.

Let me reiterate, my editor is wonderful and intelligent, but like everyone else who just saw that headline, she had no idea how important this story was.

So how important was it? So important that it's going to destroy George Bush's quixotic Mid-East peace play. Completely.

Quick recap on Israel/Palestine, if you stopped paying attention somewhere back in the 70s. In June, Gaza was taken by Hamas. While wading into the Israel/Palestine debate is always something of a moral and semantic quagmire, I think for our purposes it's pretty safe to call Hamas "the bad guys."

See, the rest of the Palestinian territories are run by Fatah. And while the folks running Fatah aren't exactly Gandhi, they're reasonable people who want, ultimately to do well by their people. Hamas is made up of extremists who hate Israel and will stop at nothing to see it destroyed. Because they are completely incapable of destroying Israel, you could also argue that they are somewhat insane.

So anyway, for months we've been hearing about George Bush's ridiculous peace plan. It was ridiculous, because the talks were to be between Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israel. Hamas? Not part of the discussion.

Now, no way in hell Israel is making big concessions without Gaza being part of the deal, but they also, you know, won't negotiate with those Hamas terrorists, and neither will we. (And to be fair, Hamas probably wouldn't negotiate anyway).

So here's what happened today. Israel bursts across the border and kills, by the last count I saw 18 people. One of those is the 24-year-old son of Hamas' leader. If you are said leader, you're flying off the handle right? It's going to renew all the hatred you had by a factor of 10 or so, right?

Moreover, there's going to be a ton of shots of you with your dead son, and you're going to get a lot of sympathy from your people, for whom Fatah vs. Hamas is less Good Guys vs. Bad Guys and more Democrats vs. Republicans. (Refraining from obvious joke now.)

So from that perspective it's bad, but here's where it gets really bad.

Listen to the reaction from Fatah:
The Palestinian Authority called it a “slap in the face” to Washington-backed peace efforts
That's bad, but it could be normal posturing. But wait! There's more:

"There was a massacre today against our people, and we say to the world that our people will not remain silent against such crimes," said Abbas.

Who's that? Abbas? You mean Mahmoud Abbas, president of Fatah, on whom Bush's entire misbegotten peace scheme hinges? Moderate Mahmoud, who Bush has been trying to get the Arab countries to prop up for months so he'd have some kind of power in peace negotiations? That guy?

Yes. That guy.

Maybe this didn't get any play over here, but you better believe the Palestinians knew this happened, and you better believe Abbas is not sitting down at a negotiation table any time soon. Hamas already loves attacking him as a pawn of Washington. Mahmoud Zahar, the guy whose son died, blamed the attack on Israel, the spies of America, and Abbas. Like I said, a little crazy. But no crazier than, say, Ann Coulter, and people listen to her.

So how come, if we've had days where "Bush Predicts Peace by 09" is a top story, the complete dismantling of any chance of that isn't big news? This one has explosions and everything!

One last thing before I go: The US should be truly, truly pissed at Israel for this, because this was not only a slap in the face, it was pretty reprehensible.

Israel defended this attack by saying it was a response to the daily barrages of rockets that are fired over the border from Gaza. What none of the stories pointed out was that these attacks never kill anyone.

That's right. The rocket attacks are wildly ineffective. I'm not making this up. The rocket bombardments literally only injure people once in a blue moon. I don't know who keeps making such wildly ineffective rockets, or why Hamas keeps buying the fucking things, but there it is.

Moreover, Hamas hasn't even been firing them lately. They've just, you know, not stopped anyone who happened to want to fire a rocket off.

Now, I guess if I lived in a place where rockets were constantly fired at me, I would get pretty sick of it, even if I never got hurt. I guess I would probably support politicians who looked like they were working to stop the retards throwing ineffectual rockets at me. So I understand where the Israelis are coming from here.

But imagine you're a Palestinian. You live in Gaza. Hamas took over, and you couldn't do any more to stop them than you could have done to stop Bush becoming President. Israel has shut off all supplies and electricity to your home, you live in abject starving poverty. Because, I should point out, Israel has done those things.

Now, in response to the death of precisely no one, Israel has killed 18 random people. Moderate Mahmoud is calling it a massacre, and Crazy Mahmoud got his son blown up.

How do you think you feel about peace?

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