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.

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