Discriminating in the name of religious freedom

The Bill of Rights says (in Amendment I) among other things that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Which means the government cannot give special status to any creed or religion.

The Bill of Rights (in Amendment IX) also says that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”. Which means that government cannot sanction business practices that amount to the right to refuse service to the public based on religion and creed, and by extension race, sexual orientation, age or gender.

What do Terrorists Want?

No one is listening to me. But boy, does kidnapping, killing and bombing get your attention. Wanting social change, resisting social change is hard, takes patience and lot’s of social interaction, networking, power sharing, persuading and waiting for a sea-change to happen.

It rarely happens and we are all minorities in one way or another. So do we know what terrorists want? Let’s start listening to them. ISIS is more than clear about it (they want an Islamic Caliphate, so let’s not sugar coat it and accept that this is a struggle about Islamic prerogatives). What is less clear to us Westerners is why. Why are so many young men (and  some women) joining Islamic extremists. Why are they not happy with what they have? When they come from the West, do they not have Democracy where they can express their wishes and frustration through peaceful means? Yet they take up the gun for the very reason our democratic societies rely on force to maintain order and peace: to hold power over the current civic state and maintain the status quo, which will always, no matter how much we feel it provides freedom, disenfranchise some people. Listen to the fundamentalist Christians complaining about the ‘War on Christmas’ our liberal society wages. Listen to the complaints of Muslims in France who’s women are not allowed to wear veils in public. In a sense Bush 43 was correct, they hate our freedom, because their seems too much of it, mostly in the eyes of religious fundamentalists, who are forced to condone or even participate in a sinful way of live – coed school rooms for girls and boys, having to pay for reproductive (aka abortion) healthcare plans, having to sign marriage licenses for homosexual couples.

We all crave to have control over our lives. Humans always have. But we rarely have control. If we cannot have it in public life, we want it in hour private lives, in our local communities as a form of tribal existence. But if we cannot have it anywhere, we may just start to fight for our rights, and the current violence in the Middle East and Africa among young Muslim populations is exactly a struggle for regaining this control. But one man’s control, is another women’s oppression. And it seems to me that the very public sphere of Islam, unlike modern secular Christianity and Judaism, complicates these equations of control, sustaining conflicts that some people know conclude can only be solved through violence.

Political motivation, however, is only one reason, and for most jihadists surely always important but merely a superficial one. Most of these young people joining a war where they surely will die or be imprisoned or left behind (again) join these militant, close-knit communities for the same sentiments teenagers in America join street gangs: for a deep seated desire to belong, a desire they do not feel fulfilled in their parents world, a world of hard work and little recognition.

What is Liberty?

The discussions necessary to understand not only the attacks on journalists, but also our reaction to these attacks – are they reflecting Islam or just extremism – strikes at the heart of Western core values – freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Proclaiming ‘Je suis Charlie’ Hebdo makes us realize a difficult problem with tolerance: that we have to tolerate to some degree intolerance, at least in speech. Which insult is worth protecting? What is hate speech? Should the French, in defending Muslims from their extremist members prohibit Marine Le Pen’s Front National from joining this weekend’s unity rally for freedom of speech, well knowing that the latter wants to oppress freedom of expression of some Islamic cultural identity and even calls for a reinstatement of the death penalty in France?

Neither Christian nor Muslim, Arab nor European cultures allow all forms of expression. But how they differ in regulating public life is certainly the core issue in resolving cultural integration and coexistence. Our American Constitution is specifically protecting freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and today promotes the strongest protection of the individual, not just a particular creed. When fundamentalist Evangelicals claim that our Nation is a Christian Nation, they lay the same claim of religious law on the public sphere as does Sharia law in Muslim countries.

We want all citizens – including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Atheists – to live their life according to their believes, without allowing any group to force their particular creed on the other groups. Protecting minority rights is what this Democracy and Republic is all about. The American Revolution brought us a Constitution that defines liberty as the freedom from Government  intrusion into our homes, practices of thought and religion. This must be most ‘sacred’ to all of us. This separation of Church from State. And any participant – old or new – must adhere to this fundamental agreement while living her life as she wishes.

Je suis Charlie! Je suis Raif!

The killings of the editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris is not a Muslim problem. It is an extremist problem. Remember the Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany, the Irish Republican Army in Britain, the Basque liberation army ETA in Spain, or the American militia members Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Today’s state-sponsored flogging of the blogger Raif Badawi (50 lashes lasting 5 minutes) by Saudi officials is no less brutal and no less terrorizing than the assault on Charlie Hebdo. He is scheduled to be flogged another 950 times over the next 19 weeks.

All acts of terror are meant to silence dissent.

On Corporate Welfare

Welfare to the poor is called a handout, but tax subsidies to businesses are not. Both are forms of government support to private citizens. No one makes a ‘hard-earned-Dollar’ on their own. For one thing, the Dollar is a government guaranteed deed.