johnstonmr: (Default)
A stream of conciousness rant from the Mahdi...

I'm not a peacenik.

I'm also not as pacifistic as most of my friends. I believe in fighting for what one believes in, and I don't automatically condemn violence. While I believe violent conflict should be a last resort, I do believe there are some enemies -- be they individuals, countries, or ideas -- which in the end can only be fought with violence.

Watching the situation in Afghanistan develop, I've been at turns saddened, gladdened, and confused.

People say we cannot condemn another's beliefs. Bullshit. We can categorically do so, and I don't find anything wrong with that. Hell, my friends and I do it all the time. I look at hardline fundamentalists, of any religion, and I find their beliefs abhorrent. And while I agree they have the right to believe as they do, that does not cover acting on those beliefs.

Look at it this way -- Fred Phelps and his tribe of inbred misfits believe that God hates gay people, that it is, while illegal, morally alright to kill gays. That is wrong. It should not be allowed to happen, and isn't. Hardline Islamic Fundies believe that America is evil, that we should be destroyed. Fine. But the moment they ACT on those beliefs, that is wrong.

Sure, this applies equally to our own values. But some things are universal. Does anyone reading this deny that all humans deserve equal treatment, that some things are just wrong?

The Taliban (and other fundamentalist Islamic movements) say women are second-class citizens. They cannot be educated, they must obey men at all times, etc. etc. In some places in Africa and the Middle East, women are circumcised -- a painful procedure with no medical value whatsoever. I believe these things are wrong, and more, I believe the rest of us have a moral obligation to stop this kind of cruelty and mistreatment of another human being.

People say "That's their beliefs, we don't have the right to stop them." In my honest opinion, these people are either morons or not thinking clearly. This is the problem with moral relativism and complete openness to opinions. "It's my opinion and you can't refute it" is one of the most absurd concepts in education today. Some opinions are wrong, plain and simple. Yet some would allow anything to happen, so long as it is under another belief system. By that kind of logic, we should have allowed the systematic murder of millions of people by the Nazi regime to go unpunished, women should never have campaigned for suffrage, and most of the planet should still be under British Rule.

Sure, there are peaceful solutions to many of these problems, and I believe they ought to be pursued. But sometimes, there are no other options but to fight, and in such cases, one should fight to the best of his ability and not relent.

A lot of people died in the World Trade Center attacks. And a lot of people have died in the war in Afghanistan. But in the end, perhaps some good has been done. The Taliban is fleeing, the country looks like it shall be handed back to it's people. To quote an article I read today:

In a rickety old blue bus, one women quickly flipped her burqa up over her head. Male residents who were gathering around a group of Northern Alliance soldiers laughed. One young soldier gestured to other women to take off their burqas, the traditional heavy veil mandated by the Taliban.
Most of the women simply watched the soldiers. Some of the women closed the curtains that are on all buses that carry women in Afghanistan. Others simply looked away.
The one who slipped her burqa off quickly put it back on.
Nearby, six women, all in burqas, were going to a wedding. “For now we will leave the burqa on. We don’t know yet who are these people in the city,” said Mariam Jan.
Elsewhere, clean-shaven men rubbed their faces. An old man with a newly trimmed gray beard danced in the street holding a small tape recorder blaring music to his ear.
The Taliban had banned music and ordered men to wear beards.

Do you see what I see? Though there is confusion, and there will doubtless be difficulties ahead, in the end, some good has been accomplished, and if we're careful, will remain.

I was opposed to beginning this war, but now that it has begun, I only hope that, when over, we do not abandon Afghanistan to an uncertain future without helping them face it with pride and with strength.

And yes, I'm aware of the trickiness of these things, that in essence I'm doing the same thing I would accuse the evildoers of doing. And there are degrees, of course. I don't think Communism is ok, but that doesn't mean I'd advocate war to stop it. I don't think Christianity makes any sense at all, but I'm not going to bomb churches. But I do demand that we, as a race, care for our peoples, no matter where they are.

Because if we don't, no one else will.
johnstonmr: (Default)
"Freedom of Speech" is a phrase thrown around a lot today, so much so that I think most people have lost sight of what it was originally intended to be. The Supreme Court has time and again expanded the first amendment to protect all sorts of nonsense, both good and bad, but at it's core, the supreme right of all Americans is to criticize their country without fear of censure.

Remember, the colonists were coming from a place where to criticize their leaders was pretty much an automatic death sentence. So when they founded the United States of America, they built into the Bill of Rights one fundamental rule -- you can criticize the government. You can disagree with your leaders, and publically say so, and the government won't crack down on you.

Now, sure, there are times in our history when the US has forgotten this rule for a time, but it's one of the few constants in our society. Do you realise what freedom it is for Jay Leno, or Bill Maher, or any other of the late-night hosts, to be able to make fun of our President and not be shot? There are few such countries in the world, even today. Try making fun of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Try criticizing the leadership of Singapore, or Thailand, or Pakistan. Go ahead. Try it.

So why is it, that so many Americans want to forget this concept, and ridicule those of us who choose to partake of this right? Sure, they have the right to disagree, but why do they automatically jump to the "Love it or leave it" idiocy? If I love my country -- and I do, even though I also love others -- wouldn't it be wiser for me to try to help fix my country's problems instead of just leaving?

America's biggest problem, I think, is that her people have created for themselves an ego to match her wealth. And we all know what that leads to.

Sure, there may come a time at which I decide America is no longer my home, but we haven't reached it yet. I hope we never do, and so I'll teach others, and hope they will at least agree to disagree with me with respect and maturity instead of jejune responses designed to anger me.
johnstonmr: (Default)
From the MSN website:
Has Everything Changed? Maybe not.

By Michael Kinsley

(Michael Kinsley is editor of Slate. Posted Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001, at 4:00 p.m. PT)

Years ago, as a tourist in Vienna, I met an old lady who called herself "the Prinzessin" and claimed to be a Hapsburg princess, now reduced to the status of tour guide. Among her collection of overpolished anecdotes was an item about complaining to her mother one day during her childhood that life was boring. "The next day," she said, "we heard that Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been shot." Pause for effect. "And life was never boring anymore."

The notion that there are days when history swings on a pivot is irresistible and, to some extent, valid. The shooting of the archduke that started World War I … the bombing of Pearl Harbor … the Kennedy assassination … Before: innocence and sun-dappled lawns. Afterward: knowledge, modernity, and darkness. Will Sept. 11, 2001, really turn out to have been one of those days? A horrible day, certainly, and—yes—a day that will live in infamy. But a day when life changed dramatically and permanently for everyone, at least in America? Maybe so, but there are adequate reasons to doubt, and excellent reasons to avoid leaping to that conclusion if it can be avoided.

For the journalists and politicians we depend on for the official clichés of our national conversation, the apocalyptic note is irresistible. No crude theorizing about ratings or votes is required. It's just the nature of journalism to make "this is more important than you think" a subtext of every story. And when you've devalued concepts like "crisis" and "war," as TV news especially has done in recent years, apocalypse is about all you have left when a story this big comes along. As for pols, they are also natural hyperbolizers who are not disposed to conclude that a national crisis is smaller than it seems.

Although logic doesn't really matter in such things, there is a logical contradiction among the official clichés of the moment that "everything has changed" and "this means war." Victory in the war against terrorism consists precisely of everything not changing. If life has changed permanently and dramatically for the worse, terrorism has won the war. In fact, if people become convinced that—say—getting on an airplane is wildly riskier than they previously thought, terrorism has won whether that is objectively true or not.

"Everything has changed" can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of the economy, where consumer confidence matters a lot more than the direct costs of terrorism itself. Being told again and again that life from now on will be unrecognizable doesn't exactly make me want to rush out to Wal-Mart.

Certainly it's ironic that so many Americans seem convinced that life was wonderful until last week and will be terrible from now on. For over a decade until last week, the mantra of American politics was "change." Voters demanded it, politicians of all stripes promised it. Life was, in some unspecified way that "the system" was responsible for, unbearable. Now "everything has changed," and we don't like it one bit. We long for the lost world of Sept. 10. For thousands of Americans directly affected by the attack, life has indeed changed tragically. But for most of us it's at worst too early to say whether everyday life will be permanently and dramatically altered. And there's something self-indulgent about assuming so, just as there was something self-indulgent about the hunger for "change" in what we now regard as the pre-Sept. 11 Eden.

While flag-waving is an appropriate and moving response to a frontal attack on our country—and perhaps patriotism cannot be fine-tuned—there are a couple of wrong notes in the current national chorus. One of course is bullying, which is always the underside of patriotism. More novel, disturbing—and, I'm afraid, more characteristic of America today—is the theme of victimization. Oh, poor us. We need grief counseling, candlelight vigils, little ribbons to wear. Those ribbons claim membership and ask for sympathy more than they communicate resolve. We share the pain of actual victims not just through empathy and financial generosity (though there's been plenty of that) but also by feeling victimized ourselves. How long before some doctor discovers a "Sept. 11 syndrome" and some lawyer tries to sue Osama Bin Laden over it?

In the case of a president who must suddenly rally people to an unexpected cause, a bit of hyperbole is understandable. The danger for Bush is that he is promising total victory when that is not really possible or even, in a way, necessary. Terrorism is not "an enemy" that can be defeated. It is an infinite variety of tactics available to any enemy. Particular enemies can be defeated and terrorism in general can be discouraged, but the possibility can never be eliminated.

Spreading alarm about terrorism has been an industry for at least two decades. Read last January's "Report of the National Commission on Terrorism: Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism." Or, if you prefer, last December's "Toward a National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," the report of a completely different government commission. Both are full of scenarios, none of them resembling what happened Sept. 11, and recommendations, none of which would have prevented it.

Life was riskier than we realized before Sept. 11 and is not as risky as we fear now. Resisting the conclusion that everything has changed is one way to help prevent it from being true.


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