Point of View Columns

Playing with Fire

Last week, someone named Pamela Geller was directly responsible for organizing a “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. As was her clear intention, the contest provoked a furious reaction from the national and international Muslim community. Two gunmen actually showed up planning to kill the attendees and participants and the two gunmen were shot and killed. And Pamela Geller’s perversion of the concept of freedom of speech was certainly a contributing factor to these two deaths.

Indeed, Ms. Geller’s actions were so blatantly and transparently provocative that one must wonder if her true goal, her secret hope, was that the gunmen would actually kill some of the attendees and participants in Garland thereby proving her “point” that followers of Islam are less worthy than believers in other religions. There is no question that horrific and despicable conduct has taken place by individuals and groups who claim to be Muslims. That truth does not permit Ms. Geller, or anyone else, to conclude that Islam is evil or that all Muslims are worthy of contempt and disrespect.

The story of humanity tells us that many great crimes have been carried out in the name of one religion or another. The Bible tells us how the Israelites slew countless Philistines. In India Muslims have slaughtered Hindus and Hindus have slaughtered Muslims. And the history of Christianity is literally written in blood flowing from the Crusades to the Inquisition to countless pogroms and genocidal horrors in Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia.

Yet, most sane and rational people do not choose to condemn Catholicism because of all the Muslims that were killed during the Crusades. We still respect Judaism and Protestantism despite the crimes committed in their name. Why Ms. Geller has gone on this weird and contemptible decades-long tirade against Islam is a question that only she may be able to answer during her sad and lonely and infrequent moments of self-reflection.

What must also be pointed out is that freedom of speech as a concept is not unlimited and without restraint. Not should one not falsely yell “Fire” in a theater, defaming someone or threatening a crime can result in real legal consequences.

But putting aside strictly legal considerations, there are also basic standards of conduct between humans that include respect and the notion that insulting, shaming or intentionally offending another person is not useful behavior and typically is not conduct that is honored or condoned. Acceptable behavior does not usually include behavior that is intended to provoke and outrage.

Which brings us to the raging controversy regarding as to whether cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad should be protected as free speech. If the question is answered in a vacuum, it would probably be answered in the affirmative.

But we do not live in a vacuum. We live on the Planet Earth with three billion other people and if one knows that these cartoons enrage some followers of Islam to the point of committing murder and mayhem, then what is the point? I am not clear that drawing and publishing cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad that are known to provoke and outrage large numbers of people is worth men, women and children dying.

To repeatedly draw and publish these cartoons seems to be unnecessarily provocative and unworthy of any artist. And, of course, people like Pamela Geller will cover themselves with the fig leaf of freedom speech which does little to hide her naked aggression and hate.

And this is what happens when any freedom, including freedom of speech is abused in the extreme – people die, people suffer and then people hate some more.

Point of View Columns

Glass House Residents

Last week President Obama took the historic step of being the first sitting U.S. president to endorse the concept of gay marriage. The national reaction was both predictable and troubling. The right wing of the right wing turned over the engine on the Lie Mobile to claim that this was more evidence that Barack Obama is an enemy of America. Gay Republicans claimed that he didn’t do enough to warrant their support even as Mitt Romney doubled down on his opposition to same sex marriage. The Catholic Church and too many black churches once more revealed that they are mired in loveless opposition thinly disguised as dogma.

A few facts are useful at this point. Same sex marriage is not recognized by the federal government pursuant to the ridiculously entitled Defense of Marriage Act. Same sex marriage is banned by statute in twelve states and banned by the state constitution in 30 states. So it would be a mistake to think that President’s Obama’s announcement was akin to an Emancipation Proclamation for the gay community.

Nevertheless, by affirming the right of American men and women to live and love as they please President Obama articulated what should by now be a basic fact of civil life in this country. Prejudging and confining men and women based upon gender, gender preference, race, religion or physical disability is wrong.

There is no doubt that there remains a major gap between the reality of this country and its stated ideals. Its Declaration of Independence and Constitution proclaimed the rights of all mankind while black people were treated as chattel and women had no rights except those granted to them by their fathers or husbands.

The Constitution (and the Bible) was used to justify genocide against Native Americans and to codify racial segregation. And the Constitution was construed to permit the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II (but not German Americans or Italian Americans).

Nevertheless the Constitution is now seen as the guarantor of basic rights and liberties for all Americans. Race, gender, religion and physical disabilities are no longer seen as justifiable reasons for discrimination. The fact too many Americans are comfortable with discriminating against men and women based upon gender preference says more about their bigotry than it does about their victims.

Mitt Romney and the Teapublicans (and too many Democrats) proclaim that marriage must be between a man and a woman. They refer to the Bible and presumably the Book of Mormon to justify that position.

Assuming that the Biblical and Mormon interpretations are correct, how can religious principles define constitutional and legislative agendas? Freedom of religion means that we are free to practice our religion as we see fit. Freedom of religion also means that we are free from the precepts, practices and mandates of other religions.

Catholics and the Catholic Church have known much bigotry, hate and discrimination in this country. Why the Catholic Church would so vigorously oppose same sex marriage by non-Catholics is baffling. Church prelates can exercise their prerogative to ban same sex marriages within the Catholic Church. But the Catholic Church and the rest of the religious establishment should have no say over the private lives of Americans outside of the church.

And it is worth mentioning that during the past two decades the passion that the Catholic Church expresses in opposing same sex marriage has been notably missing as the thousands of sexual abuse cases have been revealed within the Church. One would think that an institution that has had so many leaders who have enabled, empowered, protected and defended predators of children would be more focused on its own glass house as opposed to the glass houses of others.

The role of the black church in this controversy is particularly troubling. As long as there have been black churches there have been members of the gay community in those churches. Further, black Americans have been the victims of so much state-sponsored suffering, terrorism and legalized discrimination and marginalization that it is truly bizarre for black pastors and ministers to claim that their interpretation of “God’s law” now calls them to discriminate and marginalize.

What is particularly shameful is that too many of these black pastors and ministers have gone so far as to withdraw their support for President Obama. If even a few black parishioners follow their boneheaded example it could result in Barack Obama’s defeat.

This would open the doors for a Romney administration that will inject Tea Party madness throughout the federal government and throughout this country. Black Americans will suffer the brunt of this particularly despicable turn of events.

One wonders what will become of these shepherds who would lead their flocks so far astray on their personal judgment day.

Point of View Columns

The Song of Solomon

The Bible may not offer all answers to all questions, but it does offer some interesting insights. This past Sunday the priest at the Catholic Church that I attend gave a sermon which referred to King Solomon and the gift of wisdom that had been granted to him. A clear illustration of that wisdom was his resolution of the dispute between two women as to who was the actual mother of a small infant.

You will recall that King Solomon, after listening to the arguments of the two women claiming to be the child’s mother, offered a very simple solution – cut the baby in half. One contender immediately agreed to this horrific solution while the other woman, appalled beyond imagination immediately gave up her cause, granting the child to her opponent rather than risk harm to the baby in question.

In his infinite wisdom, King Solomon declared that the woman who agreed to cutting the baby in half was the impostor. His impeccable reasoning was that the true mother of the child would rather give up the child than see it harmed in any way.

And that brings us to the latest debt ceiling/budget debate. Every respected economist, every respectable business commentator and every serious financial publication has stated in the clearest possible terms that the harm of an August 2nd fiscal default by the United States government would result in a horrific impact on the global economy, on the American economy and on the lives and livelihoods of the American people.

In the event of such a default, which would be the first in the 222 year history of this country, the international marketplace would be destabilized, causing incalculable damage to the economy of countries around the world. In the event of a default the American economy, already wobbly and barely breathing the fresh air of distant recovery, would suffer setbacks ranging from higher interest rates to increased unemployment as businesses would lose much needed access to capital for their business operations.

Sadly, the American people would suffer as well. Employees of government contractors would be unpaid and furloughed, if not dismissed. Elderly citizens and children would risk missing meals and necessary medical care.

The Federal Aviation Administration is already shut down in 35 states because Congress could not overcome G.O.Tea Party obstinacy and phony fiscal pledges. As this column is being written 4000 FAA workers have been laid off and hundreds of millions of dollars of airport infrastructure repairs have been halted. Now multiply this madness throughout the entire governmental apparatus and you begin to see the potential for financial and social Armageddon.

The G.O.Tea Party has made a profession out of pseudo-patriotism. But it takes more than singing the national anthem and wearing an American flag pin to be a patriot. The cavalier fashion in which the Tea Party stalwarts and their partners in foolishness have dealt with this self-induced budget crisis is alarming and incredibly dangerous.

Just as King Solomon uncovered the phony mother by threatening to harm the child she claimed to be hers, the G.O.Tea Party is showing itself to be the fake patriots by embracing the disaster that looms over this country and its people.

The truth is that the G.O.Tea Party has no philosophy and no principle to which its followers adhere except the overwhelming desire to bring about the defeat of President Obama. There is no argument regarding fiscal probity that would support allowing the federal government to default. When Ronald Reagan, the G.O.Tea Party deity, was president, the debt ceiling was raised 18 times in a little less than 8 years! Indeed, it was President Reagan who said that allowing the United States to default would be “unthinkable”.

But now the inmates have taken over the asylum and are threatening to blow it up. The no new taxes pledge of the Tea Partiers is a fake fig leaf to cover their naked desire to fatally damage the presidency of Barack Obama. That the G.O.Tea Party would damage this country for decades to come in their frothing ambition to unseat the President of the United States is shameful and should be labeled for what it is – treasonous.

How ironic it is that Representative Michelle Bachmann, the head of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress once suggested that Barack Obama should be investigated for his “un-American views”. It turns out that the real traitors wear Tea Party hats and wave American flags to distract us from their real mission – the defeat of Barack Obama even at the risk of wrecking this country’s economy.