Friday, December 01, 2006

Freedom of Religion

I have a nomination for Media Idiot of the Week.

Some would say that whether a new Muslim congressman gives his oath on the Bible or the Koran is a one of those silly manufactured issues, such as the War on Christmas, that are pure bluster, lacking in substance. I would normally tend to agree--we are after all, in the middle of a terrible war right now, and have serious moral issues about poverty, health care, and the environment to address--except that it occurs to me we are on the verge of wasting a golden opportunity to show the Muslim world (not exactly filled with joy for what the USA has been doing lately, you know) that we really truly do respect their religion on an equal basis.

Alas, here we go, squandering our chance to show that we really do believe in pluralism and freedom, not a clash of civilizations. I happen to really like Keith Ellison, and I think he is going to be a great progressive member of Congress. But even if he were a crazy right-wing nut (we do have a few of those in Congress), I would still defend his choice to swear his allegiance to the Constitution on the Koran. We really do believe in that freedom of religion stuff, don't we?

Don't we? Maybe this is the chance for the vast majority of American to reaffirm our belief in the freedoms our country was founded on. If we repudiate the hateful politics that would enshrine the Christian Bible in a privileged position over the Koran, we will tell Muslims around the world that we don't hate their religion at all--we just oppose people twisting Islam to justify killings and violence (and, of course, we also oppose people twisting Christianity in the same way, as they unfortunately have...)

I fear that some conservative Christian groups are already circulating calls to action against Rep. Ellison being sworn in on a Koran. (But how would they react if they weren't allowed to use a Bible for oaths? If we can't use the Koran, then we can't use the Bible either, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe we can swear on a Dictionary...) What I really fear is that this is on the verge of being blown out of proportion, and that it will have serious negative consequences for the U.S. image among Muslims in the world (if we are not at rock bottom already in that category). So, at the risk of contributing to the blow-up--but in a contrarian manner--I have raised the issue here.

On a completely different subject, I'm glad that a few people on the Left are starting to speak out on what a stupid idea it is to reinstate the draft. I know it is a Democrat who has proposed this (Rep. Rangel of N.Y.), I know the whole idea is to make Bush-Cheney supporters think more about the cost in human lives for going to war, and I know that lots of Progressives are endorsing the idea on various grounds, such as shared sacrifice across class lines. But the whole idea is not only suspect on moral and pragmatic grounds (if we have to force people to go to war against their better judgment, should we really be fighting that war? And why give the war-mongers another tool to keep their immoral wars going?), it also flies in the face of history. As the linked columnist, Andrew Greeley of the Chicago Sun-Times concludes:
"One should ask Rangel if the draft created such racial and social equity in the 1960s, how the president and vice president managed to avoid combat. How could such draft dodgers be elected to high office? And don't tell me that the president served in the Texas Air National Guard. That's like serving in the Nebraska Navy."

As a child of Nebraska, I should note that there really is a Nebraska Navy, although serving in it didn't get you out of Vietnam, if indeed it even existed back then. As a card-carrying Admiral in the Nebraska Navy (really, though it is purely a paper organization having nothing whatsoever to do with actual military service, and my commission surely must have expired by now!) I think forcing people into the military is always a bad idea. Seriously, despite my humorous asides, this is no joke, and I do think that Progressives who support Rangel's crazy plan should reconsider their enthusiasm. To the best of my knowledge, every draft in American history has forced more working-class and poor people into military service than the well-to-do. We do have a sort of economic draft operating today, in part, due to the lack of other opportunities for many people. But reinstating the draft will not suddenly create new opportunities for anyone, nor will it change the basic dynamic making military service attractive (or not) for people differentially based on class.

I have the sneaking suspicion that many (though not all, mind you) of those Progressives clamoring for Rangel's draft are old enough to be exempt (or female: would women be subject to a draft?), and if those same people were in their twenties, many of them would protest vehemently against it. It really is incredible that people who lived through the Vietnam War can now turn around and say what a better deal it was back then when we had a draft. Oh, really, was that such a great way to do things? The draft may have helped spur the anti-war movement, but it sure took a long time to stop the bloodbath. How many thousands of American soldiers (to say nothing of Vietnamese) died after the draft really got cranked up? And what percentage of those fighting were from privileged families (hint: one of the most widely read scholarly works of the Vietnam War is titled _Working Class War_)?

Okay, enough on that. I just had to get that off my chest, and Greeley's op-ed column gave me the excuse.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I concur regarding the assinine storm over Ellison's swearing in on the Koran. An oath is an oath - period. Americans are permitted to say "I affirm" when being sworn in for jury duty. Does the Christian Right want to repeal that as well?

As you write we're wasting an opportunity with Ellison. I believe Ellison is a person of caliber and hope he obtains recognition beyond the novelty of being a Muslim congressman. And yet that very novelty is an opportunity to empower moderate Islam worldwide - and demonstrate to the world that we're not hostile to Muslims.

How do we respond? By having our mainstream media ask him to prove he's not a traitor and create a firestorm over the Koran! Astonishing just how dumb we can be.

As for Rangel and the draft I have mixed feelings. In principal I'm oppossed to any military draft. And yet knowing it has no chance of passing I appreciate the symbolism of what Rangel is attempting: the sacrifice of Bush's wars are disproportionately carried by a few and the rest of us are not making any sacrifices. In World War Two there were rations and everyone was involved in the effort in some way. What Rangel is demonstrating is this: if broadbased sacrifice is not politically viable to support a war then perhaps its not worth fighting.

As you write a draft is not good policy and has no popular support. So it won't pass. I suspect Rangel knows this. Symbolically however he's taking the slings and arrows to make an important point and I believe it is a point worth making.