A Good Court Thing

A court in France has struck down laws banning women from wearing so-called “burkinis”.


These things make me roll my eyes hard. The outfits in question are silly, and I think that wearing any clothes at all at the beach is a bit odd, but if it’s what a woman wants to wear, let her do it. If a guy wants to wear this, let him. Hell, go really extreme and allow people to wear black socks with sandals (hello, every British tourist).

And, yes, as the previous paragraph implies, I don’t care if people want to be naked at the beach. Why shouldn’t they be? Simply nudity is no big deal. If someone is masturbating while at naked at the beach, or harassing people, that’s different. But in that case, punish the behavior, not the lack of clothing.

I believe strongly in freedom. So if a woman wants to wear this, more power to her, and it’s good that the courts of France will, in theory, allow her to do so.


Does it Even Need to Be Said That This Is a Bad Idea?

Possibly, since it’s going forward at present. The Florida legislature is pondering a bill, which hopefully stands zero chance of passing, that’s yet another one of those stupid “Religious Freedom Bills”. This one comes with a bit of a twist, though: it would, in theory, allow doctors, hospitals, and the like, to refuse to treat gay people on religious grounds.


Apparently I have to say this again: if your religious belief comes into conflict with your job, you don’t get to ask your job to change for you. You have to change for it. You can either learn to deal or you can quit. Those are your options.

What you don’t get to do is pick and chose. You don’t get to say, “You’re gay, so I’m not going to sell pizza for your wedding/provide flowers/perform a life-saving operation.”

It doesn’t just go to the gay stuff, either. Doctors could refuse to perform abortions, provide birth control, implant IUDs, or whatever. Pharmacists could refuse to fill prescriptions that come into conflict with their religious belief. Hospitals could, I assume, refuse to allow legally married couples to visit each other in the hospital.

Now for those of you who want to say, “Well, that’s all bad, but that’s their religious right!” I would point out that, no, it isn’t. Religious rights don’t trump the public interest. Religious rights are not all-encompassing. Also, this can easily be used as a weapon back at the Christians who think they’re being victimized. Once this law is passed, imagine how easy it would be for a Muslim or Jewish doctor to refuse to treat someone on the basis of religion. And why stop there? I’ve used the example of interracial couples before. If someone truly believes interracial marriage is a sin, why should they have to serve someone in an interracial marriage?

Lastly, let me point out that while people in the big cities of Miami, Orlando and the like might have plenty of options when it comes to health care, not everyone does. If you’re a poor person living in a small town and the town’s only doctor refuses to provide you birth control, and even if they did, the town’s only pharmacist would refuse to fill the prescription, what are you supposed to do?

This, and laws like it, are bad, stupid, wrong, and fundamentally un-American. I can’t imagine them standing up in court, but I don’t want to have people suffering while we wait for the courts to sort out the issue. So I dearly hope Florida doesn’t pass this. We shall see.

Democracy: Give it a Chance

A number of people, including a friend of mine, are of the opinion that we can’t allow the government in Yemen to collapse in case Muslim extremists take over. They had the same views on Egypt, and likely hold the same views on a great many other countries where strongmen rule, the people suffer and terrorists are held at bay. These people justify allowing brutal governments to remain in charge under the logic that, hey, at least they aren’t fostering terrorism against us!

These people are what you might call “wrong”.

See, here’s my thinking on this. I think we need to support democracy all over the world, even, perhaps especially, in countries we are friends with. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, all of these are countries where the people don’t enjoy even basic freedoms and live in fear of their governments. It’s not right to claim that they need to be held down so that we can have the illusion of safety.

We need to support their desire for freedom. Yes, they might turn around and put extremists in office (ie: Iran). It’s possible. Then they’d have a government that hates us, but the people might at least be friendly toward us (ie: Iran). I fail to see how keeping them oppressed makes them less likely to harbor terrorists and want to destroy us.

So let’s speak out and fight for them. Let’s also stand up and make real noise against other countries where the people are oppressed. Places like the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, the “Democratic” “Republic” of the Congo, and places like that. We need to stand up for these people’s rights, because often they can’t stand up on their own, and if we’re friends with governments that, at the very least, don’t allow people freedom of expression, then we really need to rethink our policies.

So What’s Next?

Bye-bye, ya bastard.

Professional bastard, all-around jerk and the man who puts the “dick” in “dictator”, Hosni Mubarak, has resigned. At last.

What’s next for Egypt? The military is currently in charge. I sincerely hope that won’t last, and I don’t think it will. They don’t strike me as being stupid enough to try and maintain power. If they have free, democratic, internationally-monitored elections soon, that will be wonderful.

What’s next beyond that? In the short term I expect more hand-wringing on the part of the Right in America, paranoid that Muslim terrorists will be elected to office. That is possible, but I think it’s unlikely. I also think that in the short term we’ll see a hell of a lot more “revolutions” in the region. Watch for Yemen, Algeria, Libya and possibly Iran to have major problems in the next few months. In my wildest and wettest Saudi Arabia also has massive protests and their evil regime collapses.

In the long term, I think we’ll see a real move towards democracy in the region. This is a part of the world with a young population that’s starting to realize what a major screw-job their leaders are giving them. I imagine that from Iran to Morocco we’ll see a real shift in power from the dictators to the masses. It won’t always be pretty and it won’t always give us a result that we in America want, but it’s going to happen.

A couple other thoughts on the broader issues here. We need to stop propping up evil, repressive regimes simply to make ourselves feel safe. It is entirely unethical and certainly goes against American principles. We cannot continue to allow millions upon millions of people to live in terror simply to provide ourselves with an illusion of security. Even if it were giving us actual security to have the vast majority of the Middle East run as a police state, that’s still not good enough. We have to help them as much as we can to have the same rights and freedoms we enjoy. If along the way that makes our short-term security situation far more interesting, well, such is life.

And lastly, I was listing to someone on CNN talking last night about torture being used by the Mubarak regime, and it saddened me on a couple levels. Obviously, it’s quite sad and horrific that people were being tortured in Egypt. But it’s also very sad that we haven’t a leg to stand on with this issue. Thanks to Bush and Cheney we became a nation that used torture. We claim we did it for the “right” reasons and that the people who were being tortured essentially had it coming. I’m sure that’s what the Egyptian police said, too. But we can’t condemn it anymore. No one will listen. They’ll just point out the fact that we did it, too. It’s a great shame for this nation and one of many reasons we need to put Bush and Cheney on trial.

I wish the Egyptian people great success in the upcoming weeks! Keep an eye on your military and don’t let them have a hand in running the country once things are stable. One of the best, smartest things George Washington did was to resign from the military when becoming president. Don’t let your new leadership replace one dictator for another.

!حظا سعيدا، تونس

Things are getting interesting and unpleasant in Tunisia where protesters have been trying to get the same sort of democracy and freedom that much of the rest of the civilized world enjoys. Some progress seems to be happening, as the President has resigned, but there’s also been reports of a lot of arrests and shootings, in addition to the usual crimes perpetrated against people agitating for freedom.

I wish the people of Tunisia the best of luck. I long to visit there one day, to see the ruins of Carthage. Hopefully by the time I’m able to afford to do so, the Tunisians will have a better country. It didn’t work for Iran, but popular uprisings in places like Georgia and Ukraine resulted in quite a bit of change. I hope it’s the same with Tunisia. We shall see.

Free Spech Isn’t Always Nice

Professional bigot and jackass Fred Phelps has a case before the Supreme Court. The case centers around a law that was passed pretty much just for him saying that people aren’t allowed to protest at soldiers funerals. The ACLU and a few other organizations have filed suit on the grounds that this is an un-Constitutional infringement on his right to free speech.

Phelps is a loathsome individual. I make it a habit not to rejoice in the death of others, but he’s on the shortlist of people who, when they die, will cause me to grin broadly. He’s brought nothing good and positive into the world. His acts and his message are evil, immoral, anti-American and wrong.

But despite the fact that he’d probably love to see me lynched due to my bisexuality, I’m still on his side in this case. Yes, typing that did make my skin crawl, but it’s true. He’s a sad, pathetic man who has done great evil, and I utterly support his right to carry on exactly as he has.

I understand that the families of those who have lost people shouldn’t have to put up with him protesting. I understand that it’s cruel and deeply offensive. However the First Amendment is more important than their feelings, and it doesn’t protect you from being offended; far from it, as it actually protects other people who want to give offense to you.

Horrible though Phelps and his message are, they must be allowed to continue. As for those who have a problem with this, might I suggest that it’s a two-way street? Feel free to gather outside his little church and mock him for the jerk he is. If I lived near there, I sure as hell would.

Religious Freedom for All (Except Muslims)!

You all know that I’m an atheist. I think religion is fundamentally bad, and then even the so-called “good” religions promote an environment of sloppy thinking and lies. I will be a happy person the day that less than 1% of the world’s population claims belief in any religion or spirituality. I have zero desire to see it continue to be a part of the human experience in any way other than the historical and mythological.

That said, I’m also an American, and I strongly believe in our Constitution. I believe that people should have the right to worship whatever god/s they want to, without fear or favor from the government. I truly, deeply believe that all religions are equal (in that I think they’re all equally wrong), and must be treated the same under our laws.

This apparently puts me in the minority and makes me a member of the radical left, as does my belief that torture is always wrong and anyone born in this country should be a citizen.

As you may have guessed, the genesis of this article is the Cordoba House project in New York City. This project would create a Muslim community center, a concept not dissimilar to the YMCA. It would be located two-and-a-half blocks from the site where the World Trade Center used to be, in a neighborhood that already has a mosque, and would contain an art gallery, swimming pool, restaurant and, yes, a worship center. It would replace a building that most recently was a Burlington Coat Factory store. It’s what many people like to call “The Ground Zero mosque”, because that has a nicely paranoid ring to it.

I think this project is a splendid idea! I think that giving Muslims a place where they can go and hang out is no bad thing, especially for the young ones. It’ll help continue to mainstream Muslim culture in America and might give non-Muslims a place where they can go to see a message that’s so very different from the kind of message that bin Laden and his like love to push. It also sends a very strong message abroad that our nation, as George W Bush once said, is not at war with Islam. It shows that we truly practice what we preach when it comes to our Constitution.

Sadly, as mentioned, this puts me in the minority. People like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have come out in heavy opposition to this project, with Gingrich saying that as long as no churches and synagogues are allowed in Saudi Arabia, we shouldn’t allow this place to be built. I hope my readers understand the stupidity of that comment, but in case there’s any who don’t, allow me to point out that sinking to the level of Saudi Arabia is not, perhaps, what we should be doing.

I understand and appreciate the idea that some people find this location to be insensitive. I get that, I really do. But it doesn’t matter in the long run. You can petition the organizers of the project to move it, or offer to help them find a different place, or whatever. But ultimately it’s a matter of law, and the law says that there’s no reason this place cannot be built.

Yesterday when discussing this with a co-worker he asked the question of whether the KKK should be allowed to sponsor a highway cleanup operation near a major civil rights landmark. I said that, absolutely, under the law if they meet all qualifications they should be allowed to. It’s tacky, it’s horrible and it’s awful, but it’s a matter of law and freedom.

Under our law you don’t have the right to not be offended. You don’t have the right to not have your feelings hurt. This sometimes leads to things people don’t like, such as Nazis being allowed to have a little gathering in Skokie, Illinois, or Fred Phelps and his gang of idiots protesting at military funerals. The law is the law and you have the right to be an offensive jackass. Other people don’t have the right to not be offended.

There’s something to be made about the name of the project: Cordoba House. It refers to Cordoba, Spain, a city that was once capital of the Caliphite of Cordoba back when most of the Iberian peninsula was ruled by Spain. It was a great time of intellectual flowering for the world, especially since most of Europe was mired in the dark ages. It was also a time of great religious tolerance, where Jews and Christians were allowed to practice their faith. True, they had to pay extra taxes Muslims didn’t, but at least they were tolerated.

Mind you when Spain took over following the Reconquista in 1492, one of the first things they did was kill or kick out everyone who wasn’t Christian. Yes, this was during the thousand year period when Islam was the more tolerant faith.

I think it’s good that Cordoba House will evoke the name of this great city and the religious tolerance it represented and I think it’s very, very sad that we have so many of our government officials and politicians who are unwilling to back religious freedom in this country. Once you start saying that one religion should be treated differently from all others you start going down a very slippery slope that leads to some very dark places. I don’t want my country to go to those places. When it comes to choosing freedom and equality, I’ll take that every time, and if people’s feelings get hurt, that’s unfortunate, but the law and our freedom is more important.