Thursday, December 18, 2014

Be thankful for the rights we take for granted in this country

I once asked the immigrant from a certain country located in the Horn of Africa what he thought about Barack Obama. The common stereotype is that all Africans regard Obama with some kind of reverence and as a “hero” to their people; at least that is what right-wing hate talk radio have told us, and “rational racism” proponents like  Dinesh D’Souza have even written books about, to make it appear that Obama is “foreign” to American principles.

So it was to my surprise that this immigrant of Africa expressed intense antipathy toward Obama: “Fuck Obama” he said. Those who heard him kind of chuckled about it, being so unexpected in its passion. I asked him why he disliked Obama so much; he said it was because Obama “voted for rights for gay people.” Now, some people might have certain feelings about people of “alternate” sexual orientation, but you’d have to be pretty far gone in your hatred to judge even a politician solely on the fact that he supports gay rights.

That certainly was the case here. This person went on to assert that all homosexuals should—and he used this hand to demonstrate a throat slash. Such are the rights we take for granted, this elicited surprised bemusement from his listeners; this demonstration of social regressiveness was so far beyond the pale of current Western thought that such an attitude could be regarded as being a vestige of barbarism from a distant age—or at least to those too young to remember that this wasn’t always so in this country. 

Given the far greater influence that religion has in the Islamic world (as well as on the Christian “fundamentalist” worldview), the Muslim attitude toward any open displays of homosexuality is a criminal offense in most countries where the religion predominates—although there are divergent beliefs on the level of punishment, since the Koran is not clear on the level of punishment. Although jail sentences, fines or whippings are more usual, homosexuality can be punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, the Islamic region of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen; in some countries, rural regions where central governments have weak reach, residents sometimes enforce their own "moral" code. While Ethiopia does not proscribe a maximum penalty of death, 97 percent of both Muslims and Christians believe that homosexuality is the act of “animals” and must be “disciplined.”

But we also hear of or see people being beheaded on videos for other reasons that make no moral sense, acts that seem to be “enjoyed” by the perpetrators. We tell ourselves that this is beyond bestiality. Of course,  we are then forced to recall the horrors of the Holocaust, and the fact that gun violence in this country—the latest being the six killed by a former U.S. Marine in Philadelphia—has never been worse.

We are fortunate that this is a nation of secular laws. People are not executed or maimed for “ordinary,” non-violent crimes. They have a chance to “redeem” themselves after a certain time to reflect and reconsider if they so choose. Violent criminals can expect “due process” to take its course so that no “mistake” is made in determining their guilt. But beyond that, this is a country where right-wing speech intended to provoke hate and intimate violent reprisal against a targeted group is “protected”—as long as it remains just “talk.” 

But no matter what political or sexual ideology one may be, those who cannot “tolerate” the freedom of others to say or be who they wish to be, and seek ways to nullify their existence in permanent ways, are the ones who can expect to be punished—if not by one agency, but by another. Even race or immigrant hate extremists who think they can get away with murder because of the “community standard” of where they reside approves of what they have done, will likely be punished by a higher authority, usually meaning a civil rights case tried in federal court. 

The exception to the rule, of course, is law enforcement officers, who obey no laws or standards of behavior but their own, and are generally permitted to by the “standard” set by the majority. It is understood that there is a “duty” to “serve and protect” against behavior that falls far short of civilized human norms; the problem is that it is always after the fact when police respond, and those who they do take action against tend to be people who are guilty of nothing more than petty infractions on the process. 

Still, what a “wonderful” world we live in where the majority of us toil five or six days a week for just enough money to pay the bills for very modest living circumstances—literally living to work—with only that infinitesimal chance that someone will deem your life forfeit for something you said, believe in, or are. That is, of course, unless you live in community where the “standards” allow it.

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