Beware the Religious

The woman named Asia had been held in solitary confinement for eight years. Finally, her case reached the highest court in the land. There, after reviewing the case, the judge ruled that she should be released because the charges against her could not be proven.

An immediate cry went up as mobs called for her execution. Angry demonstrators blocked major roads as the woman went into hiding. It’s expected she will have to seek asylum in a foreign country.

Her crime? She was “accused of blasphemy after she quarreled with two fellow female farmworkers who refused to drink from a container used by a Christian.”[1]

The two Muslim women who pressed charges against 55-year-old Asia Bibi, a Catholic, denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts were unprovoked despite the testimony of several other witnesses who recalled the dispute.

Any outrage we as Americans might feel about this situation is quickly tempered when we learn the episode took place in Pakistan. We proudly believe we’re not a nation where religious fanatics control the government, where any hint of blasphemy against the dominant religion is a capital offense. Unlike Muslim Pakistanis, we wouldn’t kill a governor because he defended the woman or murder a government official after he called for justice in the case.

But hold onto your sense of superiority. If the prevailing powers in our political sphere have anything to do with it, we will soon have a nation that no longer protects and accepts all religious belief systems. Or, especially, tolerates those who declare no religion. The current president, elected largely by agitated mobs of religious extremists, accepts and enables those who want to make the U.S. a “Christian” nation. His current position of power as the nation’s top elected official came about through the efforts of those who fully intend to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

They’ve started with the nation’s highest court, where through Kentucky’s Republican senator Mitch McConnell’s illegal refusal to hold hearings on a sitting president’s nominee for the court and with the placement of Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, a justice whose temperament, according to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, lacks the proper “temperament” to serve, the court comes to a conservative majority expected to amend or overturn Roe v Wade.

The issue of abortion has been the rallying cry of conservatives since the 1980s when Republicans figured out this one issue could be a highly useful political tool. Nothing else mattered as much as saving the fetus—not the murder of thousands in secret campaigns ordered by Reagan to foment revolution in Central and South America (Iran-Contra), not the encroaching monopolies of financial institutions  (savings and loan crisis), not Reagan’s crushing of labor unions.

…when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace. …Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.[2]

In hindsight, it’s not hard to see that Reagan’s genial manner served as an effective smoke screen to hide the brutal gutting of so many American ideals and freedoms. In an increasing number of places around the country, we no longer have the right to join with our fellow workers to demand safer working conditions or better pay.

We’ve learned we can no longer trust the federal government to conduct our foreign affairs in an open and just manner, and today face thousands of refugees fleeing their Central American homelands as a direct result of Reagan’s policies.

We’ve learned that our government is largely owned and operated by financial institutions that operate by an elite set of rules which protects their rapacious maneuverings, not the same codes of fairness that we must individually embrace in our daily affairs.

Reagan’s henchman in Congress, Newt Gingrich, operated by his own code in private, pursuing an adulterous affair while his wife lay in a hospital bed fighting cancer.

Gingrich went to Battley’s room with a yellow legal pad on which he had written a list of items related to the handling of the divorce. …Gingrich’s former press secretary reported that: “He wanted her to sign [the list]. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.”[3]

This set the model in which thirty years later our current president could brag about his ability to “grab women by the pussy” and get away with it, be accused by at least seventeen women of sexual assault, and conduct multiple adulterous affairs and still be the champion of religious extremists in a blatant tit-for-tat where they put him in power because he will give them what they want.

We need to pay attention to what they want.

It’s important to listen to voices such as the man whose recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette letter to the editor stated that God’s law overrules any laws crafted by men. He’s not the only one.

What happens when the extremists succeed in terminating a woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body? What religious edict will become the hue and cry of the extremists then? What will be the tool of hypnotic control exerted by Republicans to continue driving their “base” to the polls?

Will the new cudgel become our public schools, increasingly gutted of adequate funding so that religious schools can enjoy the benefit of our taxes? Will parental rights to educate their children as they see fit become the next altar upon which our nation’s laws and the advance of science are sacrificed in the name of God?

Will rabid rightwing terrorists continue to run rampant in our streets, killing those they perceive as enemies of their chosen leader and/or their belief system?

“Thousands of supporters of the [popular religious leader] took to the streets in protest, demanding Bibi’s public execution. Hundreds blocked the road linking the city with the capital, and protests were held in other cities…Three judges upheld the blasphemy law, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam’s holy book…”[4]

Will extremists in our nation succeed in their increasing effort to limit who votes?

The current president certainly thinks so. Yesterday he crowed to a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network about how much he’s done for the religious right and, in return, how much they will continue to support him and the Republican Party.

Trump suggested this support stems from how his administration has “nullified” the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that forbids faith groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates…

He also referred to his expansion of the Mexico City policy, which withholds U.S. aid from foreign nongovernmental health organizations that offer women advice about abortion. In practice, the new policy has placed tighter restrictions on a wide swath of health organizations and applies to about 15 times the amount of foreign aid previously affected.[5]

Or consider the words of Trump’s doppleganger, Steve Bannon, who was quoted by journalist Joshua Green in his recent book Devil’s Bargain that:

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history,” Green quoted Bannon as saying. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

Bannon is far from the first to acknowledge the rise of women to positions of power and authority over the last one hundred years. In 2013, for example, Forbes reviewed Hanna Rosin’s “The End Of Men” which postulates “That the success of feminism, the decline of the patriarchy, has more to do with economic changes than anything else.”

If there is a hero in Rosin’s story, it is not women or men or progressive politics: it is the new service economy, which doesn’t care about physical strength but instead apparently favors “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus” — things that “are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men” and “seem to come easily to women.” And so, “for the first time in history, the global economy is becoming a place where women are finding more success than men.”

I’ve blogged before about the struggle of men to make a place for themselves in a time when a greater skill set is required than manhandling mules, plowing, hunting, and crafting shelter. The angry white men comprising the bulk of rightwing politics and extremism haven’t been able to successfully adapt. Perhaps, for many of them, recognizing the true basis of their rage is beyond their reach. Instead, projecting their fear and anger onto the Other—minorities, immigrants, non-Christians—successfully disguises their instinctual terror that Women will gain the upper hand.

Of course there are female rightwing extremists. And there are plenty of evolved men who embrace women’s rights as akin to their own. But, as stated in a quote attributed to Margaret Mead, we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”

Many exhausted progressive activists have embraced the comment to bolster their efforts in causes ranging from reproductive rights to environment. But the quote works both ways. It applies to rightwing extremists, too, those who won’t rest until we are as crippled by religion as Pakistan.

~~~

[1] Pakistani court acquits Christian woman…” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Nov 1, 2018. 6A

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/opinion/reagan-vs-patco-the-strike-that-busted-unions.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aspects-of-gingrich-divorce-story-distorted/2011/11/17/gIQA8iY4YN_story.html?utm_term=.ee17cf62bc0f

[4] “Pakistani court” article

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-claims-no-one-has-done-more-for-religion_us_5bdb1316e4b019a7ab5aeb8d?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=main_fb&fbclid=IwAR2St6FrAd2j5cr14i4MBG6ToeGflsLGSd7eAzAAMEUEn8aTXbXPYZGi2tY

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