Thursday, April 17, 2008

My latest windmill

As a dyed-in-the-wool civil libertarian, the attempts by people in government or government service to Christianize the country, particularly the military, frightens me profoundly. The previous post and the one following are all of a piece, with similar content but a different approach. Feel free to make of each what you will...

The Enemy Within
We all know what can happen when a heavily armed group of dedicated religious fanatics embraces a sectarian cause. Throughout history we have borne witness to the violence and carnage perpetrated by the willing minions of kings, popes, sheikhs, caliphs, sultans, imams, mullahs, tinpot dictators and born again presidents, all bound by the singular delusion that they are doing God’s work.
This is, of course, what we’re looking at today as well. The West, that is to say America with the Brits nipping at our heels, has for several years now been locked in mortal combat with the toxic fundamentalism of Islamist Wahibism, the sect that spawned bin Laden and his gang. By all accounts, at least from our perspective, we have gone to war to defend and uphold the sterling virtues of a secular, pluralistic and democratic society we the people have spent nearly three centuries trying to perfect.
So it would seem at first glance that we’re on the side of the angels in this particular conflict. After all, aren’t we the ones defending the right to think as we wish, worship - or not - as we wish, and to be safe in our homes and workplaces from those who would impose their own narrow-minded world view on the rest of us? At the same time, aren’t we also the ones who would lay down our lives to protect the rights of an individual to say or think something we might find personally or politically repulsive?
You’d think so, wouldn’t you. But what if in our own country we had a large and heavily armed group of political and religious extremists, our own Christian al Qaeda if you will, that is itself seeking to impose their own theocratic will on the rest of us? And what if, instead of these radicals operating on the fringe of society, out there on cable or cyberspace or in isolated Idaho redoubts, they were firmly entrenched within our governmental infrastructure with a virtual blank check to pursue their nefarious ends?
Wake up call, neighbors. It’s happening now, and if we’re not careful we could easily reap the whirlwind. You see, the particular bit of government infrastructure previously referred to is the United States military, and by conservative reckoning about thirty percent of it, from the highest echelons of the Pentagon to the most basic ground units, has been all but co-opted by a particularly toxic cadre of Christian fundamentalists identified as Dominionists, who are fanatically pro-Jesus and just about anti-everything else.
Now in and of itself the presence of any non-mainstream ideologues in our military shouldn’t be a concern. After all, we’re the nation of the big tent, with room for any number of faiths and philosophies, even in the service, but once the balloon goes up everyone’s on the same side. It’s an idea that worked well during the various struggles of the last century, but for some reason in this post-bin Laden age we now find ourselves being told by many of our military leaders that we’re not just fighting for the American way but we are now the spearhead of the apocalyptic holy war these brass-hat wingnuts so desperately crave.
Space precludes laying out the whole case, but consider the following, and remember that this stuff’s been well documented. We couldn’t have made this up if we tried:
Begin with the uproar over the verbal and physical harassment of Air Force Academy cadets considered “unchurched” by the over-the-top Dominionists in charge of the place. Even after the Air Force was shamed into investigating, and they were forced to admit that this was going on and that it was antithetical to everything we purport to stand for, they then turned around and issued a convoluted set of guidelines that all but endorsed the status quo.
To date the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group formed by former Air Force Academy honors graduate Mikey Weinstein, has heard from nearly eight thousand aggrieved service people who have been subjected to theocratic abuse, and that number is increasing almost literally as we speak.
There have been several lawsuits filed in federal court on behalf of some of the aforementioned grievants, but one case in particular puts the whole thing in microcosm. A young GI, a two-tour Iraq vet with an exemplary record but who is also a confirmed atheist, ran afoul of one of his superior officers when he convened an off-hours discussion group consisting of himself and fellow atheists. The officer belligerently broke up the meeting and threatened the soldier by saying he’d block is re-enlistment and bring charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), whereupon the young man filed suit.
The case is pending, and the young soldier, now back on post in the US, is living under the dark cloud of army-initiated threats of retribution and retaliation for daring to confront this issue head-on. This follows a number of death threats the soldier received while still deployed in Iraq, where the original incident took place.
So if any of this troubles you, and shame on you if it doesn’t, the face staring back at you in the mirror, the one that says I’m an American and this isn’t right, should be all the incentive you need to do what you need to do as a participant in our democracy to help take our country back.

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