Wednesday, March 29, 2006

True Belief taken to its (Il)logical Conclusion

I came across this on CNN yesterday, dateline Badshahkili, Pakistan:

A battle for the airwaves between two Islamic preachers with their own FM radio stations in Pakistan escalated into bitter fighting that killed at least 24 people.
You can read the entire article here:

Apparently what happened was that supporters of the two clerics decided to fight it out after the men started criticizing each other's beliefs during their respective broadcasts. A local tribal council banned them both from the airwaves and they were banished from the region, but followers of at least one of the men have continued to run a radio station from a nearby village.

Now this was not just a riot or even a gunfight, like they used to have in the Wild West. Among the weapons used by these religious believers were assault rifles, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. There were 24 killed in the fighting, and among the 14 injured were two children. And these were not the first deaths in the conflict - five were killed in February in earlier fighting between the two groups.

There are larger issues at hand in the region, of course. The region in question is in northwestern Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani government, according to the CNN report, has less than firm control of the region, and radical religious groups, including members of the Taliban, have a certain amount of influence. But the fact remains that this is violence based on the theory, I suppose, that anyone who disagrees with one's religious beliefs deserve to die.

And that is one of the issues I have with religious belief taken to the extreme. This theory is not found just in radical Islam. It seemed to be pretty popular during the Inquisition. You saw it during the Protestant Reformation, because goodness knows that it wasn't only the Catholics burning the unbeliever and the unorthodox believer at the stake or torturing them until they confessed their (often nonexistent) sins.

You also see this feeling in practice, if not admitted to, by those who would withhold things like condoms in AIDS ravaged Africa and vaccines against cervical cancer from those deemed too young to be engaging in sexual intercourse. You see it in those who would make abortion illegal again. Most of those on that side of those arguments likely wouldn't admit it, but at bottom their idea is that anyone who has sex who they think isn't supposed, or who decides for some reason to end a pregnancy, deserves to die. You an hear it when they claim that allowing the vaccine or condoms "just encourages them to go out and have sex."

Sometimes, the true believer's contempt is only thinly veiled. I have personally seen one very prominent televangelist say on television that while he "couldn't" advocate the execution of gays on the airwaves, that he knew his followers knew "how it would be" when "we take over." The statement was accompained by a wink that left no doubt exactly what he meant.

I have to say that while there are people in this world who I disagree with very much, who I disagree with violently, I have never wished even one of them any physical or mental harm. Maybe that makes me soft. Maybe it makes me stupid. Maybe it makes me a loser. I don't know. But it seems awfully, oh, uncivilized, to want to destroy all difference in the world.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


You hear it all the time: “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But sometimes it’s really, horribly, almost impossibly difficult not to want to do so, at least figuratively.

The job of the electronic media is to be a messenger, and the messages those who participate in that endeavor are entrusted to deliver are the daily stories of what is happening in the world, in our country (whatever nation we happen to live in), and in our communities. Some do that better than others, but they usually manage to do that to at least some extent - although sometimes what they find important doesn’t quite jibe with my idea of what is important to know. But that’s another issue for another time.

The problem I’m having with the messenger is that they seem to think that it is also their job to relay another set of messages. Apparently we, the public, have been deemed not to be intelligent enough to know what to think and how to feel about the events the media reports to us. So, sometimes in not especially subtle messages, the reporters and the newsreaders try to instruct us in those areas. The national broadcast networks aren’t as bad about it as the cable networks and local news broadcasts are, but it seems to be a growing trend at all levels. The local media in my own area in central California tend to be especially blatant about it.

I hear it every day. Things never go wrong anymore; they only go “horribly wrong”. Funny, I never had anything go “wonderfully wrong”, so that if something goes wrong, that it might well take a horrible turn seems like a foregone conclusion. And there are no accidents anymore, it seems. Each one is a “tragic accident.” Well, while I’m willing to concede that some accidents could be classed as “comic accidents”, usually no one is hurt in those and they end up on America’s Funnies Home Videos instead of on the evening news.

That isn’t the worst of it, though. The worst of it is how those accused of certain crimes are tried and convicted in the media long before they ever go to trial in the judicial system, sometimes before they are even arrested. If you think the rest of the United States got hit with the circus surrounding the Scott Peterson trial, where a man was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for killing his wife and unborn child, just think how it played where I am, where it was a local story. Before there had even been any revelations that the husband might have been involved in what was initially called a “disappearance”, there were some in the local media detailing what tactics the prosecution might want to use in convicting him of the crime. Not saying that I don’t think he did it; I’d bet money that he did. It just seemed to me that finding an impartial jury after all those messages from the media would be fairly difficult. And so it turned out to be; the trial was held in another jurisdiction. The media got its message out quite successfully on that one.

It’s tempting to think that this sort of message-sending by the media is a relatively new phenomenon. It isn’t. I happen to be re-reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff at the moment, and I came across this passage, where he is describing the press conference where the seven Project Mercury astronauts were introduced to the public. “It was as if the press in America,” Wolfe writes,
for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a single nervous system. In the late 1950s (as in the late 1970s) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone should be established and should prevail;…the animal’s fundamental concern remained the same: the public, the populace, the citizenry, must be provided with the correct feelings! (Wolfe 1979, p. 101; emphasis in the original)

In truth, this probably goes back far further than the 1970s or the 1950s, but it certainly prevails and seems even more fervently served up today.

All this probably bothers me a lot more than it really should, and I tend to take it a lot more personally than I likely should. Still, I feel insulted that someone, some organizations that do not know me at all, have decided that I am so stupid - that the community is so stupid - that we need to be sent messages telling us how to feel about the issues and events of the day.

This entry was created as part of a project called Weekly Anamnesis, which you can find at