Thursday, August 23, 2007

Do You Feel Lucky?

It isn't easy being a liberal in a small town in the deep south. It's especially difficult being a religious liberal. My church, the Unitarian Church, sanctions religious gay marriages. I'm proud of our open, inclusive congregations.

My favorite Unitarian Minister is a woman. Another rather wonderful sign of progress and equality.

But I must drive a hour and a half to attend church. The closest thing we have to a liberal church here in our small town is a Methodist Church with a pastor who makes most Baptists look left wing.

Still I chose to live here in a town of only 8,000 and my wife and my family love it. There is actually a lot to be said for small town values, especially the friendship and mutual support in a tight knit community. If you have tragedy, a crisis or even a fallen limb off a tree, thee are twenty people who genuinely rush to your side. We can argue politics over our morning coffee and they will still stop to help if my car breaks down on the side of the road.

I feel lucky. This is a great community, a great state and a great country.

But my rights as an American citizen are really an accident of birth. Unless reincarnation is more of a reality than I've assumed, I did nothing to deserve this wonderful accident. And if reincarnation is a reality, I must have done something really good in a previous life to receive this much bounty now.

We can argue politics. We can officiate religious gay marriages. We can lobby our government and perhaps, someday, legal gay marriages will become a reality.

I can go to the local Baptist Church and witness my grandson be baptised as I did last Sunday. There is no restriction on religious freedom. I can be Unitarian one Sunday and Baptist the next (at least in spirit).

Tragically both my boys have been married and divorced. One is remarried to a wonderful girl and we even gained a granddaughter in the process. Gone are the stigmas against divorce, remarriage and even sex outside of marriage.

Maybe that's not all good. Divorce rates are high and too many children are born out-of wedlock. Society is evolving and solutions sometimes come slowly. But freedom is a wonderful thing.

I am very lucky, indeed.

But what if I had been born in Iran instead? It's just a matter of luck. I didn't chose to be born here. Saeed Ghanbari didn't chose to be born in Iran. It was just a matter of luck.

From today's
Daily Mail (United Kingdom) , story by David Williams

Rough justice: 80 lashes for 'immoral' Iranian who abused alcohol and had sex

His face covered by a balaclava, an official brandishing a cane repeatedly lashes the back of a man found guilty of breaking Iran's morality laws.

Two police officers hold the legs of 25-year-old Saeed Ghanbari and another his arms to ensure there is no escape from the punishment of 80 lashes handed down by a religious court.

Traffic was brought to a halt in Qazvin, 90 miles west of the capital Tehran, as more than 1,000 men gathered behind barricades to watch the public flogging.

Some took pictures on mobile telephones, others climbed traffic lights for a better vantage point as Ghanbari was marched to the centre of the square under the watch of blue-uniformed guards carrying machine guns.

A four foot long metal bench was taken from a police van and the convicted man was made to lie on it on his stomach, his fawn checked shirt pulled-up to his shoulders to expose his back and waist.

One police officer held his hands together beneath the bench, two others gripped his legs to ensure there was little movement.

Two police officers stood-by, their faces covered with balaclavas - each to administer 40 lashes.

The public lashings have been endorsed by the judiciary as a way of deterring alcohol abuse at a time when it is on the increase among young men but some religious leaders are said to be questioning their validity, fearing they have an adverse impact on the country's image abroad.

Although men and women convicted of flouting public morals are routinely flogged in detention centres, public floggings are considered rare.

Human Rights groups say there have been a marked rise in recent months in the number of people sentenced to executions and floggings in Iran.

This isn't funny, but I can't help but think about the movement here in the teach abstinence. I'm guessing public flogging might just do the trick.

If a flogging like this took place at the hands of a fundamentalist Christian in small town Mississippi, the entire world would be outraged. This simply can't happen and won't be tolerated in the United States.

Amnesty International, which said it is "greatly concerned by continuing human rights abuses in Iran", has highlighted figures revealing 117 people were executed in 2006 with thousands facing floggings.

They included a woman, who had been forced into prostitution as an eight-year-old, receiving 99 lashes because of "acts contrary to chastity."

Earlier this year, a man was flogged after a copy of the Bible was found in his car.

If our misadventures in Iraq have taught us nothing else, it has proven our inability to force our morality upon other countries, especially Islamic countries. We cannot convert the world to democracy and religious freedom at the point of a gun.

Still, what should we do? A girl received 99 lashes for being raped as a eight year old.

As I send my check tonight to Amnesty International I just want to ask you one question: Do you feel lucky?


Vigilante said...

Yeah, Wiz, I do feel lucky. Even if I'm not feeling as lucky as you do, living as you do in a small town. I should also post on Iranian justice. We all should.

How much did you say was that check to Amnesty International?

Vigilante said...

BTW, I thought of you this morning as I woke up to the BBC (as I do every morning). The item in question was an interview with a Somali commercial radio station owner and operator. (I cannot find a link on the web.) The interview covered the value which the radio served the community, the loss of his reporters to violence, the challenges in making prudent editorial choices, and how commercially self-sustaining his stationed managed to be in spite of all that was going on in Somalia. I was reminded how remiss I was not to publish on Somalia last year when the Western world decided it would rather have Somalia returned to chaos, murder, mayhem and devastation, than have it ruled in tranquility - as it was between July and December 2006 - decentralized and eclectically by fundamentalist Islam leaders. I still feel guilty.

Robin Edgar said...

Yes I do feel lucky.

Apparently some foolish Montreal U*Us feel lucky too. . . ;-)