Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Dilemma of Plurality in Light of Huckabee's "Ideal"

When skimming through the news today, I came across an article titled “Huckabee likens gay marriage to incest, polygamy” which outlines Mike Huckabee’s stance on gay marriage. Muslims need to be careful when they come across articles like this. Mike Huckabee’s over-simplified logic is very convincing to some, I’m sure. Some Muslims might say to themselves “I think homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle, and so does Mike Huckabee. We must be on the same page.” Some may even go as far as supporting him politically because of it. But this is dangerous, and here’s why.

Homosexuality as an equally viable, meaningful way of life is a debate (or perhaps not a debate as some see it) in the realm of morality and religion. This is where Mike Huckabee is coming from. His morality and the way he leads his life is defined by his Christian values, and respectfully so. My morality and the way I lead my life is defined by my values as a Muslim, which has been and hopefully will continue to be generally respected by the state and society as a whole. This is where I’m coming from, and the last point made is key.

Muslims are unbelievably fortunate to live in The United States from where I’m standing. Unlike in many European nations, we are not only allowed to be Muslim, but to express our spirituality outwardly, openly, and with little fear of persecution. In the U.S. wearing hijab, for example, isn’t a debate. It’s generally accepted that it’s a Muslim’s right dress as they choose, just as nuns have rights to cover, Jewish men have the right to wear yamakas, and Christians have the right to wear cross jewelry or rosaries. We live in a secular, pluralist nation which means religion cannot penetrate politics BECAUSE of our great diversity. It does not mean that religion is eliminated or suppressed to create a new “secularist” religion for everyone to follow.

What I’m trying to say is that accommodating lifestyles different from your own should not be seen as compromising one’s own religious ideals, but instead a way of enhancing and ensuring your right to have them. It might seem appealing to jump on board with people like Huckabee because at the surface his values are similar to your own. I wouldn’t dispute that Muslims and Christians have similar values. However, they are not identical. Even within different faith traditions there are varying opinions and interpretations on virtually everything. So for the sake of argument, let’s say that as a Muslim I agree with a politician on an issue like gay rights, and gave him or her power to legislate or vote on the issue based on his or her faith tradition. In this instance, everything is aligned. But what if in the future things don’t match up as neatly? What if now that said politician is empowered to legislate or vote based on his religious convictions, he decides to endorse something which flies in the face of your own values? What if banning hijab is next on his agenda (and I’m not saying that’s on Huckabee or anyone else’s agenda)?

To that you might say, “That doesn’t make sense, my right to dress a certain way is of no interest to Huckabee as a Christian or anyone else.” My response to that would be to read between the lines of Huckabee’s recent statements. If you do this, then you will certainly see that prejudice and fear of the “other” weigh in just as heavily as anything else.

Huckabee remarked, “There are a lot of people who like to use drugs so let's go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them. There are people who believe in polygamy, should we accommodate them?" Who are these people that he’s talking about? I can’t be certain, but these “people who believe in polygamy just might be a cryptic way of saying “Muslims.” Should we accommodate them?

I’m not saying that Muslims now need to jump on board to support gay rights. I am saying that the rhetorical tricks played by Huckabee and like-minded people could very easily be turned around to target Muslims, so be wary of what you read and of who or what you support and why.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Urban Bioterrorism

On March 16, 2010, the Union League Club hosted a forum entitled: Biological Terrorism: Is America Prepared? as part of their Breakfast @ 65 West series. The discussion was lead by Professor Barry Kellman and Major General (Retired) Charles E. Tucker. Kellman is currently the director of the International Weapons Control Center at the DePaul University College of Law, while Tucker is the executive director of the International Human Rights Law Institute.

Kellman opened the discussion by exclaiming “I’m a terrorist!” and held up a pill bottle full of white powder. He then claimed that the bottle was full of anthrax and that he would be able to kill thousands of people simply by releasing the small amount of powder in a public arena. After full disclosure that the powder was really just that, powered sugar, he told the crowd that he has carried that bottle of sugar, which looks identical to anthrax under an airport security scanner, through numerous airports including O’Hare and has never once been stopped.

Kellman then went on to talk about many of the issues surrounding bioterrorism from terrorist acquisition of biological weapons to medical response systems. Although noting that “Chicago is one of the best prepared cities in the world,” Kellman also explained that first responders are still unprepared for multi-attack situations and on how to stop the perpetrators once a biological attack has begun.

When asked by an audience member how best to identify potential terrorists. Kellman and Tucker both acknowledged the importance of an intelligence gathering community that works together and shares vital information- such as when potential biological weapons go missing from labs. Kellman also went on to say that it’s not a good idea to start “witch-hunts” and that it would be the “wrong strategy to bar non-Americans from [U.S.] labs.”

The goal of the program was not only to educate, but to also recruit people to get involved in research and in creating recommendations for bioterrorism preparedness that can be given to cities throughout the world. It can take from 48 hours up to a week after a bioterrorism attack to really understand what it going on depending on the agent used and the symptoms people are presenting to medical authorities. The better prepared cities are, the quicker they can care for the sick, contain the situation, and prevent any further spread. Although Kellman argues that a biological attack is “not the most likely,” he does believe that “this is the greatest security threat we face.”

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