Sunday, October 29, 2006

Thinly-veiled ethnocentrism or pragmatism?

Last week, Ginnnah Muhammad wore a niqab -- a scarf and veil that cover her head and face, leaving only the eyes visible -- during a court hearing near Detroit. District judge Paul Paruk dismissed the small claims court case filed by the Islamic woman after she refused to remove her veil when she testified. Is the judge being ethnocentric or is he just being pragmatic?

This case is reminiscent of the Sultaana Freeman case from 2003. Freeman lost her Florida driver license after she refused to remove her veil, or hijab, for a photo. She sued the state for violating a Florida statute that says the government "shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion," a law drawn from the Establishment Clause. Are the respective governments denying these woment their right to free expression of religion?

The Department of Motor Vehicles is not preventing Freeman from exercising her religious beliefs. She is free to wear her hijab all she likes both at home and in public. She's also free to choose not to have a driver license (as a Muslim woman, most fundamentalists would say the Koran prohibits her from driving anyway). The DMV is simply insisting that the ID issued by the state be able to IDentify the holder. The state even offered to make an accommodation whereby, according to the assistant attorney general:
"The practice has been to ask the men to leave the room. They lift the veil, we take the picture, they get the license, and they put it in their pocketbook and nobody sees it again. We don't care. We just have to have the picture."
The same principle applies to Muhammad. She is free to wear her niqab any time she wants to in private and just about anytime in public. Of course, she was even free to wear her niqab in court. Like Freeman, Muhammad is also free to choose not to bring her law suit. Paruk simply refused to accept her testimony if she refused to show him her face while she gave it.

At first blush, this might seem arbitrary of the judge. However, Paruk's job includes judging the truthfulness of testimony brought before his bench and, in order to do so, "you need to identify the witness and you need to look at the witness and watch how they testify." A law may abridge a fundamental right such as freedom of speech when it is in furtherance of the safety or welfare of the public. It is in the public's welfare for a judge to be able to judge the truthfulness of testimony and it's in the interest of the safety of the public for an officer of the law to be able to positively identify a resident by his or her ID.

Does the law agree? In Freeman's case, circuit judge Janet C. Thorpe upheld Paruk's decision. Thorpe found that Freeman did not prove that "the photo requirement itself substantially burdens her right to free exercise of religion." Thorpe went on to explain:
"Although the court acknowledges that plaintiff herself most likely poses no threat to national security, there likely are people who would be willing to use a ruling permitting the wearing of full-face cloaks in driver's license photos by pretending to ascribe to religious beliefs in order to carry out activities that would threaten lives."
The Establishment Clause does not apply in the Muhammad case either, in this Progressive's opinion. Neither of these cases are about freedom of religion, nor are they about discriminating against the practice of a foreign ethnicity. They are about the government being pragmatic in the protection of the safety and welfare of the public.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The big 'O'

Bush claimed that Hussein possessed WMDs to justify invading Iraq. After the WMDs never materialized, Bush gave liberating the Iraqi people as his excuse. Later the reason for invading Iraq became to spread democracy across the Middle East.

For some reason, Bush couldn't seem to bring himself to utter the 'O' word. Of all Bush's justifications du jour, none of them included invading Iraq for her oil, even though she sat on the second largest oil reserves on the planet. This was quite unexpected considering Bush was a failed oil man and his VP was a successful CEO in the oil services industry.

Last week, things changed. Bush suddenly became fixated on oil during his press conference in the Rose Garden. It seemed he couldn't stop saying the 'O' word.

In his opening statements, Bush recognized the large oil reserves in Iraq. He said, "We can't tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions." Of course, he has also made it clear that the USA will be occupying Iraq for the duration of his term in office. Maybe he hopes he can one day use the reserves to fund his radical ambitions.

Later, he claimed that the "ideological caliphate" in Iraq "want to control oil resources." He never explained what interest Moslems "that use religion to achieve objectives" would have in oil. Perhaps Bush was just reflecting his own desire to control oil resources.

Finally, Bush broached the concept of "radical forms" having "the capacity to use oil as an economic weapon." However, the Iraqi petroleum infrastructure is so degraded it cannot even supply Iraq with petroleum products, let alone fund the war in Iraq as originally proposed by the administration. Bush did not elaborate on how this impotent industry in Iraq could be an economic weapon. It could have simply been wishful thinking on Bush's part to use it as an economic weapon himself.

Bush has denied the accusations that he invaded Iraq for her oil for years now. It appears that denying himself for so long left him helpless, after finally allowing himself to speak of oil, from being caught up in the throes of the big 'O.'

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bush cabal given advance warning of 9/11 attack

Secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was the national security advisor before the 9/11 attack. Regarding being notified in a meeting with George Tenet (then director of central intelligence) of an impending al Q'aeda attack on an American target two months before 9/11/2001, Rice had this to say: "What I'm quite certain of is that it was not a meeting in which I was told that there was an impending attack and I refused to respond." It's interesting that she could be so certain about "the supposed meeting" of which she claimed to have no recollection.

It turns out that Tenet and his counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black, were so concerned about an impending al Q'aeda attack that they demanded an emergency meeting at the White House with Rice. Could it be that the meeting just slipped Rice's memory because the risk was understated? According to an intelligence official who helped prepare the briefing and PowerPoint presentation that accompanied the meeting, it was a "10 on a scale of 1 to 10" that "connected the dots" in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al Q'aeda was poised to strike again.

The national security advisor clearly had a problem discriminating the importance of an inconsequential report from a report with a title such as, oh, I don't know ... "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." However, she was not the only one notified of the impending attack. It turns out that defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former attorney general John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing. After the fact, Tenet also told the 9/11 Commission about the meeting, although for some strange reason it was not reported in The 9/11 Commission Report.