Columns 2006

Absurdly scary and scarily absurd

Last week, in your very own good morning newspaper, there were two stories that, taken together, constitute some of the scariest stuff I’ve read in quite a while.  The stories ranged from the sublimely frightening to the absurdly scary.

The sublimely frightening story concerned Afghanistan where a Muslim convert to Christianity faces death because of his conversion.  That in and of itself is neither new nor particularly scary.  Religions have been killing people for thousands of years in the name of their supposedly just and merciful god.

What was scary about this particular case was this quote from the judge hearing it.  “We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law.  It is an attack on Islam.”

Afghanistan, you might recall, is home to the infamous Taliban.  It was our first war after 9/11.  We supposedly won it – knocked those fanatics right out of power.  Brought democracy, albeit a slightly unfamiliar version, to the Afghans.  Except I’m having trouble reconciling my idea of democracy with a democracy based on religious laws that claim tolerance so long as you believe the way they do.

How do we find a living accommodation with a culture that puts into law that you have to die if you choose the wrong god to worship? 

Now there are some who would say we are hypocritical in questioning the death penalty anywhere so long as we have one here but I think that’s a bogus argument.

Whether you believe in the death penalty or not, the way it’s done in America is based on civil law and is constantly being scrutinized for fairness in its application. Where it doesn’t pass that scrutiny, executions are frequently called off until the disparity has been addressed. We may not be perfect in this, and not everyone may like the death penalty as part of our penal system, but at least we aren’t basing it on whether you worship Jesus, Muhammad or Baal.

There is a reason freedom of religion is such a touchy subject in this country and why some people go ballistic at even a hint that we might cross some imaginary line in the sand and become an officially Christian country.  They rightfully fear the creation of a theocracy that kills you for thinking wrongly about god even though that killing may be done, as seems to be the case in Afghanistan, quite apologetically.

I guess I just don’t understand how we can call the government in Afghanistan a democracy if its laws are based on one specific religion that you must follow to be allowed to live. How is what they have now that much different than when they had the Taliban?

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous. Which means, of course, that I will now be referring to an act of the Alaska legislature. Our House of Representatives tentatively passed a bill that would ban motorists from watching dashboard DVDs while driving.  This act begs the question of whether we, as a society, have finally, totally and completely lost our collective mind. Can we really ever legislate stupidity completely out of existence? Should we even try?

I mean, who acts like that? Who gets into a car, starts driving and then thinks, “This would be the perfect time to finally see Brokeback Mountain.” And if someone does think that way, then how in the name of all that is good and holy did they manage to actually get a driver’s license? Because that level of stupidity should really preclude the ability to pass the written or driving portion of the test.

Then, of course, there is the question about which car manufacturer woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “I’m not overwhelmed yet with lawsuits this year about unsafe things in the cars I make.  Maybe what I need to do is put a DVD player on the front panel where the driver can watch.”

I think I probably just need to stop reading the newspaper or listening to the news. Then my blood pressure might have a chance of returning to normal. Meanwhile, this seems like a perfect day to take a drive down to Girdwood while watching Capote.