Bobby Franklin, Christian Extremist


 

Wanna let this man make your choices for you?

Remember Bobby Franklin, the Georgia legislator who wants to criminalize miscarriage and re-name all rape victims “accusers”?  Turns out he really is a Christian extremist.  Franklin belongs to the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church, which openly affiliates itself with Christian Reconstructionism.  This Protestant movement, like its theological cousin, Dominionism,  envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy in charge of the rest of the world.

 

Inspired by R. J. Rushdoony, who wrote

The Christian man is the only true free man in all the world, and he is called to exercise dominion over all the earth,

Christian Reconstructionists would impose their particular interpretation of the Bible in order to bring (they say “reconstruct”) all aspects of public and private life in line with their understanding of Christian morality.  The oppose the separation of church and state and espouse a doctrinaire patriarchal ideology. As blogger Julie Ingersoll reports, Bill Moyers featured Bobby Franklin’s church in his 1992 documentary God in Politics: On Earth As It Is In Heaven.

While Bobby Franklin is certainly what Amanda Marcotte would call a “wing-nut,” he’s a particularly dangerous wing-nut who has been in office since 1996 and who exercises political power alongside many like-minded legislators.  These Christian extremists interpret the Bible to say that men really are superior to women, that men should rule women, especially their reproduction.  That is why they are not only against abortion, but also against contraception

Christian extremism is a lot like Islamic extremism–it is a reactionary response to modernity, to pluralism, to democracy, and to egalitarian movements such as feminism.  It bills itself as a “conservative” movement that would  “conserve” certain social structures and traditions that modern culture has outgrown.

Reconstructionism’s very name makes it very clear that what these seeming “conservatives” are not interested in holding on to principles, such as the separation of church and state, or liberty for all, or religious toleration, that have become important American traditions, although they were considered radical ideas in their time.  They want to reconstruct, tear down and rebuilt, transform society according to their misogynist, homophobic, and racist principles.  And they are quite willing to admit that the world that they envision has never been seen before on this earth.

My point is, we should not mistake Christian extremism (or Islamic extremism, for that matter) as an old-fashioned, or primitive, or even traditional ideology.  It is a fearful, narrow and repressive response to the modern world.


On #Iran and the brave Iranian protesters


Last night I had dinner with a lovely Iranian woman whose family is still living in Tehran.  She is planning to go back in a few weeks to visit her parents. I will worry about her when she goes.

This morning I came across this video, posted Feb 26, 2011, and Josh Shahryar’s remarkable comment about the Iranian state. Here are some excerpts:

Imagine a country where when protesters are killed, their families have to pay something called a “bullet fee,” because the government expended resources to murder them. Imagine being a war veteran, standing in a morgue and begging the very men who are responsible for your son’s death to return his body to you because you cannot possibly pay the amount they’re asking for.

Yes, stoning is horrifying, but there are other things you don’t hear about much. Imagine a regime that doesn’t execute virgin women. Don’t get too excited. It doesn’t mean what you think. It actually means that when a woman who’s a virgin is condemned to death, she’s married off to a prison guard in a sham ceremony hours before her execution so he can rape her. Only then can she be executed.

Imagine a prison, where instead of cells, they have shipping containers out in the yard. Dozens of detained protesters are forced into a container until there is no more room, then shut in for days without food or water. But that’s the least of prisoners’ concerns when they cannot breathe in such a confined space under the burning sun and can only wait to die of asphyxiation.

Imagine a police force that will drag the dead bodies of your loved ones from the streets after shooting them in a protest, then, bury them in unmarked graves. Imagine finding your child’s grave after bribing a dozen officials, then coming the next day to find the grave gone. Imagine that.

But most of all, try to imagine a state where if you speak of regime change or go out to protest or even try to raise awareness about these brutalities, you are condemned and tried for “fighting against God,” because apparently, the state is governed not by human laws, but by the laws of the divine. You won’t be tried for sedition, but for daring to challenge God’s authority on earth because you wanted to speak your mind.

This is what a proponent of democracy faces when he or she goes out to protest in Iran. Almost certain torture, rape, and even murder in the event of arrest. Fifteen hundred protesters were arrested on February 14 and many more on the 20th.

Now, tell me what you would do if you were a hungry, unemployed, disenfranchised Iranian? Would you try to go and camp out in a public square? Or would you march around the city? The fact that thousands of Iranians went out to protest on Sunday wasn’t a show of discontent, but a show of unparalleled heroism.

I’ll warn you, your subconscious may try to block you from absorbing the atrocities that I have written about here — it is certainly easier to think of Iran as if it is on another planet or even in an entirely different dimension. Makes us all feel better if we are as far away from such inhumanity as possible. I won’t blame you for not believing any of it, though. Sometimes, I can’t believe it myself.

Feminists United #Walk4Choice


Austin @amelialong

Austin @amelialong

One of my wonderful, beautiful, fascinating, and awesome readers attends high school in Pittsburgh.  This weekend, she and some of her classmates are getting together at a local community center to work on pro-choice tee-shirts and to protest the Pence Amendment.

They are not alone!  All across America feminists–women and girls and men and boys–who Stand with Planned Parenthood are walking for choice today.   Some of these fabulous feminists have posted photos on Twitter:

Brooklyn @PPact

 

Massachusetts @alymaybe

 

 

 

Nashville @MyCatIsABunny

 

 

Washington, DC @NewsCat_in_DC

 

Chicago @Christine Cupaiuolo|cmc2

 

Chicago

Ohio

Houston

Atlanta

Atlanta

Austin

Why not to subscribe to Vogue


John Cook’s report on the priorities of the fashion world is priceless and worth reblogging in full:

Did you know that today is a “Day of Rage” across the Muslim world, where bone-weary citizens are finally taking to the streets against their corrupt dictators? Seems like as good a time as any for Vogue to publish a fawning profile of the “glamorous, young, and very chic” wife of Syria’s brutal tyrant, right?

Asma al-Assad is “a rose in the desert,” according to Vogue. She’s the first lady of “the safest country in the Middle East.” She’s “breezy, conspiratorial, and fun,” and she jets around the country in a Falcon 900. Her husband, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, is a “tall, long-necked, blue-eyed” man who “takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer.” He was elected president in 2000 with “a startling 97 percent of the vote” because “in Syria, power is hereditary.”

He has also filled “Syria’s prisons…with political prisoners, journalists, and human rights activists” and presides over a secret police that “detain[s] people without arrest warrants and torture[s] with complete impunity.” Oh wait, those last quotes weren’t from Voguethey were from Human Rights Watch. Anyway, isn’t that purple shawl gorgeous?

 

Christian extremists behind the Tea Party


The media misrepresents the Tea Party as a libertarian movement solely interested in economic issues, but actions speak louder than words.  By introducing legislation to police women’s uteruses and eliminate all funding for family planning, HIV screenings, and sex education, newly elected Tea-Partiers demonstrate that their primary aims coincide with those of the Christian right.   Amanda Marcotte explains this very well:

It must have been quite a surprise, then, to have the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which rode in on a sea of Tea Party energy and funding, to immediately put most of their efforts into controlling the uteruses of America, through a series of bills that would defund Planned Parenthoodend all private insurance funding for abortion, and even allow doctors to refuse to save the lives of pregnant women if doing so would require performing an abortion.

Ruth Marcus wryly observes that

House Republicans voted to increase the number of abortions, raise federal health-care costs and swell the welfare rolls…

The Guttmacher Institute has estimated that Title X helps prevent nearly 1 million unintended pregnancies annually. The institute says these pregnancies would otherwise result in 433,000 unintended births and 406,000 abortions.

The inevitable result of eliminating Title X funding would not only be more abortions – it would also be higher bills for taxpayers footing Medicaid and welfare costs for poor children. Guttmacher found that every public dollar invested in family planning care saves $3.74 in Medicaid expenditures for pregnant women and their babies during the first year of care. Imagine the lifetime savings.

And then there is the other “important work” that Pence cited: 2.2 million Pap smears, 2.3 million breast exams, nearly 6 million tests for sexually transmitted infections.

Hardly a way to trim the budget. The GOP has gone further down the dark road of Christian extremism.  This top Tea Party agenda is deliberately designed to keep disempower women by keeping them poor, pregnant, and too burdened by children to go to work in the public sector.

As Marcotte notes,

What the Beltway media have failed to understand is that there are two Tea Parties: there’s the “Astroturf Tea Party”, the well-funded machine pushing a message of absolute rejection of all social spending; and then there’s the grassroots Tea Party, the everyday conservatives who actually show up at rallies, who demand to see the president’s birth certificate, and who oppose government spending while also demanding that no one touch their Medicare. Those folks are the voters, and Republicans know they must be fed. And those folks aren’t opposed to the religious right, since they are, to a large extent, the same as the religious right…

…as recent research by the Pew Forum demonstrates, Tea Party voters are far more socially conservative than the general public, and more socially conservative than the overall Republican party. Sixty-nine percent of voters who identified with the religious right also identified with the Tea Party. Unsurprisingly, 64% and 59% of Tea Partiers opposed, respectively, same-sex marriage and legal abortion, compared to 49% and 42% of the public at large.

Interestingly, the religious right has long had a theory that ties together their desire for a more theocratic state and the rhetoric of “small government” – or at least, ties together their anti-feminism with the small government rhetoric. The idea is that God has set gender roles for men and women, where women stay at home dependent on men. Feminists, the thinking goes, use social spending and reproductive rights to keep women from becoming dependent on men, which upsets God’s plan for women. So, in order to return to the natural order of male dominance – which they currently call “complementary roles” – the government should not only deny women reproductive rights, but also cut off social spending in order to force women become dependent on men. No healthcare, no welfare, no spending on education that gets kids out of the home and allows women to work outside of it. And now, of course, no spending on contraception that allows women to delay marriage and limit family size, preserving their independence.

I Trust African American Women to Govern their own Reproductive Health


I reproduce this statement from the Sistersong website to affirm my solidarity with Black Women’s Choice

Statement of Solidarity with African American Women

We who trust women stand in solidarity with and support of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, SisterLove, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, and Feminist Women’s Health Center to affirm our belief that every woman has the human right to decide if and when she will have a baby, and the right to parent the children she already has with the social supports necessary. In our struggle for reproductive justice, African American women have a unique history that we must remember in order to ensure bodily sovereignty, dignity, and collective uplift of our community. The choices that women of color make are based on their lived experiences in this country and reflect multiple oppressions, including race, class, and gender, and their efforts to resist them. It is unacceptable to speak to the needs of any woman, or her children without taking into consideration the realities that exist in her home and local community.

We affirm that an African American woman’s ability to determine if and when she will have children demands that she control the conditions under which she will give birth and have the power to decide the spacing of her children. These freedoms speak to the power and necessity of the preventive care of women before they become pregnant and the importance of comprehensive sex education for all of our children to understand their human right to sexuality in an empowering and responsible way. It means fully funding public education, protecting the environment in all communities, and eliminating sexual violence for all women.

We affirm that an African American woman’s ability to determine if and when she does not have children must include a full range of options including the right to have an abortion. For women of color the privilege to exercise this right all too often hinges on other factors in her home and community. Abortion must be approached in the context of the individual woman and the circumstances surrounding her, such as poverty, sexual abuse, or the lack of health care. To extract a woman from the context of her life dishonors her lived experiences and the plight of a broader community of people.

We affirm that African American women have the human right to parent the children they already have. To ensure the full enjoyment of this right, they must also have access to the social supports necessary to raise their children in safe environments and healthy communities, without fear of violence from individuals or intervention by the government. A continuum of care is essential to protect the lives of women and children. And we must prioritize the needs of children after birth. This includes funding education, investing in health care reform for all, ensuring food security and prioritizing the unification of our families through the provision of social supports to protect the most vulnerable.

Protecting women and children requires a commitment to these principles. It is a matter of reproductive health, reproductive rights, and ultimately Reproductive Justice.

February 2010

Glenn Beck Compares Reform Judaism to “Radical Islam” | Religion Dispatches


It’s true: on Tuesday, Glenn Beck compared politically-progressive Reform Judaism to radical Islam, while taking potshots at a letter signed by 400 rabbis from Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist denominations calling for his ouster from Fox News.

And on Wednesday, Beck led his radio program with a lengthy (and oddly self-congratulatory) apology for the comparison, calling it “ignorant.”

“I certainly had not done enough homework,” Beck said, “to go on the air and haphazardly make a comment like I did.”

via Glenn Beck Apologizes for Comparing Reform Judaism to “Radical Islam” | Religion Dispatches.

Huh?  He had to do “homework” to know the difference between Reform Judaism and radical Islam? Not that radical Islam is such a well-understood category.

Wikipedia:

Reform Judaism: various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North Americathe United Kingdom and elsewhere.[1] In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewishtraditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the surrounding culture. Many branches of Reform Judaism hold that Jewish law should be interpreted as a set of general guidelines rather than as a list of restrictions whose literal observance is required of all Jews.[2][3] Similar movements that may also be called “Reform” include the Israeli Progressive Movement and its worldwide counterpart.

Radical Islam: Not defined.

Bikram Day 96: WTF?


Bronze mirror with the head of the Medusa, Greek, South Italy, 500 - 480 B.C.

Bronze mirror with the head of the Medusa, Greek, South Italy, 500 - 480 B.C.

One day while carrying out some business, the Mullah Nasruddin was asked to show his identification.  He directly pulled out a mirror from his pocket and soberly studied his reflection for a long time.  At length he exclaimed, “Yes, that is me!”

I have to say that meeting this challenge is the by far the best thing I have done with my life in a very long time.   When I signed up to attend 100 bikram yoga classes in 100 days I told myself that I was performing an experiment. I also reasoned that, since I am something of a couch potato,  I would never make it into a studio to perform difficult physical contortions while sweating profusely at 105 degree for 90 minutes at a time unless I tricked myself into it.  And once I put my name up there on the public board, where students who have taken on the challenge mark their progress each day, it was simply too embarrassing not to show up for class every day.  Other people had done it. Why couldn’t I?

When I began the challenge, at least five other people were completing their last 20 days or so, and shortly thereafter two other students declared their intention to do it, too.  It seemed that I had lots of company and that what I was doing was not so very remarkable.  The yogis ahead of me, some of whom were teachers, finished their 100 days.  There were then just two of us–I and a woman who began her challenge on the same day as I did.  We’d meet in the say “18!” and then “19!”.  She stopped coming.  It was okay because another woman who regularly came put her name up on the board.  She dropped away, too.  Then I was alone–but not really, since a small posse of yogis took at least once class a day, and plenty of other regulars showed up four or five times a week.  Their accomplishment seemed greater than mine.   A number of people began asking me “what day are you on now?” and seemed genuinely impressed.  I hadn’t yet finished and could not yet say with utter certainty that I would manage to finish. Congratulations will not be in order until I have ended my 101st class in a row.

But it no longer matters to me how many days in a row I have been coming to class, although I do still get a small charge when I mark off each day.  Indeed, I’m looking forward to not counting.  I guess you could say that my point of view has shifted.  Much more important that being able to say that I’ve met the challenge is the experience of practicing every day, whether I want to or not.

Paradoxically, I like the way I feel in general even though I don’t always feel good when I’m practicing.  Some days I can’t seem to balance.  On other days my stomach feels cramped, or packed, or bloated, which makes Pada-hastana particularly uncomfortable. On other days I can’t seem to stop yawning, or my legs are tired and weak.  Sometimes the heat bothers me more than at other times.  None of it matters.

Kaspar van den Wigngaard

As one of my teachers, the amazing Kaspar van den Wijngaard, told me: “When you commit yourself to a daily practice you learn to stop worrying about how well you did on any one particular day and to focus more on the process.” Or something like that.  I can’t remember his exact words.  Kaspar has taught me to divest from the need to be “good” or perfect all the time. There’s no capturing the moment, no saying, “I’ve done it, I own that,” or “I am x or y because I can do this or that.”  One does one’s best every day, and that is what one is doing.

Remarkably modest and sweet-tempered, Kaspar is simultaneously an especially exacting and forgiving teacher.  He encourages each student to work from where she or he happens to be at the time.  He saw me leaning back on my elbows in Supta-Vajrasana and said, “You can put your head on the floor and lean all the way back.”  I had it in my mind that I could NOT do that pose and found the suggestion irritating. Still, I dutifully laid back and discovered that I could indeed to the minor backbend, and get a nice stretch in my stomach at the same time.

Kaspar has been teaching at the studio for the month of February, and I’m really going to miss him when he leaves. When he first got here, he ran us through the postures without mercy, it seemed, allowing us much shorter breaks than we had become used to.  But we–I am not the only one–adjusted to his tempo and now like it better.  We’ve gotten better over time, through diligence, consistency, commitment.

Why has this been the very best thing that I have done with my life in a very long time?  Not simply because I have developed a discipline and proven to myself that I could do something that I didn’t know I could do.   Not simply because I have gotten a lot stronger and more flexible.  Not simply because I no longer have the pain in my back that I used to have when I lay flat on it in sivasana.  Not simply because I am far more toned throughout my torso and not simply because my jeans fit way better than before.   Not simply because I have made a lot of new friends and found a happy, supportive, and healthy community in Pittsburgh.  Not simply because the light and the heat have made this winter way more bearable.  Not simply because I’m probably getting taller.

All of these reasons help to make daily practice of Bikram yoga one of the best things I have ever done. But much more important to me than all of these reasons put together has been the daily moving meditation.   Yes, my body is changing.  But what is far more profound and interesting to me is the way that my mind is changing.  In a word, I am more courageous than I was before.   I’m much more willing to face things, issues, problems, predicaments, life-changes that scare me.  This does not mean that I am not still frightened.  What it means is that I am facing, acknowledging, dealing with my fear.  I used to flee from it.   My body is stronger, but so is my mind.

What am I afraid of?  All kinds of things.  Getting older, getting fatter, getting weaker, losing my memory, losing people I love.  I’m afraid of facing the world in which the people who I thought were my friends turn out to be quite unfriendly and mostly indifferent to me.  I’m afraid of letting go of the identity that I’ve clutched around me like a cloak, an impenetrable shield, a space-suit for the past twenty-odd years.  I’m afraid of facing myself and not knowing who I am or what I really want or what I am going to do about it.  All of these things.

I am walking away from the path that I have been on for a very long time.  The old road is well sign-posted, and the signs say “Climb this mountain!”  “Cross this bridge!” “Cut and bundle into sheaves this field of wheat!”  They also say “When you succeed at this task you will be GOOD!” and “If you fail at this task you will be WORTHLESS.”  The path is old and rutted and bloody and lonely.  You must assess everyone you meet on the path and quickly decide if they will help or hinder your progress.  You cannot trust anyone fully.  If you leave the path and walk into uncharted territory, most of the people you met on the old road will forget about you, as though you never existed.

For the first time in a long while I am actually acknowledging the fear, as well as the grief that comes with letting go of a long attachment to something that was not really who or how I wanted to be.  I am letting myself consider possibilities.  I am following my nose.  Next week, for example, I will go through a week-long training at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh so that I can work directly with women in need.  I am looking for meaningful work.  I am looking for dignity.

I am facing my fear of being a very bad painter even though painting is something I have always wanted to do.  I am facing my fear of not living up to my parents’ expectations.  My fear of not living up to my graduate advisor’s expectations.  I didn’t have any mentors at my last job so I don’t worry about not living up any of my former co-workers expectations. But I am facing my fear of not knowing what the next job will be.  Whatever it is, I will not make the mistake of confusing it with my identity.

This will sound cliché because it is:  I am facing my fear of myself.  It’s not quite right to say that I don’t know who I am, since  I don’t believe in absolute selves or intrinsic identities.  I don’t believe in the soul, or in reincarnation, or heaven or hell.  So I finally don’t believe in not knowing who I am.  What I am dealing with is the challenge of letting go of the space-suit, the rigid identity and the insecurity that kept the stiff paper-board self in place.  The challenge of being a being rather than a doing.

Do you know?  Every day after Bikram I lie on my side in a semi-fetal position with my arms around myself until I feel a sense of love for myself.  I say, “I am here and I love,” and I wait until I feel connected with whatever it is, love, warmth, self-acceptance, gratitude.  It makes a difference.  Once a day, put your arms around yourself and be present with yourself with a kind-heartedness.   Try it.

Here is another story about identity and the Mullah Nasruddin, from Idries Shah, The Sufis.

Once, the people of The City invited Mullah Nasruddin to deliver a khutba. When he got on the minbar (pulpit), he found the audience was not very enthusiastic, so he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” The audience replied “NO”, so he announced “I have no desire to speak to people who don’t even know what I will be talking about” and he left. The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day. This time when he asked the same question, the people replied “YES” So Mullah Nasruddin said, “Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won’t waste any more of your time” and he left. Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mullah to speak the following week. Once again he asked the same question – “Do you know what I am going to say?” Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered “YES” while the other half replied “NO”. So Mullah Nasruddin said “The half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the other half” and he left!

I had two abortions and I am not ashamed


Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

From "Do Not Be Ashamed" by Wendell Barry

When I was 17 years old I decided to have sex with my first serious boyfriend, who was very nice Catholic boy at my public high school.  He was sweet and we were in love.  My parents, a doctor and the daughter of a doctor and a nurse,  were really cool and had been quite open with me about reproduction and sex since I was about 3, but I still didn’t want them to know.  It wasn’t really their business.  I was going to have sex and I knew the consequences.  I didn’t want to get pregnant and I didn’t want to contract a disease, so we were going to use contraception.  We did what lots of my peers did.  We went down to Planned Parenthood for free contraception, which we got after going through some mandatory sex education classes.   We had to wait about a week, I guess, in order to get started.  We waited.  We protected ourselves most of the time.  But we were in love and heat and so we slipped once or twice.

My mother was the one who figured it out.  I had been throwing up in the mornings for a couple of days, and she announced, in a matter-of-fact and slightly disgusted voice: “you’re pregnant.”  Of course I was going to have an abortion.  My parents were certainly not going to let me have a baby, and I knew I wasn’t ready.  I had taken care of my sister since she was born and had a very good grasp of how much work, money, and commitment was involved, and I knew I wasn’t old enough to take it on by myself.  Being pregnant felt a lot like being infected with a horrible disease.  I was sick and wanted the source of the nausea out, fast.  I didn’t think I had a “baby” inside of me.  I knew very well that, at about six weeks, what was growing was a mass of cells about 1/6 of an inch long and presently much more like an insect or a worm than a human being.

My parents were Seventh-Day Adventists from a medical family who themselves had come from pragmatic farm folk.  An abortion of a human fetus in the first trimester was not a lot different from the abortion of an unwanted litter of kittens: regrettable and sad, but necessary.  Unfortunate, not tragic.  My parents made me and my boyfriend pay for the procedure to teach us to be more careful in the future.

I was, for the most part.  But I was also extremely fertile, I guess, because I got pregnant again, at college, with my second serious boyfriend.  That time, I recognized the symptoms all by myself and escaped the serious disapproval and lectures that would have come from my mother and father.  They would not have berated me for having sex, or for having to get another abortion, but rather for being careless and stupid.  They didn’t need to scold me about this, because I had already internalized them well enough to lambast myself.  I felt that I had been reckless, irresponsible, and foolish, not just with my own life but also with life itself, with the potential life growing within me.  I did not choose lightly or cavalierly, but also did not think that I had been immoral or that it terminating it was anything like murder.  I had been thinking a lot about infanticide, ironically, since I was currently reading all of Euripides and had become especially enthralled with Medea.  I toyed romantically and self-destructively with the idea of myself as a Medea but never really believed my own hype.

My problem was that I was broke.  I had the luxury of attending school full-time without having to take a job for expenses, but my parents sent me only the bare minimum that I needed for books, pens, paper, and food.  So I had to figure out a way to pay for the abortion without having to tell my parents.  I was really, really lucky.  My scientifically minded, pro-choice Republicans parents would have excoriated me for my idiocy and made me feel a lot worse than I already did, but they weren’t going to disown me or treat me as a pariah, as many much more conservative parents would have done.  Also,  in California during the early 1980s it was still possible to get a state-funded abortion if you could prove that you had financial need.  I did.  The State paid and I went on with my life.  I found the procedure somewhat grisly, and emotionally exhausting and very, very sad, but I really didn’t think I had done anything particularly evil.  It would have been far worse to give birth to a child and release him or her into the uncertain fate of adoption, or try to take care of a kid that I resented and wasn’t mature or economically steady enough to support in a positive and wholesome environment.

I’m really lucky.  No one shamed me.  No monsters stood outside the clinic and screamed names at me.  No judge forced me to develop a fertilized egg that I didn’t want in my body.  No one wrote nasty letters or emails to me.  No one denounced me.  No one made me feel bad about myself for taking what I knew was the most responsible and ethical decision for me at the time.  No one threatened to kill me or the doctor who performed the operation.

The next time I got pregnant I meant to.  I got really sick again–but it was, as a dear friend and ob-gyn told me, “a good sick.”  I did not enjoy being pregnant.  I felt invaded by an alien life form.  I had been invaded by an alien life form, albeit one who shared some of my genes.  But I choose to bring it to term, and I was very lucky that he turned out to be healthy and beautiful and himself.  I was ready for him–although it still seemed too soon.

If you have had an abortion, please do not feel ashamed.  You have done nothing wrong.  Do not listen to those who would take your light away.

Current anti-woman legislation and the rise of Christian extremism


Bush Decides Upon "Handmaid's Tale Look" for Women in Photo Op

Christian extremists have not quite taken hold of the country, but they pose an emergent, lethal threat to women, men, and children in the United States of America. They do not constitute the majority of Americans, who largely trust women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. Nevertheless, a vocal and fiercely religious minority have gained ground in state and federal legislatures and in right-wing media conglomerates such as Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which host women-haters and homophobes on a regular basis. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that contraception is good for society, and most think that in most circumstances abortion should be legal.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes contraception, and a variety of evangelical Protestant organizations have helped to elect politicians now in national and state offices.  The legislation that these Christian extremists support would severely harm women, girls, children and men by preventing them from receiving vital STD screenings, routine gynecological care, contraception, and information about safe sex. They also present dangerous precedents for legalizing excessive government intrusion into private life.  They would allow the State to regulate human bodies as it has never done before and force women to remain pregnant, even if the pregnancy would kill them. Consider the most recent legislation that candidates supported by Christian extremists have proposed or passed in Congress:

  • The Pence amendment:  the continuing resolution on the national budget, which was passed by the House, includes an amendment that would eliminate all funding for Title X family planning, even though none of this money funds abortions.   The Congresswomen and men who voted for this resolution officially declared their opposition to programs that currently provide poor women with gynecological care, pap smears, HIV and other STD testing, cancer screenings, contraception and information about safe sexual practices.
  • H.R. 358, also known as the “Let Women Die Act,” sponsored by right-winger Joe Pitts (R-PA) and 137 other Representatives, encourages emergency rooms to let women die rather than perform abortions that would save their lives, urges providers to refuse to offer training or referrals related to abortion, and, most infamously, redefines rape in such a way that would exclude most sexual attacks.
  • H.R. 3, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and 209 co-sponsors, would require the IRS to monitor and impose tax burdens on Americans whose PRIVATE insurance covers abortion. As NOW observes: ” In testifying in favor of this bill in committee, a representative from the Catholic bishops proudly supported revoking abortion rights even in cases of rape. You read that right — and isn’t that rich, coming from the very men who have consistently protected sexually abusive priests?”
  • H.R. 217, sponsored by Christian extremist Mike Pence (R-IN) and 168 other Representatives, is another version of the Pence amendment.  It may die in Committee, but it will live and become law the U.S. Catholic Bishops and other Protestant groups have their way.

Recent action promoted by Christian extremists in the State legislatures

  • South Dakota: Be grateful if you don’t live in South Dakota, where Christian extremists tried to legalize the assassination of abortion providers and have shut down all but one abortion clinic.  On Tuesday the House passed a bill (49-19) that would force women who go to this last refuge to endure “counseling” designed to discourage them from having an abortion.  The decision to terminate a pregnancy is agonizing enough for most women who must make it, but South Dakota extremists want to make choice even more unpleasant for women by imposing a 72-hour waiting period between the time that they meet with their doctors and have an abortion.  If this bill passes,  State will incur approximately $1 million in legal costs defending it in court.
  • Nebraska: The Christian extremists nextdoor have introduced a bill nearly identical to the one that stalled in South Dakota, defining the murder of anyone who supports abortion a “justifiable homicide.” State Senator and devout Protestant Mark Christensen,  who opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape, introduced this legislation,  L.B. 232,  this week.  Melissa Grant of Planned Parenthood told the Nebraska State Judiciary Committee that this bill “authorizes and protects vigilantes, and that’s something that’s unprecedented in our society.”
  • Virginia:  A state Senate bill introduced today would effectively close 17 of the 21 abortion clinics in Virginia by redefining all facilities that provide first-trimester procedures “hospitals” and subject them to a slew of cumbersome and unnecessary regulations.  These providers are already subject to state regulations but this bill would impose burdensome stipulations that similar medical providers in the state do not have to meet.  This legislation is likely to pass.
  • Pennsylvania:  The State of Pennsylvania unfairly requires teens under the age of 18 to get their parents’ consent before having an abortion.  If they are unable or afraid to get their parent’s consent, they can bypass the regulation by going through the courts.  The legislation does not grant the judge to force a teen to remain pregnant against her will, but a recently elected Allegheny State Judge thinks it does.  Judge Philip Ignelzi recently ruled that a girl just shy of her 18th birthday may not have an abortion, even though abortion is still legal in this country.  We must not underestimate the great psychological and physical burden that this judge has just imposed on a young woman in our supposedly free country.
  • Georgia: Woman-hating State Representative Bobby Franklin (R), who wants all rape victims to be called “accusers,” introduced legislation that would not only label all abortions “fetal murder” but require the police to investigate every miscarriage as a potential homicide. Hospitals would be required to keep records on and investigate every single spontaneous death.  A Uterus Police? What’s next? A regulatory apparatus to test the daily flow of women having their periods to insure that they haven’t unwittingly discharged “baby” parts, also known as fertilized eggs or zygotes?
  • Florida: Republican candidate for Mayor of Jacksonville and devout Baptist Mike Hogan confessed, in a Catholic Church in Mandarin that he would not bomb an abortion clinic “but it may cross my mind.” The congregation applauded.

We do not yet force women to veil themselves from head to toe, prohibit them from reading, or exclude them from public office, but if Christian extremists who seek to impose their private, religious views on the rest of us get their way, we could soon find ourselves living in a society not unlike the Republic of Gilead imagined in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale Amanda Marcotte, who thinks a lot like I do, already made this rather obvious and somewhat overblown point. Nevertheless it is worth remembering that bad things happen to people who refuse to speak out against injustice. As Offred  (Of Fred) recalls in Atwood’s important 1986 novel:

We lived, as usual, by ignoring.  Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. You have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.  There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men.  None of then were the men we knew.  The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others.  How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable.  They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives (Anchor, 1998: 56-57).

The debate over abortion has much to do with religion, but it shouldn’t.  On one side there are the pro-choice people, who may be Christians or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or atheists, but who do not want to impose their beliefs on other people.  They think women have the right to make their own decisions about their reproduction.  On the other side are the extremists who are eager–desperate, even–to impose their religious views on everyone else.  They do not trust women to make their own ethical choices.  Curiously, these very same “forced-birthers” also very often claim to be against the expansion of government and for a fiscal responsibility.  Yet they can’t stop themselves from introducing obviously unconstitutional legislation that would grossly broaden the State’s powers and that wastes everyone’s time and taxpayers’ money in the legal system. This legislation is not only irresponsible, as Rep. Jackie Speiers (D-CA) reminded Chris Smith and other Christian extremists who would have put her in jail for having a late-abortion of a fetus that her uterus had already rejected. “What does this have to do with reducing the deficit?” she asked.  “Nothing at all.” This legislation is not only sponsored by ignorant, bigoted men and women who have nothing but contempt for the black “babies” they claim to be saving, as Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) pointed out during the same floor debate.  Moore thundered:

I just want to tell you what it’s like not to have planned parenthood. … You have to give your kids ramen noodles at the end of the month to fill up their little bellies so they won’t cry. You have to give them mayonnaise sandwiches. They get very few fruits and vegetables because they’re expensive. It subjects children to low educational attainment because of the ravages of poverty.

This legislation imposes the views of a small but increasingly powerful minority of Christian extremists who are only too happy to keep Black women and children down, a small but powerful minority of Christian extremists who believe that God is male and that this deity intended men to have most of the privileges and power in the world because men, more like god than women,  are fundamentally superior to women.   This legislation is not merely the expression, , but also the weapon, of frighteningly hierarchical ideologues whom we tolerate and ignore at our peril.
Wake up from the “bad dream dreamt by others” and take action against religious extremism in America today:

What I am Reading


I am currently reading Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Friendship and Betrayal trans. Ramsay Wood (London: Alfred A Knopf, 2008).  This is a western translation of a very ancient classic, which dates back to a Pali version, c. 250 BCE, known as Jakarta Tales or “Former Lives of the Buddha”.  It is thought to be older than that and is known by many names:the Sanksrit version (Karataka and Damanaka, c. 300 CE) which was translated into the ancient Persian tongue of Pahlevi in 570 BCE , and then nto Arabaic by a Jewish scholar in 750 BCE (Kalilia wa Dimnah). The original Sanskrit version cannot be found. Doris Lessing tells us that “the most famous translation into Arabic was by a Zoroastrian who converted to Islam,” and that the book was loved by Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Christians, Moslems, and Jews.

Famous in the middle ages and the Renaissance, the book is relatively unknown in our time.  It was translated many times; into Sanskrit again as the Pachatantra and the Hitopadesha, as well as into Tibetan and Chinese (Avandas);  and then into Sanskirt again in the 12th century (Kathasarit-sagara).  It was translated into Syrian in the 10th century, Greek in the 9th century, Persian in the 12th century, Spanish, Hebrew and Armenian in the 13th century, Latin in the 12th century, German, Turkish, English, and Italian in the 15th, English again and French in the 17th, and Swedish in the 18th century.

Frequently compared to Machiavelli’s The Prince because it is a book of moral wisdom on statecraft, it seems a good book to be reading during this time of revolution and government-toppling in the Middle East.

Illustration c. 1380. The Rabbit fools the Elephant King by Getting him to Look at the Moon

Libya: Bikram Day 93


Today I will complete my 93rd class in 93 consecutive days–only 7 to go to meet the challenge.  Actually, I have 8 to go, since the custom at our studio is to attend a class on the next day.  People have been congratulating me already and commenting on what a great accomplishment it is.   I’m shrugging.  It’s not so impressive.  What it is is luxurious.  I’m incredibly lucky to be able to go to class for hundreds of reasons.  Some of them are that I have a strong and healthy body, that I have the money to pay for classes, that I live in a society in which I can stand in a room with half-naked men and women and exercise, that I can speak out and demonstrate against my government without being shot, or imprisoned, or tortured.

It’s actually bizarre to stare at myself in the mirror and practice the breathing exercises or half-moon pose or standing bow or any of the postures while knowing that people in the region where civilization–an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture has been reached–is most ancient are killing their fellow citizens from rooftops and airplanes.  People all over the middle east, northern Africa and central Asia, from Iraq and Iran to Libya and Yemen, are dying because they are standing up for what we North Americans (including Canada, of course) consider to be fundamental civil liberties: the freedom to assemble, to speak out, to choose our government.

A recent article summarizes some of the abuses of the Libyan government since Quadafhi took power in 1969:

 

1970s – ARRESTS, TELEVISED HANGINGS

Rights groups and Gaddafi’s foes say that throughout the 1970s police and security forces arrested hundreds of Libyans who opposed, or who the authorities feared could oppose, his rule.

Student demonstrations were put down violently. Political opponents were arrested and imprisoned, or simply disappeared.

Police and security forces rounded up academics, lawyers, students, journalists, Trotskyists, communists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and others considered “enemies of the revolution,” Human Rights Watch says. Gaddafi warned anyone who tried to organize politically they would face repression.

“I could at any moment send them to the People’s Court … and the People’s Court will issue a sentence of death based on this law, because execution is the fate of anyone who forms a political party,” Gaddafi said in a speech on November 9, 1974.

A number of televised public hangings and mutilations of political opponents followed, rights groups say.

In 1976 Gaddafi authorized the execution of 22 officers who had participated in an attempted coup the previous year, in addition to the execution of several civilians, rights activist Mohamed Eljahmi has written.

1980s: DETENTION, DISAPPEARANCES

In 1980 authorities introduced a policy of extrajudicial executions of political opponents abroad, termed “stray dogs.”

According to a 2009 article in Forbes magazine by rights activist Eljahmi, Gaddafi’s then deputy Abdel Salam Jalloud issued a public justification in 1980 for the assassination of dissidents abroad, telling Italian media:

“Many people who fled abroad took with them goods belonging to the Libyan people … Now they are putting their illicit gains at the disposal of the opposition led by (then Egyptian leader Anwar) Sadat, world imperialism, and Israel.”

A failed coup attempt in May 1984 apparently mounted by exiles with internal support led to the imprisonment of thousands of people. An unknown number of people were executed.

In 1988 there was a period which appeared to herald important human rights reforms. Authorities freed hundreds of political prisoners in a wide-ranging amnesty.

But more repression ensued in 1989. According to Amnesty International, which had visited the country in 1988, the government instituted “mass arbitrary arrest and detention, “disappearances,’ torture, and the death penalty.”

1990s: MASS KILLING AT PRISON

In 1993, after a failed coup attempt in which senior army officers were implicated, Gaddafi began to purge the military periodically, eliminating potential rivals and replacing them with loyalists.

In what critics call probably the bloodiest act of internal repression, more than 1,000 prisoners were shot dead by security forces on June 28 and 29, 1996 in Abu Salim prison, according to Human Rights Watch.

The scale of the killings was confirmed by the Libyan Secretary of Justice to Human Rights Watch in April 2009, and in a press release by Saif al-Islam’s Gaddafi Foundation charity on August 10, 2009 which set the number at 1,167.

For years Libyan officials denied that the killings at Abu Salim had ever taken place. The first public acknowledgement was in April 2004 when Gaddafi said killings had taken place there, and that prisoners’ families had the right to know what took place. To date there has been no official account of the events at Abu Salim prison.

2000s: MAN FREED — AFTER 31 YEARS

Rights groups say the authorities have taken limited steps to address the situation, including releasing some political prisoners and allowing infrequent visits by rights groups.

In 2001 nearly 300 prisoners, among them political prisoners, were released. They included Libya’s longest-serving political prisoner, Ahmad Zubayr Ahmad al-Sanussi, accused of involvement in an attempted coup in 1970 and who spent 31 years in prison, many of them in solitary confinement.

More than 700 prisoners accused of having ties to Islamist militant groups have been released in the past three years under a reconciliation program organized by the Gaddafi Foundation.

(Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, U.S. State Department, Libyan political scientist Mansour Kikhia, Mohamed Eljahmi, co-founder of the American Libyan Freedom Alliance, Reuters)

Obviously things have not improved in Libya–not if Quadhafi has so terrorized his armies and police to make them willing to shoot their brothers and sisters who are bravely standing up against this violence.

After yoga last night I had a discussion–not quite an argument–with a friend about the wisdom of the non-violent pro-democracy demonstrators in Libya and other countries. His contention was that they were foolishly inspired by the Egyptians because, obviously, the Libyan government would massacre them.  I countered that this was a very condescending attitude towards the people of Libya, who knew far better than we could what dangers they faced as they stoood up to oppression and violence.  He found them ignorant.  I found them wise and brave.  People are not sheep.  We don’t know that the protesters will succeed in bringing an end to Quadhafi’s tyranny, of course.  But we can be certain that tyranny will continue if the people do not stand up to it.

I’m grateful for my yoga classes, for my privileges, and especially for the opportunity to meditate and breathe consciously every single day.  I’m also grateful to the people of Libya, and Egypt, and Yemen, and Bahrain, for standing up and speaking out.  Namaste.  It means: I acknowledge the goodness in me and salute the goodness in you.

Nonviolence vs. U.S. Support for Repression in the Middle East


Some things that the brave protestors in the Arab and Persian worlds have taught us:

1.  Non-violence is the most effective weapon against violence. As Gene Sharp notes in “From Dictatorship to Democracy”

Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly nonviolent defiance of people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines.  Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état).

People–even soldiers and policemen–do not willingly fire on unarmed, peaceful protestors.  Leaders of nations that claim to be democracies have a hard time keeping themselves elected when they openly support dictators who slaughter and pillage their people.  Although it took a painfully long time for the Obama administration to declare its allegiance to the democratic activists in the streets, US ties to the military and pressure probably had much to do with the fall of Mubarak and his thugs.  But other nations, such as Britain, Germany, and France, have also had to withdraw their support for Mubarak and the other autocratic rulers of countries around the Mediterranean ocean and Red Sea that are currently up in arms: Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen.

Today’s Times has a good summary of unrest in the region:

LIBYA There were violent demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, for a third day. Human rights groups said 24 people had been killed across the country, although activists say the count could be much higher

BAHRAIN The army opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators, and when ambulances arrived to tend to the wounded, the soldiers opened fire again. Doctors at one hospital said that at least one person died and that four or five were critically wounded.

EGYPT Millions of people assembled in Tahrir Square in Cairo to celebrate the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak a week ago and to press the military to make good on its promise to move toward democracy.

YEMEN Yemeni media reported that four protesters died in the port city of Aden in battles with the police, and there were clashes in two other cities between people demonstrating for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

JORDAN Government supporters fought with demonstrators calling for political change in Amman, the capital, and several people were injured, witnesses said.

KUWAIT More than 1,000 stateless Arabs demonstrated in the city of Jahra demanding citizenship, with dozens of people arrested by the police, according to witnesses. The demonstration was broken up by security forces using smoke bombs and water cannons.

DJIBOUTI About 6,000 people turned out to protest against the government of President Ismail Omar Guelleh, and security forces used batons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Among the issues is a constitutional change that did away with a two-term limit for the president.

TUNISIA The transitional government approved a general amnesty of the country’s political prisoners. In addition, at least three people were injured when security forces fired in the air to break up a demonstration by hundreds of Islamists protesting against a brothel in Tunis, the capital.

2. The United States, Britain and many other so-called “democratic” nations have long supported brutal regimes that have terrorized, imprisoned, and tortured their people, and this practice has neither guaranteed stability nor made them many friends in the world.

The U.S. helped to overthrow Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically elected prime minister, who nationalized Iran’s petroleum industry and oil reserves.  Reactionary anti-communist forces in both Britain and the U.S. engaged in a successful plot to overthrow Mossadegh, installing Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the puppet autocratic ruler of Iran.  The outrage and resentment that this criminal act fostered in the Iranian people led directly to the rise of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the 1979 Revolution, and and the current, murderous regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

US SUPPORT FOR DICTATORSHIP AND REPRESSIVE REGIMES IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The U.S. obviously does not support the government of Iran, but it has been very friendly and helpful to numerous other near-dictatorships in the Middle East:

A.P. demonstrators in Libyan city of Benghazi

Libya: A small elite benefit from most of this country’s rich oil reserves.  The U.S. closed its military bases in Libya in 1970 and cut off economic and diplomatic relations with the country after it was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  Relations were restored in 2005. There is no freedom of speech or information in Libya.  According to the New York Times,

the Libyan government has tried to impose a blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally severed, with only occasional access, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or phoning information to services outside the country. Al Jazeera, viewed by many as a cheerleader for the democracy movements stirring the region, has been taken off the air. Several people and intermediaries said Libyans were reluctant to talk to the foreign press via phone, fearing reprisals from the security forces.

The U.S. Department of State reports that Quadafhi has pursued a policy against Islamic fundamentalism that has potentially turned elements of the military against him.  The Bush administration normalized relations with Libya in 2009 and in 2010 the U.S. signed a trade agreement with the country.

Breaking news reports about Libya on Twitter suggest that 250 demonstrators were killed in air strikes today.  It is also rumored that Libyan ambassador to the UN ambassador has asked Quadhafi to step down.

Bahrainian protestorsBahrain: This tiny kingdom on the Persian Gulf is a strategic asset in U.S. foreign policy.  It has been a base for U.S. operations since 1947.  The monarch and ruling class are Sunni, while the majority of the population are Shiite.  The Sunni minority enjoys the majority of the country’s resources and civic benefits. Nicholas Kristof reports today that:

Here in Bahrain, we have been in bed with a minority Sunni elite that has presided over a tolerant, open and economically dynamic country — but it’s an elite that is also steeped in corruption, repression and profound discrimination toward the Shia population. If you parachute into a neighborhood in Bahrain, you can tell at once whether it is Sunni or Shia: if it has good roads and sewers and is well maintained, it is Sunni; otherwise, it is Shia.

A 20-year-old medical student, Ghadeer, told me that her Sunni classmates all get government scholarships and public-sector jobs; the Shiites pay their own way and can’t find work in the public sector. Likewise, Shiites are overwhelmingly excluded from the police and armed forces, which instead rely on mercenaries from Sunni countries. We give aid to these oligarchs to outfit their police forces to keep the Shiites down; we should follow Britain’s example and immediately suspend such transfers until it is clear that the government will not again attack peaceful, unarmed protesters.

The people of Bahrain have been protesting these injustices for nine consecutive days.  At least 7 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured.

Egypt:  The U.S. substantially supported the autocratic regime of President Hosni Mubarak, whom protestors forced to step down on February 11, 2011.  For examples of the brutality of this government, see for example, this article, and also  this Human Rights Watch report on police torture.

Tawakul Karman and other Yemeni women calling for democracy

Yemen: The U.S. and Britain have both invested heavily in the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they have considered a friend in the so-called “war against terror.”  The U.S. Department of State reports that

In FY 2009 U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $2.8 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1 million, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $2.5 million. In FY 2009 Yemen also received $19.8 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $11.2 million in development assistance, and $67.1 million in Section 1206 funding.

Critics of the government, such as Tawakul Karman, have long complained that Saleh has done little or nothing to stop the rise of Al Quaeda within its borders.  Protesters in Yemen began their uprising by calling for democratic reforms, but lately more of them have insisted that Saleh step down and make way for a more democratic government.Human Rights Watch reports on the violent suppression of journalists, academics, and other opinion makers who support a more egalitarian distribution of resources and civil rights in the country here..

On the 11th consecutive day of protests, the President, whose forces killed a teenager and wounded four other people in Aden, compared the current enthusiasm for democracy to a disease:

This is a virus and is not part of our heritage or the culture of the Yemeni people,” he told reporters. “It’s a virus that came from Tunisia to Egypt. And to some regions, the scent of the fever is like influenza. As soon as you sit with someone who is infected, you’ll be infected.

Jordanians demanding reform

Jordan: The U.S. Department of State describes relations between the United States and Jordan as having been “close for  6 decades, with 2009 marking the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Jordanian ties.”  Human Rights Watch reports that torture is rife in the Jordanian prison system and that restrictive laws suppress civil rights in the country at large.

King Abdullah, who succeeded his father, the late King Hussein, in 1999, has promised to institute reforms. Many of the protesters are fiercely critical of the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty.

Bedouins protesting for greater civil rights in Kuwait

Kuwait: Bedouins peacefully demonstrating in front of a mosque were drawn into a violent scuffle with special security forces and operatives.  Arab Times reported that 1500 special security forces and 500 operatives got involved, and that 20 people sustained injuries while about 60 people were arrested.  Apparently before this fight broke out,  women protesters met with Assistant Undersecretary for Public Security Major General Khalil Al-Shemali.  Many Beduoins, considered to be stateless Arabs, have claimed Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government has rejected their requests and claimed that their ancestors came from elsewhere. It launched a crackdown on the Bedouins, who may not obtain drivers licenses, birth or death certificates, or marriage contracts, in 2000.  There are about 100,000 stateless persons living in Bedouins, many in abject poverty.

The U.S. Department of State reports that

The United States is currently Kuwait’s largest supplier of goods and services, and Kuwait is the fifth-largest market in the Middle East. U.S. exports to Kuwait totaled $2.14 billion in 2006.

Protesters in Djibouti

Djibouti: While today’s NYTimes reports that only 6,000 protesters demonstrated against the government in this country (see above), the Financial Times states that, according to  oppositions leaders, more than 30,000 people protested on Friday against the rule of Ismail Ghuelleh, who nullified a constitutional tw0-term limit so that he could stand for office again last year.  According to a protestor interviewed by the FT, the people have come out into the streets to demonstrate against “dictatorship, bad government, lack of democracy and dynastic succession.”  According the U.S. Department of State:

The government established a minister for women’s affairs and is engaged in an ongoing effort to increase public recognition of women’s rights and to ensure enforcement. The government is leading efforts to stop illegal and abusive traditional practices, including female genital mutilation. As the result of an ongoing effort, the percentage of girls attending primary school increased significantly and is now more than 50%. However, women’s rights and family planning continue to face difficult challenges, many stemming from acute poverty in both rural and urban areas. With female ministers and members of parliament, the presence of women in government has increased. Despite the gains, education of girls still lags behind boys, and employment opportunities are better for male applicants.

This report also states that

The Djiboutian Government has been very supportive of U.S. and Western interests, particularly since the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. President Guelleh continues to take a very proactive position against terrorism.

Tunisia: Civil resistance and pro-democracy demonstrations led to the ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011.  Fed up with high unemployment, little freedom of speech, corruption,and  food inflation. They began on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire.

The U.S. has regarded Tunisia as a friend and stalwart ally for a very long time–the U.S. State Department boasts that the relationship goes back 200 years.  Through the U.S.-North African Economic Partnership (USNAEP), designed to promote U.S. investment in, and economic integration of, the Maghreb region, and the  Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which aimed to foster economic reform projects while adding bilateral and regional projects for education reform, civil society development, and women’s empowerment, Tunisia received more than $4 million in assistance from the U.S. from 2001 to 2005.  Amnesty International paints a much darker picture of Tunisia before the uprising.  It charged  that the government of  had misled the world about the states of human rights in and observed

In their efforts to prevent the formation of what they call “terrorist cells” inside Tunisia, the authorities have been responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions which breach Tunisian law, and have forcibly disappeared detainees, used torture and other ill-treatment and tried, convicted and sentenced people using unfair proceedings. In addition, they have tried civilians before military courts and produced little evidence to substantiate the charges.

 

Pro-democracy protestors in all these countries have bravely withstood tanks, assault weapons, tear gas, and beatings.  People died tragically when government forces attacked them, but the military and police forces in these countries eventually backed off for a complex set of reasons.  The most important of these reasons is that the soldiers and police were finally unwilling to slaughter unarmed, peaceful protestors.  Another significant factor is that the United States, which has historically supported these unjust regimes, threatened to withdraw their support if the government did not stop killing their citizens.

I am hoping that President Barak Obama will stand up for democracy in a way that few of his predecessors have done.  But I am obviously not just hoping silently.  I am speaking out here on this blog.  I hope that you will also speak out in support of democracy everywhere, including in our country.  On this, please see Paul Krugman’s excellent editorial about the threat to democracy here at home.