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A Fool's Game
By Kathy Hare

          For the last four decades universities across the nation taught students to respect cultural diversity. As those students entered the workforce and politics, that idea became part of mainstream America. The philosophy has its merits, especially in a country populated by individuals from many different cultures. And tolerance is certainly a necessity on a planet wobbling under the weight of humanity. In fact, the world would be a dull place if every society ate the same cuisine, created one style of art, celebrated identical holidays, or spoke a single language. And who among us wishes to goose-step to the commands of a one-world government, or be forced to believe the same religious dogma?

          But here's a simple-minded example a defender of cultural diversity presented to a classroom of anthropology students attending the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs during the 1980's. The professor claimed that while no one in the United States would tolerate living next door to a cannibal, a tribe of headhunters in New Guinea has every right to practice their belief system. Of course that included chopping off the heads of neighboring tribes, shrinking said heads, and displaying them as trophies on neatly woven bands worn around the headhunter's waist. The man displaying the most heads earned the greatest prestige in his village.

          As a student in the class, I'm afraid I showed my total ignorance of cultural tolerance by laughing out loud.

          After a lengthy stare the professor asked, "What's so funny?"

          "Well, I thought you were joking," I replied.

          That was not the case. His consequent diatribe made it absolutely clear that embracing cultural diversity includes accepting any sort of abuse to humans a culture deems proper.

          Pontificating from an ivory tower about cultural tolerance has always been easier than putting the doctrine into practice. And in my opinion, those lessons should always include two caveats. Respecting cultural differences should never occur at the expense of basic human rights. In addition, respect of any kind must be a mutual exercise, or it becomes nothing but a fool's game. Regrettably, generations of Americans swallowed the "diversity doctrine" without those warnings. A line must always be drawn between cultural differences, and what are actually inhumane practices just as insane as the professor's headhunter example.

          Now at the turn of the 21st century some people would ask us to accept extremist Islamic religious codes under the guise of cultural diversity. Many of us do not, but we support the spread of those extremist ideas every time we fill up our gas tank. Need I remind anyone that the majority of terrorists who attacked America on 9-11 came from Saudi Arabia and not Iraq?

          But in order to stop Saudi Arabia from funding the advancement of extremist Islamic rules, all U.S. citizens would be required to make sacrifices. We would, in short, have to develop our own energy resources, or import oil from more tolerant countries. This is what President Bush should have explained in 2001. Instead, he found a more convenient scapegoat in Saddam Hussein. No, I'm not suggesting Saddam was a good-guy, but the war in Iraq has done nothing to stop the spread of extremism. In fact, it has only helped the cause of those promoting radical Islamic ideology.

          Think about our own reaction after the 9-11 attacks. Now how would you react if an invading foreign army turned your country to rubble, or caused the death of a relative? I believe it would increase the chances of your joining a terrorist group promoting hatred towards the invading nation.

          Unfortunately, President Obama's current foreign policy isn't going to stop the spread of extremist theology either.  Ending the war in Iraq makes sense, but redeploying  the troops to Afghanistan does not, especially if you've been paying attention to what has been occurring in that region over the last few weeks.

          However, first we must understand some of the principles of Islam, in order to know why its extremist sect's values are not worthy of tolerance. Most Islamic countries have adopted the practice of following Shari'a law. The word "Shari'a" means "path" in Arabic, and it now refers to a body of religious law developed by the Prophet Mohammed and Islamic leaders who lived during the seventh and eighth centuries.  

          Shari'a governs every aspect of life including family relationships, the justice system, and financial laws. Its enforcement varies from one Islamic nation to another. Iran adheres to strict Shari'a rules. So does Saudi Arabia, except in financial matters, which allows them to take American dollars in exchange for oil. Malaysia follows a more relaxed form of the code, and Turkey works under a secular justice system similar to Great Britain - although the U.S. State Department Web site warns equality in Turkey is somewhat dubious.

          While some Shari'a practices, such as praying five times a day, giving alms to the poor, etc., are easy to respect, other parts of it are not. The religious laws condone stoning to death or beheading anyone who commits adultery, amputation of limbs for those who steal, and a set of rules that delegate women to a sub-human status. Shari'a law in its most extreme form also promotes the idea of "death to the infidels." An infidel is anyone who doesn't follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad. We have seen this practice carried out in Iraq, when parents send their children, armed with explosives, to commit suicide while killing American soldiers.  Shari'a was also used to justify the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

          Back to Afghanistan. Last month, President Karzai signed a law stating that "a wife is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires." He did so to gain the support of the more ardent Islamic voters. In plain English, this law makes it legal for a man to rape his wife. While on his European trip, President Obama was asked how he could defend Karzai's actions. He said, the law is "abhorrent, but remember, we are in Afghanistan to defeat al-Quaida." Gee, I think that sounds the same as President Bush's reasoning.

          Shortly after Obama's statement, pressure must have been exerted from behind the scenes because Karzai put the new law on "hold" - for now. Yet a few days later Sitara Achakzai, an Afghani woman who has been fighting for women's rights for years, was assassinated outside her home in Afghanistan. A week later an Afghan couple was shot to death in front of a mosque for trying to elope. So thus far, our support of President Karzai has done little to further human rights.

          And in U.S.-allied Pakistan, a "Shari'a for Peace" deal was made in order to stop the bloodshed in the Swat Valley bordering Afghanistan. The arrangement allows the Taliban to enforce strict Shari'a rule in the valley. "The Middle East Media Research Institute" reported the agreement sanctions bombing girl's schools and banning women from entering markets. On April 21, a week after the peace agreement was made, a Taliban warlord extended an invitation to Osama bin Laden and militants who want to battle the U.S. and their Arab allies.

          Neither headhunter nor extremist deserve respect. And financially aiding regimes whose ultimate aim is to destroy our own culture is a fool's game.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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