On the Banning of Books

Nazi Book Burning

Source: http://totallyhistory.com/nazi-book-burnings/

I mock and vilify all sorts of attitudes and behaviors here. I dislike unregulated capitalism (and I’m not terribly fond of the regulated kind). I have a low tolerance for people who confuse superstitious ignorance for religious faith. I am intolerant of those who allow bigotry and intentional ignorance to perpetuate the marginalization of people who live on the margins because of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

But the most deserving target of my pure, undiluted wrath are those pedantic and parochial morons who – because of the narrowness of their own pathetic, underfed, and feeble intellects – withhold books from those children who wish to read them.

And yes, I am looking at you, Randolph County, North Carolina.

I am also looking at you, “Parents Action League of Annoka-Hennepin

Shame on you all.

To quote José Martí:

Asesino alevoso, enemigo del pueblo, y digno del escarnio de todos los hombres es todo aquél que, con el pretexto de guiar a las generaciones futuras, les enseña un sistema aislado de doctrinas y les musita al oído, en lugar del mensaje dulce del amor, el evangelio bárbaro del odio.

Treacherous assassins, enemies of the people, and worthy of everyone’s ridicule are those who, under the pretext of guiding future generations, teach them an isolated system of doctrines and whisper in their ear (instead of the sweet message of love) the barbarous gospel of hate.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

On Loyalty and Secrecy

SAEDA 01

WWII SAEDA Poster – USGPO – src: http://www.usmm.org/postertalk2b.html

 

Many of my friends – all fellow liberals – have been shocked by the vehemence with which I have condemned Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.  Because of my generally liberal politics, their assumption is that I would value the men’s apparent act of conscience – their desire to see the “right thing” done – over their violation of their oaths of secrecy.  I do not, and here is why.

I have been an intelligence professional for over twenty years.  I am proud to be a member  of the Intelligence Community – an elite group of women and men whom I consider to be some of the finest people I have ever known.  Intelligence professionals bring a diverse set of skills to the table:  language proficiency, technical know-how, effective writing and speaking skills, the ability to organize and analyze complex information from disparate sources, the ability to think quickly under high stress, knowledge of other cultures and social systems, and psychology training – just to name a few.  There is one trait, however, that every single one of us has – absolutely and unequivocally:  we can keep a secret.

Secrecy is the lifeblood of intelligence work, not because we fear oversight or because our actions cannot withstand the scrutiny of the light of day, but because the lives of others depend on our ability to keep information – even apparently insignificant details – out of the hands of those seeking to harm our citizens.  Whether the topic is troop movements, collection methodologies, or the placement of covert agents – iron clad secrecy is fundamental and essential to effective intelligence operations.  The efforts, risks, and sacrifices of thousands of people working over the course of years can be compromised by one file copied carelessly onto a USB drive.

As a result, the safety of our nation requires a class of people for whom secrecy is the highest virtue, people on whom we can rely to never, under any circumstance, reveal classified information.  Those people are intelligence professionals, and we hold to the antiquated, anachronistic definition of “honor” that means we value our oath of secrecy over comfort, convenience, expedience, or other loyalties.  This is not hyperbole, nor is it overkill – it is absolutely necessary that we have such people for our nation to be safe.

What about the other requirements of honor?  What happens when one of us learns that members or agencies of our government – the body which acts on behalf of all of us who are “we the people” – act in a way that is cruel, dishonorable, illegal, or evil?  The simple answer is that we must act to prevent such things where possible, and punish them when necessary; but there are processes in place for just those purposes.  There are oversight committees, ombudsman inspectors, and open door policies – all within the cleared community – and each offers recourse for reporting abuses.

Are these methods perfect?  No.  Will some things, even shameful and patently wrong actions, slip through the cracks?  Almost assuredly.  No system is perfect, and if the Manning and Snowden cases indicate failures in those oversight processes we should pour considerable resources into resolving those failures.

That does not exonerate Manning and Snowden.  Even if there were no obvious casualties from their leaks, even if none of the information they provided would be of intelligence value to our enemies, even if they only made public information that our enemies already knew – they still broke their oaths of secrecy.  Every member of the intelligence community, from the PFC all-source analyst in a TOC to the National Security Adviser, only sees a piece of the puzzle.  It is not our job to determine what is and is not of value to our enemies.

It is our job to be people whom the nation can trust to always, in every circumstance, keep every single secret which has been entrusted to us.  That is a sacred trust, and failing in it is a cardinal sin.  It is, in fact, the cardinal sin, and those who commit it – except under torture – are traitors.

There are other jobs, other virtues, and other sins, and I think it is important that we have a public, national dialogue on what we consider the proper, ethical path for our nation to follow – both in overt politics and in covert intelligence.  Whatever that path, the lives of our warfighters, our public safety personnel, our civilians, and our allies all depend on the willingness of the intelligence community to do, under any circumstance, what we have promised to do – keep our nation’s secrets no matter what.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

Chicken Sandwich with a Side of Shame

Little Rock Integration Protest

Little Rock Integration Protest (source Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday a right-wing,  fundamentalist preacher/politician/media personality urged his fans to go to Chick-fil-A to show their support for the company’s opposition to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.  Purchasing a chicken sandwich, or refusing to do so, became a political statement leading to some of the most heated discussions I have ever seen erupting on Facebook.  I watched friendships end in rather dramatic ways, and I read vitriolic remarks of astonishing potency on both sides of the conflict.  Although I weighed in on plenty of these discussions in bits and pieces, I wanted to put all of my thoughts in one place:

It’s not about Freedom Of Speech

One aspect of the rhetoric that initially astonished me was the claim by many of the Chick-fil-A supporters that they were going to the restaurant to support Dan Cathy’s “First Amendment Rights” which – apparently – they thought were under attack.  If I understand their argument correctly, Mr. Cathy exercised his freedom of speech by publicly espousing his support for “biblical marriage” and the media response to his comments was an attempt to squelch Mr. Cathy’s right to speak his mind.

Mind you, no one told Mr. Cathy he could not say the things he said or had no right to say them.  No one refused to publish his comments.  In fact, they were reproduced in every possible media outlet.  They were tweeted and facebooked, they were mentioned on television news, and journalists reprinted them in print and online.  No one said Mr. Cathy should not be allowed to say or think these things.  No one challenged his First Amendment rights.

But “I’m supporting Chick-fil-A because I believe in Free Speech” is much more palatable than “I’m supporting Chick-fil-A because I oppose same-sex marriage.”  Hiding their true agenda like this is not a new tactic for the Far Right.  They already try to claim that opposing same-sex marriage is about protecting “family values” and “defending traditional marriage.”  Of course, the reality is that keeping people who would make great parents from adopting children is not supporting family values.  Similarly, keeping two people who love each other and want to make a lifetime commitment to each other from marrying is not protecting marriage.

In a similar vein, telling someone that something they said is bigoted and ignorant is not opposing Free Speech, it is using Free Speech in exactly the way the freedom was intended – to hold an idea up to public examination and critique in a way that allows for all sides of an issue to be considered.  Dan Cathy has a right to say any ignorant thing he likes, and we have a right to point out all the flaws in his statements.

The heart of the matter is that support for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights is rapidly becoming the norm in the United States and in the Western world.  Even Chick-fil-A realized this with their hastily-published attempts to back out of the debate.  Opponents of same-sex marriage realize that they have to cloak their rhetoric of hate behind innocuous or falsely positive language.  Otherwise, they will quickly be dismissed as ignorant, bigoted fundamentalists trying to hide a political agenda of exclusion behind empty religious claims.

Yes, this is Bigotry and Hate

All it takes is a quick look at what’s at stake, however, and it becomes clear that their arguments are just that.  I have already discussed how the claim by opponents of same-sex marriage that they are just being “biblical” is disingenuous at best and – more accurately – theologically indefensible.  I’ve also discussed why I insist on using the term “bigotry” when talking about those who oppose LGBT rights, but I am happy to elucidate further.

The only argument against LGBT rights (adoption, marriage, protection from discrimination) is one drawn from a particular interpretation of certain sacred texts, an interpretation is not even the normative one among mainline religious scholars.  When a person uses a selective, minority interpretation of sacred texts to withhold rights from another person, that is bigotry.  We saw this happen with slavery in the nineteenth century.  We saw this happen with religious opposition to women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century.  We saw this happen with the American Civil Rights movement in the middle of the twentieth century.  In fact, fifty years ago religious claims were frequently used to argue for sustaining the laws forbidding “interracial” marriage.

The pattern is the same every time.  When our understanding of biology, psychology, human nature, sex, gender, or ethnicity changes, the only way to sustain the superstitions of past generations is to argue from the religious texts written during those times.  Eventually, of course, even those arguments fail, and in hindsight future generations identify them as exactly what they were:  prejudicial ignorance.  I see absolutely no way in which the debate over same-sex marriage differs from the debate over two people of different ethnicities marrying, and so I label opposition to same-sex marriage as what it is:  bigotry.

That does not, necessarily, mean that it is hatred.  Sometimes prejudice can be well-intentioned in  its cruelty, rather than intentionally hateful.  And yet, many of us have charged that Chick-fil-A funds “hate groups” with their profits.  David Badash in the Huffington Post offered an explanation for why we make this claim.  His citations from GLAAD itemizing the comments from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and Peter Sprigg give ample reason why the Southern Poverty Law Center considers FRC a “hate group.”

It is one thing to say (however erroneously) that “my religious beliefs require me to oppose same-sex marriage.”  It is another thing entirely to dedicate millions of dollars to spreading malicious misinformation about your fellow citizens in an attempt to deny them access to the same rights and freedoms others enjoy.  The former is simply ignorance, superstition, or bigotry.  The latter is hateful.

What Else Did that Chicken Sandwich Buy?

Our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender brothers and sisters, parents and children, teachers and warfighters and public safety workers, bosses and employees, friends and neighbors cannot help but hear it any other way.  For those of you who proudly purchased  a chicken sandwich yesterday, what message were you sending them?

Yesterday you told my two friends in California (who are legally married there) that they aren’t real mothers to their brilliant, charming, beautiful son.  You told them that they shouldn’t be allowed to have or raise children, and that it is biologically impossible for them to do as good of a job as opposite sex parents.  I have seen how they parent with wisdom, intentionality, and love. You are wrong.

You told my dear friends, one a professor and the other an artist, that their relationship of over thirty years is somehow inferior to the opposite-sex marriages we see falling apart all around us.  You said that their love, commitment, and sacrifice for each other – in the face of the additional hurdles of prejudice – don’t matter and aren’t worth the effort.  You have said that their love should not be honored, and that their values don’t support strong families.  I am in awe of the depth and maturity of their relationship.  You are wrong.

You told my various gay and lesbian friends who are pastors openly serving congregations that they have no place in the pulpit, and that their communities of faith are not welcome at your Eucharistic table.  You have said that the Sunday afternoons spent in hospital rooms, the 2 a.m. phone calls, and the lifetime dedicated to study, prayer, and service in answer to God’s call are meaningless and a source of shame to the Church.  You are wrong.

You have supported every parent who threw their child out of the house for their “sinful lifestyle choices” or shipped them off to be “re-programmed.”  You have supported every charitable group that fired a leader or denied a volunteer because their love for another person contradicted the organization’s “values.”  You have sided with the hospitals who have blocked people from sitting beside the deathbed of their lifelong partner.  You have joined your voice with the chorus of people who, through actions large and small, have insulted, wounded, marginalized, and excluded our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters.

You are free to do so.  Likewise we are free to point out that such behavior is shameful and has no place in twenty-first century society.

Final Thoughts

Dan Cathy, Mike Huckabee, the Family Research Council, and all those who supported their prejudicial policies of exclusion and ignorance yesterday are on the losing side of history.  They know this, and that is why they are trying to hide their reprehensible “values” of intolerance behind empty and irrelevant rhetoric of Constitutional freedoms.  We must look past the innocuous-sounding language to the actual consequences of their policies.  The reality is that anti-LGBT laws and practices destroy families, break hearts, scar souls, deprive children of loving parents, block hard-working professionals from experiencing the fruits of their labors, and in every way make us weaker, poorer, and less healthy as a society.  It is our duty as citizens, and as neighbors, to correct that shameful injustice by consistently and unequivocally standing against bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head:  in the classroom; in the legislature; in the pulpit, bima, or minbar; and yes, even in the fast food line.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn