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Op-Ed

Taliban, USA

August 12, 2022

The great Swiss writer Max Frisch said it was his ambition to write a single page so clearly that it would be impossible to misunderstand.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Let’s talk about belief, or as some call it, faith. I shall use the simplest language possible, to address problems of immense scope.

Belief, or faith, is something inherently unprovable. One does not believe that 2+2=4. One knows it.

One does not — cannot — know that a god, or gods, exist; or that god, or the gods, act in a certain way, or would like us to act in a certain way.

One believes it, or not, has faith in it, or not.

Now, if one believes and knows that something — for instance, that driving 90 mph in a school zone when children are present — is dangerous, it’s reasonable to demand that one’s neighbors, and strangers, refrain from doing it. And it’s reasonable to expect that police officers, and judges, punish them if they do it.

However, in matters of belief, or faith — religion — it is not reasonable to believe that one person, or one group of people, should be able to force others to believe the same thing they do — under penalties of law — and that people who do not believe it should be punished for it.

This is where today’s right-wing Republicans, and most of the U.S. Supreme Court, overstep the line from belief, or faith, into tyranny, in the same manner as the Taliban.

Now, right-wing Republicans may believe that the United States of America was founded as a “Christian nation” — whatever that may be presumed to mean — but that’s a belief, not a fact.

Our most brilliant Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, was a deist. He wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Jefferson wrote of a “Creator,” not of a Christian god.

Deism is usually defined as belief in a supreme being that does not interfere in the affairs of mankind. It’s a belief, with no claim to fact.

Every religion, in fact, is a belief, or a combination of beliefs.

Some beliefs — religious or not — may, after passage of time, become provable fact: for instance, that the Earth is a sphere, and not the center of the universe.

People were burned at the stake for saying that, and believing it — including, damn near, Galileo.

Some beliefs, however, will never become provable fact: for instance, that there is a god — one god only — and that this god has certain attributes, and wants, in fact, commands, that everyone should act, and think, in a certain way; and that this god wants, in fact, commands, that everyone in a certain country on Earth, and throughout the Earth, should act in a way and believe in the things that this god’s believers do.

Prudence indeed dictates that in a world in which billions of people have different beliefs about a Supreme Being, it is fine for them to act upon the notions which they believe their god dictates.

But to claim that these people’s peculiar beliefs — no matter how many guns they have —entitle them to force their neighbors, and strangers, to act upon and believe the things that the believers do, is a recipe for endless strife. It’s a recipe for warfare, for pogroms, for holocaust and catastrophe.

To act in such a way, to enlist the forces of government to enforce one’s beliefs upon others, is to be a Taliban, or a right-wing Republican, or a member of today’s majority of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Voltaire wrote: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Today’s right-wing Republicans, however, the governors of Florida and Texas above all, say: “I do not agree with what you say, and you shall not be allowed to say it,” particularly if the subject involves human biology, the history of the United States, and concepts such as fairness, liberty, a just society and a moral and worthy life.

Many right-wing Republicans today, typified by Blake Masters, a neo-fascist candidate for U.S. Senate from Arizona, have claimed that the Democratic Party is “actively trying to destroy families.”

That’s nonsense.

For all their talk about “family values,” right-wing Republicans’ attacks upon public schools, exemplified by Florida’s Ron DeSantis, are dictating to all of us how we must raise our children: not suggesting it, demanding it — and if a schoolteacher disagrees, or a librarian disagrees, they should be fired, and many already have been forced out of their professions.

Fact: Women are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Nor are Black people, aside from the determination that they shall be counted as three-fifths of a human being, for purposes of enumeration only, but not given any rights as human beings.

Fact: Republican lawmakers in 36 states have introduced bills that would prohibit public schools from teaching students about our country’s history of institutionalized racism, which began with the Constitution, continued through Reconstruction and continues today, under the rubric of prohibiting “critical race theory” — whatever that is.

A cold-eyed look at history shows that a country that prohibits public education upon certain topics that affect everyone’s daily lives, is a hallmark of fascist regimes.

Governors DeSantis, Greg Abbott, et al., have endorsed laws that muzzle our public schoolteachers, from kindergarten through university, from teaching, nay, even alluding to, facts of our country’s history, under pain of losing their jobs. Their livelihoods. Their paychecks. The wellbeing of their children.

Just like in Putin’s Russia. And the Ayatollahs’ Iran. And Xi’s China. And Narendra Modi’s India. And Hitler’s Germany.

Ignorance is not bliss, my friends. It is a recipe for inflicting endless pain upon most of the world today, above all upon women and their children — who were raised to think they never had a choice but to suffer pain inflicted from their remote overlords.

War is not peace. Freedom is not slavery. Ignorance is not strength.

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