Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama Reads??

I received an email the other day about Obama's reading habits. As it turns out, at least with this one book, his reading habits are exactly mine: The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria.

Zakaria, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in India to Muslim parents, and attended a private school in India through Grade 12 that is one of the best in Mumbai. He has been called a conservative, a centrist, and a liberal, and is know for actually paying attention to what’s going on in the world and thinking through issues. He does not identify himself based on party lines or issues, but on logic.

He has a BA from Yale where he was president of the Yale Political Union, and a PhD from Harvard where he directed a research project on American foreign policy. He is currently editor of Newsweek International, has written for the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and others, and hosts CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS.

So he’s kinda smart, and has a lot of insight into the world, and his books are well-received by the international political and foreign affairs communities.

The fact that our president is reading his book heartens me. Unlike Bush, who didn’t crack a book and as a result had no clue about anything other than… well, had no clue, Obama actually thinks, and wants to be well-informed, and takes others’ opinions and ideas, and consults experts. Zakaria is one such expert.

But do you know what was appended to this photo? This text:

“The name of the book Obama is reading is called The Post-American World, written by a fellow muslim. Post-America – The world After America ??? Please forward this picture to everyone you know, conservative or liberal to expose Obama's radical ideas and intent for this country!”

So the issues here are legion but I’ll focus only on three.

First, Post American does NOT mean after America, and anyone who reads and believes THAT simply does not understand post-anything in cultural terms. Those people are going to be starting from a foundation that is false; they will therefore come to false conclusions.

Second, this book will not have been read by most people who will be horrified by the photo, and who will believe the implied message in the accompanying text. See above paragraph for false assumptions and false conclusions.

And third, reading a book does not intent prove. Reading Alice in Wonderland does not prove the reader will go eat mushrooms. Reading the Bible does not prove the reader will not commit adultery, steal money from his constituents, or get divorced. Reading Bukowski does not mean one is an alcoholic. And reading a book written by a Muslim does not a Muslim make. (And even if it DID, that is another entire issue for another post - Muslim does not equal bad, evil, wrong, monster, and those who would believe THAT are a whole other problem inherent in this post-9/11 world... and that isn't even addressing the fact that that belief about Muslims has existed for centuries. Again, another post.)

I am incensed and stymied by the masses of America. Are they (yes, ‘they’ – I refuse to be lumped in with them) REALLY this stupid? Are the masses of people really this uneducated, really this gullible, and really this ready to believe the worst of President Obama? Can this implied threat truly be credible to anyone?

I can only shake my head and forge on, and hope that, possibly, the next generation won’t be afraid of becoming educated, and won’t spend their lives wallowing in ignorance and fear.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Don't Want Equal Rights

I am a woman who has benefited immeasurably in my life from the actions and bravery of women before me who fought oppression, who stood up for themselves and declared their rights and abilities to do whatever the hell they chose to do. I have studied the lives of Gertrude Bell, Alexandra David-Neel, Harriet Tubman, Margaret Sanger, Arundhati Roy…. and women pirates for that matter. I get that women have had to fight damn hard for their rightful place as equal in all things.

As a result of those women’s actions (and hundreds more women through the ages), I have never felt constrained by the ‘limits’ of being female; it never occurred to me to question whether I could do something. I ran a printing press for years, long before many women were in that field. I traveled alone for most of my life – across the country and across the world. I worked as a horseback guide into the wilderness areas of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and was a working ‘cowboy’ – the only woman among many men – on a working ranch in Texas.

So I get it.

Women can do whatever they want.

I agree, and think they should not only ‘be allowed to’ do whatever they want, but should just DO whatever they want, without assuming they need anyone’s permission to do it.

Today I opened the New York Times and on the front page was met with this headline: “G.I. Jane Stealthily Breaks the Combat Barrier.”

The article is a long one. Essentially the gist of it is… women are now going into battle with ever more frequency in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are working hard and earning the respect (another issue, one I’ll save for another post… why is it assumed women have to earn the respect of men in some kind of different way than men would??) of those they go into battle with. And they are getting shot at, and they are shooting back.

I don’t believe battle is innately against women’s nature, I don’t believe women should be or are any more suited for taking care instead of taking lives, and I don’t think there is some essential womanhood-ness these women soldiers are betraying. Identity is fraught with problems and pitfalls, and I don’t presume to believe women “shouldn’t” go into battle if that’s what they want. I even understand the impetus behind wanting maybe to ‘defend my country’ (if I believed that killing people in Afghanistan qualified as that), or help others (if I believed that killing people in Afghanistan qualified).

What makes me shudder is that war has become (no… there is no becoming in war, it has always been, on some level and to some people) an acceptable part of life on earth. We mouth the words ‘peace on earth/goodwill toward MEN,’ we prattle on about how sad but necessary it is that the U.S. must ‘help’ others less-aware/able/advanced to reach (our version of some kind of acceptable) democratic government, and we talk peace while hiding behind our country’s status as the most powerful – and a very aggressive – nation on earth. It’s easy to subscribe to the rhetoric of peace when you’ve got a big stick to enforce it.

And into this milieu of war-as-necessary, homeland-in-need-of-defense (i.e., running around the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq), women have thrust themselves, searching for yet another barrier to break. (For the sake of my argument, I’ll ignore the fact that this barrier has been broken for centuries; women have been warriors in many cultures throughout history – check out Boudicca for one early example.)

I don’t make light of these women’s service. I never make light of the service of soldiers – they are, for good or ill, for right or wrong, in a literal line of fire for what they believe. This takes courage. I get that too.

And, still, I read this article with a sick feeling in my stomach. History, women’s rights, and equality aside, it comes down to one thing: Essentially, women have earned the (equal) right to kill. Yay for them.

For you see, I don't want this right. I refuse to claim it. In this area of 'women's rights' I refuse to step up.