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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card January 18, 2004

An Empty Suit, Head Scarves, and Yarmulkes

Interesting results in Iowa. Capturing Saddam seems to have taken the wind out of Dean's sails, even among anti-war Democrats, who voted far more for Kerrey than for Dean in the caucuses.

Even if Dean does well in New Hampshire, it means little -- New Hampshire is next door to Dean's own Vermont. But I don't expect him to do all that well there, either. Kerrey and Edwards seem to have divided the people who have been disgusted by Dean's obvious cynical manipulation of his "message."

It may well be that Iowa has saved the Democratic Party -- and America -- from one of the worst candidates the Democrats could have put in office.

Kerrey is a credible candidate for the Democrats -- a senator with a real record of service. If he is nominated and wins the election, Democrats won't have to be embarrassed.

And as Gephardt bows out -- probably a victim of his own political maneuvering over the campaign in Iraq as much as anything -- it's worth pointing out that just because a career ends with a whimper does not erase the good fights he fought in his many years of public service.

The shock to me is that Iowans would vote in such numbers for Edwards, a man who has never actually served in any public office. (He was elected Senator, but his contribution to that legislative body is invisible.) Then again, they are much more likely to know John Edwards than anybody in North Carolina is, since Edwards wrote this state off the moment we put him in the Senate.

Hearing Edwards's acceptance speech made me laugh. Oh, he was right on message: "We live in a country divided into two parts, one for people with wealth and privilege, and one for people who don't have them." Such cynicism. Sure, a lot of wealthy people vote for and support Bush; but just as many rich and privileged people vote against Bush. It's as if being anti-Bush sort of erases the onus of being a rich exploiter of the poor.

The fact is that the most ardent Leftists are as likely as not to be people who live within the shelter of that American privileged elite -- people with assured incomes and plenty of leisure time and lots of little pulpits to preach from.

And there are plenty of people who vote for Bush who don't make a lot of money, but believe in at least some aspect of the vision of America that he represents.

So to hear a guy like Edwards, who sure as heck has a lot more money than I do, talk about how he speaks for the little guy, I have to wonder: If he cares so much for the little guy, why didn't he give the little guys a break by giving back some of those obscenely large fees that he got as a lawyer?

The money that paid his fees ultimately came from the little guy -- all those people paying insurance premiums that went up because of his court victories -- and especially the little guy whose case he just won, who had to give up a huge portion of his winnings to make Edwards a rich man.

How are his millions cleaner than the millions belonging to the guys who drill for oil, never knowing whether they'll find it or not? Or the people who start small businesses that succeed beyond their wildest dreams, but which could just as easily have failed and left them broke?

And how will any of Edwards's policies benefit the little guy? I'm still waiting for a sign of something more than a smile and a slogan from this man.

But maybe we don't need one. Maybe this year an empty suit is the best candidate the Democrats can find to put up against George W. Bush.

After all, it worked so well for the Republicans in 1940, when they put up Wendell Willkie against FDR.


Oh, those peace-loving, tolerant, open-minded French. Just when you start really looking up to them as the people who teach the world how to be civilized, they pull something like this law banning headscarves, yarmulkes, and large Christian crosses from school classrooms.

After all, as any atheist can tell you, religious belief causes all the evil in the world. So if we can just ban the display of religious symbols in the public schools, we can do a better job of civilizing the children, right?

Of course, there's a long history of anti-religion in France. In the French Revolution, the Jacobins went to town on stripping French public life of any religious involvement. So the current government of France is simply reviving an old Jacobin program.

Why not go all the way? If a kid shows up with a scarf or yarmulke, guillotine the offending head!

Notice that crosses aren't banned altogether -- only big ones. And of course there's no Christian sect that actually requires the wearing of crosses -- it's just a fashion choice.

But for some Muslims and some Jews, the head scarf and the yarmulke are not a fashion choice, they're a fundamental expression of faith. To take them off -- especially at the orders of the state -- would be like spitting in the face of God.

And to demand that they do so is to establish secularism (and small-cross Christianity) as the state churches of France. Good-bye, religious freedom!

But then, religious freedom seems to be eroding everywhere. Muslim countries have never had it. Neither have former (and current) Communist countries. And Western nations -- like France with this new law, and the U.S. with many a court decision -- are throwing it away with both hands.

You'd think we'd had enough of people who want to force their religious beliefs on others. But no, as the French are proving, if you are really sure that your beliefs about religion are true and all others are silly or seditious, then it's OK to use the force of law to make other people do things your way.

What would you do if you lived in France under such a law? Supposing you were a Christian who didn't wear a cross anyway? Do you just shake your head and feel sorry for the Muslims and Jews?

Let me tell you about my kids. Years ago, we went to Atlanta to the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial, and came home with important memories -- and t-shirts.

So the kids wore their MLK t-shirts to school, and to their surprise (and ours, I might add -- this was the late '80s in the New South), they were taunted by the other kids. I guess this is how you find out which kids are being taught bigotry at home -- they had all kinds of reasons why MLK was evil, few of them even remotely true, but apparently all of them being spoken of at home.

We did not try to tell our kids what to do, except to provide answers to the questions that had been raised about King's worthiness to be considered an American hero and a martyr in a worthy cause.

But we did watch what our kids did, and it was simple: They wore those shirts to school till they grew out of them.

If America ever had such a revolting law as this one that's being considered right now in France, I would encourage my own children and all my friends' families as well to purchase scarves for the girls and yarmulkes for the boys.

Like the way the people of Billings, Montana, responded when somebody threw a brick through the menorah-decorated window of one of the few Jewish homes in town: Within a short time, thousands of non-Jewish families were displaying menorahs in their windows.

The thing to remember is this: Repression of one religion -- even if it's one you despise -- opens the door to repression of all. And the most fanatical believers in the religion of Political Correctness are eager to use the power of the state to do to all conservative religions what the French are poised to do to orthodox Jews and Muslims.

Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.

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