March 15, 2002
Breaking News:

☞ Ah, bureaucracy.


From the BBC:

Friday, 15 March, 2002 – Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers. In a rare criticism of the kingdom’s powerful ‘mutaween’ police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday. . . . According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam. One witness said he saw three policemen ‘beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya.’ The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police – known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned ‘it is sinful to approach them.’ . . . The school was locked at the time of the fire – a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes. The religious police are widely feared in Saudi Arabia. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation, and ensuring prayers are performed on time. Those who refuse to obey their orders are often beaten and sometimes put in jail.

☞ My own conception, as some of you will remember from December 28, is that religion would serve us best if in the back of our minds we all realized that – as inspiring and comforting as it truly can be – religion is trumped by reality. Suicide bombers won’t really be surrounded by 72 Vestal Virgins (or even 72 pissed-off Virginians, as one of the Internet missives you’ve doubtless gotten a dozen times would have it). So when religion would lead us actually to hurt other people (e.g., stoning nonvirgin brides to death, as prescribed in the Bible), or even just to treat them unfairly (e.g., condoning slavery or the subservience of women – ibid), we need to adjust it for common sense and justice.

Which perhaps leads us to . . .


We have talked some about our Attorney General, John Ashcroft, whose dad’s church speaks in tongues and who himself is not about to be easily tricked by the devil. His private faith is entirely his own business, as is his right publicly to profess it at Bob Jones University and anywhere else he sees fit. If he wants to spend $8,000 of our tax money covering up a Justice Department statue because a boob is showing – artistic expression (and boobs) be damned – so be it. He is our Attorney General. I just hope he doesn’t get it into his head that the Washington Monument is a phallic symbol, because I’d hate to think what it would cost to drape that.

Where his piousness scares me is where it conflicts with, or might be perceived as conflicting with, his official role.

A possible example is the administration of survivor benefits from 9/11. You may have seen Special Master Kenneth Feinberg on ‘Meet the Press’ March 10. A Massachusetts liberal, Feinberg runs the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund under the aegis of the Attorney General. The good news is that Feinberg will grant taxpayer-funded compensation to a very wide group of victims, even including fetuses and illegal aliens. Apparently, the Attorney General himself made sure that Immigration would not penalize or deport illegal aliens who surface to get this compensation, nor take action against their employers for having hired illegals.

You’ve got to admit that’s really putting compassion ahead of the law.

But one’s got to draw the line somewhere. Where Feinberg draws it – and one suspects this decision may not entirely have been his own – is in granting compensation to gay Americans who lost their significant others in the tragedy. No can do, Feinberg says, if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize domestic partnerships.


Friday’s Washington Post reports that Ashcroft has ‘moved in recent months to consolidate his control over the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, turning over control of sensitive issues traditionally handled by career lawyers to more conservative political appointees.’ (You can never be too conservative when it comes to civil rights. Under Clinton/Gore, it really got out of hand.) Ashcroft has moved to put his stamp on voting rights, also. For the full story, click here.


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