I received an email from Newsmax.com today; I’ve come to expect their spam like the dawn, and always with an equal measure of disgust and hilarity. I’ve been on their “list” for years, I suspect from some “log in” that was forced upon me in the far past by some conservative website. My AOL address was passed along, and the rest is history. I have often contemplated making a stand and getting myself expunged from the list, especially when I get mail from them with subject heads like “Would Jesus Abort?” – but mostly I find the headlines alone a good enough reference point for what’s currently “hot” on the Rightwing blogosphere.
I got one today that I found interesting, if only because the subject had come up at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in an entirely different context.
The Newsmax alert included a headline, “Pope Warns about Full Body Scanners.” Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI told an audience of aerospace industry types this week that while he is aware of the terrorist threat that has prompted enhanced screening at airports, “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity,” and that plans to implement devices that present screeners with “virtually naked” images of individual travelers compromises that integrity.
Newsmax passed along the report without much comment, probably because it poses a bit of a quandary. It’s writers and columnists often like to defend religious (Christian/Jewish) positions as a matter of conservative course, if for no other reason than to indulge their social conservative base and to irritate the atheists and non-religious liberals they see as their constant foil. Their hyper-defense of anti-terror laws would put them at odds with the Roman Catholic pontiff, however. So best just put the word out and back off.
But at CPAC friday, at an “unofficial” panel sponsored by jihad-hunters Pamela Geller (Atlas Shrugs) and Robert Spencer (Jihad Watch), called “Jihad: the Political Third Rail,” participants balked at these religious arguments against full body scanners — particularly because those concerns had been raised earlier, not by Catholics, but by Muslims. According to a group of Islamic scholars who posted a statement online, the intrusive images taken by full body scanners fly in the face of Koranic teachings on modesty. The group, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), issued a fatwah, or religious edict, preventing Muslims from going through such scanners at airports.
Of course, as it stands now, anyone can opt out of a full body scan by agreeing to a “pat down.” But Spencer roundly mocked these Muslims, because as far as he was concerned, Islam was responsible for 9/11 and Muslims themselves “made (full body scanners) necessary.” In fact, the entire thrust of the panel was that Islam is a violent religion, a plague in fact, that needed to be cured. So any idea that Muslims would consider their faith a reason to deny airport screening was rich. “Former Muslim” and speaker Wafa Sultan, cheered the full body scan, suggesting that it would be so repulsive to Muslims — and thanks to the fatwa, inconvenient — that they might stop trying to bomb airplanes.
There were a lot of knowing glances, nods, and more than a few snickers from the audience when the idea came up that Muslim women might actually be religiously offended by the full body scans. I saw a lot of men with Yarmulkes in the audience, suggesting a strong Jewish conservative/Orthodox presence there. I remember wondering what they thought about such intrusive screening for their women.
After today’s Newsmax alert I thought I’d find out. Interestingly enough, you can add Jewish law to the fatwahs and papal declarations on full body scans:
Observant Jews are voicing concerns over modesty and looking for compromise on the Transportation Security Administration’s plan to expand the use of whole-body imaging machines for airport security, after last month’s failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound jetliner.
Leaders in both Conservative and Orthodox communities are debating how scanners with the ability to see through clothing intersect with Jewish laws of tzniut, or modesty, which are observed differently among denominations but generally require Jews to cover their bodies.
“It creates a tension between the Jewish value of protecting lives, which is very strong, and the Jewish value of modesty for women and for men,” said David Rosenn, a Conservative rabbi and the executive director of Avodah, a Jewish service program.
There are two things I am taking away from this issue: one, the full body scans are creepy and intrusive and violate basic civil liberties of all individuals — on a global scale. Secondly, the sneering tenor of Robert Spencer about Muslim women and their “modesty” cannot hide the fact that the three major religions of the world — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — all regard modesty a prevailing virtue and, especially in the conservative observances of all three, it cannot be compromised by either the individual or the state.
Politics and the people who practice them can be so crude and reactionary– but all three religions, and the people who practice them, have much more in common outside of those political prejudices than they would care to admit. All three could create a united front on the issue of full body scans, but because one side blames the other for the use of the screening in the first place, they will remain divided.
On a side note: there are sure to be responses reminding me that anyone — religious or otherwise — who disagrees with these enhanced screening methods can stay home. Just consider this: When the government imposes the rules for air travel – i.e., one must produce identification and birth date, and be subjected to a Department of Homeland Security security check(the airlines are no longer in charge of that) — then it is the government, not the free market or private sector that dictates who can or cannot fly on a plane in the United States.
Critics can say that air travel is a “privilege” not a “right.” But if you are content with it being a “privilege” bestowed by the United States Government, by all means, indulge.