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Chris Honoré: Some political and social observations

I admit I am perpetually perplexed about our inability to extract ourselves from the swamp of the Middle East. It’s a labyrinth of tribes and religious sectarianism and internecine wars and deeply complex cultural beliefs, all of which we can’t hope to unravel, change or fully understand. Not if we stayed there for the next 500 years.

Consider their attitude toward women. I’m at a loss to understand the cultural rationale behind the burka. Or why women are not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied by a male relative, prohibited from driving or, for many, attending school. The statement, “It’s the custom” doesn’t begin to explain what is going on regarding 50 percent of their population. Women represent a massive resource of intelligence and energy, many waiting to participate in their societies; instead they are incarcerated by rigid attitudes that seem at best anachronistic and at worst malevolent.

Consider the following news item as reported in the New York Times: Just a week or so ago, a woman was beaten to death in Kabul, Afghanistan, over false (emphasis on false) allegations that she had burned the Quran. She was a religious scholar named Farkhunda, 27. The mob threw her body off a roof near one of Kabul’s most renowned mosques. They then ran over her body with a car, set her on fire and then threw her remains into the Kabul River nearby. The attack has been widely distributed on social media.

What is not explained is: Why? What is the source of this rage against women? How to comprehend such a despicable act? Clearly she was someone’s daughter, perhaps a child’s mother, likely a sister. Beyond this event, how to grasp honor killings? I realize that we in the West peer across a huge cultural chasm at those in the Middle East, and I acknowledge that understanding can seem a bridge too far.

And after reading the above I realize that I am often taken aback by our own attitudes in America toward women. Look at the demographics of our Congress. Or count the number of shelters across the nation where battered women take fearful refuge from men who inexplicably set out to do them harm. Explain rape and have it make sense.

But speaking of a bridge too far: Last Monday, Utah became the only state to allow executions by firing squads. Gov. Gary Herbert refers to it, in so many words, as his plan B. Apparently, the drugs of choice used for putting prisoners to death are not readily available. European manufacturers, who are opposed to the death penalty, refuse to sell the cocktails for lethal injections to American prisons.

Of course, the very existence of the death penalty is not at issue. Though it should be. Has an innocent person ever been executed in America? We know that our system of justice is fallible. We are fallible. Innocent people, with the help of DNA, have been freed, some after decades in prison. Had they been put to death, there would have been no do-overs.

And speaking of justice and equality for all, consider this: The Indiana House of Representatives just passed a bill to protect business owners who refuse to provide service to same-sex couples. A version of the same bill was passed by the Republican-led Senate, and Indiana governor Mike Pence will sign it.

Supporters insist that this law will protect small businesses that are forced to offer services contrary to their religious beliefs. In other words, a business owner (restaurant, diner, florist) can discriminate against gays as long as he or she can justify said discrimination based on religious tenets. There was a time when religious doctrine supported separate-but-equal and Jim Crow. How is this bill any different? Good grief.

And so it goes.

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.