Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Eldorado, TX: The Racism of the American Government

I was at my dad's wife's memorial, and so missed on how this developed: the raid on the Eldorado YFZ Fundamentalist Mormon Ranch. And I must say I'm horrified.

I'm horrified to hear about the sexual abuse. I would wish that they didn't practice polygamy, while recognizing it is their moral (if not legal) right to do so. Practicing a faith that came out of Abraham, I can't really say otherwise, although for Christians it is certainly not God's best for us, nor it is all that empowering to women. I disagree with many fundamentals of this church, or for that matter, the Mormon church itself. Marrying teenage girls is certainly not desirable, which is why we have laws for minimum ages of marriage, though I recognize that this is common in other cultures around the world, as much as I recognize that this is an element that retards the rights of women around the world.

I'm horrified at something else as well- the response by the government. It is right and proper to remove children from homes where they are abused. But instead, in a dramatic overkill, the government has removed all 416 children from the ranch, whether there's evidence of abuse or not. In the news reports on the matter, I hear discussion of how hard this is to figure out, as it is unclear who some children belong to, and so many children have similar names, first and last, due to inbreeding and beliefs. This is a group who is odd, for they have a common purse, and have removed themselves from society to practice their faith communally, acting as one large family. And my stomach churns in repulsion.

There is much here that is the result of two cultures colliding. In America, it is a bad thing to take your faith too seriously. Polygamy is bad. Ever since Jonestown, communal living is bad. Not pursuing individual wealth, or individualism, is bad. (Our President tells us this when he commands us to shop to stop terrorism.)

I refer to racism by the government.
Probably I should say "culturalism", but that's not a real word, or one that anyone would understand. And often we use the word "racism" to refer not only to how we mistreat someone for the colour of their skin, but also because of how we treat them because of their culture. (Witness the recent condemnation of Jeremiah Wright, preaching straight out of the black cultural experience.) And so I use it here. Because the American government doesn't understand the experience of a different culture, they respond with overkill to rescue these children from this strange paradigm. Of course, especially in the West, we have a history of doing this. We did it to the Native Americans, removing their children from their homes, and reeducating them to be white Americans.

Some might argue that this isn't actually a different culture. I speak with authority here. For
I grew up in a Christian commune, with a common purse, where we all viewed each other as one family. Sure, we were more orthodox in theology than YFZ is, and we had only monogamy, and we knew who our birth family was. But all that is beside the point. It is not enough to say such a lifestyle is a different culture. It is a different culture type. That's what you call a culture that believes poverty is a positive thing, where there is complete openness and honesty, with a common purse and shares all things in common, and which has no conception of the individual but only of the group, much as exists in kinship societies of Papua New Guinea. Make no mistake- I am not speaking of different subcultures here. I am speaking of different supercultures, to the extent that now, two decades after leaving the commune, I still do not get certain basic aspects of American and Western thought.

And there is a long history of Americans looking down on both the Mormon faith, and the communal culture. My dad's name was Jim, and he headed our commune. After Jonestown, members of our community were coming up to him to say their parents had told them to leave, just because his name was Jim. Before that fateful day, Christianity Today hailed communal living as the next great step in American Christianity. There were 100s of Christian communes, if not 1000s, all over the US, and the world. After that day, we never grew in numbers. The communal era ended. And now we have a society where the worst enemy the writers of a popular show like Star Trek can imagine are the Borg and the Changelings- communal entities without individualism.

Now let us look back at the situation at YFZ. Yes, yes, yes- the government should step in to stop abuse, and remove those kids who are being abused. Probably they have to enforce that polygamy law, honored only occasionally in America. But here, the government has stepped into a foreign culture, albeit within America's borders, to remove all children from the commune. This violation is only barely mitigated that this is (hopefully) a temporary situation. The government decided that these people were living a lifestyle that didn't make sense to American culture, and so, to sort it all out, the judge ordered all the children to be removed.

Consider those few children who were abused. They have so much difficulty ahead of them. They are probably confused and shocked, and also somewhat relieved, on some level. Now consider those children who were not abused. It is hard to be removed from your family if you've been abused (though it is the right thing to do). It is harder still if you are removed and you were not abused. But now imagine if you were removed from your very culture. Everything you know, everything you understand, suddenly gone. Now pretend you are still a child. These children have been transported overnight into a land with values and practices they don't understand. Speaking the same language helps, but only to an extent. They have been forcibly removed from their parents and larger family- the commune- with little or no warning.

What the government has done is wrong not only because the culture is different, but because they have removed the children forcibly from their own culture.

I know how hard it was for me to adjust, to an extent, when we left our commune, though it was not through force, and was over an extended time. How awful it would have been if I had been suddenly yanked from my natal culture, without my permission, because of crimes committed against others. Sure, it's hypothetical, for nothing like this could have happened when I was growing up.

Except it did. Two decades after the fact we learned that there had been a man who had abused a few of the children in our commune. And it was also horrible to realize that in a place of such joy, where we had all trusted each other so deeply, there had been a predator among us. I was thousands of miles away when I learned of this, and felt at a loss to know how to deal with something so tragic. We were one, and so it felt as if a part of me had been spoiled. How I wish that we had caught this man earlier, before he had done damage, before he would have caused so much turmoil in the lives of those he abused.

And if we had caught him, evidently, the result would have been that I would have been pulled forcibly away from my parents, my family, and my culture, though I had not been abused (nor the majority of the other children). And that's the kind of Choice only Sophie was forced to make.


Omar said...

As long as a man is married to more than one woman who are not underage or in any way mentally abnormal, that is very fine with me; as long as the women involved consent and agree to that marriage.

If the US can legally support other kinds of cohabitations and consensual unions which to me are even more weird and unnatural - like that between homosexuals - I fail to understand why the American legal system can be so harsh to polygamists. That same system can allow people of the same sex not only to marry and live together, but does allow too the same people with similar sex to adopt children and bring up the children in such an environment where the 'parents' are both of the same sex. The US legal system can support that and yet come down so harshly and hard on these children from the Polygamist marriages.

In America, a man is allowed to keep any number of women he wants in even one room, as long as he is not married to them. The legal system supports that. The legal sysytem supports someone like Hugh Hefner keeping his many 'girlfriends' - all, old enough to be his grand daughters and changing them whenever he wishes; and yet that same legal system acts so harshly against polygamists. And is so merciless against the children involved. I just can't understand this.

In any way I look at this; it's incredible that this can happen in America. I used to think that the American legal sysytem is one of the very few that I considered with the least flaws in the world. Now, I find the American legal system too basurd.

@bdul muHib said...

Now you find it absurd? I'd say OJ Simpson kind of established that! :-)

Actually, I found Shi'i in Dearborn, MI, taking advantage of the American system by doing muta'a marriage by not declaring it as marriage in the eyes of the government- only in the eyes of the religious community.