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October 20, 2006 | Page 10

The hell of three strikes
Religion and violence

Minutemen and the far right

IN CONVERSATION today with an older Black woman, the subject of the recent Columbia University "melee" came up. This woman, a conservative liberal, felt that the International Socialist Organization was exposed as "intolerant" by "rushing the stage" while Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist was speaking.

"If the Ku Klux Klan came to Columbia to speak," I asked her, "and a group of Black students went up on stage and interrupted the speech by unfurling a banner, would you call them 'intolerant'?"

She got the point, but responded that the KKK and the Minutemen are not the same thing. It's true, they're not exactly the same thing, but she was unaware that they were connected. After explaining something about this connection and reminding her of our nation's ugly history of racist vigilantism, she began to change her tune.

This anecdote is revealing. From Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's statement to the right-wing blowhards on TV, the real question is not whether some absolute right to free speech was violated (the recent destruction of habeas corpus, ratification of torture, etc. should have demolished by now the myth that it exists).

The real question is whether or not the Minutemen should be considered outside the pale of "reasonable" debate and discussion. They aren't, but they should be.
Brian Jones, New York

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The hell of three strikes

MY FIANCE is a candidate for early release under the amendment to California's three-strikes law, if it passes. He is, at this time, serving on a plea bargain for burglary and was misrepresented by his public defender.

He learned in the sentencing hearing that the district attorney took one of his prior convictions that had nothing to do with the case and turned it into a prior strike--when he didn't have any priors--and then used it to enhance his sentence. With this enhancement, he received a longer sentence than what he plea-bargained for. He should have been paroled by now under his original understanding of the plea bargain, but instead he is not due to be paroled until April 2008.

It would be so wonderful for the three-strikes laws to be amended to stop these unjust decisions made against non-serious or nonviolent criminal convictions, and to put a stop to the DAs who throw the laws around as if they are judge and jury in one.

Also, it would be wonderful to open the eyes of the state of California's judicial system to look into these public defenders--who are paid for by taxpayers to defend our communities' low-income people who cannot afford the high-paying attorneies, but who often don't care what happens to their clients. I know in my community, the public defenders' office is not for the clients' rights; they seem to be on the DA's side of the courtroom most of the time.

They treat their clients as if they are the scum of the earth half of the time, never seeming to make an effort to help them, and they surely don't help them to understand what they are up against when it comes to plea bargaining or simply agreeing to everything the DA wants. That is their attitude in most of the cases in my community.

So if there is anything I can help with from my community, please feel free to contact me, and I would be glad to donate time to the cause. Thank you for your concerns and work on Proposition 66. It is a good thing we have you fighting for the cause.
Rochelle, from the Internet

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Religion and violence

WHILE AGREEING that Islam generally has a peaceful history, Hannah Morong takes issue with Alan Maass' claim that it is not "more oppressive or violent than other religions," because, she says, the Koran justifies killing "infidels" ("Clarification on Islam," October 13).

But the truth is that there are passages that are just as bloodthirsty in the major texts of other religious traditions.

The Old Testament, for example, advocates killing not just nonbelievers, but their livestock, too: "Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known...Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword."

As a card-carrying atheist, I have no ax to grind for any religion. The truth is that all religions are flexible and ambiguous doctrines that have been interpreted and reinterpreted to serve the interests of different groups at different times.

Ruling classes and reactionaries use religion for their own purposes, while oppressed groups have often articulated their demands for social justice in religious (including Islamic) terms. To characterize any of the major religions as inherently worse than the others is just wrong.
Phil Gasper, Chair, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont, Calif.

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