Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Hisba Mob
I resolved when I sat down at my desk this morning that I wasn't going to spend a lot of time in the Schiavo swamp. But then I saw the parents' latest gambit--interpreting Terri's "aaah" and "waah" before the tube was removed as "I want to live."

Can you make any other sounds than "aaah" and "waah" without a cerebral cortex? Seems to me it could just as easily have been her NCAA tournament picks: "Carolinaaaaah" and "Waaaashington."

If there was any dignity left to anybody in this case, this pathetic bit of nonsense obliterates it.

With plenty of wingnuts calling for mob action, it shouldn't necessarily be a surprise that Jeb Bush was ready to send state agents into the hospice earlier this week to pull Terri out, but that local police told him they'd resist. Commenters over at Political Animal are speculating that Jeb may have fabricated and then leaked the story to shore up his standing with the wingnut base, who are frustrated that the law is prevailing over the loudly stated religious views of a minority absolutely convinced of its righteousness.

(Earlier this week, Juan Cole suggested that Congress' intervention in the case is very much like a fundamentalist Islamic concept called hisba, in which anybody who feels Islam has been harmed by someone's actions can file a claim against them, regardless of whether they're personally involved in the incident. How this differs from what Congress did last weekend, I can't see.)

The threat of mob action--or just a mob of nutbags weeping and chanting--makes for good TV, which is why this case has consumed more airtime than anything since the presidential election. Yes, the networks favor emotional displays over factual discussions, but as MediaMatters' Jamison Foser notes, the bigger problem is in their failure to properly identify the people they call upon to comment on the case. This isn't new, necessarily. Context is something TV news has never done a good job of providing. But if viewers don't know who these people are, what they represent, and what they've stood for in the past, there's no way to judge their credibility. So Randall Terry, a man whose history includes applauding the murder of abortion doctors and open support for theocracy, is presented merely as the thoughtful leader of a save-Terri group instead of the batshit loonball he's been for 20 years. Unfortunately, if a journalist tries to make clear who Terry is, he can be accused of unfairly stacking the deck against him--so journalists don't try to provide such context. Thus, the longer viewers watch, the less they end up knowing about what's really going on.

Now that Republicans in Washington are backpedaling from the case, the presence of Terry and his ilk reveal the affair for what it is: An irrational, Easter-week hissy fit by religious crazies who want what they want because they think it's what God wants, and nothing else matters but their opinion. According to Steven Hart at the Opinion Mill, "Terri Schiavo is now a mascot alongside Cassie 'She Said Yes' Bernal and all the other devotional objects cherished by religious zealots who fancy themselves persecuted because the eagle on the National Seal has not yet been replaced with a 3-D image of Jesus Christ."

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