The Forcing of Bad Choices on Innocent Bystanders

I have a limited amount of respect for devout Muslims. Honestly, for any really religious people.

Probably pure arrogance on my part. If I peeled the attitude apart, somewhere inside there would be something like “Hey, I made it out of that hole. Why can’t they?”

Yet the emerging ethic in the atheist community seems to be that you don’t dislike the PEOPLE, you dislike the RELIGION. We want to see religion as a distinctly two-categoried thing, with victims in the pews and victimizers at the lectern (or, more likely, on the radio or TV screen). And you don’t want to go hatin’ on the victims. Hey, they’re already at a disadvantage, you know? Being victims and all.

But that seems a little naive to me. My experience was that the most energetic salesmen and enforcers of the thing weren’t the preachers at church or the stern-faced speakers down at Kingdom Hall. They were parents, aunts and uncles, cousins. It wasn’t the big people at church you had to watch out for, it was the little people at home.

If I had a nickel for every time my Wicked Stepfather told me what God wanted, or what God didn’t like, I’d have … well, a shitload of nickels. Certainly all the times in my adult life I’ve been castigated on some religious issue, it’s never been by an actual minister.

And it’s not just the things people say that matter, it’s what people do. If my religion/culture sanctions the killing of goats on the front lawn for an afternoon barbecue, that’s not a church event. But it’s still going to be visible, and disturbing, to the neighbors who don’t share my mores.

What makes me think of this is a story in PRI’s The World: For devout Muslim cabbies in New York City, parking tickets are the price of prayers

Roughly half of the city’s 40,000-odd cabbies are Muslims who hail from countries all over the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere — and a great number of the drivers are observant, praying five times a day. Which raises the question: How and where do these men on the move pray?

Answer: Anywhere. Everywhere.

Parking is the chief anxiety of every [observant Muslim] driver in New York. There are five daily windows for worship, some briefer than others. The prayer itself takes only 10 or 15 minutes to complete, but it must be done on time. Otherwise, it expires.

This is why religiously-committed cabbies will sometimes stop in front of hydrants, double park, triple park, forfeit fares and risk sizable tickets to stick to the day’s ritual schedule, especially on Fridays, when the most significant prayer of the week takes place.

If you’ve never been to New York City, I can tell you a great deal of the experience is the nightmare of traffic. And parking. Or rather, no parking. People in NYC casually gridlock intersections at every change of the traffic light, and streets that would normally be four lanes are squeezed down to two drivable lanes by double-parkers.

And if you don’t know what “double-parking” is, as I didn’t before I came here, it’s where there’s a car legally parked against the curb, usually at a meter, with ANOTHER car parked beside it, out in the driving lane of the roadway. It’s so common here, I’m not even sure it’s illegal. People just … do it. Driving in New York is a constant jockeying between lanes as one or more of them closes off ahead of you by double-parked cars and delivery vans.

So here come the nice Muslims — the ones we’d otherwise imagine as the victims of Islam, rather than Islam itself — double-parking, pulling in front of fire hydrants and filling bus stops with their taxicabs so they can pray for 10 or 15 minutes on the sidewalk. Five times a day.

My more liberal side instantly jumps in with “But if they’re nor hurting anybody, it shouldn’t be an issue!” And yet, if they’re parking in these places, or double parking, it’s still taking up a bit of the world — and if you drive in New York, damn, you know what I’m talking about — that is rightly not theirs, and doing it in the name of their religion.

Overall, when I read this whole article, and think about it, I feel sorry that the poor bastards believe they have to do this. They’re victims, no doubt. And I’d bet most of them at least try to find someplace out-of-the-way for this activity.

Still, I would hate to see this become one of those freedom of religion issues — as in “We have every right to worship in this way!” — that looks like a freedom of religion issue only as long as you ignore the rights and freedoms of the people driving the same streets.



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