a woman wearing a burqa
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Column: The Path Back to Cultural Suppression

Perhaps the Taliban decided it would be timely to out-do our Supreme Court. It decreed on Saturday that the women of Afghanistan must cover their entire bodies, at least with a garment known as a hijab. A burqa would be better, but it is not required.

The Taliban government’s ruling reminds us that there are yet distinctions between America and the various backwards countries in the Middle East and Asia, but we must wonder how long that will last.

Even with our local Puritans pushing us toward a new repressed society, can anyone believe that our Supreme Court – if not the President or Congress – would ever force such a restrictive dress code on American women? Incidentally, the Taliban is compelling the male family heads to enforce this rule on the women in their families at risk of imprisonment or further unspecified punishment, as The New York Times reports.

The Supreme Court will send us down that slippery slope if it rules to end the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion granting women a right to abortion. Opponents of the potential reversal warn that right-wingers will next go after contraception and same-sex marriage. I can imagine that happening.

At a certain point, they could take on social issues that amount to establishing a state religion, namely a conservative form of Christianity or in combination with Orthodox Judaism. That would be a direct violation of the First Amendment.

The pending ruling means that poor women born on the wrong side of the state line will be vulnerable to bearing children they cannot afford, thanks to a draft opinion composed last February by Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. The ruling is expected to be signed by a majority of the court next month or July.

Womens’ rights would be determined by the states where they live. Female New Yorkers and Californians may need not worry, but women from Texas will if they cannot afford to travel to another state for an abortion. A cultural suppression for poor women could portend a cultural suppression for us all, since a majority of the court can reverse any opinion that affects the rest of us.

It is not merely the court we must fear. Congress could enact onerous laws signed by a future president if Republicans return to power, particularly a national ban on abortion.

I dreaded such a prospect when I worked for a daily newspaper in a deeply conservative city in central Pennsylvania during the Reagan and Bush the elder administrations. Many people there held knee-jerk right-wing attitudes on most issues. They judged Black people by the parade of criminal suspects shown each night on the television news and automatically regarded Jews like myself as aliens from outer space.

During one evening in the newsroom, with thankfully few people about, a colleague shouted that any woman who has an abortion “should have her tubes tied.” Among many antisemitic experiences, I learned that a group of colleagues spent their lunch discussing my Passover schedule, which was publicly known due to the vagaries of our computer system.

I was labeled a liberal simply because I questioned or disagreed with others on social and political issues. I ultimately wondered if America could become a dangerous place for Jews and an oppressive environment for anyone who was not white, straight and Christian.

I cannot take credit for predicting the present state of our country. After returning to civilization, namely Philadelphia, I shook my prophecy and chalked it up to where I lived and the political circumstances of that period. Besides, I earned my right to be paranoid long ago.

Not only had I returned to a more interesting area, but Americans were beginning to elect more enlightened political figures, starting with President Clinton.

Events of the past decade – or at least the scale of recent events – surprised me. Antisemitism and other forms of prejudice are now worse than I ever imagined they might be. The same with the level of cultural suppression.

Cultural suppression is an environment in which baby-boomers like myself grew up. Politicians went on a mission to ferret out communists and their sympathizers, without evidence that they were a threat. We were conditioned to accept whatever our government told us and to never protest. Premarital sex was unheard of while same-sex activity was a crime.

But all that changed with Vietnam, the civil rights movement, Watergate and the assassinations of three respected social and political figures. In the past half-century, what was once verboten – protests, questioning public policy, pre-marital sex, same-sex activity and more – became commonplace.

A drive to repress individual freedoms materialized when Ronald Reagan was elected president 42 years ago, and they steadily succeeded in packing the court with a solid right-wing majority. Republicans effectively control the Senate without being in the majority by exploiting the filibuster to jam legislation to help less fortunate Americans.

Now these two movements – a suppressed America vs. a free America – are squaring off for a dramatic election this November to determine who holds power in Congress and our 50 state governments.

The semantics above sound strange, I know. America started up as free, and a suppressed America would return us to a tyranny, as we were under King George. If the free America loses in November, maybe we should beg Britain’s monarch to reclaim the colonies.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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