Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oklahoma: Still crazy after all these years

I have a great fondness for Oklahoma. I spent two years - my junior and senior of high school - living in Ardmore, a small city in the absolute center of the state and located in the absolute middle between Dallas and Oklahoma City. When I first moved there I was not optimistic. I had been living in a western suburb of Chicago since the third grade, used to having multiple options for movie theatres and being able to hop the Metra train into the big city whenever I liked.

Suddenly I was living at what felt like the ass-end of the universe, with a two-hour drive separating me from any decent movie theatres, clubs, concerts, and generally any other form of legitimate entertainment. In typically melodramatic 16-year-old fashion, I thought my life was over.

But after two years of living and exploring some beautiful countryside and meeting new people, the damn place grew on me. Would I live there again? Not likely. Am I glad I spent time there? Absolutely I am. I met some really amazing people in Oklahoma - freaks and theatre geeks, queer jocks and open minded Born Agains, closet Democrats and out-and-proud liberals.

To be fair, I also met my fair share of Oklahoma's special brand of crazy person: Those Baptist kids who thought I was going to hell for not believing in hell, the politicians who believed they had mandates from God to expel All the Gays from their fair state, religious snake handlers, and a whole cavalcade of your garden variety jerk you'd find anywhere else in the country.

Point is, I learned that there are good people and nasty people all over this great land, and that having prejudices about a particular state or region is a good way to make yourself look real stupid, real fast.

It is on that note, then, that I'd like to point out a recent episode of Special Oklahoma Crazy that has me all kinds of embarrassed for my former home:
Oklahoma voters on Tuesday approved a measure that bans the application of Islamic law and orders judges in the state to rely only on federal law when deciding cases. State Rep. Rex Duncan, a Republican, was the primary author of the measure, which amends that state constitution.
Of course, this kind of reactionary ignorance isn't unique to Oklahoma. I wouldn't put passing a measure like this passed a wide swath of the population right now, as we grapple with a fairly serious wave of xenophobia that has people freaking out when their Muslim neighbors just want to build a mosque in the community (y'know, the equivalent of a church or synagogue, you twits!).

There are so many problems with the Oklahoma measure that I hardly know where to begin, but law professor Rick Tepker from the University of Oklahoma does:
"Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don't cry," he said. "I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn't that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren't going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin."

So while this strange vote has OK stamped all over it at the moment, I worry that similar attitudes prevail around the country - and hope against hope that, even with the wave of GOP fever that swept the land on Tuesday, we don't see anything else like this popping up in other places. Not only would it be a legal mess, it would also be an enormous shame to face up to with the international community.

It would also make us look real stupid, real fast. And hey, Oklahoma? I happen to know you're better than this.

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