A couple of recent news items remind us of just how primitive and often unthinking our world remains, despite the Buck Rogers technology that increasingly pervades what we like to think is modern society.
Although the incidents have no connection and to link them in a column might seem a stretch, there is a distinct pattern of senselessness in both. One clearly strains the credibility of our foreign policy and another seems a testimonial to the bad judgment often found in American courts.
In Afghanistan, where Americans are dying to overcome the radical brutality and 11th-century beliefs of the Taliban, two 17-year-olds meet in an ice cream store where she is working and he is a customer. They are attracted to one another but are from different tribes, requiring them to keep any contact at the most superficial level. Finally, she timidly drops a piece of paper on the floor with her telephone number and their relationship moves to another level.
They begin talking on the telephone almost every night and find they have mutual interests and personalities that are compatible. They are both shy and interested in intellectual pursuits. Their conversations continue despite the fact the girl’s stepmother disapproves. Whether or not they ever had a date or spent time alone together is not clear. But after a lengthy period, they decide they would like to marry, and make arrangements to do so.
A cousin of the young man agrees to drive them to the courthouse and they pick up the girl at an arranged spot in the public square. Before driving what news reports say was less than 30 feet, their way is blocked by another car and several angry men jump out and drag all three from the cousin’s vehicle, beating them severely. They are rescued by police officers that must fight their way through an increasing crowd of rioters bent on doing harm to the couple.
The riots last for a number of hours, despite the fact that the objects of their wrath have been removed to protective juvenile facilities because the authorities could not trust the parents of either not to harm them. It was a wise decision, seeing that the illiterate father of the girl has asked that they both be killed because they brought shame on their families by falling in love. Neither, obviously, will be safe again with their own relatives and may have to be removed to another location where they obviously would be better off.
Most worrisome is the fact that this is not an unusual occurrence in an area where young Americans are putting their lives on the line to protect a society steeped in tribal and religious customs that afford women no rights and punish those accused as rebels by extreme measures such as stoning.
Still, just when one believes smugly that our society has better judgment, a Washington state court decides that a woman who killed her two daughters, 4 and 8, in their sleep — and was found innocent by reason of insanity — has now recovered and is no threat to her teenage stepsons.
The complicated facts are these. The father of the slain daughters, a retired Marine pilot, divorced the woman and remarried. They had two sons, but later divorced. In the settlement, they shared custody of the boys. But suddenly the first wife is released and moves back in with the pilot unbeknownst to the second wife, who eventually realizes her sons have been living at times in the same house, and files suit to alter the arrangement.
The commissioner who ruled against her conceded that he would not trust the woman around his own son. But the court could not indulge an emotional response, given the woman was released from a mental institution with a clean bill of health. She is now certified sane, case closed.
Both of these senseless incidents portend more tragedy.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.