Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bringing home the bacon-controversy explanation [Muslim cashiers won't handle pork]

In any event, as long as the newspaper is asking for feedback, I might as well weigh in.

Actually, who might best weigh in is a spokesman for Muslims, which is part of the problem. There are many. As I understand it, there are many imams, just as there are many priests or rabbis. And while it is true that pork is forbidden in the diet, it is my understanding as well that there is no prohibition against touching pork.

That's problem No. 1. If there is no directive against touching pork, then why in the world is a Muslim cashier refusing to scan a package of bacon? And if he or she is practicing a tributary branch of the faith that prevents touching pork, then most of us have the same question we have about the cabdrivers. Why did you take a job where you might have to touch pork or be in the same car with a bottle of vacation rum?

Besides which, when you get a package of bacon home, you practically need a garden shears to open it. We spend billions of dollars a year in this country marketing and packaging products. Handle the package of bacon by the shrink-wrapped, double-sealed, triple-glazed hermetically encapsulated cardboard corner and slide it across the scanner. There. The price gets registered, and you haven't touched any pork.

Or, as ridiculous as we might wish to get, keep a pencil handy and poke or guide the bacon across the scanner.

This is America. We get inventive. And we get inventive in order to keep things moving along. That's the way we do business. Please join us.

That might touch at the heart of our shared frustration. We are basically a large blob of 300 million or so people who conduct our commerce in a secular fashion while practicing, pretty much in private, an astounding variety of religious obligations. Great. Worship grasshoppers for all I care, but when I am standing at the counter with a dollar in my hand, reach behind you and get me that O-ring I need for my lawnmower.

As wave after wave of immigrants arrived in, say, the Twin Cities, I can find no historical evidence that they demanded that America accommodate them. On the contrary, they assimilated, worked hard and benefited from America. I can find no historical evidence that other immigrant groups wished to have such a religious presence in the material marketplace, or, to put it another way, we have not previously been this expected to accommodate such a public component of one particular faith.

That's what stuck in the craws of most of us, and most of us are weary of being thought intolerant by the likes of newspapers.

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