I've always admired the Amish tradition of rumspringa – which is not merely a really fun word to say but also a show of tremendous faith in the power of a belief system. Upon reaching adulthood (if 16 can be so described) young Amish people are encouraged to explore the non-Amish world. Some, although certainly not all, go all out and spend a year or two indulging in big city life with all the sex, booze, and teen shenanigans they can find. The theory behind it from the perspective of the Amish is simple: if our faith and way of life are worth a damn, people will come back to it. They will see what else is out there and decide that the our way is superior. If they like the mainstream society better, then it's best they go to it.

This is something that fundamentalist Christianity, for example, can't do. That is why parents of that persuasion work so hard to shelter their children from the rest of the world (the love affair between fundies and homeschooling being a good example). They know that their ideology is ridiculous and their way of life both unfulfilling and miserable. The children must be raised on a strict diet of fundamentalist nonsense and never be allowed to stray into the normal world. If they clamp eyes on a Harry Potter book, they'll realize how will we keep them reading Left Behind?. Great pains must be taken to forbid them any basis for comparison, because humorless, ascetic, fundamentalist Christianity of the American wingnut variety will always look like the inferior option. The only way it can win is if it has no competition.

This analogy comes to mind as we observe the pitifully predictable pant-shitting from the Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck types over the decision to try the five biggest al Qaeda names in custody in a civil court in New York. If we have any faith at all in our system and the guilt of these men, what difference does it make where and how we try them? Extensive evidence exists linking them to their crimes, evidence independent of the admissions they have made under various levels of coercion and punishment. We have miles of bank records, for example, detailing Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali's role in al Qaeda. Why do these people insist that he be tried in a darkened room by a military tribunal? Of what are they so afraid? Do they seriously think any of these people are going to walk? If so, that is irrational. If not, they are only afraid that the trials will embarrass them by revealing their disdain for the law whenever it gets between them and their goals.

There should be nothing to fear in an open courtroom. Either we have a rule of law worth defending and to which we adhere, thus differentiating ourselves from terrorists, or our system is a sham and we need to resort to Third World justice to get the outcomes we want. If their guilt can't be proven without resorting to allegations beaten out of them in a metal shipping container somewhere in Afghanistan, then obtaining guilty verdicts in kangaroo courts would reduce us to their level. Actually, it would make us inferior to them, as at least they are forthcoming about their disregard of the law.