Every day, when the weather is reasonably nice, half-naked cyclists typically begin individual or group rides from the velodrome in Trexlertown, one of the nation's leading cycling meccas. They head into a region that is superb for riding, with hundreds of miles of sedate country roads, lovely scenery and a variety of terrain.
The plain folk remain fully clothed in solid colors and with head coverings, even when riding their own bicycles, in their horse-drawn buggies, or on foot — in keeping with the requirements in the Bible for "modest apparel" and "quiet spirit."
The "quiet spirit" provision, I suppose, is what keeps the plain folk from turning into homicidal maniacs, as happens with some other strict religious groups.
In any case, I have never heard the slightest objection from the Old Order Mennonite people of eastern Berks County, despite their almost constant exposure to the skin and garishly-colored spandex outfits of 20-speed bicycle riders.
Cyclists may get run over from time to time by cars, but not by buggies, and the plain folk do not behead them or otherwise engage in mass murder for violating dogmatic religious rules.
I did not immediately think of the plain folk when I read Sunday's story about the Gitmo 5, the five men accused of murder, terrorism and other crimes in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. Their Nuremberg-style trial has begun before a U.S. military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay installation in Cuba.
I usually have two intense reactions to stories about that case.
First, if the accused terrorists are found guilty, I'd be delighted to see them executed. I'd be even happier to see meaningful action taken against the vile society that nurtured and financed such monsters. (All five are from Saudi Arabia or its contiguous puppet states, as was Osama bin Laden.)
Second, I denounce the use of torture as a prosecutorial tool. We hanged the leaders of Germany and Japan as war criminals for such behavior after World War II, and I am disturbed by the message we are disseminating — that in a war setting, we have set a precedent by which our adversaries can argue it is acceptable to torture our military people if they capture them.
After that story ran, however, I received an email letter that made me focus on another disturbing facet of that trial.
Defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann of Chicago, the letter observed, "states that women attending the trial should dress in Arab garb, as to not offend the prisoners. How far is this country going to go to coddle these … bastards?"
"Good point," I responded by email to the letter writer, but he declined to verify his identity so I'll withhold it for now.
Sunday's story said Bormann "wore a black Islamic aba" to accommodate the dainty sensitivities of the defendants, and "some female soldiers and lawyers who came to court in skirts exposed too much leg and offended the religious virtues of the five defendants."
The distracted defendants include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 plot's self-proclaimed mastermind, who also has bragged about decapitating American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. That, he said, was because Pearl was a Jew and was snooping into al-Qaida activities.
The story did not mention it, but Mohammed did not seem upset enough by risqué American outfits to prevent him from coming to the United States, prior to 9/11, to get a technical education that enabled him to engage in terrorism.
I differ from some of those who despise these accused terrorists in one way. I do not lump all Muslims into the same category because of the behavior of a few fanatics. History has seen at least as many "I'm doing this in the name of God" atrocities from members of Judeo-Christian culture.
It strikes me as incongruous, however, that a Chicago lawyer gets her nose out of joint over a woman in a skirt coming into the view of her holy client, while Old Order Mennonites manage to cope with the bare legs of cyclists every day.
"They tolerate it because they know it's a different people," said Marie Breneman of the Mennonite Information Center in Lancaster. She noted that sometimes she asks visitors participating in organized tours of Amish homes or shops to modify outlandishly revealing clothing. Otherwise, the plain folk tolerate visitors with aplomb, they way they tolerate gnats or bad weather.
"I am embarrassed for the people," Breneman said of the display of skimpy outfits, "because I know how offensive it is. [But] being the humble people they are, nobody speaks out about it."
I am embarrassed for segments of the human race who brag about being motivated by religion to engage in wholesale savagery, while spouting religious indignation over the sight of a woman in a skirt.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.