Are teens who practice polygamy devout or brainwashed? Are teen terrorists devout or brainwashed? When is a teen old enough to be held accountable for crimes, but not old enough to make his or her own life decisions?
An article in Newsweek this week poses these questions. What is the real age of accountability? Are age limits arbitrary? The article compares two recent cases: YFZ Ranch raid and Omar Khadr.
- Adults treated as children. The article states that the actions of the Texas CPS were based on assumptions that didn’t hold up in court: 1) the original complaint call was a hoax, 2) the assumption of the TCPS was that the beliefs of the FLDS were inherently dangerous (the court failed to uphold this), and 3) the belief that the polygamous women were too young to consent (15 of 31 were legal adults, one as old as 27). The court found that being “sober, conservative, religious and married . . . doesn’t necessarily make them victims of abuse.” A case of treating adults like children.
- Children treated like adults. The article contrasts this with the case of Omar Khadr, a 21-year old Canadian facing a life sentence who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for six years. At age 15, he was charged with throwing a grenade in a fire fight in Afghanistan, killing one U.S. Soldier. His lawyers state that, as a child soldier, he should be protected and rehabilitated as a victim. The judge in the case has overruled that argument and stated that he will be tried as an adult.
In this example, both cases have completely different outcomes. Is this evidence that the courts are lenient on pacifists but harsh on warmongers (make love, not war)? Or is this evidence of protecting our own (fanatical Americans) but not protecting others (fanatical Canadian citizen/Islamic terrorist)?
Both cases are examples of what average Americans might call adults brainwashing teens to accomplish their own religious ends. Or you could argue they are both cases of young adults with fanatical devotion for a religious cause.
The term “brainwashing” is liberally applied these days and experts question whether religious brainwashing is even a reality. The term originated in 1950 to explain why so many GIs defected in the Korean war after being POWs. They were subjected to psychological torture such as sleep deprivation to systematically break down their feelings of autonomy and individuality. Efforts to prove religious groups, cults or NRMs have conducted “brainwashing” or persuasive coersion have been largely fruitless at explaining the shift in fundamental beliefs for converts. With children, there is no actual shift in belief since they are raised to believe this way. So, beliefs we don’t like (Jihad and polygamy) are brainwashing, but beliefs we like “being a [insert political party of choice]” or “the American dream” are not brainwashing.
The term adult is also difficult to define. Various societies consider the age of adulthood to be as low as 13 or as high as 21. The majority would put that age between 15 and 18. What are the characteristics of adults? A list proposed on Wikipedia includes the following characteristics:
Based on this list, I’m not sure I know any adults. Maybe Ray. In any case, each item on this list is more of a subjective continuum than a yes/no.
So, what do you think? What is an adult and what is brainwashing? Are polygamist teens and terrorist teens unable to make their own choices? Are they 1) victims or 2) perpetrators or 3) adults responsible for their choices? Were they brainwashed by their religions or have they made a choice? How can we legitimately tell the difference? At what age should people be held accountable and considered adults? Do we overprotect those we see as victims while we underprotect those we see as victimizers? Discuss.