Respect For Traditions
by Maxim Shapiro
The shuttle docked with the spaceship and the passengers boarded for the trip down to the planet. Jammar, working to maintain the indifferent and unscrutable facial expression befitting a man, traversed the aisles and finally found his seat. His next-seat neighbor turned out to be an old woman.
"First time going to a new planet, young man?" she asked with a smile.
Jammar, annoyed that his inexperience was so easy to detect, nodded and turned away, indicating unwillingness to carry on a conversation. "For shame!" he thought. "An old woman using make-up, and no head covering! Like some whore!"
It's been over ten years since the men from the stars came to Mirjal, but none of the Free People had so far managed to get used to their degraded customs. Damn peddlers with no honor! How can it be that those cowardly sheep live in the lap of luxury, while true warriors languish in poverty and are forced to sell their land and what's in it to buy all sorts of devil's playthings from the stars? But this will yet change, and he, Jammar, will help make it happen! His uncle was right when he said that the star people are less manly than women. Had the men of Jammar's tribe possessed weaponry like the star people, would they have lowered themselves to trade? What can be more honorable than to take what's yours by the right of conquest, or else perish heroically in battle and listen to those left behind sing songs of your bravery, in Paradise? But the tribe hadn't had such weapons. Well, now it does! Three flying boats, and tubes that kill with light and sting with iron. These were bought with the money that the star people tossed, like alms, for them to buy food for the starving slaves. And whose fault is it that there are more slaves now than the earth can feed? Who used their damn star magic to ensure that disease doesn't claim excess slave children? Now there are more slaves than free men, and those animals want to eat, all the time! Some even dare to complain, however quietly. It would be proper to just kill off all the extra slaves, but those star critters threaten to cut off the money then! Well, not for long! Once he, Jammar, obtains food for the flying boats, those cowardly star people will pay for everything. And they don't know how to fight. How can one who's afraid of death be a good fighter? And what good is a weapon in the hands of the warrior who is afraid to use it? Such is not a warrior, but a woman. Plus, among the Free People warriors go on the warpath at twelve, and everybody knows that the star people are under a curse not to kill warriors under twelve, or women. So they won't dare fire at flying boats manned by warriors who haven't reached their eighteenth spring. We'll take along a good number of young women, just in case, so that the curse will lie heavily on the star people. And if they do dare to fire, so what? Paradise is open to warriors of all ages.
Jammar's uncle B'gamir knew the star people's customs better than anyone. He had lived among them for seven years, even spent a year in prison. He recalled that time with a laugh.
"Get this," he'd tell, "I screwed some slut during a party. Now she was real pretty, but a whore -- see-through clothes, and the way she shook her butt to music, you know? So I grab her by the hair and drag her off, and suddenly this milksop runs up to me and starts jabbering in their birdspeak at me. So I throttled him a little. And at the trial they said that even they, the rats, understood our customs, but their customs were different, and even though I was supposed to get eight years for the slut and for crushing her master's throat, they'd only give me three, because it wasn't my fault, but the poverty of our land. See, even those star toads were ashamed to punish me too much for that whore, even though one of them used to came over and explain that by their lights she wasn't a whore. Well, I didn't even argue with him - what can you say to an idiot who can't tell a whore from an honest woman? And I tell ya, that prison was more comfortable than our familial castle. The food was better and all that... plus I didn't have to work. They expected this to scare me after I was imprisoned by Tashkir in the pit? So after a year one of them star people comes to me and asks, do I understand what I did wrong. So I lied and told him yes, so they let me go two years early and gave me more money than three housefuls of slaves bring in half a year..."
At that point the uncle's listeners would laugh and marvel at the stupidity of the star people. Everybody knows that one who rapes an honest woman is to be impaled, and if it's someone's slavewoman, he is to pay half her value, and pretty slaves are expensive... Lost in thought, Jammar didn't even notice the shuttle's landing. Once he saw that people were leaving the craft, he got up and followed.
The spaceport was huge. Its majesty weighed heavily on Jammar at first, but he reminded himself of the many empires trampled into dust by the warhorses of his ancestors, and walked proudly to a bus.
At the customs an official looked though his papers, smiled insincerely and launched into a prepared spiel: "You are now on Mirra, which has voluntarily left the Union of Democratic Planets. Although our laws are almost exactly the same as those of the Union of Democratic Planets, there are important differences, since we abide by a policy of rational respect of other peoples' traditions, which is enshrined into law. To avoid any misunderstanding, you are now required to watch a short movie that will explain the peculiarities of our law which are based on the doctrine of rational respect for the customs of aliens."
The official pressed a button; a young servant came out of a side door and told Jammar: "Please come with me. I will take you to the viewing room." Jammar followed, smiling to himself. He'd've liked to see someone try to tell him, Jammar, to respect someone else's traditions in his own house! He beheaded people for less. Truly, these star people are worse than panicky women. A nation of slaves!
The lights in the small room went down, and Jammar saw Mirra's coat of arms on the screen. "Mirra unilaterally observes all the resolutions of the Union of Democratic Planets," a voice intoned, "such as the Resolution on Human Rights, Resolution on Free Speech, Resolution on Free Elections, Resolution on Conventional Warfare, and the like. What is unique to Mirra is that all these resolutions are observed only insofar as they do not conflict with the doctrine of rational respect of cultural traditions of other nations. Like the members of the Union of Democratic Planets, Mirra needs a constant influx of immigrants. However, the differences in mentalities and traditions between the immigrants and the native population can result in serious conflicts. Precisely to prevent such conflicts we adopted the Law of Rational Respect of Other Peoples' Traditions. We can now proudly point out that, according to studies conducted by independent interplanetary statistical agencies, crime among Mirra's immigrants, as well as crime against immigrants by the native populace, is at the lowest level compared to all members of the Union of Democratic Planets. The Law of Rational Respect of Other Peoples' Traditions was adopted on Mirra following the uprising of Arsharian immigrants, which led to numerous casualties. The Law was adopted via a planetary referendum, in full compliance with democratic procedure. Its main principles are..."
Suddenly the screen flared and went dark. The young servant stuck his head into the room. "It's busted," he complained. "It'll take at least forty minutes to replace, and it's almost the end of my shift..." He glanced around furtively. "Wanna just go on, eh?" he whispered. Jammar smirked and left the room.
Later that same evening Jammar was drinking wine in a local bar. He had bought and shipped fuel for the flying boats without any problems. The local peddlers will sell you their own mothers for money. A waiter came over to him: "I'm very sorry, sir, but could you please take another table? As I've explained, this one has been reserved since ten o'clock."
Blood rushed to Jammar's head. "Begone, slave!"
Jammar sprung up and punched the waiter in the face; the man crumpled. Jammar bent down, threw some crumpled bills in his face and left.
The holding cell was well-lit and warm. The other arrestees sat in the corners, afraid to look at Jammar after he had beaten up one of them for refusing to surrender his coat. Jammar was snoozing on the bench under that coat. A guard came in and touched his shoulder; Jammar broke his arm.
The door of the solitary cell opened, and an impeccably dressed man with a briefcase appeared.
"Greetings, I am assigned to your case," he said, extending his hand for a handshake.
Jammar ignored it. "When will they let me go?" he asked.
"Well..." the stranger hesitated, "we have only just found out that you were not properly familiarized with our Law of Rational Respect of Other Peoples' Traditions. I assure you that the responsible persons will be appropriately punished. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is not an excuse, so..."
"When will they let me go?" repeated Jammar.
"Right after your hands, ears, and nose are cut off, for assaulting a freeman and a guard, to use your terminology, and also for robbery," answered the man, eyes downcast.
"What?! My hands?!" yelled Jammar. "Are you crazy?! You can't do that! I know for sure that you're all under an oath and a curse - 'toylerance' and 'hoomanism', they're called! My uncle told me, he won't lie! Who's a freeman - that servant in the tavern is a freeman? And what did I rob - the coat? But I took it while in prison!"
"Th... the problem here," said the lawyer, stuttering slightly, "is that rational respect of other people's traditions in our law means that non-citizens committing crimes in our jurisdiction are subjected not to our regular sanctions, but to those of their own countries, provided that such sanctions are legislated by such countries and are not less severe than ours. Here's the particular language..." He opened his briefcase, took out a folder and quickly read: "Whereas we hold that all nations are equally decent regardless of their material well-being or traditions, it follows that their criminal law and customs of war are deserving of respect, as ones freely chosen and accepted upon themselves. Therefore, out of respect for other nations' traditions, we will, when such nations legislate punishments for crimes that are more severe than ours, apply such punishments to their criminals, and honor such customs when conducting war with these nations."
The lawyer closed the folder. "This law was adopted here on Mirra after riots in the capital. The Arsharian immigrants rioted when local nudists staged a parade during their holy annual prayer; they took it as an affront to their Holy Father. They killed over a thousand people before the police managed to subdue them. And then Arshar declared war on Mirra, and the opening salvo was the destruction of a cruise liner hosting a children's contest... Actually, I'm here to make you an offer. You see, your country has attacked one of our remote trading posts, so we would appreciate it very much if you would tell us -- under a lie detector, of course -- about your tribal war customs. How do your warriors treat prisoners, civilians, and so on? We would like to avoid any misunderstandings, and..."
A ghastly howl interrupted him. Jammar howled dreadfully and beat his head against the wall. He knew his tribe's customs too well.