09 September 2010


It seems that even the most bigoted fundamentalist clerics can be sensitive to public opinion. Terry Jones, a pastor from Gainesville, FL, announced earlier this week that he intended to burn copies of the Koran this Saturday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The outcry from religious leaders of all faiths, from political leaders of all persuasions, from US military leaders, and from citizens of countries around the world, was a tsunami. One hopes that Mr. Jones was suitably chastened (though I doubt it) when he announced earlier today that he is cancelling the proposed burning. Is it coincidence that ultimately it was the voice of Prsident Obama that appears to have tipped the scales? Obama rightly pointed out (as would occur to anyone with an ounce of common sense) that such a brazen act of religious vilification would endanger the lives of Americans at home and abroad, including US troops in Muslim countries. The justifiable outrage which would spread across the Muslim world would provide a perfect recruiting tool for a new generation of terrorists. It's called throwing fuel on the fire.

What was this delusional man thinking? (A) It makes no sense to commemorate an act of violence (the attacks) with another act of violence (the burning). (B) What would be the reaction of Christians if an allegedly holy man from another religion started burning Bibles? Sacrilege is sacrilege. (C) Book burning in any form (think Nazi Germany) is the signature of cowardice, weakness and paranoia -- no one has the right to censor what others read. The last time I looked, we live in a land where freedom of choice is still intact -- at least in theory.

So the upshot is that Mr. Jones is to meet with the imam of the proposed Muslim cultural center located over two blocks from Ground Zero. Jones claims to have assurances that no mosque will be incorporated into the center. The presence or absence of a mosque is frankly none of Mr. Jones' business. What would Mr. Jones think if a Muslim leader were to tell him where he could or could not build a church? I wonder if he is just trying to save face. There should be NO limitation on e inclusion of a mosque. It's called freedom of religion, remember?

One of the tired refrains that keeps popping up is that a mosque would be an insult to the victims and family members of the 9/11 attacks, and to Americans in general. Whenever anyone claims to be speaking for all Americans, I automatically discount his/her credibility. Our origins, culture, politics, religions and opinions are simply too diverse (gloriously so) for anyone to suppose they know what "America" wants. I doubt that person's ability to grasp what "America" even stands for -- tolerance, diversity, respect for others. Voltaire said, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Mr. Jones, the Tea Party, anti-war activists, and all other citizens benefit from that right. But with every right comes a responsibility. Freedom of speech is not absolute. It is against the law (and common sense) to yell "FIRE" in a crowded public place, when there is no fire. Making a public display of burning Muslim holy books (or any holy books) is just as incendiary, and should be just as criminal.

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