I'm not sure why the media ran with this story, but perhaps because it has come on the heels of the other controversy: the Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan, two blocks away from the WTC site known as Ground Zero. That area has become a sacred graveyard for more than 3,000 souls who perished on this day nine years ago. For those who love to stereotype and blame an entire religion for the actions of a small minority of extremists, having an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away is considered "an insult" to those who died (apparently, even to the 60 or so Muslims who also died in the Towers).
In walks this character, straight out of some cheesy Western with his handlebar moustache, to make a bold statement to the world. And no...he won't back down. He claimed he was doing it for the principle (I'm assuming, asserting his First Amendment rights to free speech). Never mind that this preacher has seen his church's, the misnamed Dove World Outreach Center, membership numbers dwindle down to around 50 followers. Then, news from Germany came that this preacher, the Reverend Terry Jones (is he related to Jim Jones, by chance?) was kicked out of Germany for defrauding his followers at a church he founded in Cologne. The Germans did not mince any words. They called him a cult leader.
Say what you want about Germans, but one thing I most admire them for is that out of all the nations in the world, Germany has a strong watchdog element in its government to root out cults. This is one reason why the Church of Scientology is not able to be considered a religion in Germany. To the German government, Scientology is a business scheme, not a religion. Germany's watchful eye on harmful spiritual practices stems from the fact that the Nazi Party started out as a cult (utilizing German mythological motifs). Thus, the German government is doing its part to make sure such a tragedy does not befall their country again.
In the United States, though, freedom of religion allows for any number of cults to flourish. If people want to give all their money and be bossed around by some charismatic loser, that's their God-given right. So long as it doesn't turn violent, like the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993 or the Jeffrey Lundgren cult that left my church with a black eye in 1989.
Many claim that this "International Burn a Koran Day" was all a publicity stunt by Terry Jones to increase his numbers for his church. However, it backfired. In a Nightline interview earlier this week, Terry Moran went to Gainesville to talk to this old-time preacher man and I watched the clip on YouTube. My impression from hearing the preacher speak is that he seemed to realize that it had gotten out of hand. He seemed to be searching for a face-saving way out of this, as he probably did not realize the magnitude of his simple act of protest would cause. I also got the impression that he concocted this Qur'an burning rally in response to the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. Its always interesting to me when evangelical Christians weigh in on their opinions regarding the residents and business of Manhattan. After all, prior to 9/11, New York City (along with Hollywood) was often referred to as "Sodom and Gomorrah" by the fundamentalist crowd. Funny how one tragedy can make them change their tune. Now, New York City is "America's City" and every ignorant fuck from Podunkville, Alabama or Ignoramus, Mississippi has the right to weigh in on another city's zoning laws.
I'm sure Terry Jones had no idea of the magnitude of his rally. He probably wanted to piss off some Muslims. A part of me suspects that conservative Christians secretly want a terrorist attack to happen on U.S. soil so they can claim that President Obama did not keep us safe like their beloved President Bush did (ignoring the fact that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history happened on Bush's watch!). Despite claims of doing this for First Amendment free speech rights, these people know that they are provocatively itching for a fight. There is no good that comes from burning another religion's holy book. NONE!
In case this "church" did not realize the magnitude of their actions, many people weighed in, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, General Petraeus (going so far as to say that U.S. troops in Afghanistan were likely to face violent reprisals), religious leaders of all kinds, the Vatican, and yes, even Sarah "Book Banning" Palin. However, regarding Palin, she was sneaky in her statement. She connected the Qur'an burning with the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. She urged both Terry Jones to respect Muslims by not burning their holy book and urged the Imam in Manhattan to respect the wishes of "Americans" by moving the Cultural Center further away from Ground Zero. Talk about apples and oranges!
The debate was ridiculous. Particularly on Facebook with one friend of mine who is often an agitator in the extreme. He has a tendency to beat a dead horse to death, harping on the same points over and over without showing any kind of understanding at all for people of a different culture and mindset than him. This isn't surprising, since he has never been out of the country (save for British Columbia, Canada). Its the rants of a privileged white boy.
I am all for free speech and don't have a problem with people burning the American flag in protest or burning effigies of politicians (this was done in Revolutionary France, which terrified the people in power, which it was designed to do). When it comes to burning books, though, I'm a little more leery. The reason is because of the well known and well documented practice of Nazi book burning rallies of the 1930s. While I've been known to joke about burning my grandmother's collection of romance novels, as a person who writes, I see book burning as a sign of knee-jerk, anti-intellectualism and insecurity regarding ideas that contradict whatever one has been indoctrinated into believing (usually the sorts of ideas that fail the test of logic and can't compete effectively against other well thought out ideas). So, despite my strong belief in freedom of speech, you'll find me very leary of siding with anyone wanting to burn a book. Especially a book that many people hold sacred.
On a further point, a person who deliberately does a provocative act, such as burning a holy book that more than a billion people on earth hold sacred, cannot claim ignorance for the aftermath that follows. Granted, a person doing a violent, retaliatory act is responsible for his or her own actions, there are such provocateurs who know what they are doing. It is spiritually wrong to commit an act that you know will likely lead to violence. Anyone who does not understand this, does not understand spirituality at all. Perhaps a reading of Buddhism's most sacred principles (The Noble Eightfold Path) will help people understand why this is true. Three of the eight principles that apply in this case are: "Right Speech, Right Action, Right Intention." This Reverend and his church violate those three principles.
Christians aren't the only ones who believe in hell! Doesn't Jones ever stop to consider the possibility that God might actually be Allah? Then, what is he going to do? Oops, my bad!
The last word I read on this story is that Terry Jones has called the Qur'an burning off, claiming that he had spoken with an Imam about a compromise, which I find to be bullshit. He claims that the Muslims of the Cordoba House in Manhattan have agreed to move their Islamic Center elsewhere in exchange for his not burning the Qur'an today (starting at 6 p.m. Eastern time). The two aren't even related issues and the Muslims of Manhattan would not be getting a fair deal out of this. They OWN the former Burlington Coat Factory. It is their property. Conservatives all the time argue about property ownership and rights. Why should they alter their viewpoint simply because a Muslim-American group owns the property?
I hope its simply a delaying tactic, to get Terry Jones away from his church on 9/11 so the burnings won't happen. However, another group has claimed that they will burn Qur'ans today if the Dove World Outreach Center does not. This other group, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is well known for flag desecration and vile signs at military funerals. In fact, their best known statement is not "Jesus Loves You" but "God Hates Fags." Apparently, God hates Muslims, too.
Oh why can't we put all the religious extremists into one big room and give them all weapons so they can kill each other and let the rest of us live in peace? That's my wish for 9/11. No more innocent people dying because of extremist religious views on all sides. If you're a religious extremist planning to kill...please do humanity a favour and kill other religious extremists! Leave the tolerant, moderate, peace loving people out of your death plans.
May God grant us all a measure of peace on this day of international mourning.