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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bible Based Book Burning Backfires

I picked this topic because it had more than religious implications, even though I could’ve done it last week. Terry Jones going back on his statement that his church would never burn a Quran is insulting enough, since he’s supposed to be a man of his word, considering he’s a preacher. People trust him to do what he says and then he decides to try to find a loophole by declaring March 20th “International Judge the Quran Day” and declares the Quran “guilty” and burns it. Seems like this was just a subtle way to get his wish to burn the holy book of a religion he’s fixated on as evil and also saying that he wasn’t just book burning for censorship, but because he thought the book deserved it by its own merits. But in that case, I could just as easily declare Easter Day as Judge the Bible Day and burn a copy of the KJV, posting a video of it. Heck, I’d do what Pharyngula did and bury the Bible and Quran and post a video of it. Would I get more popularity than Terry Jones? Probably, since the Quran and the Bible would expand my audience to probably the two largest faiths in the world. Of course, I’d really lean towards burying the books from a biological and chemical perspective, considering they’re trees in some sense of the word processed into bound texts. Might even be symbolic of their proverbial death in culture.

General David Petraeus, the same guy who warned Jones against burning the Quran before, is now condemning it again. Virtually everyone from any Abrahamic faith is united in calling the act intolerant and disrespectful to Muslims everywhere. Even if a group of Muslims also attacked and killed United Nations staff in Mazar-e Sharif, there are many Muslims in Europe and the Middle East that decry the motivation behind this terrible act of dual censorship/bigotry. Terry Jones seems to be the minority in America in being willing to take such direct action in protest of Islam. Other people will use legal methods, such as lawsuits against the Muslim community centers across the country being built. But this pastor of a small Florida church decided that he should burn a copy of the Muslim holy book to send a message, even though this is little different than what some Muslims have done to both the American flag and the Bible, though for quite different reasons in each case. The aged minister seems to have sunk to the level of Westboro Baptist Church, though I’m not aware if they have ever burned a Quran or an American flag, though we can find instances of them stepping on the latter. Of course one can actually find a parallel between both of these churches in that they seem to be doing this primarily for public attention, so that the media can pay attention to them and their message, whether it’s “God hates America” or “God says it’s okay to burn a holy book from what is basically a sibling religion to Christianity,” Many Christians, though, including prominent Baptist Albert Mohler, agreed that Islam should be opposed on a spiritual level as a religion that is false, but strongly denounced the idea that burning the holy book will actually communicate a message like what Jesus spoke. Jesus didn’t burn books or censor people; he took them at their word and engaged them, many times changing their minds with parables or simply contending on a theological level that they were missing the point, such as his distinction of the spirit versus the letter of the law to the Pharisees.

What’s funnier is that Terry Jones was warned before that this would put troops in Afghanistan in danger, but when he does it anyway, he doesn’t seem to feel nearly as guilty when people who are less connected to any direct conflict with the Middle East were killed by Muslims that seemed clearly motivated by his burning of their holy book. He condemned it as an act of terrorism, even though one might accuse him of doing the same thing to Muslims, albeit indirectly in inciting violence through provocative displays; in his case, burning what is basically the core of the Muslim faith, equivalent to doing things that have raised particularly Catholic anger in America, such as carving a statue of Jesus out of chocolate or putting a crucifix in a bottle of urine. But no one in America stormed into buildings and killed people they thought had associations with it, politically or otherwise. They demanded unreasonable bending of the law to protect their faith, but they were at least more pleasant and civil about it than many Muslims seem to be when they become vigilantes for their faith. Unfortunately, America is not free of this kind of violent behavior either, albeit it’s usually rarer and directed specifically towards the issue of abortion. The best example that comes to mind is Dr. George Tiller, shot in the face by Scott Roeder almost two years ago. Roeder felt it was the most lawful thing he could do in terms of his belief that God’s law supersedes any earthly law. When anyone takes their faith too seriously and insists that anyone insulting it in any way deserves to die, that’s when faith has crossed the line into ideology. Admittedly, not everyone is up in arms over this in the same way. Many Muslims are even saying that this shows that Muslims should spread a message that Islam can peacefully disagree with people, even when the media seems to portray only the violent actions of people affiliated with Islam, many times in a politically charged context.

It’s hard to continue this without descending into ranting, but this issue will continue to persist until people start either ceasing to pay attention to people that are extreme enough to resort to provocative actions, provided by the First Amendment nonetheless, or confront them peacefully instead of lashing out in anger or recoiling in aversion; as if these acts don’t show the climate of Islamophobia and Christian exceptionalism that pervades the U.S. and has been since post WW2 at the very least. It almost seems like there’s a pattern, starting with American exceptionalism alongside Christian exceptionalism that leads to anti-semitic, anti-foreigner and anti-Islamic sentiments from people who feel some sense of entitlement that doesn’t exist in reality. Christianity doesn’t deserve to be treated better or worse in this country, and the same goes for Islam, along with any other faith group in the U.S. If we seek impartiality and neutrality in the administration of our government, then people should start accepting that Christianity might have had cultural significance to the Founding Fathers, but it shouldn’t take precedence in any normative or prescriptive sense: the Constitution should first and foremost determine matters of policy, not people’s feelings of hegemony over those that are less influential or less demographically populous. If it’s a matter of having children, Islam might start pushing into Christianity’s dominance of population in the U.S. given enough time. But winning battles shouldn’t be our goal; it should be coexistence without outright normative cultural relativism. Every culture is not absolutely equal, but every culture should be allowed to exist in this country with basic limits on dangerous behavior. This includes Muslims, however much we think all of them are dangerous to the country. The vast majority of Muslims have demonstrated otherwise: they are peaceful and in fact have existed in the U.S. long before 9/11. This incident should remind us of how our actions can resonate with people and cause negative reactions. But we shouldn’t stop expressing ourselves; we simply need discernment in how we present our expressions of disagreement. Seek civility over ambitions and work towards equality without sacrificing diversity. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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