I wasn't going to write about the two recent examples of September 11-related hysteria run amok, because (a) there has already been too much reaction, and (b) believe it or not, the fate of the world does not hinge on what I write on the Internet.  But in another context I was invited to share my opinion, and you know how I love to get double duty out of the effort it takes to write.

First, the "Ground Zero mosque" flap.  Whether a mosque, or Islamic center, or church, or store, or apartment building, or library, or strip club is built in New York City is none of my business.  Nor is it the business of 99% of the others who have weighed in on the issue, including President Obama, foreigners, and talk show hosts.  It is New York City's business, at whatever level zoning regulations are made. If the neighbors object to a proposed project, they have the right, and possibly the duty, to oppose it at zoning board hearings, to write letters to local papers, to make local speeches, to go from door to door with petitions.  My opinion is irrelevant, as is that of the President of the United States.

The second bruhaha hits closer to home, because Terry Jones is in Florida, not much more than two hours away from me. I've been trying to ignore him, because he seems to be the kind of person who revels in publicity, be it positive or negative.  (Like rebellious teenagers, and like terrorists.)  His actions should also have been none of my business:  he's not my pastor, nor my neighbor, and I would no more forbid him to burn a Qur'an—or a cross—on his own property than I would forbid the building of a Mosque within sight of Ground Zero, even though both get people hot under the collar.  But he and the news media together have made it my business, threatening my family, my state, and my country.

Fear and anger make people do very unwise things, and one of the unwisest is the willingness to set aside the Constitution, the very foundation of our country.  I was asked about using hate speech laws to shut Jones down:  the very idea chills me to the marrow.  Freedom of speech is one of our greatest treasures, and that includes the freedom to say very unpopular things.  Even hateful things.  Labelling someone's opinion, however much you think it wrong, as "hate speech," and trying to control it, makes a very wide gate though which totalitarianism can enter.

Refusing to outlaw something is not the same thing as approving or deeming it wise, however.  And in the case of Jones, he himself has deliberately made his actions public business.  The First Amendment notwithstanding, there is precedent for controlling some forms of speech:  laws against slander/libel, yelling "Fire!" in a crowded but flame-less theater, and giving "aid and comfort to the enemy" in time of war, for example.  Jones is most definitely doing the last, giving credence to the enemy's propaganda and deliberately undercutting both military and civilian efforts to promote peace.

If there is anything good about his motives, he is at least incredibly stupid and not acting in accordance with his professed faith.  I haven't read much of the hoopla, but I did catch that he responded to questions of offense with the retort that he, himself, is offended when "they" burn the American flag, or the Bible.  What he obviously misses—besides the idea that we're supposed to love our enemies, or at least behave better than they do—is that an insult to the Qur'an is not nearly the same thing as an insult to the Bible, let alone to a flag.  To a Muslim, if my understanding is correct, it would be more like spitting on the consecrated Host.  The book itself is sacred.  I don't know if that applies to translations, which aren't considered the "real thing," but I suspect the insult would be taken similarly by most Muslims.  And the analogy I made probably wouldn't mean anything to Pastor Jones, since I suspect his church doesn't have a sufficiently high view of Communion to understand it.  But my point is, his analogy is flawed, maybe fatally.

I heard great story about a Canadian medical team in Afghanistan, known for its very good treatment of Taliban prisoners.  Explaining this, the doctor pointed out that, first of all, it was the right thing to do; second, since the battle was over a difference beliefs and values, it was important to act upon those values at all times.  That's also the attitude of the U.S.-based aid organizations that I know about, even though the Taliban is attacking them, verbally and physically.  And, come to think of it, that's the attitude of Jesus on the Cross, which one would hope would give Rev. Jones food for thought.

What's more, the doctor said, good actions, especially in the face of danger and provocation, will cause a cognitive dissonance between what the soldiers have been told by the Taliban and their own experience, which might lead to them questioning Taliban authority.  The Taliban knows this, of course, which probably explains their antipathy towards those who are sacrificing themselves to bring health, education, and infrastructure to these countries.

Jones, however, is doing exactly the opposite; I'm quite sure the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other militant Islamic groups are thrilled with his Qur'an-burning plan, no matter how personally offended their members might be.  There are better ways to express your belief that not all religions are equally true, or good, or beautiful (and with that I agree), without making your own look odious, and defaming the name of Christ.

I blame the news media, also.  We would have been much better off if Jones had been ignored, but he makes great copy.  The vast majority of Americans, who think he's nuts, and who are bending over backwards to say so, in word and action—are just boring.  The press is pouring (metaphorical) gasoline on Jones's flames.  Freedom of the press is another essential First Amendment right, but I do wish we all had more common sense.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 8:52 am | Edit
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Okay, he wrote it first, though I didn't read his column until just now. But Mike Thomas agrees with me.

As much as everyone is blaming [Jones], this is far from his fault. He's just a prop.

I ask you: If a sad little man burns some Qurans in the woods, and the media aren't there to film it, is it news?

Of course not.

We created the Rev. Terry Jones from dust. And in two weeks, to dust he shall return. Then we'll move on to the guys who plan to run over the Quran at their monster-truck pull. Whatever it takes to keep your attention.

We could help head off such future nonsense if we folded up the circus tent and left Jones alone with his blowtorch and 30 followers.

Maybe if Gen. Petraeus told the media that it isn't Rev. Jones who is endangering troops. That it is our coverage of Rev. Jones. That without us, this book burning would be little more than a grainy video on YouTube.

Put the onus on a responsible party and hope it acts responsibly.

Fat chance.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, September 09, 2010 at 11:37 am

It's strange that in Bloglines only the first line showed up as italicized. It made it look like the rest were your words. Just thought you'd like to know.

Posted by Janet on Friday, September 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

Frustrating. With more and more people using feedreaders, the possibilities for being misunderstood are even greater.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, September 10, 2010 at 9:22 am

Yes, the media carries a heavy guilt in this, I agree, though we can't say for sure the grainy youtube video wouldn't have gone underground viral. The media doesn't bear the entire blame, though. The reactions of all directly and indirectly offended parties has been unfortunate, from burning US flags in Pakistan to the OMG squawkachatter online. If someone in Pakistan threatened to spit on a consecrated host just before Christmas, would you let that distract you from Advent and Christmas festivities? Would you go burn a Pakistani flag, or pour vitriol into the cracks of cyberspace?

I think this post dovetails nicely with Salatin's first quote: we're afraid of the fringe. We're afraid of a charismatic guy who, until this all got blown out of proportion, had failed in pretty much all parts of his organisation's name.

Now he's got the "world" part covered, thanks to the world covering him.

Posted by Stephan on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm
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