Monday, September 13, 2010

On Burning Books, Moving Mosques

(Author’s note: I wrote this post last week. I had intended to publish it on Saturday. There was so much vitriol and insanity on the topic, not to mention changes, by Friday that I didn’t post it. Over the weekend, I saw so many great (including this from Why S? – and not so great – posts, I decided to go ahead and post my two cents. For what it’s worth, I give you this rather lengthy rant …)

“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”

-- Heinrich Heine

By the time I hit ‘publish’ on this post, the circumstances may well have changed again. But, at least for now, the “minister” in Florida who was planning a 9/11 observance of “International Burn a Koran Day” has either canceled or postponed the event.

Chalk up a point for rational behavior. Well, sort of.

He made this magnanimous gesture supposedly only after “securing agreement” that the controversial Islamic center, planned just a few blocks from Manhattan’s Ground Zero, would be moved. “We got what we wanted,” he proclaimed before TV cameras on Thursday (Sept. 9.) Really? Endangering the lives of our troops, hell of any American, and of giving the United States the image of a truly intolerant society. Is that really what you wanted? Nice going, Rev.

I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise from a man who admittedly has never read the Qur’an yet wrote a book decrying Islam as “evil.” Let’s make some assumptions then, based on this path of illogic:
· One of the most radical acts of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil was committed by Timothy McVeigh, a former Catholic altar boy. All Catholics then must be terrorists.
· Then there’s the Army of God, self-proclaimed Christians with claimed members responsible for multiple murders of abortion clinic staff through shooting sprees and facility bombings during the past two decades. Christians who, on their website, declare those convicted in these crimes as “heroes.” We can conclude then that all prolifers are terrorists.
· For more than a century, the Ku Klux Klan organization has wrapped themselves as tightly in “Christian” tenets as they have in their trademark white sheets. They are credited with hundreds, if not thousands, of acts of terror, predominantly against African-Americans, but against a variety of others, too. Of all things, they burn crosses and bomb and burn churches. Yes, good Christians those guys. Even better terrorists. So, we could deduce that all Christians are terrorists.

Does it sound crazy enough to you yet? If it doesn’t , please note that I hoped it would.

What I find so ironic is that, using this same line of illogic, Jesus then could be declared evil, too. What the good pastor would know –if he’d bothered to crack the cover of the Qur’an instead of zealously wishing to set it ablaze —is that Jesus is covered in those pages. (One key distinction though: He’s recognized as a revered prophet, not as the son of God.) Now there’s a piece of “logic” I’d love to force feed the good pastor!

There seems to be all kinds of controversy and confusion. And despite the cancellation, there is a string of copycat burnings that will still go on. One of them is from the crazies out of Kansas who regularly heckle and jeer at mourners outside funeral services for fallen soldiers. Could we expect any less from these wingnuts? Probably not.

These are some of the same people who always get in on the “separation of church and state” debates, talking about how the nation was founded on religious freedom. Really? Oh. Wait. It only applies to your religion. Nevermind. I get it. How very patriotic of you!

The timing of these threats couldn’t be worse. First, it’s occurring during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Second, it’s gotten more attention thanks to the controversy surrounding the planned Not-at-Ground-Zero- but-within-a-few-blocks-of-the-site Islamic community center.

And finally, of course, is the pending anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy itself.

The images from different protests in recent days are both hateful and misguided. It frightens me that this is not only the “acceptance” we are showing to those Americans who also happen to be Muslims but to those all around the world. (Depending on whose numbers you believe, American Muslims range from nearly 2 million to as many as 7 million.) It would be a lot like having a grand wizard from the KKK as your front man.

What’s most frightening to me is that much of the world to which these images are being beamed does not understand the concept of “free speech.” If it’s being broadcast, then they are taking it as a wholesale view of the American government and its population, as the two are synonymous to them. Maybe that belief isn’t entirely misplaced. After all, we have a very vocal part of America who believes our president would gladly enact fundamental Islamic law, given the chance. *stops to shake head and roll eyes* A man who taught constitutional law for 12 years … Sigh.

A few days ago, I overheard part of a conversation that I just can’t shake. In it, one man told another man that he didn’t understand all the hoopla about decrying Islam. “It’s not like we’re threatening to put them in concentration camps,” he said to his buddy. I had to remove myself from the line because I knew I could not stand next to this man without creating a scene. Besides, I guess he has his rights to his ignorance.

I guess that history has taught us nothing. There are plenty of examples of the divisive role of religious beliefs throughout history. It has repeatedly been used as a means to vilify entire populations. The Romans did it to the Christians. The English did it to the Irish (insert several other ethnicities here). American colonists did it to Native American Indians. The Nazis used it against the Jews. Such is the arrogance of “my god is better than your god.”

And the quote at the top of this post? Quite prophetic, considering that Heine, a German poet, journalist and essayist, penned the line in 1821. More than a century later, in 1933, the book containing it was among some 20,000 set ablaze by the Nazis. (And I think we all know what came after that.) Clearly, religious persecution and intolerance has an established place in history.

If only we could leave it there.

1 comment:

Why S? said...

Excellent. And thanks for the nod.

I don't blame religion for all this intolerance. I blame ignorance. It's one thing to be live a faith-based life but it's unacceptable to enter into that faith unquestioningly. "Faith" does not mean "blind faith." "Faith" does not mean sheep-like following. True faith means finding a path, a true path that works for us within our intrinsic principles.

Only the ignorant could support a supposed "faith" that advocated book burning or violence of any type. As individuals, we may feel compelled to violence but it is (or should be) the function of religion to help us overcome those baser drives.

Ignorance surrounds us. I encounter it every day. So do you. The conversation you overheard mentioning concentration camps is not so different from the conversations I often hear that start with "I have nothing against the Jews, but . . . " Well, whenever you hear that "but" you know full well that the speaker does have something against the Jews but doesn't even realize it himself. And that, is where the real ignorance starts.