Pastor Terry Jones leader of a small Florida congregation planned to do just that, burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11; he said to expose Islam as a more violent religion than many would like to believe. In addition his claims included that it sent a clear message to Muslims both abroad and at home; according to his views, it tells the ones outside the U.S. that extremism will not go unanswered while sending a message to the moderates here to stay that way. Opposition of course came in many forms local law enforcement, local Christian leaders even a local Muslim cleric all tried to talk pastor Jones out of this, the latter thinking they had; as the pastor announced in press conference he was canceling the Koran burning on the condition that the now infamous ground zero masque was to be moved and he was going to New York to speak with the imam backing the project. However response from both the cleric and the imam quickly indicated otherwise and there was confusion right up until the eve of the 9/11 anniversary as to whether or not the burning would go ahead. Since the story made headlines outrage has permeated the world over leading to demonstrations in Afghanistan where American flags and replicas of pastor Jones were burned in effigy, rocks thrown at American military vehicles, setting everyone on edge.
Yet despite the commanding general in Afghanistan voicing his concern about the Koran burning possibly putting American troops stationed there in danger, despite warnings from the FBI, other local Christians, despite condemnation from as far away as the Vatican, despite proponent figures like Franklin Graham reaching out to him, despite president Obama calling Jones’ proposed actions a recruitment bonanza for Al Quaeda, he seemed determined to move forward, making it clear for a long time that he was only postponing the burning pending a meeting he said will take place Saturday. Even without the burning coming to pass, the damage may already be done, having given off the impression that Islam is under attack in America, having given credence to terms like Islamophobia, having made peaceful Muslims here feel more threatened and unsafe than they did after 9/11, having given weight to the extremist sentiments held throughout the Arab world. And while pastor Jones’ beliefs could easily be described as on the lunatic fringe it only adds fuel to the fire, when portions of Islam’s same fringe can point to him as an example of someone, something no worse than they are.
Burring Korans simply makes the man look like a buffoon who opened his mouth and stuck his foot in too far or who needs medication; burning Korans on 9/11 only invites more of the same kind of tragedy, only entices them to do more while taking everyone’s minds off the victims, the families and putting it on a small time pastor, a tiny congregation simultaneously causing people to hold their breath waiting for the shoe to drop. It is also highly hypocritical to be incensed when radicals and those who dislike America, dislike Christianity burn the flag, burn bibles then turn around and do the same to something peaceful members of a religion consider sacred. Continued questions about the legitimacy of pastor Jones’ arguments, his reasons for starting this firestorm in the first place stemmed from the press conference where he announced he had assurances from the local Muslim cleric that the ground zero masque would be relocated, yet according to the cleric, all he had done was try to arrange a meeting to discuss Jones’ concerns, never having spoken to the imam personally. The entire scene reading like a case of he heard what he wanted to hear, creating appearances that he was in it for his 15 minutes of fame rather than any singular belief, set of them, making the situation that much worse.
Meanwhile if pastor Jones wanted to prove Islam is a more violent religion than it claims, all he had to do was speak to his congregation or in a public remembrance forum about the events of 9/11; he could easily have cited the numerous cases of terror plots foiled by various law enforcements foreign and domestic since then, spoken of news footage depicting radical Islamic followers shouting death to America. Clearly demonstrating his point without creating an inflammatory, hot button issue in strained times with tensions mounting about Islam in America. Further no statement regarding the issue needs to be made; we make a statement about standing up to extremism every time a terror plot that didn’t happen flashes on the news, every time we go about our lives unmarred by hate, fear. That being said, if the pastor wanted to make a statement, make it to his congregation, make it to his community, but don’t make it an international, public spectacle. Second make it coherent, concise; are you opposing radical Islam, are you opposing the mosque at ground zero, are you opposing mosques built in your area, are you opposing terrorist rooted out from there, what are you against? Speaking out as an opponent of any of these could have been easily achieved by writing letters to the appropriate people, urging your congregation to fly to New York and protest, protest in your local community situations there, begin a website, twitter, Myspace, Facebook anything but recruiting people to stage a book burning.
Instead he demolished his credibility by asking individuals to participate in such an activity; he forfeits any legitimate concerns had by any American about radical Islam, about extremists, about actual terrorists, sleeper cells, those with American passports going back and forth to training camps, about rising possibilities of America being engulfed by one religion, Islam or not, when the Muslim cleric seems to be the cooler head, when it appears Muslims did the right thing and Jones only did so after being publicly cajoled, when Jones can’t seem to get his facts straight. And if, on the off chance the cleric did lie to halt this whole thing, on the remote chance there might be a realistic threat from the Florida mosque in Jones’ hometown, we will never know, because of what he as done. We don’t yet know what the full repercussions will be, what, if any, retaliation America will receive for this, which innocent people could find themselves face to face having to deal with the consequences of something they were never a part of.
Unfortunately now more than the cat is out of the bag; radicals have one more reason to hate America, the incident has given thousands if not millions a reason to join a multitude of terrorist groups spanning across the middle east, given peaceful people here, particularly Muslims, a reason to buy into extremist propaganda, all because someone planned to burn Korans, because someone stated that intent, not because it actually happened. Sadly at least 11 people have been injured in protest skirmishes across the globe, U.S. solders report evidence of a break down in fragile relations in Afghanistan along with the remaining troops in Iraq. There is also the very looming reality that others did follow in Jones’ footsteps, decided to send the same “message” by attempting to burn Korans in regions across the country; one protestor close to ground zero lit pages of the book ablaze and was lead away, another offered them to the crowd as toilet paper. This following headlines involving construction sites for new mosques already being subjected to protest, vandalism even arson. Officials are warning Americans abroad, tourists to missionaries of the hostility and potential violence they may face as a result of pastor Jones’ highly vocalized intentions.
Another facet of this that should be at issue is the amount of resources expended on defusing possible fall out, when the FBI had to get involved, local law enforcement is still dealing with death threats made against both the pastor and his church; when, Whitehouse personnel were calling begging it to end, when security was increased in order to keep the public safe, avoid out of hand protests, prevent riot like behavior. If we are going to arrest, charge and demand restitution from “balloon boy’s” parents, then pastor Jones should receive similar charges, a similar fate. Because every minute spent on the quagmire intentionally created here, intentionally meant to stir things up is a minute not spent addressing real dangers, real terrorist plots, safeguarding potential targets, preventing new threats
Yes we have freedom of speech in this country, yes we have freedom of religion, but it’s how we use that freedom. Yes we have the right to burn flags, burn bibles, burn Korans, but should we? Or is the better way to protect against one engulfing religion, ideology, societal belief system to embrace the peaceful, tolerant members of all faiths, to allow people to live and let live as long as they harm none and adhere to basic laws? That is what America has always been, welcoming to those seeking freedom, respecting those who only wish to live productive lives, raise families. Isn’t that what it should always be?