Thursday, September 9, 2010

For the sake of controversy

As an atheist, I have a unique perspective on blasphemy. Burning a Bible or a Koran or any other sacred text is pointless and silly. There is literally nothing that could be burned in effigy that would bother me. There are, of course, subjects that do offend me, such as flip attitudes toward animal cruelty or child abuse, and I will address those on a later post. But there is no such thing as a sacred symbol. To me, the only point it makes is that the arsonist is a jerk. I suppose that Terry Jones, the preacher of a tiny, worthless little church in Gainesville (of whom everyone has now heard) is getting the reaction he is hoping for: no one doubts his opposition to Islam. Also, he is enraging the world of Islam, which isn't terribly difficult to do.

But look at what is actually happening. He and his followers are burning books. In 2010, they are burning books as though it matters, as though it is somehow eradicating information. If anything, the bookstores from which his congregation purchased the Korans might stock more, just because they see a spike in sales. To me, burning a book is like throwing feces. It makes a similarly eloquent statement. And the fallout from all of this is that Americans are overreacting just like they always do. Before Terry Jones' dickheaded stunt, before the Ground Zero Mosque most Americans didn't really care what American Muslims did. Everyone has an opinion on Islam - I know I certainly do - but it doesn't really matter. Now Americans are bending over backwards to defend Islam.

I'm glad that the Muslims are getting support, but there comes a point where it will just be insulting, as though we are afraid that they won't be able to cope with some crazy with a match and a stack of Korans. Or maybe we're just afraid of Muslims - after all, what is General Petraeus warning us about? He is warning us that burning the Korans will result in rioting and increased violence against American troops. This may well happen and if it does our cultural guilt will kick in. We will blame Terry Jones for the death of the soldiers, which is like blaming a stripper for getting raped. If Muslims react to the book burning with violence then it is their fault alone.

This is what makes Islam is such a tricky subject. Suppose a crazy extremist mosque in Somalia or Saudi Arabia or even France decides to burn Bibles on Easter, or copies of the US Constitution on Independence Day. Some people would be outraged, but collectively we would shrug, maybe laugh a little bit and then go back to watching Jersey Shore. Think of Fred Phelps and his WBC. They are about as offensive and provocative as possible. We just don't care. It doesn't matter to us. We might be offended but I can guarantee that there would be no worldwide outcry and no danger of violence. But offend the Muslims and the infidels of the world had better watch out!

So where does this leave us? Terry Jones is an idiot. He is making a statement, but not a clever one. The Muslims have every right to be offended by his foolish bonfire, but they have no right to react with violence.

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