Kudos to General Patraeus for his deliberate and sensible and honorable statement on the subject of Koran burning. By speaking out he is not only defending his men in the field but the American ideal itself. Someone needs to speak out. And it’s about time, too. During the recent and disgraceful debate over the Ground Zero mosque, The Poet’s Eye kept looking for a spokesman for courage and decency, kept hoping to see just one political leader of note with the temerity to say, ‘C’mon, folks, this is America.’
Because of the atmosphere of religious tension in the world today, what should have been nothing more than a local zoning issue was elevated to an international symbol of this tension. The ensuing chatter and the reluctance on the part of anyone standing for election to take a committed position on the subject points to the embarrassing little spot of hypocrisy on the fabric of the American sofa. We are all for religious freedom as long as we’re talking about Our religion.
As a nation, we don’t expect to be judged by our nut-cases. Part of the American ideal is that we allow nut-cases. The danger of this is that we can grow a Tim McVeigh or a Lee Oswald once in a while, but we accept that danger on the theory that the benefits of freedom for everyone outweigh the damage that one individual can do even if they flip-out. But we don’t accept what they do when they go off the deep end. We roundly condemn them for their actions. Granted, some people thought Jack Ruby was a hero, but in general we disapprove of vigilantes and others who try to make their own personal amendments to the Constitution by means of violent solo referenda. We denounce them clearly and emphatically. This is proper and this is what makes the good General’s remarks so welcome.
The Poet’s Eye doesn’t see that the 1.5 billion strong religion of Islam is going to be shaken severely by the fifty members of Terry Jones’ Florida congregation burning a few paperback Korans. Muslims, who are ostensibly against idolatry, will be the first to tell you that burning a book does no damage to the truths therein, so Islam will survive. It can’t be claimed that the ironically named Florida Dove World Outreach Center represents the mainstream of American Christianity any more than a handful of wild-eyed jihadists represent the Muslim faith. But, as the dust-up over the NY mosque shows, small local actions can quickly become international symbols.
Neither the mosque controversy nor the proposed ‘Burn a Koran Day’ are legal issues. The Muslims in NY can build their mosque and the Christians in Florida can burn their Korans and be perfectly within the law and in keeping with the Constitution. These are both moral issues, not legal ones, and we should treat them as such. On Sept. 11th when Jones and his misguided little coven of religious xenophobes have their bonfire, their 50 person circle of hate should be circled in turn by at least 500 people chanting, ‘Shame, shame, shame.’ This would be greater sanction than a court-issued restraining order.
The possible moral pitfall here for us as Americans is a failure to speak out against intolerance. Ironically we must be intolerant of intolerance or at least the voice of tolerance should speak louder in our land than the voice of intolerance. If the miscongregants in Florida wish to exercise their legal right of Free Speech by burning Korans, it is the moral duty of those of us who wish to uphold the American ideal of religious tolerance to be there with louder voices and larger numbers to show the world that we emphatically Do Not Approve of This Message.
General Patraeus couched his objections in practical military terms — it will endanger our troops if we stir the hornet’s nest of radical Muslim resentment with such unnecessary and ill-conceived publicity stunts. To The Poet’s Eye this looks like a reasonable appeal. Even soldiers are more diplomatic than writers are apt to be, however, and this writer would fail his duty if he didn’t scald the page with denunciation of intolerance wherever he sees it and to issue a call to action in this case. If the wing-nuts in Florida persist with their announced plans to burn Korans on Sept. 11th, shame on us if we don’t go there as well to jeer and stomp and protest that those actions don’t speak for us. In the same way that it is irresponsible for mainstream conservatives to fail to denounce the absurd lies about our President’s origins and religion broadcast by the Birthers and Flat-Earthers, it is irresponsible for us as American citizens to endorse the actions of intolerant religious nuts with our silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
addendum: +4 days
I’m sure that the right reverend Terry Jones is as surprised as everyone else at his instant celebrity. The celebrity business is a wild and crazy business. to be sure, perhaps the only organism that can sustain itself by means of nursing at it’s own breast. Once a note is played in the media echo chamber, its natural decay is prevented and the story itself often becomes a story and what began as an unnoticed earthquake at the bottom of the ocean can show up as a tsunami by the time it reaches the shore. It’s all about the Wave Effect.
Of course Jones’ antics would in other times have gone completely unnoticed by the eye of the media. This kind of nonsense has been going on forever. Isolated nuts have been known to wear sandwich boards for any whack cause you can imagine. They are sounds in a vacuum, nobody cares, it’s not news.
What made this demonstration any different?
First there is the atmosphere or medium in which the tremor took place. In this case it is an atmosphere of viscous tension caused by a perceived conflict between two of the world’s great religions. Not that the conflict/rivalry between Christianity and Islam is anything new, but today’s Crusade mentality is aggravated by real military presence of US soldiers in regions of the world that many believe are and should be under the Crescent, not the Cross.
Then the multiplier effect begins when a very well-meaning General Patraeus said words that really needed to be said about the exercise of our rights tempered by prudence. Add that to the already sore situation surrounding the mosque in NY and dump about 72 professional talking heads pretending to be virgins into the mix and voila you get riots in Pakistan and pointed attacks on our soldiers in Afghanistan, which Are legitimate news.
This is all quite independent of Mr. Jones and any shameful lust for fame that he may have had. What we see is evidence of many colluding factors not least among them America’s inclination toward prejudice and xenophobia. It continues to embarrass us because regardless of what intolerance and injustice we are opposing, we know that we are somewhat less than perfect in this area ourselves. Thus Mr. Jones either cleverly or through dumb luck creates a seat for himself as the egg that everyone is afraid to crack.
Lightning Rod is a Dallas poet and writer.
Read more of The Poet’s eye here: http://www.thepoetseye.wordpress.com