Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Putting Rationality on the Back Burner

So the Qur'an pyre at the Florida church fizzled out before any books were burned.  On a basic level, that makes me happy: I never even highlight textbooks, so the willful destruction of the printed word makes me uneasy.

Not only that, but the reverend who orchestrated the whole event was, in a sense, preaching to the choir.  Pastor Terry Jones's statement--that the Qur'an contains a dangerous message--is already accepted by his congregation.  He would have had more of an impact if he had distributed Qur'ans to the uninformed non-Muslim public, with the advice to read it with the understanding that its words are taken literally by millions. That would have educated people who otherwise embrace watered-down synopses of the book which ignore some of its more uncomfortable decrees ("Slay unbelievers wherever you find them.").

Too many non-Muslims are quick to uncritically accept what they're told, third-hand, about Islam. And they're given comforting information by self-appointed Muslim theologians who dismiss any negative elements with the following arguments:

        --"That passage doesn't translate exactly. You can only understand it if you read it in the original Arabic."

        --"Well, YOUR Bible contains just as much violence. More, even!"

Those statements are not valid. I have addressed those two responses in previous blog entries.  Also, I don't know anyone who can take EVERY verse of Scripture, Bible or Qur'an,  literally, all the time. Even if you believe that the word of God has been given to us in perfect form, and therefore we should follow its teachings as closely as possible, we are not perfect beings. So, as for the devout and non-violent Muslim, if he were to go around slaying unbelievers wherever he finds them, we would all be in mortal danger every time we stepped out of the house. (That would ruin my enjoyment of kiftah kebab, because I would have to worry about being poisoned ! Not to mention being very hesitant to hail a cab.)

But getting back to Reverend Jones: he should not have concocted his plan, simply out of common courtesy. You can think what you want about another person's religion, but to go out of your way to mock it is just not gentlemanly behavior. Yes, there was an art exhibit that featured a crucifix immersed in urine, and that was disrespectful and disgusting. But the incident didn't give Jones precedent, it only put him in the category of the "artist" who thought he was making a creative statement. Does he like being in that company?

And yet common courtesy, and respect of another person's, or many people's--feelings should also encourage the 9/11 mosque developers to stand down. According to an imam I once spoke to, there is an obligation in Islam to refrain from doing anything that causes another person's distress. I don't know what the Arabic word is, or if it's in the Qur'an or one of the hadiths. But if that's true, why haven't the mosque developers observed this?

But Pastor Jones should have had the support of anyone crying "free speech." Where were these people?
Why didn't President Obama come out and say about Jones the same thing he said about the mosque: that he may not personally think it was such a hot--no pun intended--idea to burn Qur'ans, but that Jones did have the right to do so?

Well, for one thing, Obama just doesn't have the analytical skills he's often credited with. He probably didn't see the parallel.

But the worst reason, and the one that got the most play, was the huge panic over the effects the Qur'an burning would have: there would be rioting and killing! There would be bloodshed ! There would be violence, much of it directed at Americans, specifically, or Westerners, more generally (non-Muslim).

It's interesting that these concernes were most often expressed by people who promote themselves as being pro-Muslim/anti-Islamophobic. Read between the lines: You shouldn't burn the Qur'an, because it will cause violence--because Muslims, fundamentally, are violent, out-of-control people .

That's right: a limited event  halfway around the world by a pastor who is conisidered "fringe" by most American Christians, never mind Americans in general, will send Muslims into such a frenzy of violence that no one will be safe ! Therefore, Pastor Jones will have blood on his hands. Not the people who are actually committing these acts of violence, because they can't be expected to control themselves.

This pretty much says it all, because in fact the Qur'an burning did not take place, yet over a dozen people have been killed due to the possibility that it might have gone ahead. That's right: Jones didn't hold a match to a single page of the Qur'an, but Muslims in Afghanistan and Kashmir still felt compelled to go ballistic and murder people.

It's not the first time the threat of violence has been held up as a reason not to  "provoke" members of the Religion of Peace. An opera in Germany, a few years ago, went on the defensive and totally bowed to pressure because one of the characters was Mohammad, albeit respectfully portrayed. They were told to change their script or there will be blood. Don't forget Motoonism and the South Park issue! There were even actual riots and killings over parts of the Qur'an ripped out and flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo--even though that never happened, it was just a rumor. The list goes on and on, but it's all the same: If you offend Muslims, they will attack. therefore don't offend them. And they get the right to determine what's offensive, so unless you're willing to say only very positive things about Islam--shut up. If they take umbrage, their behavior will be your fault!

Anyone who works with troubled people, or animals, knows that ignoring threats of aggression is a recipe for disaster. Oh, the dog snarled at you and lifted his lip? Some owners think it's best not to "provoke" him, even by accident! Except eventually he will be provoked. And whose fault will that be, the trainer who tried to modify the unwanted behavior, or the owner who dismissed warnings as, "He's really a sweet animal, he doesn't need any correction."  The dog ends up running the house just because no one can set reasonable limits of behavior.

And haven't we all witnessed the toddler who, like Billy Mumy in the Twilight Zone, was able to send grown-ups "into the corn" ? You know the episode--everyone had to kowtow to him because he had the power to make people just vanish. How many families have you seen who have an out-of-control, spoiled and malicious kid who runs the show, because the THREAT of doing something violent keeps everyone in line? The parents and siblings who continue to placate this person don't teach him anything; they just enable bad behavior.

As a society, we're enablers, too.  We tolerate, and excuse, threats of bad behavior if the offended party says the magic word, "religion." Suddenly, like the passive mean-dog owner or the fearful parent, we figuratively roll on our backs to display submission.

That's why the idea of violence over the Qur'an burning should have been given no life by the military, by the media, or by our Commander-in-Chief.

And it's why the threat of violence should never be a reason to roll over. It should, instead, give us reason to assert our authority: violence will not be tolerated, and when encountered it will be dealt with decisively.

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