I hate the automatic disclaimers that so many topics have to be opened with, but this one seems so universally embraced that I don’t think anybody will listen unless I parrot it, also, so here it goes: Florida Pastor Terry Jones was wrong to plan to burn the Qur’an on 9/11. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was a cheap, ignorant, counterproductive stunt.
There. Now I’m one of the millions of opinion makers who have said the exact same thing. What courage.
When this story went big about a week ago, my first thought was that this is precisely what would happen, but I had another prediction that turned out to be totally wrong. I was reminded of the cartoon protests and riots about five years ago, and the debate they sparked of how cultures define themselves, how they interact with each other, what our mutual obligations are in such conduct, etc. It became a landmark in international freedom of speech issues.
I was sure that the last week would be filled with similar observations. I was dead wrong. Though I’ve seen dozens of articles condemning Jones, I have yet to see a single one condemning the threats of violence directed at him and other Americans by the aggrieved around the world. In a better world, we would be shaming Jones for his juvenile display, but we would also be heaping criticism on the crowds everywhere who would use this as an excuse to incite violence.
Actually, we should be condemning those crowds more than Jones; while he desecrates people’s sacred text, others promise to harm and murder innocent strangers. One is bad, the other is worse. One is protected free speech, the other is not.
The fact that there has been absolutely zero backlash against the backlash against Jones suggests that we’ve truly lost the will to stand up to bullies, that we’re content to have others dictate to us what we can and can’t say. And make no mistake, such assertive declarations of our right to speak our minds freely, even when others are grossly offended, no matter who they are, is a cornerstone American right, and we must not let anyone think they can dilute that by threats of force. We will not stand for it. Well, we should not.
Every ethnic, political, and religious group in America’s history has learned that and deals with it. In the age of terrorism, when we are at war with guerilla elements around the world who have announced their ongoing desire to destroy us, we are not only entitled to but obligated to confront anyone who would threaten violence against Americans for any reason. You gave a report on al-Jazeera saying that you want to kill American soldiers because of this jerk in Florida? Fine. He is a jerk. But you know what? Now we have some guys in Homeland Security who would like to talk to you. Please come along quietly.
I was musing on this apparent lack of will on the part of anyone to defend America’s commitment to pluralistic dialogue (again, not that this Florida pastor is the best example of that), but reading this line in a news story today really made me need to say something:
Cops pounced on one protester, 29-year-old Sebastain Bagby, when he held up a Koran and whipped out a lighter. The officers grabbed the items out of Bagby’s hand but didn’t arrest him.
That, my friends, is intolerable. And scary.