When Gen. David Petraeus weighed in against a nutty evangelical Florida preacher who wants to have a Quran burning on September 11, an international incident was born. Petraeus apparently thinks this insulting symbolic gesture will push hyperexcitable Muslims into a murderous frenzy and add to the dangers our soldiers already face in Islamic countries.
In a country where flag, bra and draft-card burning was once commonplace, and where UAW workers used to bash Japanese cars with sledgehammers — all forms of emotional and symbolic protest — it seems strange that a yokel pastor in the bowels of Gainesville would warrant media attention at all, no matter what he said he was going to do.
In the jerkiest of knee-jerk reactions, news anchors and pundits have castigated the pastor, Terry Jones, as the vilest sort of ignorant bigot, regardless of his rationale for wanting to burn the Islamic holy book. Most claim he is just being stupid by succumbing to unnecessary provocation.
The bigotry charge is interesting, though, since, like “racism,” people use it as an inflammatory invective against people they disagree with, regardless of whether there is any merit to the charge.
As usually understood, a bigot is someone who is intolerant of the beliefs of others. But only an uncritical mind would claim that all beliefs deserve tolerance. Some clearly do not. Is Christopher Hitchens a bigot because he writes books and gives speeches vilifying religion in general and Christianity in particular?
That brings us to Islam.
Jones wants to burn the Quran because he believes Islam is an evil religion. Islam’s central texts command Muslims to either kill infidels, force them to convert to Islam, or make them pay a punishing tax. In particular, Jews and Christians should be singled out for murder. The texts also mandate that Muslims institute Sharia law anywhere and everywhere that conditions are ripe, according to Allah, or Muhammad or whomever.
Excuse me, but should thinking persons anywhere countenance the commands of this belligerent “religion” uncritically, when it has brought so much warfare, savagery, rapine, backwardness and human suffering to millions for the past 1,300 years? Are we to remain silent, simply because of an unwritten law that inveighs against criticizing another’s religious beliefs, regardless of how noxious they may be?
We did not allow Nazism or Communism to gain a foothold in the U.S., because we understood the implications of those political ideologies. Why would we let Islamic practices slip under the radar screen in the guise of a religion, when it is actually a totalitarian political ideology that stands in opposition to our Constitution?
The news media, through ignorance or misguided political correctness, has misled the public about the true nature of Islam, mindlessly prattling about the “religion of peace” and other canards, while Americans are asked to draw conclusions in the fog of the unknown. This causes them to misunderstand, for example, the intent of those who want to place a giant, nose-thumbing mosque at Ground Zero.
The hapless pastor in Gainesville is protesting in the only way he knows how. Burning the Quran may be stupid, but it’s similar to things the “Arab street” does on a regular basis — like trampling on or burning the American flag, burning Uncle Sam in effigy, or shouting “Death to America. Death to the Great Satan.”
But ask yourself, how does burning a Quran compare to the filming of the beheading of Daniel Pearl and other Americans, Britons and anyone else that Al-Qaeda or the Taliban doesn’t like? What about the stoning of women or the hanging of homosexuals?
Personally, I think a Quran-burning rally is an empty gesture, since it will accomplish little and make the individuals behind it look like reactionary yahoos. It would be much more effective for the group to pressure the media to critically examine the tenets of Islam, in order to begin a real dialogue about the threat that Islam poses to this country and what can be done about it.
If there is a reasonable solution to this problem, this is the place to begin. But it would demand scholarship and honesty on the part of the media, without the baggage of political correctness and preconceived opinions. Given the present state of news reporting, this would be a monumental task.
The stakes are high. Just last week, Iranian cleric Mesbah Yazdi said, “Democracy, freedom, and human rights have no place” in Islam. Call me a bigot, if you will, but we have to do whatever it takes to keep such a system off our shores. After all, what are we fighting for?
Barrett Kalellis is a Michigan-based columnist and writer whose articles appear regularly in various local and national print publications, and has been a featured pundit for several political web sites.