Something tells me the Quran-burning scheduled for Saturday at the delightfully named Dove World Outreach fundamentalist Christian church in Florida isn’t going to happen. What with 100 armed citizens’ militia, the world’s media, pro- and anti- demonstrators and probably fire permit enforcement officials all planning to attend, the whole thing would end up being a crowd-control circus. And even if they have little time for the Vatican, Hilary Clinton or Germany’s Angela Merkel, the cretinous Evangelicals led by Pastor Terry Jones may at least pause for thought before defying US General Petraeus, Sarah Palin and other patriotic and God-fearing opponents of the event.
This will be a good thing because book-burning is creepy, and because such a specific and extreme insult to Islam is almost designed to boost recruitment rates at suicide-bomber training camps across the world. The Dove World Outreach folk are Western civilization’s equivalent of strict Muslims. To them, the New Testament is the word of God and the literal truth. We are currently in the End Time, the chaotic era preceding the second coming of Christ, following which Jesus Himself will cast all sinners – including all heathens and non-Evangelicals and non-believers in Noah’s Ark and the rest of the Book of Genesis – into the eternal fiery torment of Hell, after hacking them up a bit with a sword. It would be great to tie these people and their Muslim counterparts into a sack and leave them to it.
But a little bit of me secretly wouldn’t mind seeing the book go up in flames. On a radio interview yesterday, Pastor Jones outlined his thinking to a (presumably BBC) reporter wringing his hands about grievously offending a billion Muslims. The preacher’s main concern was that Muslims needed to be saved for Jesus lest they end up in perpetual suffering being roasted on a spit by demons. But at one stage he briefly mentioned something that should resonate with all of us: the growing de-facto status of Islam as a special faith that is protected from criticism and overrides freedom of expression.
For years in most Western societies, a well-intentioned spirit of multiculturalism has yielded to Muslims claiming to be offended by something – it could be as ridiculous as a cartoon of a pig in a kids’ book, or the portrayal of Mohamed in contradiction of Islamic (but no-one else’s) teachings. (There is probably also a feeling of ‘anything for a quiet life’. When the Shelley Street Mosque was built in the 19th Century, the colonial Hong Kong authorities passed a law banning the transportation of swine past the site. For all I know, anyone clutching a pack of Park N Shop bacon on the Mid-Levels Escalator today is committing an offence – though the worshipers don’t seem to care.)
Perhaps encouraged by this reluctance to defend basic principles of free speech, somewhere between 0.1% and 99.9% of Muslims have come to assume an entitlement to demand this privileged protection for their faith more rigorously. To offer help – albeit no doubt as a stunt – for people wishing to leave Islam and thus in physical danger is inflammatory or polarizing. Indeed, they assume a right to enforce it. When the vast majority of Western newspapers and TV stations failed to reproduce the Danish cartoons satirizing Mohamed, it wasn’t out of some kindly respect for Muslims’ sensitivities but because they were afraid of their offices being firebombed.
The FBI is now warning that the Quran-burning, an act fully within constitutional rights, may provoke violence, with the clear underlying message that it should therefore please not happen. Implication (stripping all the idiocy and obnoxiousness out of the picture): individuals or groups threatening violence may now veto others’ exercise of their constitutional rights. Another example is some British commentators’ views and protests that the UK’s presence in Iraq/Afghanistan brought the 7/7 London suicide bomb attacks upon the country. Implication: the foreign policy of the UK’s democratically elected government should now be subject to a veto by a little group of disaffected Pakistani youths.
An attempt to be tolerant has encouraged muddled thinking and irrationality. A recent Washington Post opinion column featured confused Muslim academic Muqtedar Khan who says of the planned Quran-burning: “The Constitution does not permit this. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. For Muslims this is worse than torture.” (The bar on cruel and unusual punishment, lifted from England’s 1689 Bill of Rights, is of course designed to constrain government.)
As for irrationality, he also says:
…the Quran is the thing that Muslims hold the dearest. My children have been listening to it since even before they were born. I use to recite it to them while they were still in the womb. Their children will be reciting it to them when they will be lowered in to their tomb. Believe me, there is nothing more precious to Muslims than the Quran, and watching people toss it into fire, will be horrifying. I would rather burn in fire myself, than watch a Quran burn.
Rather immolate yourself than see some paper and ink go up in smoke? This is verging on a mental health issue. If your religion is that sensitive, vulnerable and fragile, you need to get a new one – one that has the confidence to let the almighty penalize such slurs as he sees fit in the next life.
What I think we are seeing here and with the Ground Zero Mosque fuss is a backlash against this creeping Islam-is-special mentality. (Khan, to his credit, says: “I think Muslims may have invited this through their own hateful zealotry.”) Since moderate defenders of free speech haven’t had the guts to stand up and insist that all faiths have equal non-protection against insults or being offended, the lunatics of Dove World Outreach will happily do it for us in their own unhelpful way.
My humble suggestion for Saturday: The Great Holy Scripture Cook-Off. Get all the people who believe their scriptures are the literal truth and unbelievers are damned, and let them burn each other’s sacred texts for as long as it takes until inventories are exhausted. Beer and soft drinks available. Maybe when they’ve burned every last Bible and every last Quran on the planet we’ll have some sanity and peace.