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Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Morons Play With Fire

As I mentioned a few days ago, publicity-seeking, ego-driven "Christian" nutjob Terry Jones, leader of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida intends to do his bit for world peace by sponsoring "International Burn a Koran Day," this Saturday, to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy.

Since his plans were announced, he has been condemned by such influential leaders as President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, General David Petraeus, former Massachusets Governor Mitt Romney, and even His Holiness, the Pope. They quite rightly point to the grievous harm this act will cause, particularly, as Petraeus explains, to America's uniformed troops serving abroad.

Does all this reasoned and considered talk sway Pastor Loony? Of course not.

In this face of this wave of official disapproval, Jones's response was, "We are burning the book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people." Apparently, as of right now, their bonfire will go on as scheduled in order to, "point [a] finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them." Yes, because it's clear that your little Nazi book-burning is only directed at the radical elements of Islam, and not to the millions of people worldwide that consider that text holy scripture. Sure, how could anybody misinterpret the message of your intolerant, hateful, self-aggrandizing stunt?

More than that, though, what does Jones plan to say to the mother of the first American soldier killed in Afghanistan as a result of his little bonfire, the first real casualty of his exercise in madness? Would you like to reconsider that, "We are not killing someone" line, Pastor? Didn't think so.

What's really bothersome, however, are the responses of such leading American intellectuals as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, both of whom - not surprisingly - took the opportunity to weigh in on the controversy. Pain, through the interpreter/ghostwriter/scriptwriter/trained monkey who pens her every word, said:
"Book burning is antithetical to American ideals. People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation – much like building a mosque at Ground Zero."

Yeah, like Sarah even knows what the word "antithetical" means. Good job putting big words in her mouth, trained monkey. Would she like to "refudiate"Jones's plan also?

Then Glenn "I don't need no stinkin' higher edjamication" Beck, that shining beacon of intellectual achievement and founder of the prestigious Beck University (call now to get your own Beck U. degree! Only $74.95! Operators are standing by!) nudged his torpid mass out of the nepenthe-like slumbers of a well-earned vacation to opine:
"I’m on vacation and trying to unplug but the news can make that hard. I just read the story about the Florida church planning to burn copies of the Koran. What is wrong with us? It’s just like the Ground Zero mosque plan. Does this church have the right? Yes. Should they? No. And not because of the potential backlash or violence. Simply because it is wrong."
Both Momma Grizzly Palin and St. Glenn of the Holy Buck have the nerve to equate burning a book with building a community center. By doing so, they're using a potentially inflammatory situation, one that could very easily cost American servicemen and women their lives, to aggrandize themselves politically. Rather than simply denounce a despicable act by a cowardly, twisted, and bigoted person, they felt the need to score points with the intolerant, redneck rabble that hang on their every self-serving word by conflating two entirely separate events. What good Americans they are, finding their own silver lining in what is sure to be one of the blackest episodes in this nation's history.

Now, I know that there are plenty of sincere and thoughtful people who oppose the building of the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan, as, due to its proximity to Ground Zero, they see it as insensitive to the families of those who perished on 9/11. I respect their views. They are reacting out of sympathy for those whose lives were changed forever on that tragic day. They are not - largely - speaking out of a sense of Islamophobia, nor are they - largely - blaming all Muslims for the attack on September 11, 2001.

But here's a point that I think even these folks would agree with: building a community center has tangible, positive benefits for the community in which it's located, burning a book is purely an act of hatred and intolerance, with absolutely no positive or redemptive qualities. Thoughtfully building is always preferable to mindlessly destroying.

And this is why Beck and Palin entirely miss the point here (not surprising, as they've built lucrative careers out of intentionally missing the point and igniting the flames of ignorance). Whatever your thoughts on this particular community center, there's little doubt that community centers in general are a good thing. They provide services - both secular and sacred - for the people that live in a given area that might not otherwise be available to them. They provide a place for kids to gather, encouraging them to avoid gangs and street life. At their best, they can become the center, the linchpin, of a community, bringing together people of diverse backgrounds, and fostering understanding, tolerance, and support where they might not have existed before. Few people would argue that those are not noble goals.

Consider, then, a book burning, especially one like this that is so politically, racially, and spiritually charged. What is the larger message of Pastor Jones's act? Simply, it's "we hate you." There's no other legitimate interpretation possible from an act this violent, this bigoted, and this intentionally confrontative. Pastor Jones is spreading a message of hatred and intolerance around the world, in effect punching Islam in the face and daring them to punch back. Just don't be surprised when they do, Terry.

Some "patriots" insist that this action is taken in support of America and American ideals. Nothing could be further from the truth. America was founded on principles of inclusion, not exclusion; of freedom, not intimidation; of acceptance, not hatred. The Founding Fathers - that legendary pantheon that the Right loves to invoke whenever the question of "a Christian Nation" and the Second Amendment comes up - were wise and thoughtful men, who both preached and practiced toleration at the social, religious, and racial levels. In a quote I've cited here before, George Washington made his position clear when he wrote to his agent, in the process of hiring workers for Mount Vernon:
"If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists."
Clearly, Washington judged people by their character - "If they be good workmen..." - and not by their faith, a lesson many on the Conservative Right need to learn.

This planned book burning stands in direct opposition to the principles upon which America was founded, that it's hard to see how anyone could support it on those grounds. The "Constitutional scholars"who insist on weighing in on this issue - assumedly those who learn their history and civics from Beck U. and the pretend "historian" David Barton who serves as Beck's toady-in-chief and who never met a fact he couldn't twist to his own unholy end - scream, "But they have a right under the First Amendment to burn those books! It's in the Constitution! Ha!"

Of course, they're right on that score, a point echoed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who also supports the building of the Park 51 Cultural Center) when he said:
"I don't think he would like if somebody burned a book that in his religion he thinks is holy... But the First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say that we are going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement."
Just as we protect the right of Nazis to march down the streets of Skokie, we must also protect the rights of Jones and his flock of insipid cowards to burn the Koran. That's the dark side of the First Amendment, is that it applies to those whose views we find repulsive as well as those whose views we embrace. But that also means that I have the right to denounce this Mammon-driven mountebank as a clear representation of the evil that threatens our society, and as one of America's greatest enemies. Personally, I fear people like Jones and his ilk far more than I fear any Muslim I've ever met.

So the Pastor's right to burn books is not being challenged. No official has tried to stop him from carrying out his heinous plans, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in the rest of the world.

You see, not everyone around the globe understands our system of freedoms, as such ideas are foreign to so many. They see an evil man announcing plans to burn a book that millions regard as holy and sacred. They also see that our government is not taking steps to stop him. Rather than interpreting that as the actions of a government bound by the provisions of the First Amendment, they see it as our government endorsing the actions of the hellish Pastor Jones. Many newspapers and editorials in the Middle East have called on President Obama to prevent this act of desecration; his failure to do so sends them a message - wrongly - that he, and thus America, approves of the action. I'm not saying that Obama should take steps to stop Jones's ill-conceived plan - he's doing just what he should, supporting the First Amendment while condemning the actions of a mad man - just pointing out that world affairs and perceptions are often more complicated than we realize.

And so what's the final outcome here? If Jones goes ahead with his boneheaded plan to pointlessly burn Korans, does it make the world a better place, or a worse one? What message does that send to the world? Does it reinforce the image of America as an arrogant bully, ready to roll over anyone who does not share its stated values - an image we've bee trying hard to shed since the end of the Bush administration - and, if so, is that the message we want to put out there? Is that in our best interests? I don't think so.

Consider, on the other hand, the message sent by building an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero? What message does that send to the world? I'd suggest it's a message of tolerance and acceptance, a message that America is capable of supporting the freedoms we trumpet to the rest of the world, even when that support comes at a price. It says that we are run, not by blind passions and hatred, but by an undying sense of freedom and equality for all. It says that we have learned from, and moved beyond, the mistakes of our past - mistakes like our shameful history of slavery and the chilling spectre of the Asian internment camps established during World War II - and that we embrace the very diversity that built our great nation. It says that we truly believe the things we say, and that we're willing to stand up for our founding principles and put them into action on our own soil, among our own people.

It would be one thing if we could dismiss Jones as a lone nut, spouting his hatred in a vacuum, but the sad reality is that Jones is symptomatic of a larger problem, a rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment that is sweeping this country like a tidal wave of sewage. Don't believe me? Just spend a few minutes checking out the reader responses to stories on this issue posted on the FOXNews site (truly, the Mos Eisley spaceport of the Internet, as one would be hard-pressed to find "a more wretched hive of scum and villainy"). There, hatemongers from around the country - and, presumably, around the world - feel free to spread their hate-filled rhetoric, urging everything from the burning of books to the burning of people. To them, every Muslim is a terrorist, every Koran is a terrorist training manual, and every Muslim country is the rightful target of America's nuclear might. Book burning is a fun night out for these intellectual midgets, who would probably be happy to bring back such heinous practices as lynching and concentration camps as well. To be clear: those who advocate burning books - any books - for any reason are not "good Americans." They are subhuman scum who swim in a filthy swamp of their own ignorance, desperately trying to drag the rest of the country into the fetid,stinking waters that they happily call home. They are the antithesis of all that this country stands for, and should be singled out and reviled as the vermin that they are.

There's nothing wrong with speaking your mind. That's the American way. Our country is big enough to absorb ideas from all points along the political and ideological spectrum. That's what the Freedom of Speech is all about. But book burning, the intentional silencing of speech, runs counter to that ideal. By burning a book, you're not expressing your opinion, you're silencing someone elses. If Pastor Jones feels so strongly that Islam is an evil faith, let him preach that message from his pulpit. Let him fling his absurd beliefs to the mindless rabble that, zombie-like, chose to follow him. Let him denounce the Koran until he's blue in the face. Have a good time, Terry, and don't be surprised when the rest of us exercise our right to denounce you or, better yet, ignore you.

But book burning is just all kinds of wrong. It was wrong when the Nazis did it, and it's wrong now. It's wrong in whatever context it occurs, just like the attack on September 11 was wrong. "Psycho" Sarah and "Godless" Glenn would be better served comparing the upcoming bonfire with the 9/11 attacks, as both are pointless, provocative acts without even the hint of a redeeming characteristic. The perpetrators of the upcoming book burning should be condemned as loudly and as strongly as the radicals who flew planes into American buildings. That's the apt comparison, not the planned lower Manhattan mosque.

No doubt, this is Terry Jones' 15 minutes of fame, a time he's surely relishing. His time will pass, however, and he will sink back into the obscurity he so richly deserves, not even worthy of becoming a Trivial Pursuit question in the years to come. But the effects of his actions will, no doubt, having lasting consequences, painting an unflattering picture of America in spite of the efforts of our nation's leaders to denounce the insanity.

So what can we, as ordinary American citizens do? With the end of Ramadan upon us, and the anniversary of 9/11 right around the corner, I'd urge you, wherever you are, to reach out to Muslims in your neighborhood, in an effort to counteract the bigoted assault on their beliefs. Demonstrate to them, by your actions, that Jones is an anomaly, that he does not speak for America, and that real Americans support the principles of freedom and liberty enshrined in our founding documents.

In short, don't let the terrorists - like Pastor Terry Jones - win.


  1. As someone who is a Republican but tries to keep an open mind, you are not doing a great job of convincing me of your point of view.

    I can summarize your blog postings as follows:
    1. Muslim’s are good (except the ones who want to kill us).
    2. Christian’s (all of them) are bad.
    3. I really, really, really don’t like Glenn Beck.
    4. I really, really, really don’t like Sarah Palin.

    I was out to dinner with a friend of mine about three weeks ago and we had a respectful political discussion. He is an admitted liberal Democrat, and I am a right of center Republican and have libertarian leanings on most social issues. I told him that people on the left do not come up with good ideas of their own (or they do not do a good job of articulating them), and most on the left resort to attacking commentators, Conservative politicians, etc. and as a result I do not take them seriously. My friend asked me to read your blog as proof that I was wrong, and I agreed to do so for three weeks.

    Well last night when we went out to dinner again and I brought up your blog and he admitted he was embarrassed. Why? Because your blog posts the last three weeks proved that I was right and that most of your posts just attack those who do not agree with you. If you want to convince me or other readers, make your arguments and let the reader come to their own conclusion about those people and institutions you clearly dislike.

  2. Thanks for writing. I think you've oversimplified the points I've made in service of your own argument.
    1. Yep, except for the radical extremist Muslims that are trying to kill us, Muslims are good. Why would anyone take exception to that?
    2. I've never claimed that all Christians are bad, and I think you're willfully twisting what I've written to make a point. I have a big issue with close-minded dogmatists who would force their beliefs upon the rest of society simply to further their own agenda, but I'm at a loss as to how you've extended that to "all Christians." I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, so this is an issue which constantly confronts me, and one that I feel strongly about. I think faith and religion are fine, as long as it's a private thing. Don't ask me to bow to your god, and we'll be fine.
    3 & 4. Well, you got me on those two. I really, really, really don't like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, as I feel they represent the worst of America, both intellectually and politically. I won't apologize for speaking out against them.

    I also won't apologize for speaking out against ignorant nutcases like Pastor Terry Jones, who sees Koran burning as an appropriate act. As far as coming to your own conclusions about things, how does anything I've written contravene that? Make up your own mind, have your own thoughts, even post a reply here, it's all good. These are my opinions and my thoughts; you're welcome to read them or not, to agree with them or not. At best, I'm trying to start the discussion. If you'd like to comment again, citing specific examples of things I've written that you find particularly objectionable, feel free, but your note seems to be merely an exercise in attacking someone who doesn't agree with you.

  3. Thanks for the reply, nothing personal I’m not trying to attack you. I’m sure you are a nice guy. Obviously my first paragraph was hyperbole and I didn’t mean to place you in a box regarding your beliefs. I don’t really think you think all Christian’s are bad.

    I guess I would ask, what is the point of your blog? Are you “preaching to the choir” and your blog is for those who agree with you, or are you trying to be more editorial in approach and win over moderates and those to the right of you? Either approach is fine. My point is that if you are trying to win over those in the middle to your camp, the constant attacks on Palin, and Beck will not help that cause. Most “traditional American’s” have a favorable view regarding Beck and Palin, they see a parent, citizen, or someone who shares the same values that they do. Sure, they may not agree with everything they say and do. However, most American’s can see themselves at a back yard barbeque with the Palin’s or Glenn Beck as opposed to say Howard Dean.

    So when someone reads your blog and consistently sees the “I hate Palin and Beck” rhetoric most people will be turned off immediately. They will place you in a box and say the author of this blog is a left wing nut and not listen to your arguments. In addition, when you say Palin and Beck are stupid you are implying that those Americans that can relate to Beck and Palin are stupid as well. I disagree politically with Obama. However, I do not view him as “stupid”. I have a different value system and worldview as he does. I disagree with him on policy; I do not question his intelligence. Saying things like “I feel they represent the worst of America, both INTELLICTUALLY (emphasis added) and politically,” will turn off many moderates and they will see you as a typical liberal ideologue beating the “you are too stupid to see how smart us liberals are” drum.

    So in closing, you are entitled to write anything you want in your blog, I am just giving my humble opinion. Again, nothing personal. Best wishes to you

  4. Thanks for clarifying. You raise some interesting points here.

    As to the "point" of this blog, I'm not sure there's an answer to that, aside from it being my space to express my views on issues I feel strongly about. I have no illusions about "converting" anyone; I"m not that important. What I do hope is that reading what I have to say might start a conversation somewhere and contribute to the good in that way. I've never claimed to be a journalist, or to present a "fair and balanced" view of the issues I discuss. That kind of thing is better left to others. I'm simply trying start the conversation. Whether anyone out there agrees with me, or values what I say is entirely out of my hands.

    I take your point about "average Americans" relating to Beck and Palin, and that's one of the things that scares me the most about this country right now, and one of the reasons I'm so vociferous in my attacks on those two, as I see them as the embodiment of everything that's wrong with America. They both have made careers out of spreading lies, half-truths, and a distorted view of history that, as I see it, contributes to a national culture of anti-intellectualism, paranoia, exclusionism, and intolerance. Sarah's rant about "death panels" is a perfect example. Her claims had absolutely no basis in truth, and yet people bought her rhetoric hook, line, and sinker, derailing an important debate about Health Care over a fabricated non-issue. And what about the recent report that shows 20-25% of people in this country believe Obama to be a Muslim, despite all the evidence to the contrary, or the persistent belief that he was born in Kenya? Can any educated, intelligent, thinking person characterize these claims as anything but sheer stupidity? Worse yet, I think these things are symptomatic of a greater national stupidity that I find alarming. My fear is that Americans have lost the ability to think critically, content to absorb whatever demagogues like Palin and Beck put in their heads. Beck is now actively promoting his online "Beck University," spreading ignorance in the guise of education (because American Universities are nothing more than reeducation camps. Really?), aided and abetted by David Barton, a "historian" who has been disavowed by most of the legitimate historical community. Sorry, but I think it's fair to speak out against this type of thing, and speak out strongly.

    If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend you watch "A Face in the Crowd," an old movie with Andy Griffith as a charismatic media personality. That, to me, is the essence of Back and Palin, cynically manipulating the masses for their own gain. I don't see a value in pussyfooting around that; I chose to confront what they're doing head on and call it what it is. I reject the claim that those of us with a higher education are "elite," and somehow out of touch with mainstream America. I reject the simplistic, facile answers that these pundits provide. I reject their championing of anti-intellectualism and their rewriting of history to conform with their own agendas. The interpretation of history may be something we can disagree about, the facts are not.

    If nothing else, I want American's to regain the ability to question and to dissect the things that are being said to find the truth within. I'm concerned that we are rapidly becoming a nation of sheep, all too willing to lead our appointed shepherds, on both the left and the right, to the slaughter.

    Why single out Beck and Palin? Because they are the vanguard of this movement. I really don't see such zealous demagogues on the Left, or I'd be happy to criticize them, too. All I'm asking people to do, and I've said this in several posts, is think for themselves.

    I hope that addresses the issues you raised. Please feel free to write anytime and take part in the discussion. I really do value dissenting opinions here.