Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Burning the Qur'an

The incident with the Pentecostal pastor in Gainesville FL who planned to stage a bonfire of copies of the Qur'an as his way to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks left me pretty much feeling grumpy all the way around.

I was glad to see that once it became an international issue, that the Vatican and other Christian leaders condemned the planned action. Christians should object when people like Pastor Terry Jones use Christianity to promote hatred, bigotry and violence. Lord knows there has been far, far too much of that in the history of Christianity already.

As much as Jones' book-burning project disgusts me, I also have to shake my head over the idea that Muslims in some parts of the world might be ready to respond to such a protest with violent attacks on Americans or anyone else. His proposed protest would have been a symbolic act, however sinful Muslims or other Christians might regard it to be. Such reactions can create a situation where a jerk and bad Christian like Terry Jones suddenly become significant players in international politics for no good reason and having nothing constructive to contribute.

Of course, provoking people to think of Muslims as irrational and mindlessly violent is part of what creeps like Jones hope to do with such protests.

So it's worth remembering, as Juan Cole reminds us in Afghans Demonstrate Against US Quran-Burning That Never Happened Informed Comment 09/12/2010 that the large protests were mainly in Afghanistan, where there is a war going on:

... it seems clear to me in any case that the threat of Quran-burning by a few dozen kooks in the US is only a pretext for these demonstrations, which inevitably are actually about the grievances of Afghans under foreign military occupation. That is why the story of the plans for burning the Quran has brought people into the streets in Aghanistan to protest in impressive numbers (in contrast to most other parts of the Muslim world, where there were no similarly-sized rallies). [my emphasis]
He further observes in 2 Dead in Afghan Protests Against American Quran-Burning Plans Informed Comment 09/13/2010:

In the past week, thousands of Afghans have protested American Christian fundamentalist plans to burn the Qur'an in commemoration of the September 11 attacks. There is every reason to believe that the protests have been so widespread in Afghanistan in part because of the upcoming parliamentary elections of September 18 and because of the widespread insurgency against the American and NATO troop presence and the US-backed Karzai government. That is, this is not an essentialist story of Muslims being touchy about their religion but rather has a specific context in Western military dominance of Afghan society.
There are also some real Constitutional issues involved in the Jones Qur'an-burning case. Muslims and Christians have a right to practice their religion. And people have the right to freedom of speech, including the kind of freedom of symbolic speech involved in burning a Qur'an, a Bible or an American flag as a protest. And I do regard our Savior-General David Petraeus' comment on it completely inappropriate for a military commander:

"I am very concerned by the potential repercussions of the possible (Quran) burning. Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday," Petraeus said in his message. "Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult." Petraeus: Burning Qurans Could Endanger Troops CBS News 09/07/2010
As Glenn Greenwald puts it in Various Matters Salon 09/08/2010:

I share Adam Serwer's discomfort with David Petraeus' purporting to instruct us all on what is and is not appropriate speech based on the danger it creates for troops; that's the same rationale used to demonize war opponents (they embolden the Enemy) and justify suppression of torture photos (disclosure would cause harm to the troops), among other things. And while I'm glad to see civilian administration officials speaking out against anti-Muslim bigotry on the ground that it inflames anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world (though there should be no question -- none -- that a Church has the absolute right to burn Korans under several First Amendment guarantees), Blue Texan's observation is quite true:

Well, yes -- burning Korans is deeply stupid and inflammatory. But, um, so is haphazardly invading, bombing, Predator striking, torturing, and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people, just for the hell of it.
It's a bit strange to watch American officials express such profound concern over the way in which a Koran burning may inflame anti-American sentiment while they simultaneously pursue policies which create precisely that sentiment on a
much, much larger scale
It's also an inappropriate attempt by a serving general to overtly influence American politics.

Like I say, the incident left me feeling grumpy all around.

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