Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quran Burning, Islamic Centers, and What The Hell Happened to America?

Can we, as intelligent Americans, stop hiding behind double standards and bigotry and tell it like it is for once? I find myself beyond frustrated that folks in the U.S. say one thing, mean something else, and obfuscate behind a third thing. Case in point #1 is the Quran-burning Florida pastor.

If you remove the religious context and the faux patriotic fervor surrounding the incident, it sounds a LOT like blackmail: "I/we are going to do 'x' unless you give us/do 'y'." I will burn these copies of the Quran unless you move your planned Islamic Center away from the former site of the World Trade Center." To me, this is a clear case of blackmail and hateful behavior; let's explore this in more detail, shall we?

Let's start at the beginning: does Reverend Jones have the right to burn the Quran? I believe he does under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has long argued that individuals have the right to burn the U.S. Flag; in Texas v Johnson 491, U.S. 397 the sharply divided (5-4) court indicated that this act was symbolic speech and, thus, protected under the First Amendment. However, does the burning of a religion's Holy Book violate a practitioner's First Amendment rights to freedom of religion? There's a fine line here, and I could argue both sides of the argument. However, I will presume for the moment that Reverend Johnson is legally protected in his pyromaniac-state and examine this act from two alternate perspectives.

How does a Christian promote the desecration of something sacred to someone else? Except in very rare circumstances, this simply should not happen. Heck, if a FRATERNITY can understand such a simple concept, how can one of the most populous religions on the planet get it so terribly wrong? (We believe that the essential elements of true brotherhood are Love, Charity, and Esteem... Esteem, that is respectful to the honest conviction of others and that refrains from treading upon that which is sacred to spirit and conscience...) Burning the Holy Book of a religion is not charitable, it is not loving, and it is not just; it is an act of cravenness that seeks to benefit from people's cherished belief systems by threatening something very dear to them.

Perhaps a simple way to explore this is to reverse the situation. Imagine if an Imam from a small mosque in, say, Seattle, were to threaten to burn copies of the King James Bible unless the Islamic Center were allowed to be built at the proposed location? I cannot imagine that folks would not be OUTRAGED and DEMAND justice? Assuming that would be the case (and I am VERY comfortable in betting on that outcome), then we have to ask ourselves "Why is it okay to threaten to burn the Quran to obtain a particular outcome when threatening to burn the Bible to obtain an outcome would be very NOT okay?" There are three answers to this question.

1. The Bible > The Quran. This perspective should be self-explanatory. There is no rational justification to rank or quantify the relative importances of religions. Therefore, the Bible is no more nor no less important that the Quran, and neither deserves protection nor denigration more or less than the other.

2. Moving the Islamic Center away from "Ground Zero" > moving the Islamic Center towards "Ground Zero". I believe this argument flawed for so many reasons, but at least this is not so obvious as to be self-explanatory. I'll discuss this more below.

3. It is NOT okay to burn the Quran (or the Bible, or the Torah, or the Tripitaka, or the vedas, or anything else sacred) in order to achieve political aims. I believe this to be THE one correct answer, and I invite any who disagree to discuss with me why they disagree; please post a comment and I will answer in kind.

Now, on to the real issue here: the Islamic Center planned for New York City (perhaps near the former site of the World Trade Center, perhaps not). I'll start by asking why SHOULDN'T there be an Islamic Center near "Ground Zero"? Here is the most common answer I've heard:

  • The area is "Hallowed Ground" and that putting an Islamic Center there would insult and dishonor the memories of the victims of the 9/11 attack.
How so? 45 Park Place (the proposed location of the Center) has belonged to Marty's Shoes, Inc. and, before that, to the Burlington Coat Factory; neither makes me think of saintly turf. Nearby is the Dakota Roadhouse, a couple of other small restaurants, and the New York Dolls Gentlemen's Club. Really? We are fighting to preserve the sanctity of fast food, bars, and strippers?

No; what folks are referring to, and afraid to say because they know how bad it sounds, is that having an Islamic Center so near the location where so many people lost their lives at the hand of Islamic terrorists offends them. So why is this? Do people really believe that the terrorists' behavior reflects the tenants of Islam? If so, then people need to get out and read more. The Islamic Faith no more promotes that type of behavior than the Bible does; how many folks perpetrate horrific deeds in the name of God? How many of those people are actually carrying out God's Will?

Having the Islamic Center 2 blocks, 6 blocks, 10 blocks, or on top of, "Ground Zero" won't offend the spirits of those who died there; each and every one of those people were murdered by terrorists carrying out some plot. They are not martyrs; they are victims, killed by madmen intent on destroying our way of life. We cannot let the insane win; we need to remember who we are as Americans and that we protect ALL of our citizens. It took the efforts of Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Stanton, and many others to fight for the rights of women in our country; we finally realized we needed to protect those rights. It took the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, and many others to fight for the rights of African-Americans in our country; we finally realized we needed to protect those rights. It took the efforst of Rudolfo Gonzales, Reies Tijerina, Cesar Chavez, and many others to fight for the rights of Latinos in our country; we finally realized we needed to protect those rights. It has taken the efforts of Brenda Howard, Harvey Milk, Paul Goodman, Mark Segal, and many others to fight for the rights of homosexuals in our country; we seem to finally be realizing we need to protect these rights.

The U.S. was founded on religious freedom; many of the first settlers were Puritans seeking a place they could worship and live in peace. How then, more than 300 years since they arrived, are we still hung up on this? Muslims are no more likely to be Al Qaeda than Christians are likely to be Klu Klux Klan. We, as a people, need to step up and say enough. We, as people, need to accept our mantle of responsibility and acknowledge that The American Dream needs protecting, and that it is our job to protect it.