Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"International Burn a Qur'an Day" Highlights Scary Trend

Reports out of Florida this past week are that the Dove World Outreach Center, a non-denominational Christian house of worship in Gainesville, plans to hold “International Burn a Qur’an Day” on 11 September. The church’s pastor, Dr. Terry Jones, went on a publicity tour to promote the three-hour “remembrance” in the past week.

Last Thursday, Mr. Jones appeared on CNN speaking with anchor Rick Sanchez about the upcoming day. In the interview, the pastor claimed, “We believe that Islam is of the devil. It is causing billions of people to go to hell. It is a deceptive religion; it is a violent religion… There are moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as a moderate Islam.” As is far too often the case, Terry Jones’ inflammatory rhetoric serves only to exacerbate the tensions between Islam and Christianity. By speaking from a position of Christian religious authority, Jones risks speaking for all Christians, something that other evangelical Christian organizations made sure he did not do.

The same day as the above interview, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a press release urging the Dove World Outreach Center to reconsider hosting the event. The release pointed out that “the plans recently announced by a Florida group to burn copies of the Qur’an on September 11 show disrespect for our Muslim neighbors.” The press release goes on to quote the Bible, saying, “’make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.’” (1 Thessalonians 5:15) The NAE statement attempts to disassociate the actions of Jones’ church from those of the larger American Christian community as a whole.

The man interviewing the pastor, CNN’s Rick Sanchez, himself a practicing Christian, ended the interview by telling Mr. Jones, “You do Christians in this country a disservice by sounding as hateful as you do and saying that you’re going to perform hateful acts as you say you are for people who may not necessarily believe the things you say they do.” Sanchez’ counter here is spot-on. Jones is trying to speak as a spokesman of the Christian American community – a position no one bestowed upon him, but which the media is promoting by constantly hosting his hateful rhetoric on its airwaves.

One of the remarks Jones made during this interview made significantly less sense and was more troubling to me as a viewer than the rest of his talking points. About halfway through the interview, the pastor says, “There are moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as a moderate Islam.” First of all, this point is mystifying. What exactly is Jones trying to say with this comment? If there is no such thing as a moderate Islam, how can there possibly moderate Muslims, who are followers of Islam? Is he casting these so-called “moderate Muslims” as simply less-believing than their radical, Islam-following brothers and sisters? Do true, non-moderate, supposedly violent Muslims instead espouse the real beliefs of a religion that has been so often called “a religion of peace?” He can’t possibly believe this… can he?

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this quote is that I honestly think that Mr. Jones was trying to come off as understanding and tolerant by allowing that, yes, he thought there were “moderate Muslims.” But the attempt totally backfires when you look deeper at just how inflammatory this statement is. This is but one example of Jones’ confusing, rambling rant against Islam during the interview. He contradicts himself again when saying “We are saying ‘stop’ to Islam,” which is followed up with, “We have nothing against Muslims, they are welcome in our country.” How can we possibly say “stop” to something while simultaneously welcoming it?

Setting aside the ridiculous implicit assumption that all Muslims must be foreign, the worst part about all of this, of course, is that Mr. Jones is only one of many conservative speakers who are becoming part of a broad and evolving offensive against Islam in all of its forms, not just the radicals who pervert the religion. Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and others are speaking up against the “deceptive [and] violent” religion they claim Muslims adhere to. They are spurred on by news stories like the proposed mosques in New York City, Murfreesboro (TN), Temecula (CA), and Sheboygan (WI), and preemptive city council proposals in Oklahoma and Virginia which are aimed to stop the supposed “invasion” of Islamic law into the United States.

These talkers who constantly drone on about the “threat” that Islam poses to America are truly missing the point. Their reasons for spewing such hateful rhetoric usually flows from one of two possible places: either they are up for election in the coming months and feel that such rhetoric will appeal to some segment of the masses, or they gain a loyal following from being sensationalistic and causing public controversy.

The latter seems to be the source of Pastor Jones’ vile words and actions. His Dove World Outreach Center’s main sources of notoriety are their infamous protests mocking the sexual orientation of the mayor of Gainesville, Florida and their distribution of “Islam is of the Devil” shirts in local schools. Whatever his illogical reasoning behind “Burn a Qur’an Day,” I can’t possibly see what good Mr. Jones could possibly think will come out of such a demonstration. I read recently that he is welcoming local Muslims to join him in the “remembrance” on 11 September (which, by the way, may fall on Eid-al-Fitr, the second largest holiday on the Islamic calendar and which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan). If Terry Jones has any true desire to promote interfaith respect – or even if he just has any common sense – he would listen to the complaints by numerous religious authorities from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hindu backgrounds and cancel the inflammatory event.

But, then again, when was the last time someone like Pastor Terry Jones showed any common sense? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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