Friday, September 10, 2010

The Apex of Crazy: Terry Jones and the Quran of Fire

There is blood on Pastor Terry Jones' hands.

The last time I did an Apex of Crazy post was also about book burning, and of the Bible no less, so it seems only right to weigh in on this while it's still a current topic. I'm not even sure whether I can give Jones credit for canceling his planned event, to burn copies of the Quran at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida on September 11. He's been weaseling around on the issue in recent days, calling it off when he claimed that he'd brokered a deal to stop the proposed Park51 Islamic community center a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. He's now waffled because the imam he spoke with said he doesn't have the authority to make such a deal, and merely offered to open a channel of communication on that issue. Jones, of course, has whined that he was lied to, but who is more believable: the man who said he single-handedly resolved one of the most controversial issues of the day or the Florida imam who said he can't influence New York politics?

So now the event is merely "suspended," with the less principled half of Jones' church (you know, the one that hasn't deserted him over this issue) apparently waiting on his e-mail to say whether it's a go or not.

Even if the event does not occur, the uproar over the planned burning of the Islamic holy book has resulted in at least one death. A riot broke out in Afghanistan today on the eve of the planned burning, and one man was shot as protesters burned an American flag and hurled rocks at a NATO base. Word of Jones' idea spread from the local area to the region to the nation to the world. His church has become a world outreach center all right, but it has resulted only in condemnation and hatred from all quarters of the globe. It would be improper to say the rioters had no responsibility in the casualties that occurred in Afghanistan, but Jones' threat was the root cause of their actions.

The issue has a number of different nuances. People have complained of a double standard, not just in this matter but in general, regarding jokes and swipes that can be taken at Christianity but not at Islam. There's the argument that it's an issue of free speech, and that Jones has the right to burn the Quran, or the Bible or Harry Potter or any book he sees fit to torch. Despite the fact that I thoroughly denounce Jones and disagree with him wholly, I also find it rather malicious that he's been made the subject of a rumor suggesting that he was arrested for child pornography. Several media reports have been defensive in light of accusations that coverage of the pastor is fanning the flames of hatred, saying social media is a key factor in the story's spread; indeed, word would likely get out even if every news agency decided not to report the story, and the old cliche about not shooting the messenger certainly applies to the media here. I can only hope that a proposal this rash will dull the anti-Muslim sentiment in this country and blunt its frightening increase in intensity.

In the end, Jones is just a full-blown hypocrite. He's an opponent of the Ground Zero community center, but he wants to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001 by an act of hatred rather than remembrance. Any act of book burning is an attempt to strangle free speech, so he can hardly argue that point. And finally, he doesn't even have a permit to stage the burning, so it becomes a legal rather than a constitutional issue if it proceeds.

One wonders if Jones, about 13 years younger and sprightlier than hatemonger Fred Phelps, is simply looking to usurp the title of King Douche.

"If chance may have me king, why chance may crown me. Er, I mean, God hates you! Fag!"

Let's imagine what might have happened if Jones hadn't staged this whole charade. He wouldn't have gotten his 15 minutes of fame, but he would at least have his whole flock. And a man in Afghanistan would still be alive.

He may have respectfully asked people to remember 9/11, the people who died, and given a little spiritual guidance on the events of that day and what people can do to make the world a better place. That, in the end, is what religion is all about. It is people like Jones, like Phelps, like the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, like anyone who squeezes the words of any religious text and makes poison drip out, that turn religion from a guide into a weapon.