The Pastor of a small Florida church has been hitting the headlines over the past few days over his plan to burn copies of the Qu’ran on the 11th of September in protest against the proposed Islamic centre to be built close to Ground Zero in New York.
Terry Jones has received direct appeals from President Obama, castigation from Hilary Clinton and direct condemnation from the leaders of several Islamic states over the plan. This if nothing else has ensured maximum publicity for his opposition to the Islamic Centre, plus I am sure he is relishing the attention.
It is of course a tawdry protest for a measly cause. There is no purpose other than blatant prejudice served by opposing the building and burning Qu’rans and to my mind this and only this is the reason to condemn the protest.
What is not a good reason to condemn the protest is the fear that it will incite Muslims to violence. There is a free speech issue here, which says that the right to express an opinion, no matter how misguided should not be stifled by the fear of violent retribution, and religious extremists in particular should not be given the message that threats of terrorism will silence criticism of their actions.
Unfortunately this is exactly the message that the U.S administration is sending, with Barack Obama saying it would be a "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaeda and David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, warned of retaliatory action against US troops after protests took place in the capital Kabul at which effigies of Jones were burned alongside the American flag.
Now there is no doubt that it is particularly easy to offend Muslims in this way, but that is no reason not to do it when appropriate. For example Everybody Draw Mohammed Day was a particularly apposite protest against censorship of the television show, South Park, an episode of which attracted death threats for portraying the prophet.
The reason the Qu’ran burning is not appropriate is that, although the Pastor is attempting to frame this as free speech, the action has nothing to do with his right to protest against something he doesn’t like. Terry Jones is perfectly entitled to argue against the siting of the Islamic Centre through any forum he likes; burning the Qu’ran is a stunt and an irrelevence with deliberate intent to offend and incite hatred.
To any rational person the burning of any number of mass-produced “holy” texts, be the Bible, Qu’ran or Gita is a trivial act, more damned by the waste of resources than anything else. To the religious mind it’s a sacrilege so you might think a Christian Pastor would think twice before engaging in this kind of idiocy. After all wouldn’t he be offended if Bibles started to be burnt all over the Middle East?
As of today the burning is in his words “on hold”. If he backs down I hope that it will be because he realises what a mean minded protest it is and not because of threats of reprisal.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"