As some of you may have already heard, a church in Florida is planning on hosting a mass book-burning this upcoming weekend. To commemorate September 11th, they're inviting their members to purchase - and burn - a copy of the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an.
Understandably, this has sparked a firestorm of controversy. U.S. General David Patraeus is urging the church not to go through with the event, reasoning that "Images of the burning of a Qur'an would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence."
He went on to say, "Even the rumour that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday. 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."
There are several aspects of this story that strike me as intriguing:
Point #1: The whole message of the book-burning demonstration is to protest the violent tactics of Muslim extremists. And yet, American citizens - on American soil - are being encouraged to self-muzzle, to stifle their own right to self-expression and free speech, in their own country, out of fear that the culture being protested will react with violence. But that violence is precisely what people are trying to protest. A violent reaction would simply prove that the protestors were justified.
If the cure for racism and bigotry is to shine a light on it and expose it, why is the cure for violence silence and self-censorship?
Point #2: Doesn't the Muslim world see how Gen. Patraeus's warning make them look like crazed, violent, irrational barbarians? The warning itself presupposes that Muslim extremists have such violent natures, and so little self-control and intelligence, that's it's a foregone conclusion that they will react with violence. Unsurprisingly, many in the Muslim world have already proven this to be exactly the case. But shouldn't that assumption anger a rational, peaceful person? If someone admitted that they choose their words carefully around you, because they're worried you'll get angry and become violent, wouldn't that offend you? Or would you agree, and say, "Yup, you're probably right, I'm a hothead, don't get me mad!" Don't they see how being the recipient of such special treatment singles them out as the crazy, excitable kid whom cannot be reasoned with? And wouldn't they want to dispell that perception?
If a mosque in Tehran planned a Bible burning protest, would Ahmadinejad caution against it, for fear of inciting violent reprisal from Christian extremists around the world? The notion is absurd. The world perceives Muslims as an excitable, violent mob, but the reverse is not true. Why doesn't such a negative double-standard provoke Muslims to do something to alter that perception?
Point #3: If General Patraeus is worried about the reaction his soldiers will face from Muslims in Afghanistan, then I have an absurdly simple solution: Get your soldiers out of their country. Problem solved. No more soliders at risk. A growing portion of society has been calling for this for years already.
Point #4: General Patraeus said that if the protest goes ahead, then the "accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult." What "mission" is he talking about? Because I was under the impression that, in the months after 9/11, the objective of the "mission" was clearly to strike back at those who attacked the US, and defeat them. Now, he's making it sound like the "mission" is to establish a peaceful, friendly relationship with those who not only already attacked us, but have made it abundantly clear they'll do it again if we so much as burn a book or draw a cartoon of their prophet.
It seems to me that if the mission was still to "defeat" them, then upsetting them by burning a book would be inconsequential with regard to the war effort. I would think invading their land and shooting their soldiers would upset them a great deal more than burning a few copies of their book, half a world away.
But if the mission has surreptitiously evolved to making friends with them, then I'm unconvinced that that's an achievable objective. Why do we care so much what these irrational, violent, misogynistic, anachronistic barbarians think about us, anyway? We already know what they think about us. THEY HATE US. I thought they made that pretty clear on 9/11.
Every day, newspapers are filled with stories of the latest, crazy antics of this culture. A judge considers deliberately severing a criminal's spine to paralyze him under the "Eye for an eye" clause of Sharia law. An adult Canadian woman is held hostage in Saudi Arabia because her father won't grant her permission to leave the country. A couple is stoned to death in a village in Afghanistan for having the gall to fall in love with each other, instead of the individuals chosen by their parents. Again and again, we hear tales that seem like they were torn from the pages of a medieval work of fiction. But these didn't happen 500 years ago - they just happened this year. 2010. Those things are all actual news stories that happened in the past couple of months! While the Western world is passing universal health care, another culture is literally banning pop music (Iran). It's incredible.
And yet, even in the face of all that lunacy, we're still encouraged to treat these folks as our intellectual equals. We're told that just because their way is different doesn't mean their way is inferior. We're supposed to be tolerant and accepting of all cultures in this multicultural melting pot. But even as we put on a brave face and pretend to accept the insanity bubbling out of the desert, deep down in our hearts we all know it's crazy. It's just not politically correct to say it out loud.
Don't misunderstand - I'm not intolerant of individual Muslims. In fact, I have a great deal of respect for the Muslims I meet in my day-to-day life. These are the ones who looked around at their country, saw how crazy it was, and decided to move somewhere more rational. I believe the immigrants you run into in your daily lives are the smart ones, the ones who got out. However, that also has an unfortunate corrolary effect. If the smart, rational Muslims flee their homelands, that just leaves the crazy, irrational ones to run the show back home. It increases the density of the "craziness" in the mother country, leaving them free reign to continue their insane ways.