This past week, as we remembered the tragedy of 9/11, there was much more animosity toward the Islamic faith than in anniversaries past. Deep-seated emotions tied into the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Centers, Pentagon, and Flight 93 meshed with newfound apprehension and anger as the controversy of building an Islamic Community Center has taken center stage in recent news (no it is not a mosque, no it is not solely for Muslims, and no it is not directly on Ground Zero). However, despite the ongoing battle of that war, we won a small battle of our own last week when a Florida pastor of a small, insignificant Christian community declared that he would burn a collection of Qu'rans on the nine-year mark of the terrorist attacks on the US.
Pastor Terry Jones had planned a protest that involved the fiery desecration of the holy book of Islam, arguing that he was upset about the building of the "mosque" so close to the former site of the Twin Towers (about the same time last year he sported an "Islam is of the Devil" shirt long before such plans were revealed. Methinks I see a pattern). Despite the fact that his small church had no more than 35 regular parishioners, this tiny congregation garnered worldwide attention in what would later be called an "epic fail" on the media's part as he received the acknowledgment he so desperately sought. As news of his plans spread across the globe, protests ensued where demonstrations of pastoral effigies, pleas for Obama's death, and US flag burning flooded the streets of various Muslim countries.
Initially when I read of Jones' plans, I was appalled and angered. But, being the proponent for free speech that I am through the good and the bad, and truly believing this act could not be stopped, all I could do was implore my Muslim friends to ignore it so to not give this fool what he wanted: a reaction. However, seeing the protests and the fury he managed to elicit from the world, I realized simply ignoring him was not going to be an adequate solution. I watched as attitudes toward the US soured even more, and was deeply offended by the burning of my nation's banner. However, the one thing that disturbed me the most was a quote a young man from Kabul made during their protests, stating, "we know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States."
Now hold on there, Scooter. Much like Muslims don't like to be overgeneralized with terrorists, Americans don't take kindly to being lopped in with hateful, bigoted Christian extremists either. Ironically, it took the threat of burning a holy book for us to prove it.
Many non-Muslims took a stand against this "Burn a Qu'ran Day", some of public persuasion (that nice Jolie woman), some of considerable power on their own (Sen. Clinton), and many of considerable power combined (the rest of us). Petitions were signed, Facebook pages were created and liked, and anti-burning protests took place all over the globe. Gradually, as dissent grew, one of two reasons pushed Jones to cancel the burning: either he realized how foolish he'd been and gathered together with the local mosque to hold hands and sing Kumbaya (it could happen, with faith and love...or some LSD and that damn Barney song), or after pressure from the government due to the possibility of endangering Americans abroad, he backed down. Whatever the reason, it was over, and he desperately tried to save face by claiming that he accomplished his goal by showing the radical side of Islam, but actually only demonstrated that thanks to today's media principles, any idiot can get on TV.
Naturally, as with any failed attempt to be a jackass, there are many more who leap at the opportunity to fulfill the prophecy. Another mock demonstration in Texas ended abruptly when a young skateboarder snatched a doomed copy of the Qu'ran, already soaked in lighter fluid, from a Christian fundamentalist group who had planned to burn it on a barbecue in a park. Protesters of all backgrounds, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists gathered for a protest organized by a Unitarian church and even laid their hands over the grill of the barbecue to prevent the fundamentalist group from lighting it. The book was not retrieved and the burning was cancelled.
I've come to believe that there is nothing more powerful for a cause than having people who won't directly benefit from its success or suffer from its failure add their voices to it. When you fall into the median of any great dispute, it is your responsibility to facilitate a mutual understanding, a compromise, a peace treaty, or just simple tolerance of one another. We are the ones who must bridge the gap between those polarizing to either ends of the argument. I believe this was well demonstrated here and hopefully showed the world's Muslims that they were not the only ones hurt and angered, and they were not the only ones fighting the burning of this book.
Now I've spoken before on my feelings of holy items and the importance that religions place on inanimate objects, but for those who don't remember or didn't read it, I hardly care for it. I don't believe these physical possessions bring us closer to God, no matter what sentiment has been tied to them. I believe that our connection to God comes only from the strength of our souls and our hearts. Yes, these books act as guiding lights for those who follow them (I'm spiritual, not religious, and choose not to have a book), however it is not the book itself that is important, but the message that you find inside. The pages, the covers, the binding, are not God's, and so long as you carry that message in your heart, no one can ever truly burn it. As one person wrote: "the living Qu'ran, who are all those with pure hearts, is untouched". Because I believe that more people will try to mimick this event and accomplish it, I caution you all to keep this in mind, to rise above the madness and turn away from the ignorance. Then you will be untouchable.
Despite the anger, disbelief, and frustration this entire ordeal stirred up, I do believe that some good came from it, and will go so far as to say that this was necessary for us to find our mutually shared humanity. In what could be our flickering light of hope, when this evil ignorance reared its ugly head, suddenly we came crawling from beneath our rocks and gathered together to fight it, rather than sitting at home on the couch, watching the news and sadly shaking our heads. It called us to action and ultimately, good prevailed. Perhaps we humans have a chance after all.