Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Cannot Tolerate Intolerance

Yesterday, a protest in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif ended with seven UN workers and four protesters dead. What were they protesting? This guy:

Terry "Koran-Burning" Jones

His name is Terry Jones (no relation to the Monty Python actor) and he's the pastor of a church in Gainesville, FL. He's also, to be quite honest, a racist prick. This notorious Islamophobe threatened to burn a stack of Korans this past September 11th and only held off because Robert Gates of all people told him not to. That's right, folks, the Secretary of Bloody Defense had to stop this guy from causing an international incident. This is the level of crazy we're talking about.

Last week Jones finally lived up to his psycho promise and burned a Koran (story here). After Friday prayers yesterday, a group of Muslims in Mazar-i-Sharif, angered by the pastor's actions, marched up to a UN building and began a peaceful protest. No one's exactly sure how the protest turned to violence--some say that guards outside the building started shooting, others are blaming armed insurgents who took advantage of the situation--but by the end of it all, 11 people were dead (see NPR's story here) and a whole bunch of people were angry. Seems like Robert Gates was right, huh Terry?

Now, let me say that I am in no way condoning the actions of the protesters nor am I playing down the seriousness of the deaths of almost a dozen people. My real point to posting about this is to show that perhaps the butterfly effect isn't such a crazy idea. Jones' ugly butterfly flapped its holy-book-desecrating wings in Florida and a tornado of violence ensued in Afghanistan. Tensions and anti-American sentiment are already heightened in that country because of things like this--the murders of innocent Afghans by five sadistic US soldiers. Is it really necessary to inflame anger even more by doing something as wholly unforgivable as burning a sacred text?

Anyone who has seen the film A Time to Kill will remember Matthew McConaughey's brilliant speech at the end of movie. It's one of my favorite moments in movie history. He asks the jury to close their eyes and he describes, in detail, the brutal rape of a young black girl. He gets them picturing the horrific scene in their heads and then he says:
Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now...imagine she's white.
It is an incredibly powerful and emotional scene and it really drives home the racism inherent in our society. These people are ready to hang Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) for murdering the men who brutalized his daughter simply because he was an African American man who killed some white guys. McConaughey's character, Jake Brigance, knows that the only way to make the jury change their minds is to drive home the point that this could be their daughter, their little white daughter.

The Koran-burning situation is rather similar. How would you feel if the book being burned was a Bible? Or a Torah? Or whatever your own religious text is? I'm not saying that you would go out and commit a violent act because of it but wouldn't you feel the same anger, the same sense of utter outrage?

Picture this as a big ol' Bible barbecue and tell me you wouldn't be angry.

Regardless of who is to blame for the violence in Afghanistan, the overarching blame belongs to everyone. How many people have said disparaging things about Muslims, despite the fact that the majority of Muslims played no part in the events of September 11th? How many people supported Peter King's hearing on Muslim radicalization even though there are radicals in every religion in this country and none of them were being singled out? To put this into perspective, around the same time that King was holding his McCarthyesque hearings, the Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church had freedom of speech and could therefore continue with their senseless protests of funerals around the country, including the funeral of the nine-year-old girl killed in the Arizona mall shooting!

There are, of course, some Muslims who have done things that are unforgivable. I watched the planes hit those towers, I've seen the news reports about suicide bombings. I am in no way in denial about the reasons behind some people's feelings towards Islam. But do the actions of a few really warrant the hatred of the many? Raise your hands if after the Oklahoma City Bombings you started hating white people. Anyone? No? My point exactly.

This used to be the face of terror yet no one
went to war with Lockport, NY or
started burning Bibles.

Terry Jones' actions are inexcusable and I'm really not surprised that there was an uproar over this. In fact, I'm surprised that there wasn't a bigger uproar. Burning any book is wrong, but burning a sacred text, regardless of what religion it belongs to is morally unjust on a level that I can't even fathom. Even if there is no god, even if every single religion is wrong, the fact that someone would take it upon themselves to abuse someone's beliefs like this is unconscionable.

As I read about religion this month, I will be posting things like this. Not just about Islam, but about every religion. Part of the reason I love non-fiction is that it educates as well as entertains people and I'm all for education, especially in an age where the media misinforms people and expects us to swallow what we're being spoon-fed without stopping to think about what's being said. You don't have to agree with me. I'm not asking you to. But I would like you to read these posts and to at least think about them. Think about your own beliefs and how you would feel if they were threatened. Think about the assumptions that you have about other people; reevaluate where these assumptions came from.

I would love to see an age in which religion is no longer a reason for hatred and violence. The only way that can happen is if people are constantly learning and thinking and growing in how they view other religions. One of the most inspiring things I've ever seen happened during the Egyptian protests in February. While Muslims were praying in Tahrir Square, Christians surrounded them to protect them from pro-Mubarak supporters.

While relations between the two religious groups have since deteriorated somewhat since the ouster of Mubarak, the point is that they put aside their differences at least for a while and joined together as brothers. Why is it that we are not able to do that on a global scale?


PS: Here's the video from A Time to Kill. I'll warn you that the description of the girl's rape is graphic and may be triggering for some people but it's an absolutely amazing performance.


  1. As an aetheist I have a real hard time trying to grasp why people get so irrate around religion, yet it's the number one reason for wars throughout history. Christianity has a lot to be blamed for if you look at things from an unbiased viewpoint.

  2. There's no such thing, in my opinion, as a peaceful protest. No matter who it is protesting.

  3. pwb: Not even Atheists can look at things from an unbiased viewpoint. Or Agnostics, like myself, for that matter. I do agree that historically speaking Christianity has a lot to answer for but so do the Visigoths, the Huns, the Persians, and many other non-Christian groups. In fact, if you look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, neither of those nations is Christian and they both have a lot of explaining to do.

    Even though I have no strong religious convictions, I do have strong political and social ones and, as such, I can see why people would be up in arms about threats to what they believe. When someone tries to say that what I believe politically and socially is wrong, I'll admit that I get perturbed. I wouldn't go to war over my political beliefs, obviously, but I can see how religion could make people "irate".

    Nonners: There may not be a one hundred percent peaceful protest but there is a marked difference between simply shouting slogans and killing people. I would also argue that the people in Wisconsin who were protesting Governor Walker's plan to get rid of collective bargaining were peaceful protesters. They didn't get violent in any sense of the word.

  4. I believe in the right to believe in what you want to, I just can't imagine why someone would care that one person believes in one god and one in another. That's more what I meant. I believe in science, if someone told me that wasn't allowed, yes I'd go protest. I was very close to going to the (very peaceful) Photography is not a Crime protests in London last year. That was in relation to people thinking anyone with a camera was up to terrorist acts and being subjected to stop and search laws...we're now allowed to roam freely again so that protest worked in our favour.

  5. I agree with you about that. To me, it shouldn't be a matter of right or wrong. It should be a matter of what's right for each person. Too long (and by that I mean since the dawn of time) we've been so wrapped up in proving that we're better than each other and it's gotta stop.

    Glad to hear that the protests worked. Here in the States it's seen as a crime to take photos of certain things, like bridges. It really is amazing to me what people will give up in order to have a false sense of security.

  6. There are other ways to protest in an actual peaceful way that don't include marching on someones front step. There are other ways to let you opinion be heard and understood.

  7. In the same vein, however, what's the best way to get your voice heard? In this country, the people who have the most money have the biggest voice and, therefore, the greatest influence. People like you and I, who don't own software companies or hold positions of power, are supposed to be listened to because that's allegedly what a democracy (or, rather, a republic) is about. We're not being heard though. If we were, things like health care and education wouldn't be cut from state budgets and the US government wouldn't spend trillions of dollars on the defense budget while taking away programs that provide services to the people.

    People have said that voting and petitions and other things like that are good ways of getting your voice heard but they fail more times than not. When plan A fails, you go to plan B. Plan B is protesting and it works (sometimes). It may not be pretty and it might disrupt life for a while, but we have a right to freedom of assembly as guaranteed but the Bill of Rights and I don't see why people shouldn't be allowed to exercise that right.

  8. My point was. You can't call it peaceful. Peaceful is far from the right word. So if peace is was you wish to acquire, protesting is not the answer. Not even in the long run. The end does not justify the means.

  9. I definitely see your point, but I personally can't agree with it. Regardless, I do think that there's a correct time and place for protests and an incorrect time and place, whether you call them peaceful or not.

  10. bridges? For real? Someone put me in jail. I've broken that law. :]