I sometimes wonder what percentage of religious leaders are in their field because they are consciously hustling people for money and what percentage are ideologues who actually believe in the message they are spreading. I am inclined to believe that Terry Jones, a Florida pastor who has recently made news for his plan to publicly burn Qur’ans is an ideologue because his idea seems heavily based in his emotional reaction to 9/11 with nary a profit angle in sight.
Because I believe strongly in the right of free speech I support this person’s right to burn religious books. At the same time I think his idea is stupid and counter productive to any motives I can possibly impute to him. For this reason, I am composing an Open Letter to Terry Jones in hopes of weighing in on this issue before he makes the decision on whether or to go through with this action.
As a self-professed religious leader, what do you hope to accomplish by burning Qur’ans in the United States in such a provocative fashion? Are you under the impression that burning Islamic religious texts will leave your book the last scripture standing making it the heavyweight champion? It won’t. Historically book burnings are famous in their inefficacy at stomping out ideologies and often have the opposite effect. Remember that Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, which was a moderate piece of literary work at best, became a bestseller after the Ayatollah banned it. If anything your plan to burn Qur’ans hitting the news will probably result in more people actually reading our of sheer curiosity (I would recommend the N.J. Dawood translation by Penguin Books although orthodox Muslim scholars prefer the translation by Yusuf Ali. I meant for reading, I have no opinion on which one is more flammable). At any rate my point is that if your point is to lead people away from Islam, from a logistical standpoint intentionally drawing attention to the Qur’an is one of the worst tactics imaginable. I think you should reconsider.
For didactic purposes let’s think about this scenario. Suppose you are a militant Christian who believes the Crusades should be resumed and you are trying to convert other Christians to your way of thinking. Further suppose that on television you see a group of Muslims burning burning Bibles in public. Would this make you more inclined to convince others of your views or less? Better yet, suppose you are a moderate Christian who sympathizes with Crusaders but doesn’t actually participate and again you see Muslims burning Bibles in public. Isn’t it possible that actions like these could push certain people who would not have otherwise participated to cross the line into action? This is the second reason to reconsider. These kinds of actions will serve only to fuel the sympathies among the jihadists and the consequences of your actions are likely to be suffered by others who have taken no part in your short sighted and stupid activities.
I must take care to point out that I’m not saying people don’t have the right to engage in such symbolic speech. Sure you have the right but is it a good idea, will it effect the kind of change you are hoping for and worse yet, is it possible that your actions could provoke a response you don’t want? These next four words are going to kill me to say but the government is correct in stating that such actions “could cause significant problems” for American troops overseas. Deliberately offending the sensibilities of your ideological enemies might feel good in the short term but the possible repercussions are many and there’s not really an upside so you should quit it.
And in case you are inclined to think that the government’s response to this is the product of Obama’s views on Islam, I will remind you that in the aftermath of 9/11 George Dubya visited a mosque and stated that terrorism is not the true face of Islam. Now George Bush and Obama don’t agree on much but since both agree that accepting Bin Laden’s characterization of the war on terror as a war on Islam would be a bad thing for the US, why are you agitating precisely to that end? What the last two Presidents understand and you don’t seem to is that the major world religions are not going anywhere anytime soon so please do try to not piss them off, your potential theological jollies notwithstanding.
As an aside, it occurred to me that if this man’s congregation actually goes through with the book burning, I think atheists should attend as well and toss copies of the King James Bible into the fire as well. I actually don’t think any religious texts should be burned but I would pay to see the expression on this guy’s face if atheists actually went through with it.