BY ALEXANDER COCKBURN
By the end of this week, the air was so thick with pieties about the need for tolerance and respect for all creeds that one yearned for the Rev. Terry Jones, mutton chop whiskers akimbo, to toss those Qurans in the burn barrels outside his Gainesville church in Florida and torch them on this year’s anniversary of 9/11.
The entire world court of enlightened opinion has borne down on this former hotel manager, now senior pastor at the Dove World Outreach Center and its modest congregation, which does – on the evidence of videos of the church’s proceedings – boast of some young female members of whom many a beleaguered Anglican parish would be only too proud to have raising their arms in ecstasy next to the altar.
Take Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state. “It’s regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, FL, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get, you know, the world’s attention,” Clinton said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, a folk moot for the elites debating homicidal policies around the world. Clinton concluded, “It doesn’t in any way represent America or Americans, or American government, or American religious or political leadership.”
This is the same Hillary Clinton who has spent much of her term as helmswoman of the nation’s foreign affairs demonizing Iran and threatening it with nuclear obliteration, during which uncounted millions of Qurans and the people clutching them would turn to cinders.
And here’s U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman imploring Jones to reconsider: “I appeal to people who are planning to burn the Quran to reconsider and drop their plans because they are inconsistent with American values and, as Gen.Petraeus has warned, threatening to America’s military.”
This is the same Lieberman who is the most sedulous U.S. lobbyist for the interests of Israel in Washington, DC. Has Lieberman warned Israel that its planned law to force every Palestinian to swear explicit allegiance to the Jewish state, hence the tenets of Zionism, is inconsistent with American values, and thus prompts him to reconsider his approval of America’s annual disbursement of $3 billion to Israel’s collection plate?
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called Jones’ plan “idiotic and dangerous.” Would Holder call the action of his Democratic predecessor as attorney general, Janet Reno, in ordering the federal onslaught that led to the incineration in 1993 of the Branch Davidian church in Waco “idiotic and dangerous”? The Justice Department has always defended Reno’s action, even though it prompted the blowing up of the Murrah center in Oklahoma City – until the 9/11 attacks, the most deadly act of terror perpetrated on American soil.
And here’s Petraeus making what is described as an unusual – for a member of the military – intervention: “Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan – and around the world – to inflame public opinion and incite violence.” Petraeus can only advise the Rev. Jones, who has the constitutional freedom to dispose of the Quran as he thinks fit, consonant with local laws pertaining to public bonfires. He can, however, suspend by a simple order the lethal Predator onslaughts that regularly blow to pieces civilian groups in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region, inflaming public opinion and leading invariably to escalation in violence.
For their part, Afghans are already demonstrating in Kabul in anticipatory protest at Jones’ plan. They denounce disrespect for the Quran. But we also learn from earnest proponents of religious tolerance and interconfessional amity that the Quran promotes respect for the Bible, [though not, of course, the Christian claim of the divinity of Christ – a view also held by followers of Judaism, whose Talmud locates Christ in hell for all eternity, boiling in excrement].
What did the indignant Afghans say when, in early August of this year 10 members of a Christian medical team – six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton, three women among them – were gunned down by the Taliban, who claimed they were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity? The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who screamed he was a Muslim and babbled some verses from the Quran. The group was members of the International Assistance Mission, one of the longest-serving nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan, registered as a nonprofit Christian organization, apparently not proselytizing. So, what if they were?
Jones is animated by religious principle, salted by the opportunism that every effective evangelist for a faith is endowed with as a part of the armory of conversion. He’s aroused the fury of the American establishment, which has, as a matter of regular imperial maintenance, promoted the murder of millions across the world in the name of “American values.” Modern Christians, fusionists of the all-get-along school deplore him, too. Many Evangelicals think Jones is on track, though they mostly won’t say so publicly. As a Southern Baptist said to me last week, “Alex, they say that Christianity is tolerant. But Christ drove the moneychangers from the Temple. He didn’t tolerate them. A line has to be drawn, just like Jones is doing.”
What better symbol than Jones of what should have been America’s overall resilience in the aftermath of the Muslim attacks of 9/11: an assertion of one of the greatest of American values, as embodied in constitutional provisions for free speech. These freedoms matter most when they are under duress. Amid the duress after 9/11, the Constitution was trashed by the same leaders the leaders who now decry Jones.
My hope has been that on the other side of the road from Jones’ burn barrels, or on some piece of property volunteered by the mayor of Gainesville, a gay man, there will be other barrels, into which could be tossed by their opponents the Bible, and kindred sacred texts such as the Talmud, plus Bacon’s “Advancement of Learning,” Feuerbach’s “Essence of Christianity” and “Das Kapital.” Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature of the crucible, in which ideas and principles survive or die.
– Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, available through www.counterpunch.com.