Burning the Koran
By Bruce Bawer, HRS
One good thing about living in Europe is that you don’t feel obliged to watch the CBS, NBC, or ABC evening news. But you can if you’re willing to stay up late enough: here in Norway, we get both the CBS and NBC broadcasts, one of them live and the other an hour later. Given the time difference, they’re both on after midnight. On Wednesday I happened to catch both of them. It didn’t take long for my jaw to drop.
On both broadcasts, to my astonishment, the lead story was the plan by Terry Jones, an obscure Gainesville, Florida, preacher, to burn copies of the Koran on September 11. The tone of the reports was grave: how would the Muslim world react to this unspeakable act? Already, the news that an American intended to set fire to the Holy Koran had caused significant unrest in Muslim cities. Fearing the worst, U.S. officials from the White House on down were condemning Jones’s plan and calling on him to change his mind. Among those who’d weighed in publicly were Hillary Clinton and presidential advisor David Axelrod. Even the Vatican had issued a condemnation. We saw General Petraeus warning that if Jones burned the Koran, the lives of GIs would be endangered. Indeed, Jones was imperiling Americans around the world.
The network reporters speculated on whether anything could be done to stop the Koran-burning. Both CBS and NBC interviewed officials in Gainesville, who insisted that local ordinances forbid book-burning and promised that if Jones carried out his plan, there would be consequences. But it was also noted that the First Amendment made it difficult to punish the preacher, even though his planned book-burning plainly constitutes a terrible provocation. Implicit on both CBS and NBC was that Jones was inviting major international calamity, and that it was unfortunate that nothing could be done to stop him.
As if all this wasn’t enough, on Thursday morning President Obama himself weighed in at length about Jones on Good Morning America. “If he’s listening,” said Obama, “I hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans.” Obama reminded Jones that America was “built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance” and that “this stunt…could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform.” Obama expressed his hope that Jones would listen to his “better angels” and call off his “destructive act.”
It’s clear, of course, that Jones is some kind of nut: he’s apparently made a career of spewing hate at Jews, gays, and just about everybody else who doesn’t belong his tiny church – which, like Fred Phelps’s in Topeka, Kansas, seems to be some kind of wacky cult. But that’s neither here or there. The real story here isn’t about Jones but about the rest of us – and what we’ve allowed to happen to our civilization since 9/11.
Quite simply, we’ve gotten used to things that once would have made our heads spin. We’ve gotten used to news media that respond to every act of Muslim terrorism by reassuring us that the terrorists have “hijacked” their religion and by warning about the possibility of an anti-Muslim “backlash.” Whenever the topic at hand is Islam, we’ve gotten used to widespread self-censorship, appeasement, and whitewashing. And we’ve gotten used to desperate, pathetic efforts by government and military officials alike to avoid “provoking” displays of Muslim rage.
Watching those Wednesday evening news broadcasts, and reading Obama’s comments on Good Morning, America, brought home – in a deeply depressing way – just how far we’ve come. Who’d have imagined, on the day the Twin Towers fell, that nine years later we’d be so scared of Muslim reactions that the decision of some crank in Gainesville, Florida, to set fire to a few copies of the Koran would become the lead story on the evening news and cause the President himself to plead with the guy to call it off?
Imagine a modern-day Rip van Winkle who’d fallen asleep before 9/11 and woken up to all this nonsense. For such a person, the degree of attention accorded to Jones would’ve been nothing less than incomprehensible. What in God’s name, Rip would ask, had happened to America? How could we have become so timid, so terrified, so quickly? How could an American president, in the midst of war and economic crisis, give so much as a moment’s notice to such a piddling non-story?
Amidst all the hand-wringing on those network news reports, needless to say, the truly important things went unsaid. Nobody pointed out that we wouldn’t be fretting like this if there weren’t something very special about Islam. You could announce plans to burn a stack of Bibles, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Dhammapada, or the Book of Mormon, or Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, or a truckload of copies of the Watch Tower, or any other non-Muslim religious text without causing the White House and Pentagon to call emergency meetings and put embassies around the world on alert. How little time it’s taken for us to get used to paying Islam a unique degree of “respect”!
One of the network news reports – I don’t remember which one – showed an anti-American demonstration by Muslims in Kabul or someplace like that reacting to Jones’s planned Koran-burning. The participants in this demo were burning an American flag and stomping on it. Neither the reporter nor the anchorperson commented on this fact. Plainly, in their view, the burning of an American flag was not worth remarking upon. After all, in recent years Muslims around the world have burned countless American flags, not to mention the flags of pretty much every other Western democracy. Since 9/11, we’ve grown used to seeing the revered symbols of Western democratic values routinely desecrated in the Muslim world.
And we’ve also grown used to the fact this is most assuredly not a two-way street. American flags can be burned by the hundreds, by huge crowds, in the major squares of Muslim capitals, and that’s apparently hunky-dory with us. But when this guy in Gainesville whom nobody ever heard of before decides to burn a few Korans, everybody from the President on down begs him to reconsider. Obama to the contrary, this isn’t about “our values as Americans”; it’s not about “freedom and religious tolerance.” It’s about fear, pure and simple. As we approach the ninth anniversary of the day on which jihadists murdered 2,977 people on American soil, it’s nothing less than obscene to see American leaders quaking in their boots at the thought of some clown in Florida offending the Muslim world.