Terry Jones, his critics, and Islam
By Jack Kerwick
Terry Jones has finally done it.
It may be recalled that Terry Jones is the Florida pastor who just last year threatened to stage a Quran burning in response to the decision to construct an Islamic center not far from where the twin towers once stood in downtown Manhattan. It may have taken him a while longer than he originally planned, but Jones's pledge has finally come to fruition.
This would have been uneventful had it not served as the latest excuse for massive rioting and killing on the part of Muslims worldwide. Particularly remarkable, however, is that much of this destruction is occurring in just that place—Afghanistan—where we have spent the last decade laboring tirelessly to satiate that longing for "freedom" that President Bush insisted makes its dwelling in every human heart. Furthermore, it is President Karzai who first called the riotous murderers' attention to it. Had Karzai refrained from rendering an international issue of this obscure pastor's act, over 100 of his fellow countrymen would not have been made to part with life and limb.
Not unexpectedly, it was with lightning speed that both President Obama and General David Petraeus condemned Jones' act. Whether Jones is deserving of this condemnation is a question with which we needn't occupy ourselves, for ultimately, it is a red herring. You see, Jones may very well have a speck in his own eye, but through this one engagement of his, he succeeded in exposing the boulder in the collective eye of his critics.
Jones purchased a book with his own resources and then burned it on his own property. This choice of his, we are told, warrants swift, decisive condemnation, for in addition to being "bigoted" and "intolerant," it lead to violence in the Islamic world and, as such, threatens to impede our efforts there.
Now, if Jones' right-leaning detractors are consistent in their reasoning, they will recognize that in condemning Jones for the reasons that they specify, they have drained out the gnat and swallowed the camel. More to the point, they will see that to a far greater degree than Jones, it is they who deserve condemnation.
First, Jones acted on his own time and on his own dime. In stark contrast, our elected representatives of both parties rely upon the resources of others—namely, citizens—to wage wars in Islamic lands, wars to which millions of those citizens are opposed.
Second, the monumental abuse to which they have been subjected has reduced the terms "bigotry" and "intolerance" to nothing more than vapid rhetorical devices. Yet presumably, Pastor Jones' Quran burning is bigoted and intolerant because large numbers of Muslims both take offense at it and express their indignation through violence. If so, then inasmuch as large numbers of Muslims are both offended by America's invasions of Islamic lands and express their outrage through violence, such invasions are that much more bigoted and intolerant.
Third, if Jones is to blame for the fact that his act provoked violence in the Islamic world, then insofar as America's actions—its wars—have been stimulating violence there for years, the American government which initiated them and the citizenry that endorsed them are even more blameworthy.
Interestingly, when Ron Paul and others alluded to "the blowback" effects of our engagements in the Middle East, their brethren on the right—including and especially Republican Party presidential contenders in 2008—ridiculed them and accused them of exempting Muslims from all responsibility for 9/11 and elsewhere. That the charge was bogus is neither here nor there. Why, we must ask, are not these same people similarly appalled when a lone, little known pastor from Florida is being implicated in the life negating rampages of Muslims a world away?
Fourth, if Jones is guilty of jeopardizing our troops in Afghanistan by burning a Quran and enraging Muslims, then President Bush, President Obama, and every other American who supports the deployment of soldiers to this country for nation-building purposes are exponentially guiltier of the same.
For all I know, Terry Jones may be an enthusiastic supporter of our "Democracy Project" in the Middle East. He may not care about what his critics say about him; he may not even be aware of all that they say. Still, in the absence of a single utterance, Jones managed to cast a spotlight on current American foreign policy—the Islamic violence with which it will contend in perpetuity and which it has actually exacerbated—while simultaneously turning his objectors' criticisms against themselves.
There is, though, one thing that Jones aspired to establish. He wanted to prove to the world that Islam is a counterfeit or godless religion. In this regard, we must conclude that he was wildly successful, for massive, murderous violence of the sort that Muslims have unleashed against innocents over the last couple of days in Afghanistan and elsewhere in response to his book burning is as sharp an indictment against Islam as any that anyone could have made against it.
But perhaps it is now I who lack consistency. If Jones bears no blame for the most recent killing spree upon which Muslims embarked, then neither should he be credited for putting the lie to the by now familiar fiction that Islam is an otherwise peaceful religion that has been "hijacked" by a relatively small handful of "extremists."
The murderous Muslims themselves deserve all responsibility for this.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D., blogs at www.jackkerwick.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.