update: Well, call me skeptical, but I believe this cancellation is a fake. Based on coverage from the New York Times, it seems very clear to me this story that Jones cancelled the burning based on a chance to talk Ground Zero mosque with Imam Rauf is pure baloney. My guess, tomorrow morning Jones will announce that the NY Imam has rebuffed his offer of compromise, and that the book-burning will go as scheduled.
update: Just as I was getting into it, Terry Jones has apparently canceled the Quran burning. I don't think I'm on board with this.
I have tried to ignore the Gainesville pastor who plans a book-burning to celebrate the worst attack on American soil in history. But with Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and David Petraeus going nuts over this, I feel this now-national story cannot be overlooked. It would have been nice to think one man's deranged message would get no traction, but it has, and we all now have an obligation to pay attention.
To get the basics over with, burning the Quran is wrong. It is dangerous to Americans abroad and at home, and it is an inappropriate form of protest against anything.
But far more important to note is that the Rev. Terry Jones must not have his rights to free speech violated. Nobody - not the government and not an angry citizenry - should infringe upon that. Our freedoms, those things the terrorists supposedly hate us for, must be protected. Indeed, the extremely offensive and outrageous protests like the one Rev. Terry Jones plans to conduct demand protection the most.
Why? Because the expression of American viewpoints, no matter how onerous, provide honesty to our democracy. Freedom of expression, more than any other single element, provides the workings to our political system. It is why democracy works in America but has failed in other parts of the world. Many forget Saddam Hussein was regularly re-elected by his people in democratic elections, successes grounded solely in the fact people were so thoroughly terrified of speaking out against the tyrant.
Terry Jones is providing a public service to democracy this weekend. He is offering a very public peek into the dark heart of right-wing extremists, and showing exactly why everyone who bathes their message in Christianity is not right merely by virtue of accepting Jesus Christ as Savior. Even many who view the religion of Islam with contempt are offended at the notion of destroying a holy book in protest.
The reverend also exposes the flawed logic to the thought patterns of many social conservatives. The Jones view is that his salvation through the Christian faith makes his own actions and outlook just. If Islamist terrorists attacked us on 9/11, an action he knows in his heart was wrong, it seems an obvious answer that their religion is the source of the problem. The actions of the 9/11 terrorists were evil, and the 9/11 terrorists were religious Muslims, thus religious Muslims must be evil.
As a liberal, it seems clear to me Mohamed Atta worldview was closer to Jones than it is to my own. But that is just my opinion. To Jones, tolerance of any Muslims is akin to appeasing terrorists. Of course, to me, the actions of Jones this weekend are clearly evil. Jones is a religious Christian. Thus, to follow Jones' logic, all religious Christians would be evil. But I reject that logic. My worldview is that the actions of a few nuts, even when done in the name of God, are no reflection upon an entire faith.
This is the difference between liberals and conservatives. For more than three decades, conservative Christians have argued their interpretation of the word of God was the only one which was valid within American politics. But my Bible includes passages about tolerance and forgiveness. Those are liberal values. And it has frustrated me for some time that the dominant voices in political conversation have insisted those views reject true Christian faith, even if those values are built upon the same faith.
I am delighted that the Quran-burning controversy comes on the heels of the New York mosque debate, another matter of little real-world consequence but which is grounded on freedom of expression and those values most important to the national foundation. In the mosque conversation, conservatives have lambasted moderate Muslims for daring build a center of worship down the street and around the corner from an area where 9/11 terrorists did this nation harm.
Sites like RedState have ignorantly suggested the "mosque at Ground Zero" would be a victory site for hate. Of course, most of those who attacked us that day died at Ground Zero. That was their own victory dance, if one was to be had, as smoke billowed and towers collapsed moments after they "martyred" themselves for a cause. No one in Al Queda will feel empowered by a mosque near Ground Zero. It is the creation of Ground Zero which emboldens them. They wouldn't know about the mosque is such a stink had not been raised by its critics. But in contrast, I believe Imam Rauf is right to suggest broad rejection of the mosque could boost recruiting efforts for terrorists and compromise national security as Muslims suspicious America is waging war on Islam have their fears justified.
Still, protests of the mosques are just as important to protect as the burning of the Quran. They show that bigotry, not faith, truly drives the attack on the Islamic faith by many Christian conservatives. That insight helps democracy more than it hurts us.
Those who know anything of theology know the bickering between Christians and Muslims is truly silly, as the faiths are rooted in the same ancient texts. The Quran is as much an extension of the Holy Bible as an alternative. But religion is not truly guiding these outward actions of hate. It is only used to justify them.
And justifying hate is absolutely what the Rev. Jones will do this weekend. He planned for only the like-minded to hear his venomous sermons, but is pleased, I am sure, to now have a world stage. As leaders complain this will stoke the hate of the Islamic World, Jones celebrates. He wants his "enemies" to hear his message.
They should hear. But so should we. As Jones tries to explain that his Christian faith justifies his own prejudice, but the Islamic faith of Al Queda extremists does not justify theirs, we should hear that. When he says that Americans who do not share his worldview are people weak of faith, even if they consider themselves true believers, we should hear that. And when he tries to promote the 30-year-old message that right-wing hatred is the greatest contribution Christians can introduce to the public discourse, we should hear that too.
It is vital we absorb this freedom of expression. It is critical we consider and deliberate the words he speaks. And when his poisonous corruption of the word of God is put to the scrutiny of critical thought and common sense, it is inevitable that most will reject it. And that is an important accomplishment indeed.