A Florida church with “Islam is of the devil” signs in its front lawn plans to host an “International Burn A Quran Day,” on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this year…In response to the posting of the event on Facebook a little more than a week ago, Jones said that people have been mailing Qurans to the church to burn. He said organizers got the idea, in part, from another Facebook page, called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”
The event’s Facebook page says its purpose is “To bring to awareness to the dangers of I and that the Koran is leading people to hell. Eternal fire is the only destination the Koran can lead people to so we want to put the Koran in it’s [sic] place — the fire!”
This story troubles me on several levels, not least because it holds up a mirror on several levels to my own participation in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Let me start out by saying these Christians have every right to burn whatever books they please. Hate Speech is still speech, and therefore it’s protected. I had to stop and think, though, whether what these people plan to do is different than drawing Mohammed in kind or only in degree.
I believe Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is an act of civil disobedience. Somebody says that blacks can’t use a restaurant, you get together too many people to oppress and you hold a sit-in. Somebody says that your protest of his son’s funeral violates his personal space, you show up anyway and you win in court when he sues you. Some religiously psychopathic nutjob stabs an artist for making art: you get a few hundred thousand people to do the exact same thing. Civil disobedience says “you are not the boss of me, and if you try and take away my rights, I will assert my rights over your objections.”
Burning a Quran isn’t civil disobedience. There isn’t an ongoing debate about whether non-muslims need to venerate Islam’s holy book. I mean, we publish English editions, which is a no-no to begin with. Bookstores don’t have to keep their stock on special Quran stands. Burning one, though, is an act of hate speech. Hate speech is morally (if not civilly or criminally) wrong. I’m really undecided about Hate Speech laws–on the one hand, someone who commits vandalism, assault or even murder based on bigotry is doing so symbolically against an entire class of people, thereby magnifying the harm enacted by the crime. On the other hand, a brick through a window doesn’t do more damage based the race of the shop owner, nor is a person any more dead based on why he was killed. The vandalism might be more thorough, the murder more sadistic, but we also have laws for aggravating circumstances, rather than compounding the criminal penalty with what amounts to a thought-crime.
So what about these religious bigots in Florida, going toe to toe with a different group of religious bigots? They have every right. Frankly, I’m inclined to sell tickets and bring popcorn. I hope this church gets their event up to the level of a Nuremburg rally. Let them march in ranks around a roaring mound of green leatherbound books whose gilt inlays glitter in the blackened ash. Let’s put it on television so that everyone can see exactly how ugly this kind of thing is.
I hope that the blowback is equally vociferous, so that people around the world see what a massive inferiority complex that Fundamentalist Islam suffers, and how thin-skinned they really are. I hope that people everywhere get a chance to see that hate begets hate, and that peaceful protest is the high road, and what happens when fear and self-righteousness are made to excuse taking the worst low roads. I hope neither of the Fundamentalist camps realize what it is to be better than that, so that people finally realize they cannot stand and be counted with people who carry such hate and fear wherever they go.