"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Terry Jones and Quran Burning
My students occasionally assert that religion is the cause of all war. I disagree and ask them about World War 2. "Well, it was about the Jews" they answer, with all the grasp of history of ill informed 16yr olds viewing events of 70 years ago. I explain that it was about Fascism and Nationalism and aggressive politics. They remain unconvinced. I point out that WW1 had no overt religious element, that the Falklands War was about Nationalism and politics. I try to look at Vietnam and Korea with them. "But they're Buddhists." they proclaim. Yes, but it wasn't about Buddhism but about the spread of a political ideaology in Communism. "What about the IRA? That's all about Catholics and Protestants." Maybe, but that's tribal. It's not about Christianity. Real Christians wouldn't behave that way.
And now we have Terry Jones and his Quaran burning. (That is not that nice Terry Jones from Monty Python.) In September 2010 this was all over the media here. Pastor Terry Jones from the Dove World Outreach Centre Church in Florida had threatened to burn multiple copies of the Quran on Sept 11th as a protest against....well, all sorts of things really.
The Dove World Outreach Centre Church? You sort of know what's coming don't you? This is no mainstream denomination. It is a pentecostal-style set-up with a congregation of between 30 and 50. The sort of place where pastors work who are trained at the Hicksville Southern Baptist Bible College (no formal academic qualifications required to teach). Oh, but it's even worse than that. Pastor - or as we really ought to call him - "pastor" - or to be truly accurate, Mr. Terry Jones is both self taught and self ordained. How can one self ordain? Can one self ordain?
Ordination requires specific regulated academic standards in theology and doctrine from accredited theological colleges and authorisation by a recognised denomination. Hatred of Muslims isn't a required qualification for ordination: well not on this side of the Atlantic anyway.
So, why does he want to burn copies of the Quran? Initially this was some vague protest which seemed "appropriate" to the anniversary of 9/11 (or for British readers 11/9). It now seems to have become linked with the prospective building of a new (which isn't new because it is an extension of property already owned by the Muslim authorities) mosque (which isn't a mosque but a cultural centre) at Ground Zero (which isn't at Ground Zero but several blocks away) - but let's not let factual inaccuracy get in the way of a good bit of Muslim bashing. He has been on Facebook holding a Quran and claiming that "This book is responsible for 9/11" I may go on and hold up a copy of the Bible and say "This book is responsible for the Crusades and the Holocaust." It's not the books. It's the misguided people who read and interpret the books against their prevailing doctrine and morality. Can you blame all Christians for all time for the Crusades? Of course not. Can you blame all Muslims in the same way for 9/11? Apparently so in some of the less logical branches of the American Right and that is both mad and dangerous. Dangerous to us all. If it was Just "Pastor" Jones one might just be tempted to feel that whatever came his way as a result of his actions would be well deserved and little mourned, but that is more of a Buddhist worldview and we are required to love and forgive this man. The way of the disciple is indeed hard.
"Pastor" Jones shows all the signs of early-onset Republicanism in his intolerance of diversity and active fear and hatred of Islam. He seems to believe that an act of gross provocation such as burning Qurans is somehow sending a message to Muslims that America will not take any more! "Where do we draw the line?" he asks.
Any more what? What line? What exactly is it that we are all being asked to stand up against? Well, Muslim extremism and terrorism of course. (Plus creeping Shara law and the fifth column enemy within. That goes without saying - although some are saying it.)
So let me just get this right then. Burning Qurans is going to send a message to Muslim extremists? You bet it will, and the ramifications of this ill thought through strategy will be wholesale bloodshed and murder. Already Jones has the death of two men on his conscience, and he has only threatened to burn the books: two Afghan men were shot in an attack on a NATO base in Afghanistan. A NATO base run by Germans, who most of us know aren't Americans. The cry now goes up "Kill the Christians!" as reported in my newspaper. So potentially anyone of European, Australasian or North American background becomes fair game.
Thanks Mr. Jones.
Even his mayor, Craig Lowe has come out against him, saying he is "Part of a fringe group and an embarrassment to our community."
Ah, but all is well. He has been in contact with the Imam at the new (but not new) Mosque (which is not a mosque) at Ground Zero (which isn't at Ground Zero) who has agreed to a trade off. No Book burning and no Mosque.
Hang on. That doesn't sound credible.
No. The Imam concerned denies any such conversation.
Of the two, guess where my money goes on the honesty, integrity and reliability stakes?
What is this man doing? What is he about? Publicity of course. How wonderful in today's democracy that one lone nutter can cause the world to hold its breath. One lone nutter, who is NOT an ordained minister; whose "church" is NOT affiliated to any denomination; one lone nutter who has a support base of 30-50; one lone nutter who was thrown out of his previous "church" for "financial irregularities" - also known in plain-speaking as theft.
And this man commands the media? Or perhaps more to the point, the media flocked to him and thus lit the blue touch paper via the oxygen of publicity and a non-story became international news and, once again, we are left speculating to what extent the press, our guardians of free speech, have reported or made the news. Of course it is wonderful that he has been universally condemned but he has still scored a victory for those hardy "Christian" zealots who support this brand of provocative anti-Muslim insanity: now the Westboro Baptists have jumped on the bandwagon - those role-models of all things good in Christianity.
Book burning is cultural vandalism and aggression. The Romans and the Christians did it to Hebrew scripture; the Catholics did it to Lutheran texts; the Nazis did it to "decadent" writings; the Serbs did it to Bosnian-Muslim writings. It's been going on down the ages. What great examples to follow while making a recruitment drive for Al Qaida.
For those of us viewing the furore from this side of the Atlantic it continues to remain a mystery that Christianity - albeit a form of Christianity Jesus would not recognise - has become profoundly intertwined with political agendas and the concept of patriotism allowing such feelings to be hijacked by the conservative populists who take Fox News as gospel and love Glen Beck and right-wing shock-jocks on the radio. A climate of fear has been stirred up and President Obama himself, remember, is deemed by many on the right to be anti-American and, of course, a secret Muslim because he doesn't wear his church attendance on his sleeve. This is the politics of division and fear which has polarised the political landscape, marginalised, ignored, misrepresented and upset the relatives of the dead who are being invoked as supporters of a cause many do not support, which potentially leads to the scapegoating of Muslim citizens, the burning of holy books and the banning of places of worship. This is no way to commemorate those who died on the planes, in the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Ceremonies commemorating 9/11 should be peaceful, dignified and respectful and not sidetracked by inflammatory sideshows. Let's pray that this aberration of a "Christian" gets the message.
Could I suggest you all listen to Radio4's Thought For The Day for Sept 10th with Dr. Mona Siddiqui.
On 20th March 2011, largely ignored by the mainstream media, Mr. Jones went ahead and burnt a Quran. The power of Blogs, Facebook and Twitter in this age ensured the story spread like wildfire.
The consequence of this (so far) has been the death of seven U.N. workers in a mob riot in Northern Afghanistan. No doubt there will be more to come.
Mr Jones takes no responsibility for these deaths. "We find it very tragic any time that someone is murdered but we do not feel any responsibility for that." (The Observer 03.04.11) Someone needs to take this man on one side and spell out the nature of cause and effect to him.
He added "It definitely does indicate that there is a very radical element of Islam."
There's a very radical element of Christianity, too, Mr. Jones and you are right up there in the vanguard.
Still, that's what Christianity is all about - if you're pompous, stubborn, self-serving, irresponsible, self-publicising, deluded and dangerous.
Mr. Jones' new organisation is called Stand Up America. Ah someone else hi-jacking the identity of all for his own narrow agenda, akin to the amorphus Moral Majority. The Observer reports that Jones' church has "...put up three signs that that read Islam is of the Devil. A passing dessenter appears to have vandalised them, scrawling over the hate speech a new message that stated: Love all men."
I know it sounds trite but if we follow the model of Jesus when dealing with those of other faith groups, even those who were despised, you don't find him being provocative. What you get is courteous engagement: Jesus with the Centurion and Jesus with the Syro-Phoenecian woman for a starter and then the iconic story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus deliberately makes a marginalised and despised foreigner the hero of his parable. Why? To make a point Mr. Jones hasn't learnt!