“Republicans are usually eager to trumpet their support for the troops and the war against terror. So why aren’t they condemning the Florida pastor who plans to lead his congregation in a Quran-burning bonfire on Sept. 11?,” wrote Fred Kaplan on Tuesday.
His call has been answered — by Sarah Palin: “Book burning is antithetical to American ideals. People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.”
Is Pastor Jones ready to obey Palin’s call to “stand down”? Maybe a generous donation to his church will do the trick.
However Palin and other Cordoba House opponents manage to persuade Jones to back down, this is how they must be hoping they can play his Quran burning stunt: turn an eleventh hour display of “sensitivity” by the Florida pastor into leverage against Feisal Abdul Rauf — as though the imam and the pastor are somehow equivalents. Once “Dr” Jones finds it in his heart to act as the “sensitive” Christian, the chorus will rise even louder demanding a reciprocal display from “sensitive” Muslims.
Before the term got hijacked by Islamophobes, it was widely understood that to be insensitive was to show a lack of awareness about the feelings of others. To call Quran burning “insensitive” is to imply that Jones and his followers don’t grasp the offensiveness of their action. But as ignorant as the members of this church might be, no one can be in any doubt that this action is consciously designed as an act of provocation. Islam is the target of this attack and it is absurd to claim — as Jones does — that Muslims collectively are not also the intended victims.
In tying together Jones’ Quran burning with the proposed Islamic center we witness a false equivalence that has become all too familiar. Islamophobes poke Muslims in the eye and then accuse them of being culturally insensitive because of the manner in which they practice their faith — by building mosques, by women wearing head coverings and so forth.
Sarah Palin and others are riding on the sensitivity bandwagon because they think it’s a safe bet. Who can refute that sensitivity is a good thing. Most importantly though, it appears to let them off a constitutional hook. After all, it’s hard to wrap yourself in the flag and also oppose freedom of religion.
In truth though, the most reliable defenders of freedom of religion are not particularly religious — least of all are they evangelical.
When someone comes to my door and tells me I’d have a better life it I gave it to Christ, they are certainly exercising freedom of religion but they are not defending it. On the contrary, they are engaged in a religiously sanctioned act of arrogance that I regard as an insult to my intelligence. Even as I suggest that in a reversal of the current situation, they might not take kindly to my arrival on their doorstep for the purpose of educating them about Darwinism, they busily search for a line of scripture that might point me in the right direction. Lucky for them, I believe in religious tolerance and have yet to slam the door in anyone’s face.
Living religions (as distinct from their doctrinal underpinnings) are by their very nature intolerant and the purpose of religious freedom is to temper this intolerance by promoting a live-and-let-live spirit. (To his credit, President Obama has acknowledged that the freedom of religion also protects each American’s right to practice no religion at all.)
Tolerance does not mean that I bow to anyone’s prejudice; it means that I recognize and respect the autonomy of each individual in forming and articulating his or her own understanding of life.
The evangelical conceit — and it matters to me not a whit whether the evangelist happens to be a Christian, a Muslim or a Darwinist — is that there is no intrinsic value in the utterly unique vantage point from which we each of us engages the world. On that basis, the evangelist treats the spirit of the unconverted as open territory, ready for colonization.
America is a vessel inside which evangelical colonists roam freely, but however loudly they may insist on making themselves heard we must ensure that no ones freedom confers privilege in ownership.
This can only be the land of the free if it belongs to everyone.