Thursday, September 9, 2010

More on book burning

Shhhh...be very quiet and listen carefully. Can you here it? That incessant buzz droning on in the background, getting louder and louder by the minute. That's the sound of the blogosphere buzzing away over the Quran burning stunt planned for Saturday. It is a fascinating topic, and people want to speak their minds. I did so earlier, and I thought that today I should check in on what others are saying.

PZ Myers over at Pharyngula is strongly defending the burning.  An atheist (as am I), PZ is an outspoken critic of religion and has little regard for their symbols.  He is famous for desecrating a communion wafer as well as a Quran and a copy of "The God Delusion."   His main point is that Muslims have no right to riot or murder because of a bonfire.  He's right, but a bit naive.
And to suggest that some guy burning a book in a remote land will incite more anti-American sentiment is absurd. We've got drones buzzing over Iraq and Afghanistan killing people with a push of a button; we've got an armed force occupying those countries; we have bombed their infrastructure into rubble. We've killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And now we're to believe that their love of the West will be suddenly devastated by a video of paper burning on youtube? Get a grip, man.
This bonfire will incite more anti-American violence, and PZ is a fool to believe otherwise.  Has he forgotten the Danish cartoons or "The Satanic Verses?"  People will die because of this bonfire; it is careless and foolish to believe otherwise.  But, PZ is correct in saying
The problem isn't the desecrators. The problem is the people who have an unwarranted sense of privilege, that their beliefs wil not be questioned or criticized, ever, by anyone.  
Or as osuguy wrote in the comments (#16, in case you're curious)
Thank you, Dr. Myers, for saying what needs to be said. I'm seriously getting pissed off with the bullshit about "this will harm the troops!" we're seeing from the likes of Gen. Petraeus. Any violence that results from this is not the responsibility of the the church loonies; it's the responsibility of the fucktards whose god is apparently so pathetically weak he needs rioters to protect him from insults. Blaming the church loonies is pretty much surrendering to terrorism. What's next? Demands that the troops in Afghanistan permit stoning of women to appease rioters? 
 And what about the Muslim perspective?  Hamzah Moin at Maniac Muslim has looked into the future and wrote an amusing fake news piece on the burning.

A fringe Christian group from Florida is dismayed at how poorly their planned Burn a Quran Day ended up turning out. “This was the worst book burning event in history,” said book burning enthusiast Jen Kennedy, “Almost as bad as the time we burned ‘Book Burning for Dummies’”
Pastor Terry Jones has stated that he intended for his church group to burn copies of the Holy Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “Islam is a religion of the devil and we need to burn the books of the devil.” When pressed with the fact that most devils would enjoy things being burned he said “go to hell”.
NowPublic has a minor article, but a spirited discussion has sprung up in the comments.  Some are serious, some are hateful, many are very emotional.  They make for interesting reading.

The best, most honest, and by far most self-critical discussion on the net that I've seen so far is a post by Martin at The Atheist Experience.  He writes:

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I've been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I've been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I've been making up to feel better. I don't think they are. But I do think it's a positive thing, overall, that I'm willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they're planning.
Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam's rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone's life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can't possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.
Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it's hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don't think his motives are honest. He's exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we'd never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

I admire Martin asking "Am I a hypocrite?"  It is the best place to start this discussion, and it is a question that I failed to ask.  But, I will answer.

The planned bonfire is based on hate and bigotry.  Pastor Jones is making a schoolyard taunt of  "My religion is better than yours."  He is a hateful man, and all he will accomplish is spreading more hate.  He has also gained his fifteen minutes, of course.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day was a protest against radical Islam and the belief many hold that it is somehow above ridicule or criticism.  The propensity for many Muslims to riot and kill whenever anyone criticizes their religion is disgusting and offensive to the extreme.  EDMD was born out of the censorship of an episode of  "South Park" by Comedy Central.  The point was not to hate Islam but to demand the right of free speech.

So, drawing a Mohammed doodle one day, and condemning Pastor Jones the next is not hypocritical.  I admire Martin for asking the question, though.

So, that's today's wrap up.  More to come, I am sure.

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