I have been out-of-town for a while. As the class sponsor, I went on the senior spring break retreat to the mountains of Tennessee. Retreating as we were, we watched virtually no television and certainly no real news. (This is also my excuse for not posting last week.) This morning I was shocked to find out that Pastor Terry Jones of the Christian Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, finally went ahead with it and burned a copy of the Koran.
You might remember the tempest that began last September when Jones threatened the action. Now I realize that the Koran is holy writ to billions of Muslims, but you would have thought that he was vowing to burn small children on a gas grill. Celebrities who had no business commenting on either international politics or religion condemned Pastor Jones. Even Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin agreed in condemning the proposed Koran burning. Through a much publicized meeting with Feisal Abdul Rauf, Jones agreed to cancel the event, allegedly in return for the relocation of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.
On March 20, Jones finally went ahead with it. They soaked a Koran in kerosene and incinerated the book. The response was not immediate. Four days later, Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident. This may be how most Afghans learned of the event. On April 1, a protesting mob murdered twelve individuals who attended Jones’ church. Oh—no, wait. That is not accurate. They were United Nations workers. Five of them were Nepalese guards. Some of the others were Swedish, Romanian, and Norwegian. Some of these people were beheaded. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations called for immediate prosecution—not of the murderous mob, mind you, but rather for the prosecution of Terry Jones. In Pakistan, they have offered a $2.2 million bounty for Jones’ execution. One Roman-Catholic bishop has called for Jones’ arrest because his actions have “caused” the deaths of over twenty people.
Let us be perfectly clear about one thing. Terry Jones was not the cause of anyone’s death. He did not attack any United Nations’ aid workers. He fired no rifles, tossed no Molotov cocktails, and he certainly did not behead anyone. He burned a book, a holy book to many, but a book nonetheless. Actually, he was not even the one to burn the Koran; it was one of his associates. With my students and with my own children, I try to make them understand that “you are responsible for your own actions.” If someone strikes you, it is your choice to strike back. I remind them that Jesus instructed us to “turn the other cheek.” No one can “force” you to do anything which you do not choose and you are responsible for your own choices.
Apparently that is not the case if you are a violent Muslim. Then it is the fault of some redneck pastor in the middle of nowhere Florida. (Face it: without athletics 99% of the world would never have heard of Gainesville.) Yet there are those who allege that this man with a miniscule parish has somehow managed to compel Muslims whole continents away to take reprehensible actions. That is an absolute falsehood. Those responsible for the deaths are those who fired the shots and hacked away at the innocent necks of United Nations’ aid workers. Blaming Terry Jones is preposterous.
Many Christians are unsure what to make of Jones’ actions. Many are condemning him. I find the deed distasteful and disrespectful; however, I believe that he has every legal right and protection to do so. Furthermore, I believe that what he was trying to do is in line with historic Christian tradition. There is an ancient prayer which goes, “Lord, paint the dragon red, that all might see him.” I am afraid that too many people are turning a blind eye to the danger posed by Islam. This is entirely remarkable considering the great litany of violent misdeeds committed by murderous Muslims in even the last decade. I am afraid America has become those people the Prophet Jeremiah addressed by saying, “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” (5:21) We are willfully turning a blind eye to the dark side of Islam, the side which calls for honor killings of teenage girls, executions for apostasy, removal of basic human rights for women, and the loss of freedom of religion for all, the side which brooks absolutely no dissent.
Pastor Terry Jones may be an ignorant ass, but he has succeeded in one thing. Like the late Steve Irwin poking the croc in the eye with a stick, Jones has shown us what happens when Islam becomes enraged. May we see this dragon for what it is and may the Holy Spirit give us the wisdom to know how to best face the dragon when it turns its fire-breathing head towards us again.