Magazine article The Humanist

"Burn a Koran Day" and the Flames of Extremism

Magazine article The Humanist

"Burn a Koran Day" and the Flames of Extremism

Article excerpt

IT'S FAIR TO say that the fifteen minutes of fame recently afforded to Terry Jones--the once-obscure Florida preacher with the misguided plan to burn copies of the Koran at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, on September 11--inadvertently proved the value of humanism. Thanks to Jones's absurd promotion (and subsequent cancellation) of International Burn a Koran Day, rationalism and critical thinking never looked so good; blind devotion to ancient theology never looked so wrong and dangerous.

During the uproar condemning Jones's proposed stunt, humanists joined the chorus of those who found his book-burning antics and other statements to be bigoted, ignorant, and certain to cause emotional pain if not physical harm. Whether it was President Barack Obama or General David Petraeus who ultimately convinced Jones to abandon his plan, or whether it was the interfaith community, a death threat from overseas, or the group of New York City police officers who surrounded him when he checked into a Queens hotel room on September 10, all agreed that it was a good thing Jones backed down and canceled the event.


The fact that Americans of all races and religions (along with leaders from around the world) spoke out against this attention-driven circus is an encouraging sign, one hopes, of a positive shift toward religious tolerance and inclusivity. Still, while Jones's Koran-burning plan was being roundly criticized, isn't it peculiar that the feared outcome of his actions--possible violent retaliation by certain offended Muslims--wasn't?

After all, if everyone agrees that Jones wins a wing-nut award for International Burn a Koran Day, why are we so silent about those who would react violently to it?

It's common knowledge that items of personal property can have very important meaning--a flag, a photograph, a religious symbol. Considering that the Koran is the holy book of Islam, we can expect that some Muslims would take great offense to its burning, just as many Christians would take offense to Bible burning and Jews to Torah burning.

Still, despite the rudeness of those who would torch the sacred scripture of others, we should expect the offended individuals to recognize that virtually all public opinion sympathizes with them and agrees that the act is offensive. In a civilized, pluralistic democracy, regardless of the intolerance and bigotry of those who would burn religious texts, a violent response to book burning is unacceptable. …

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