Guest post by Albert Howard
The plan to burn copies of the Koran, on the anniversary of the 9/11 suicide bombings of the World Trade Center, by the pastor of a small Florida church, has resulted in extensive media coverage and pleas to desist by a range of people including President Barack Obama. There even have been suggestions that burning the Koran would be similar to burning the Bible; this comparison was quickly dropped by the media, however, because of the fact that a violent response to Bible-burning would be unlikely.
The arguments in favour of changing Pastor Terry Jones’ intentions involved the entreaty to be tolerant – Jones’ action was originally in protest against the building of a mosque two blocks from what used to be the World Trade Center. Apparently 70% of Americans oppose the mosque being built in that area. Obama and the bright lights at CNN all agree that the Muslims have a constitutional right to build the mosque on that site; they own the property, and the US constitution is very big on religious rights. But Pastor Jones and his followers own the books he aimed to burn, and there is no law against burning them.
While the plea for tolerance is not specific (Is it tolerance for the mosque, or for Islam in general?), the real concern is for the probability of extreme Muslim violence in retaliation. Just as Muslims were prepared to murder innocent people in retaliation for the publishing of the cartoons of Mohammed and Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, they are warning of violence in response to burning some books. It is absurd that it is considered that if this violence were to occur, it would be the responsibility of Jones for burning the books, rather than the Muslims for killing or maiming innocent people. This is what is apparently meant by “religious tolerance”.
While the threats are claimed to come from a minority of “radical Islamic” elements, no rational, peaceful Muslims in the majority, have condemned them. The rationale is that Muslims feel so passionately about the Koran that any idiotic, murderous response should be respected and we should capitulate to threats of violence. This, in contradiction to US policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists – even to the extent of sacrificing hostages.
But, since we are constantly reminded that the murderous activities carried out in the name of Islam are the responsibility of a tiny majority of “radicals”, while the majority are peace loving, respectable folks just like you and me, except for praying a lot and treating women as chattel, why aren’t these supposed lovers of peace saying anything about the threats of violence against Jones? What kind of people consider the burning of a book more important than human life?
Why, in fact, were Muslims more concerned about condemning Jones’ legal and peaceful protest than in fighting against the horrible violence being carried out in the name of Islam? The most obvious case in point is Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani – the woman who, after having already suffered 99 lashes, was sentenced to be stoned to death in Iran. Where was the wrath of the “moderate Muslims” in response to this cruelty?
Islamic law dictates that the end of Ramadam signals that capital punishment can resume. While the Koran has no specific injunction to stone anyone, Mohammed is on record for committing a number of people (women) to death by stoning. The Koran limits its meting of justice to lashing, amputation, and crucifiction. After all, Allah is wise, forgiving and merciful as a perusal of the Koran will reveal hundreds of times. It is significant that the penalty for murder in Islamic law is 15 years in jail, while the punishment for adultery is stoning – almost always given to the woman, since it is always her fault.
The problem with the reaction to the Koran-burning episode is that reinforces the idea that the words of the book are “sacred”, and thus they must be “protected” from criticism. A letter in The Globe and Mail by Shahina Siddiqui (president of the Islamic Services Association) on September 9, 2010, for example, notes that her three-year old grandson has been “shielded” from the event because he “knows [the Koran is] sacred and handles it with care and reverence” (p. A12). It is disturbing to know that this boy is being indoctrinated in such a way, and that this is being encouraged by politicians and journalists. There was no mention of shielding the boy from the heinous brutality advocated in the book being used for his brainwashing. Although book burning as a form of censorship should be opposed, this is different from a person choosing to “desecrate” a religious text that they own. Books are burnt/landfilled/recycled everyday for various reasons (lack of space, uninterest); why should we care if the Koran is treated similarly?