Quran Burning and the Boundaries of Our Freedom
Pastor Terry Jones’ declaration of 9/11 as the official “Burn the Quran” day was, quite expectedly, met by fierce opposition from the Muslim world. And by opposition, I don’t just mean a barrage of statements condemning such a form of protest. Radical Islamic groups have threatened to “leave no church standing” should an event like this ever be publicly conducted. With increasing international pressure on the US government, as well as military reports that such an event could bring US troops stationed in Islamic countries under great peril, the Obama administration was forced to lean on the pastor and keep him from doing what is otherwise allowed by the constitution of the Land of the Free.
A One-Way Street?
Why must Muslims be granted the kind of privileges that the rest of us simply don’t get? “Moderate” Muslims have protested against the event on the grounds that it needlessly instigates 1.3 billion people across the world and threatens interfaith harmony.
Where were these moderate Muslims and their John-Lennonian notions of peace, harmony and respecting each others’ feelings when Muslims all across Europe were parading the streets bearing banners like, “Europe, your 9/11 is on its way!” and “Europe is the cancer! Islam is the cure!“?
Such flagrant display of bigotry and arrogance was answered by silence from the moderate Muslim world. The most that I recall were a few words of condemnation mumbled by only a handful of Islamic government officials. The rest either ignored this outrageous exploitation of freedom of expression, or worse, encouraged such protests.
But all that was okay! When the pastor announced his desire to use the same freedom of expression against Muslims, NOW all hell breaks loose. Now Muslims all around the world, in a hideous exhibition of hypocrisy, are demanding the US government to bend its own rules of freedom and pressurize the pastor into cancelling the event.
The Muslim Response
As mentioned earlier, radical Muslim groups around the world have threatened to burn down all the churches in Islamic countries around the world, because Quran burning would be perceived as a declaration of war against Islam (what isn’t these days?).
Many churches in my hometown of Rawalpindi, Pakistan have taken the precaution of hanging gigantic banners outside their gates yelling in bold words of Urdu, statements such as, “We condemn the burning of the Holy Quran!” and “No tolerance for Blasphemy against the Holy Quran!”. The subtext of these statements is clear: “For God’s sake, don’t burn this church down!”.
The Facebook page entitled “We’ll burn the world down if you burn the holy coran” now has more than 27,000 members. And bear in mind that only the better half of the human civilization has access to amenities like Facebook (you can’t expect a 22-year old madrassa student from Qandahar, Afghanistan to be sitting on a donkey-cart, operating his Facebook account from a laptop). At this point, any stereotypes about Muslims being terrorists, or at least terrorist-friendly, seem to be appearing more and more accurate.
The West needs to stop rewarding intolerance! It needs to stop setting a precedent that the more violently a group behaves, the more they’d shower it with undue respect and privileges. Meanwhile, we’d keep humiliating and insulting the more tolerant citizens of the world by continuing to use the full might of our freedom of expression against them.
Should We Define Limits for Free Speech?
Personally, I’m against Quran-burning. It’s an archaic way to protest. At the risk of sounding like my college librarian, I can say that I hate it when people disrespect books..whatever book that may be. Also, the fact that the church is planning such an event seems rather laughable..like their own book is so moral and praise-worthy. The only difference between the Bible and the Quran, is that the Quran is taken literally by its followers while the Bible isn’t.
But is my personal annoyance with the event enough for me to demand the government to revoke the expressive freedom its own citizens? I don’t think so.
Freedom of Expression follows an all-or-none law. Either all of it is okay, or none of it is. Because the moment you pick out one group from the pool and make it immune to fierce criticism, you’re discriminating against all the remaining groups.
If you’re so keen about respecting people’s feelings, why not pass a bill banning the manufacture and sales of sandals and bikinis with Hindu gods drawn on them? I’m sure Hindus of the world would appreciate such a move. And while you’re at it, why not make heroes of Atheism like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking immune to the kind of harsh criticism and ridicule that they face everyday? Why not ban public criticism of politicians, which deeply irks their supporters?
You can’t keep granting special privileges to religious people just because they slap the magic word of “sacred” onto everything. What will it take for the non-religious people of the world to get the same respect? Do we need to attach the suffix of PBUH to the name of Christopher Hitchens to keep him, and along with him the entire Atheist Alliance, from being made fun of?
At this point, all I can do is to appeal to the hypersensitive, hyperestrogenomic masses of this planet to grow thicker skin..and realize that their beliefs are just as open to criticism and scrutiny as those of any other soul in the world.