When I read an article about the threatened Qur'an burning in Florida actually taking place I got a little cranky at the media for not picking the story up. I found an AFP report (via the The Sydney Morning Herald, via Twitter) that described the 20 minute trial and burning witnessed by only approximately 30 people. After reading it, twice, I retweeted, commenting that I was shocked it wasn't yet all over the news.
Admittedly, I failed as much as the media I was attempting to call out. Here I am, privileged enough to have a voice on a respectable media outlet and I didn't take advantage of the situation. I waited around for others to say something. During the initial threats by the Florida-based church to to burn the Qur'an, there was a flurry of criticism. Everyone seemed to make efforts to highlight the distance between this man and the rest of the non-Muslim world. The threats led to worldwide attention and shunning. Seven months later, when the church's leader, Terry Jones, actually followed through on those threats, the act was reported but not discussed.
Even my tweet was met with the response, "Let's not give them the attention they crave."
If only it were so simple. That Jones and his followers were just seeking attention, and that ignoring them would make it all go away. The U.N. staff in Mazar-e-Sharif probably wish that was the case too. Or would, if they and a mounting number of others hadn't been killed in the violent protests that took place throughout Afghanistan in response to the book burning.
Sadly, it took the violent deaths of innocent people for us to pay attention and realize this was more than a ploy for notoriety. Jones likely believes that the reaction to what he did proves that what he did was right.
Would anything be different if the press, myself included, had created more of an uproar? Why didn't I use the medium I have at my disposal to speak up about something that I found so disturbing?
For starters there was the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that another wacky American preacher, Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, have the right to free speech. Phelps is the charming man of God who pickets military funerals and makes signs that proclaim God's distain for homosexuals. While I wish people didn't hold some of the opinions they do, I don't want them censored or forced into any kind of indoctination via gunpoint (Mike Huckabee, I'm looking at you).
So, yeah. I was a big old chicken. It's easier to defend Jones' right to burn a Qur'an when he hasn't actually done it.
Maybe I wanted to believe that this man had gotten enough face time and I just wanted to close my eyes and wish him away. But books, no matter how incendiary - even the ones with zero cultural or intellectual value - shouldn't be burnt. I once worked at a bookstore and had to ship a book, I can't remember the exact title, that claimed to have slave testimony about why the United States south was better before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Instinctively, the urge was to "disappear" that book, but intellectually I could only hope the person who wanted it did for a reason that was closer to my own beliefs -- ie. to debunk that testimony and prove that it wasn't so.
Lastly, I didn't write anything because I didn't want to cover America again. I like Current Intelligence because it doesn't focus on the U.S. the way so much media does. We've got writers in the U.K., Afghanistan, India, Hong Kong, Canada and elsewhere and do a damn good job looking at the world as a whole. I'd just written about Islam and America and really wanted to look somewhere else. In doing so, I may have missed an opportunity to write something compelling about why Jones is the minority, even among those in the U.S. who are distrustful of Islam. I'm not saying it would have stopped any violence, but it should have been said nonetheless.
Oh, and before I go, one more thing. Because I'm a stickler for spelling, I just want to point out to all those media outlets out there who are using the spelling Koran that the Arabic spelling is لقرآن or al-Qur’ān. I'm not asking for the diacritic, or even the apostrophe, but can we all at least go A.P. Stylebook with Quran? Koran is so old-timey, like Mohammedan or Hindoo. kthxbye.