I am not big on wasting my space on lunatics. I try not to provide free publicity to those who do nothing with their lives except to seek that publicity. You can be confident there will be no Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton columns coming from me. But I feel the need to speak clearly and succinctly on an issue that deeply bothers me, and that is the threatened Quran burning in Florida. I do not really want to go into details about the pastor, or what he has been accused of elsewhere in his pastoral career. I somewhat fan the flames just by giving this “leader” of a 50 or 100 person church a platform.
But I feel it is very important to speak to my Muslim friends and students, as well as to my Christian friends and students. While this is a “no brainer” issue, it is important to say to my many friends who follow Islam that this is not Christianity, and it has nothing to do with Christianity. It is a price of free speech in this nation, and right now it is a high price. I cannot speak to what fanatics may do as a result, any more than I can speak to the fanatic who would hold this event.
But I can speak to what we can be as a people. What we can do is talk to one another respectfully, listen to each others’ viewpoints because we have a common foe, and think long-term. I almost wrote on the Manhattan mosque controversy, but I thought the discussion had been handled quite well in our local newspaper. I was particularly taken by the wisdom of my colleague, Dr. Anwer Ahmed, who leads a local Muslim community. I was surprised to find that he was opposed to the mosque’s location near Ground Zero.
What I was not surprised by was the wisdom in his reasoning. He felt that some people of his faith were not being dialogical enough, that they were not putting themselves in the place of those who were opposed to the mosque. My argument as an American for the mosque’s location is that it brings together three of our most cherished freedoms in one decision: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. Though I was bothered, as was Dr. Ahmed, by a lack of dialogical reasoning in some Muslims, I was bothered as much by a lack of dialectical reasoning in Americans opposed to it.
By dialectical reasoning I mean the ability to think long-term. In the short-run, the mosque’s location is incredibly painful and causes significant anger in many Americans who were permanently affected by the attack on our nation. But the long-term effects of directing where people worship will reverberate and, in the long run, impact a lot more Christians than it will Muslims. America is a nation built on the idea that we may speak freely, even if those who went before us have made some of what we say sound heinous. If we are not a nation that allows people to worship freely, what are we? What is unique about this place? And what freedoms are we fighting for in the Middle East?
We should think long-term, and, if we are wise, swallow the pain that goes with allowing the freedoms of speech, worship, and assembly that make us who we are. There will be days we regret doing that. In fact, what is about to happen in Florida is one of those. We would like to shut the Quran burning down, and shut it down right now.
Will there be demonstrations all over the world? Of course. Are American troops threatened? I am guessing yes. Will this help recruit fanatics to a cause? Undoubtedly. But, in the end, this “pastor” and his heedless minions are actually just setting themselves on fire. Stand back from the flames, ladies and gentlemen. Somebody could get hurt. Given time, they will burn themselves out into irrelevance. And, when they do, I will be standing, shovel in hand, ready to begin building the bridges back to my friends in Islam about whom I care deeply.
Categories: Bottom Line Ethics