A column by Kevin Leininger
of The News-Sentinel
Let's be clear: A Florida church's plan to burn Qurans today in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks was stupid, provocative, un-American and, ultimately, unchristian.
Gen. David Petraeus was probably right this week when he warned that such things could inflame Islamic passions and get Americans killed. The same could be said for this week's equally stupid – not to mention criminal – torching of a new mosque in Tennessee.
On the other hand, the supposedly benign Islamic center two blocks from where 3,000 people died in the name of jihad is provocative, too. The same could be said for tax-funded “art” of a crucifix immersed in urine, a film about the “Last Temptation of Christ” and almost anything done by the ACLU. But nobody seems too concerned about inciting Christians to violence.
And for good reason: With the exception of a few wing nuts, Christians don't respond to blasphemy with violence, or even threats. When a Danish newspaper published a few unflattering cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005, on the other hand, more than 100 people died in protests across the Muslim world.
I'll let the historians and theologians debate why that should be. Certainly Christianity had its militant phase, but the religion also teaches believers to “turn the other cheek,” while Islam recognizes no separation between church and state. But I do know this: If Americans think they can stop terrorism simply by demonstrating more sensitivity toward Islam, they are fooling only themselves – and in the process surrendering in a global cultural war that threatens the very freedoms they take for granted.
The debate over the so-called “ground zero mosque” is but one example. There are good arguments on both sides, with supporters claiming the undeniable legal right to build and opponents expressing the equally undeniable point that Muslims truly wanting to “build bridges” would be more sensitive to the still-fresh wounds inflicted in the name of Islam nine years ago.
And yet it is the mosque's opponents who are being lectured about the need for religious sensitivity and what failure of the project could do to interfaith relations.
The genius of the West, and of America in particular, is that it makes room for all faiths or none, within the bounds of secular law and government. As a Christian, I wasn't pleased a few years ago when IPFW used tax dollars to present a play depicting Christ and his disciples as promiscuous homosexuals. But neither I nor anybody else cut off heads or flew planes into buildings in response. I wrote a couple of columns; others filed lawsuits or picketed outside the theater.
When Newsweek erroneously reported guards at Guantanamo Bay were burning Qurans five years ago, 15 people died in Afghanistan – the same place people were chanting “death to America” this week in response to the Florida church's publicity stunt.
But the fact that many Muslims respond to provocation with violence should not shield the religion from criticism or scrutiny back home. To suggest that the motives and teachings of the people promoting the New York mosque should be immune from investigation is to claim a privilege that does not and should not exist in a free society.
Unfortunately, freedom is often abused. Christians have been the victims of that abuse as well as the perpetrators of it. But if simple decency is not enough to prevent burning of the Quran or a mosque, that still does not justify the kind of response Petraeus fears. If Islam really is to be considered the “religion of peace” its followers insist it is, those struggling for its heart and soul must be willing to bear a few insults along the way – and to let the law do its job when those insults cross the line into illegality.
But as we reflect on the terrible events that took place nine years ago today, it's important to remember that America, not Islam, was the target of an unprovoked attack. It would be unfair to blame an entire religion for the actions of a few criminal zealots, but it would be even more unfair to ignore the fact that, despite a few acts of boorishness, individual Americans have responded with the kind of tolerance, restraint and grace under fire that remains far too rare in certain parts of the world.