Madness? THIS… IS… well yes, this is madness

Sometimes something happens in the news that is so painfully stupid that it’s hard to hold out any kind of hope for the future of mankind. It’s like watching a slap-fight between two legless drunks – it would be funny if it weren’t so macabre.

Such is this “International Burn a Koran Day” bullshit. For those of you who haven’t been following the news, there is a tiny church group in Florida that decided it would have a book bonfire, in which they torch several copies of the Qu’ran. Thirty people down in Florida decide to burn a book they haven’t read, to protest a religion they don’t know anything about.

Big hairy deal, right?

Ah, but because it’s a religious thing, of course the whole world goes indiscriminately insane.

Muslims all over the world began protesting, burning effigies, American flags, and chanting “death to Christians.”

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Afghanistan over plans, now on hold, by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Koran. Three people were shot when a protest near a Nato base in the north-east of the country turned violent. President Hamid Karzai said the stunt had been an insult to Islam, while Indonesia’s president said it threatened world peace.

It’s absolutely shocking the complete lack of a sense of irony or proportion that religious groups have. “30 people burned the book of the religion of peace? Well then we will call for the indiscriminate murder of all Christians, and the President of the United States. Also we will burn objects sacred to you, because your actions threaten world peace!”

So the Islamic world did pretty much exactly what everyone thought it would do – go batshit nuts and renew the chant of “Death to America” or whatever. Ho hum, nothing to see here, move along folks. That should be the end of it, right?

No, let’s turn up the stupid, shall we? General Petraeus, what would you like to sing for us this evening?

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen Petraeus said in a statement to US media. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world, we are engaged with the Islamic community,” added Gen Petraeus, who heads a 150,000-strong Nato force against a Taliban-led insurgency.

Thirty people in Florida are about to do something stupid. What’s a proportional response? Let’s get the commander of NATO allied forces to comment directly on it, elevating it to an international incident! Well now it will absolutely cause danger to the troops, because it’s received national attention!

Hold the line, I believe we have a comment from Darth Helmet:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper added his voice to the global outcry against a U.S. church’s plan to burn 200 copies of the Qur’an on Saturday — the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. “I don’t speak very often about my own religion but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that’s what we want to see in this world,” he said. “I unequivocally condemn it,” he said. “We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.”

Nothing like international attention to blow any sense of proportion far over the horizon. We now have international leaders lining up to condemn the actions of 30 morons in Florida. Are we going to make an international crisis out of every act of Islamophobia? Boy howdy!

Amazingly, the only voices of reason seem to be coming (from all places) Iran and Gaza:

Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said Mr Jones’ threat was an “expression of hatred of Islam” but called for restraint. “This disgraceful act contradicts the very duties of religious and spiritual leadership to enhance the value of peaceful coexistence and safeguard the rights and mutual respect among religions,” he said.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Mr Jones was a “crazy priest who reflects a crazy Western attitude toward Islam and the Muslim nation”.

When Iranian Ayatollahs and the head of Hamas are the islands of perspective in a sea of complete insanity, you know that the world has gone completely topsy-turvey.

There are two points to be made out of this absolute lack of cognitive processes. The first has to do with the power of religion. It’s almost completely incredible that the actions of 30 people in a backwater part of the Southern United States can set off an international crisis. We have roughly 30 regular volunteers here in Vancouver’s branch of CFI. If we stated burning copies of the Charter or The God Delusion or the Canadian flag (or all three at the same time), we’d get arrested for mischief without a news camera in sight. Why? Because atheists are boring! But put an equal number of Christian extremists around a pile of burning copies of a Muslim book, and watch as the entire world goes nuts. It’s 30 idiots in Florida. Take a deep breath.

The second point has to do with free speech (my favourite ^_^ <3 ). A number of countries have been demanding that the President directly intervene to stop 30 idiots in Florida from burning some books. Ignoring for a second the 8 or 9 levels of the chain of command that would skip (not to mention the fact that the President doesn’t have the authority to order private citizens to do anything), and also ignoring that it’s just 30 idiots in Florida, the United States constitution strictly forbids any kind of legal response to this – an act of free expression. The whole point of free speech is that you are free to say what you want. It’s hate speech, absolutely. I think it’s bigoted, I think it’s stupid, and I think it sends absolutely no worthwhile message other than “we are idiots, and we don’t understand anything about either Islam or our own religion.” But as I’ve said before, laws against hate speech are a really bad idea.

At the end of the whole debacle, the pastor decided to back down, an appropriately anti-climactic conclusion to a blisteringly-meaningless non-issue.

Of course the tragedy here (besides all of the people that will be killed and injured as a result of people being idiots) is that this pushes American Muslims further into the fringes, and closer into the arms of extremist groups that are the real problem. It’s not quite cutting off your nose to spite your face, it’s like cutting off your own hand and giving it to someone trying to choke you with it.

The correct response to this would for the governor of Florida to say “apparently some fundamentalist extremists have decided to do something stupid. I hope they vote for someone else in the next election. Floridians and Americans have more important things to do than worry about some backwash church led by a nutcase” and let that be the last word on it.

TL/DR:The response to the burning of Qu’rans is completely out of proportion to the act. Thirty idiots in Florida shouldn’t have the power to derail the entire world, and it’s only possible because of religion. Also, free speech ought to be absolute, even when it’s stupid.

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  1. says

    First off, fantastic post. Really well written; informative and entertaining.

    Now to add my two cents:
    Hands down, religion played a huge role in this. When it comes to religion, emotions run high, and people can act stupid. If this it was just a book being burnt, no one would care.

    But I think religion (and stupidity) is just part of this equation. The fact is, you could not have made up a story more well suited for the likes of Fox News and CNN, who no doubt played a crucial role in fanning the flames (no pun intended), escalating this to the current situation. Who picked up this story in the first place? Who decided it was a good idea to validate this stunt by giving it 24h news coverage across multiple international networks?

    Ultimately, the market decides, which is really frustrating, because I like capitalism. The problem with combining news with a pure market is that there is no incentive to give us the complete picture. The complete picture is boring. You get much higher ratings with a sensationalized, one-sided story that appeals to the fears and biases of your target market.

    As a follow up, I highly recommend this TED Talk by Alisa Miller.

    Cheers and thanks again for the post.

  2. says

    You know, I never get tired of hearing that… 😛

    I’m not sure why you picked Fox and CNN as your exemplars of opportunistic news organizations; the two are remarkably different except insofar as all of the news outlets are similar. However, your point still stands that sensationalization of “news” can have negative consequences. There’s an old saying that goes “Vox Populi Vox Dei”: the voice of the people is the voice of God. If we didn’t buy into these stories, the news organizations would report something else. They’re not at fault, but they’re definitely part of the problem; the alternative is for them to collude and decide what is news worth reporting and what isn’t.

    Thanks for the comment and the link.

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