Hypocrisy surrounds Rev Jones’ bonfire of Korans
Alexander Cockburn: Clinton, Petraeus, Lieberman... every one a hypocrite in their denunciation of Rev Jones
By now the air is so thick with pieties about the need for tolerance and respect for all creeds that one yearns for the Rev Terry Jones, mutton-chop whiskers akimbo, to toss those Korans in the burn barrels outside his Gainesville church in Florida and torch them on 9/11.
The entire world court of enlightened opinion is bearing down on this former hotel manager, now senior pastor at the Dove World Outreach Center and its modest congregation, which does – on the evidence of videos of the church's proceedings - boast some young female members of whom many a beleaguered Anglican parish would be only too proud to have raising their arms in ecstasy during Sunday matins as the collection plate passes from hand to hand.
Take Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State. "It's regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people, can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get, you know, the world's attention," she said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It doesn't in any way represent America or Americans or American government or American religious or political leadership."
This is the same Hillary Clinton who has spent much of her term as helmswoman of the nation's foreign affairs demonising Iran and threatening it with nuclear obliteration, during which uncounted millions of Korans and the people clutching them would turn to cinders.
And here's US Senator Joe Lieberman imploring Jones to think again. "I appeal to people who are planning to burn the Koran to reconsider and drop their plans because they are inconsistent with American values and, as General Petraeus has warned, threatening to America's military."
This is the same Lieberman who is the most sedulous US lobbyist for the interests of Israel in Washington DC. Has Lieberman warned Israel that its planned law to force every Palestinian to swear explicit allegiance to the Jewish state, hence the tenets of Zionism, is inconsistent with American values, and thus prompts him to reconsider his approval of America's annual disbursement of $3 billion to Israel's collection plate?
US Attorney General Eric Holder has called Jones's plan "idiotic and dangerous". Would Holder call the action of his Democratic predecessor as Attorney General, Janet Reno, in ordering the federal onslaught that led to the incineration in 1993 of the Branch Davidian church in Waco, "idiotic and dangerous"?
The Justice Department has always defended Reno's action, even though it prompted the blowing up of the Murrah Center in Oklahoma City, which until the 9/11 attacks was the most deadly act of terror perpetrated on American soil.
And here's General Petraeus making what is described as an unusual - for a member of the military – intervention. "Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan - and around the world - to inflame public opinion and incite violence," he said.
Petraeus can only advise Pastor Jones, who has the constitutional freedom to dispose of the Koran as he thinks fit, consonant with local laws pertaining to public bonfires. He can, however, suspend by a simple order the lethal Predator onslaughts that regularly decimate civilian groups in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region, inflaming public opinion and leading invariably to an escalation in violence.
For their part, Afghans are already demonstrating in Kabul in anticipatory protest at Pastor Jones's plan. They denounce disrespect for the Holy Koran. But we also learn from earnest proponents of religious tolerance and inter-confessonal amity that the Koran promotes respect for the Bible (though not of course the claim of the divinity of Christ – a view also held by followers of Judaism).
What did the indignant Afghans say when, in early August of this year, 10 members of a Christian medical team — six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton, three women among them — were gunned down by the Taliban who claimed they were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who screamed he was a Muslim and babbled some verses from the Koran.
The group were members of the International Assistance Mission, one of the longest serving non-governmental organisations operating in Afghanistan, registered as a non-profit Christian organisation, apparently not proselytising. So what if they were?
Jones is animated by religious principle, salted by the opportunism with which every effective evangelist for a faith is endowed as a part of the armory of conversion. He's aroused the fury of the American establishment which has as a matter of regular imperial maintenance promoted the murder of millions across the world in the name of "American values".
Modern Christians, fusionists of the let's-all-get-along school, deplore him too. Many Evangelicals think Jones is on track, though they mostly won't say so publicly. As a Southern Baptist said to me this morning, "Alex, they say that Christianity is tolerant. But Christ drove the money changers from the Temple. He didn't tolerate them. A line has to be drawn, just like Jones is doing."
What better symbol than Jones of what should have been America's overall resilience in the aftermath of the Muslim attacks of 9/11/2001: an assertion of the greatest of American values, as embodied in constitutional provisions for free speech? These freedoms matter most when they are under duress. Amid the duress after 9/11, the Constitution was trashed by the leaders who now decry Jones.
If Pastor Jones does go ahead, and ignites the burn barrels outside his church, I only hope that on the other side of the road or on some piece of property volunteered by the mayor of Gainesville - a gay man who is stupidly denouncing Jones - there will be other barrels, into which will be tossed by their opponents the Bible, and kindred sacred texts, plus Bacon's Advancement of Learning, Feuerbach's onslaught on Christianity and Das Kapital.
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature of the crucible in which ideas and principles survive or die. ·
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