On March eleventh, Terry Jones, who became infamous for his desire to burn a copy of the Qur’an at his “church” in Florida, and then announced that they would not (remember “not then, not ever”?), actually went through with it. I’m appalled by this in so many ways that it’s hard to choose where to start. I keep thinking of the Nazi era, the US South as well—and yes, they burned copies of Beatles albums, which when you think about it is kinda funny; just consider how much those albums would be worth today in good condition. Fahrenheit 451 is perhaps literature’s most famous tale on the subject, and is worth remembering/rereading today in light of these events.
I can’t call Terry Jones “Reverend” nor his posse a church. That would be to confer a status none of them deserve. For one, I refuse. I compare them to Fred Phelps and the Westboro gang. They’re no congregation. In truth, their hatred overwhelms them until there’s nothing left—not God, not you, not me—besides hate. To burn any book is a hate crime, but it says much more about the mindset of the burners than the books burned. What does Jones really know about the Qur’an? Nothing. If he could have read it with any modicum of insight, even once, he’d have to conclude that it is no more violent a narrative than the Bible. The two books of course share a great deal in common, of course, but he could never see it.
So they hold a “trial”; that’s right—they put a book on trial. Of course, they found the book was guilty and put it to death by fire. And then, half a world away protestors staged an attack in Mazar-i-Sharif in which fourteen people died.
Those people died because of Terry Jones’ personal hatred, because it led him to burn that copy of the Qur’an. He is responsible. Personally, as if he’d murdered them himself.
So: what creates this degree of hatred? Ignorance, I think, at least in part. Jones is stupid as a fencepost, as his TV interviews plainly show. Not only does he not know, he doesn’t want to know, wants no challenge to his beliefs. Anything else is “a lie of Satan.” Convenient, no? Jones has no idea about the real world outside central Florida, a petrie dish of backwater conservative thinking undisturbed by anything so heretical as critical thinking or, God forbid, another version of the religious narrative because, after all, these people live on the hope that Heaven awaits them so it doesn’t much matter how much they suffer in this world. What a counter-intuitive way to live, eh? Jones and his kind live pretty much that way, or so I surmise, and on that basis they burned that Qur’an.
And fourteen people died as a direct result.
I’ve known people like this most of my life. Today, in Toronto, whenever I do impressions of American Southerners, my Canadian friends often recoil in quite real terror. “They can’t really be like that, can they?” Oh, yes. They can. My contempt for Jones, and for the whole idea of book-burning, knows no bounds. Consider for a moment the notion of book-burning as metaphor: a group of people with no real understanding about what said book actually says (because they’ve concluded said book represents a material threat to the sacred order and unity of their lives) decides the book has no right to live. Bear in mind, Jones’ posse actually put the book on trial as though they were actually putting the Prophet on trial; the book had no representation, could have spoken for itself if anyone had simply taken the time to open it to any random page, but of course no one was about to do such a thing. That would’ve thrown everything into chaos.
Apparently, the problem these people have is that the book exists, and so they burn it in order to (metaphorically) erase it from the Earth. Right. As though they could.
Of course it’s a hapless, witless, impotent act on their part. But it has real-world consequences. Jones should know that now, but I doubt he cares. I imagine he’s quite happy with himself, basking in the infamy he must’ve been missing. Folks, he committed a hate crime and must be prosecuted on that basis. Otherwise, we all will learn something important about the American justice system, that it tends to protect the few rather than the many, not a surprise, but in this case we’ll also have proof that America prefers to turn its back on hate, and let it flourish in places like the Florida interior.
Terry Jones is a criminal. Period.