Ooh, Buuuuurn…

Pastor Terry Jones is a complete idiot for wanting to burn a bunch of copies of the Koran tomorrow.

He’s also got every right to do so.

Yeah, I know that’s not a popular way to look at it, but the inconvenient truth here is that freedom of speech isn’t about what’s popular or what’s likely to upset the fewest people.  It’s about having the right to express yourself without the government telling you, “No.”  It’s about being able to say things that are unpopular because sometimes it’s the unpopular things that need to be said.  And if we’re going to stand up and try to stifle Mr. Jones and his book barbecue, we’re setting ourselves up to be stifled when someone decides what we have to say doesn’t sit right with them.

It sucks, I know.  In no way do I respect this man or what he’s trying to say with this gesture.  But I don’t get to toss the Constitution and the Bill of Rights out the window because of that.

Now some argue that this display will only incite Muslims to retaliate violently against Americans overseas, and that that should be sufficient reason for not doing it.  And I’m not entirely unsympathetic to that.  But I’m not about to curtail an American citizen’s right to expression because a bunch of unhinged lunatics might react badly to it.  We should not be letting how radical Islam might respond determine how we exercise our rights in this country.  They hate us for our capitalist lifestyle; should I stop getting that paycheck every Friday?  They hate us for our religious tolerance; should I start picketing in front of synagogues and churches?  People like to toss around the phrase, “We’re letting the terrorists win.”  Well, we’re letting the terrorists win if we let their feelings dictate how we behave.  It’s what they want.  It’s the whole purpose of terrorism.  Damned if I’m going to give them the satisfaction.

There are also some who are trying to draw parallels between the Koran burning and the Islamic community center near Ground Zero, that both are things that have every right to be done but shouldn’t out of sensitivity.  Which is also a load of crap.  Because in no way is setting on fire the holy book of millions of people in an effort to call attention to how evil their religion is comparable to a group legally purchasing and developing a piece of property.  The only thing the two issues have in common is the level to which they’ve been blown out of proportion by a media that doesn’t seem to have anything better to do with its time other than alternately scare and incite people.

And then there are those who bemoan the burning of any book, who see it as an assault not on a people or an ideology, but on ideas themselves.  And that may have been the case in a time when there were maybe two dozen copies of any book in existence.  But there’s no way Pastor Jones is going to stamp out the Koran with his little shindig.  It took a five-second Google search for “Koran online” to turn up page after page of versions on the internet.  And there are millions of copies in print, and the words live on in the minds of millions of followers of Islam.  The idea isn’t going anywhere.  Just the vessel that holds it.  Yes, burning a book is an act of protest I myself would never engage in, but I don’t get to determine how others express themselves.

Freedom doesn’t come without sacrifice.  And sometimes that sacrifice is having to bite your lip while someone says something you so categorically disagree with that it’s all you can do to keep yourself from beating them mercilessly around the head and neck.  I can’t hold the position that someone has the right to burn an American flag as a form of protest and then hypocritically say Pastor Jones shouldn’t be able to burn a Koran.  At their basest level, they’re both the same act — the destruction of a symbol.  And in both cases, the symbol should never be held as more important than the ideas those symbols represent.  Burning a Koran no more weakens the practice of Islam than burning a flag weakens our country.  But stopping someone from doing either would weaken our country.  It would be a fundamental violation of the basic rights the Founding Fathers found so inalienable, and, regardless of how you feel about it, a foot in the door to go after a form of expression you do care about somewhere down the road.

And this yahoo in Gainesville certainly isn’t worth setting off down that path.


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