I am not someone most people would describe as a bigot or an Islamophobe, but the international pressure to stop some backwater preacher from burning the Koran has actually made me hope that he will go ahead.
I supported the rights of a New York imam to build a mosque wherever local zoning permits it, because in America, we have what’s called freedom of religion. I understand this freedom to mean that the government can’t tell you what God to worship, or whether or not you have to believe in any God at all. The Constitution guarantees this important freedom in the Bill of Rights.
Another crucial freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means that the government can’t tell you what to say or write, even if your ideas are unpopular.
This preacher disagrees with the Koran, or he hates Islam, or hates Muslims for whatever personal reasons. He feels that the best way to express his feelings is to burn a pile of books that are considered sacred by Muslims.
This is his right, guaranteed by the Constitution, and subject only to regulations for the immediate safety of those in the vicinity of the bonfire. I understand he was denied a permit to have a bonfire- this may or may not have been a politically motivated (and thus constitutionally dubious) decision- this does not really bear on the crux of my argument here.
When we allow ourselves to be bullied by any group into abandoning our most basic Constitutional freedoms, we are letting American ideals erode.
It would be morally wrong and a violation of the Constitution to disallow the building of a peaceful place of worship because of the actions of extremists 9 years ago.
It is equally wrong to bar an individual’s act of protest, his expression of personal opinions, because others find his opinion offensive. Muslims may consider the Koran itself sacred- I happen to consider it an object, subject to no intrinsic protection whatsoever except insofar as a particular book might be someone else’s property, etc. A book is a bunch of paper with words written on it, bound with cardboard or whatever the hell it is they make book covers out of. it is not a physical manifestation of a Deity, and as an object it has less value than the life of a housefly.
So if you can do it safely, go ahead and burn “Mein Kampf”. Burn the American flag. Burn the Bible. And burn the Koran. The idea that people could “justifiably” engage in violence because of the desecration of an inanimate object is absolutely incompatible with modern American values, and with any sort of moral logic that could be sustainably shared in a free and peaceful society. Like the idea that pregnant widows should be stoned to death, this idea needs to be squashed, not accomodated, no matter what Petraus, the New York Times, or Obama says about the issue.