On this solemn weekend of the 9th anniversary of 9-11, I find myself deeply troubled by the most recent development involving the Florida Pastor who threatened to publicly burn Qurans, but decided against doing so after receiving enormous pressure from fellow pastors and high ranking government officials.
Apparently, officials at the highest levels of our government had pressured him (some would say pleaded with him) to not carry out his plans for fear of retaliation against our Troops. One report even said he got a visit from the FBI at his home in Florida. If this is so, such actions should alarm us all and cause us to ask some hard questions, even if we don't agree with the Pastor's proposed actions.
First, whether or not the Rev. Jones ultimately goes through with his plans to burn Qurans at some point, I believe we are headed down a dangerous slippery slope on issues surrounding religious freedom, religious tolerance, and freedom of speech. Like most people of faith and good will, I do not support or condone acts of hatred or violence against another person's religion. However, what I condone less is high level government officials like Secretary of Defense Gates calling directly a religious leader of a small church in one of the sovereign states of the United States and asking him to stand down lest he inflame passions against Muslims and incite violence by radical extremists within Islam against our Troops serving in the Middle East region.
Um, in case you all missed it--radical Islam declared war on America on September 11, 2001. Not the other way around. Their passions are already inflamed as against America.
Over the last several months we have seen an uncomfortable and some would say dangerous change in tone and discourse as it relates to the Islamic faith and how it is perceived and practiced here in America. The whole brouhaha started over the proposed Islamic Cultural Center at Ground Zero in New York City, and has now escalated into an international incident with other nations condemning the U.S. as anti-Muslim, and intolerant of religious freedom due to the proposed actions by the Pastor to burn the Quran.
According to news sources last Thursday evening, Pastor Terry Jones was under tremendous pressure from U.S. officials all the way up to President Barack Obama, who condemned Jones' proposed actions to host a public Quran burning on Saturday - the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Friday, Jones abruptly announced a change of plans to a media circus outside his Dove Outreach World Center in Gainesville shortly after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called him to make a direct appeal. Gates told Jones that burning Qurans would inflame Muslim sentiment and endanger U.S. troops abroad.
Here is my problem with what Secretary Gates did: First, after watching Imam Feisal on CNN's Larry King on Wednesday hosted by my friend Soledad O'Brien I got the distinct feeling that we (Americans) were being politely threatened that we had better tread lightly with how we handle the Ground Zero Islamic Cultural Center lest we upset the "radical extremists" and put our nation at risk for further attacks domestically. Second, the response to this situation from officials at the highest levels from President Obama to Secretary Clinton continue to be one of "fear" and sending a message to radical Islam extremists and terrorists that the United States will not do anything to upset the apple cart and that we will walk on egg shells so as not to offend Islam radicals. Third, why is it that our officials have no concern about those who burn Bibles and flags in places where our Troops are serving on the ground, yet we go into panic mode over a nutty pastor with a small obscure church in Florida who might burn a Quran?
None of us wants to mistreat, or cause ill will with our Muslim brethren that live here in the United States. But, as I raised the question in an op-ed I wrote via theGrio.com titled, "Is Muslim the new M word", [See http://www.thegrio.com/politics/has-muslim-become-the-m-word.php] where is the Muslim community in condemning inflammatory rhetoric or actions made against the United States and Americans?
Where is the responsibility of other nations to respect the sovereignty of the United States on our own soil? Where is the outrage and concern that Americans and our religious beliefs (yes, as a majority Christian nation, that includes our 44th President) are being endangered or attacked in the name of protecting the rights of other faiths? These are serious questions and the most serious question of all is what about Rev. Jones freedom speech.
Historically speaking the Catholic Church for centuries burned "Holy books and writings" that were in anyway contrary to Catholic dogma. Burning religious texts and books is nothing new folks. So, why when it comes to the Muslim/Islamic religion do we have a different set of rules?
Is it because we fear what the Imam Feisel said in his interview on CNN this week or in previous statements (e.g., that we must be "careful" how we handle the Mosque issue, etc. lest we draw the wrath of Islamic radicals on our Troops)? Or is it because we fear retaliation from Islamic terrorists once again on the homeland?
Let me be clear my fellow Americans, we don't always have to like what our fellow citizens say or what they do in the name of freedom, but here in America as long as your conduct is lawful and peaceful we don't ask you to abridge that freedom, no matter the consequences. Freedom of speech and protest is a critical underpinning of how this nation was built.
Our founder's, in their infinite wisdom drafted one provision into our Constitution (which is also in the Bill of Rights) that to me is the cornerstone of the this great democratic republic: The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the making of any law "respecting an establishment of religion", impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
The first Amendment, in my opinion, is what makes America--America.
In the final analysis, we had all better take a step back and think about what is happening here and as I said before decide who we are as Americans and who we want to be because if we are not very careful the very freedom upon which we were founded will slowly fade and we may find ourselves wishing we had stood up sooner to protect those rights and freedoms.