Yes, I admit it. I am sickened by the plan of certain Florida pastors to burn a pile of Qurans on 9/11. I certainly think it is their right to do so, and I don't want to get in the way of that right. I think it is wrong; I think it confirms for the rest of the world (but particularly much of the Islamic world) that we are not the country of religious freedom and tolerance we sometimes like to claim that we are. But, of course, part of religious freedom is allowing others to do stupid things in the name of their convictions. I suppose if zealots will content themselves to burn books and flags and dolls instead of shooting people or setting off bombs where people pray, maybe that's a better way to act out their frustration.
But I still want a way to register my disdain for those who would rather confront the world with hate, and for those who would justify their hate by claiming it is a legitimate response for the acts of others' hate. I want a symbolic gesture of my own that resists perpetuating cycles of violence and revenge.
So my plan on Saturday is to purchase a Quran at my local bookstore, to carry it with me that day, and to read it in public. I do so because I am not afraid of a book. I am not afraid of a religious tradition. Yes, I know that that book has condemning things to say about my queer sexuality. So what? I live in a culture saturated with another book and its followers that believe similar things about my difference.
I've heard too many complain that no moderate Muslims spoke out against the 9/11 attacks. This claim is patently false. That you did not hear them doesn't mean that they didn't speak out. That people persist in believing an absence of voices crying to be heard is more a sign of their willful deafness than confirmation of their beliefs. But the real question in the near future may be, where were the allies of persecuted Muslims when this country started putting exemptions on the First Amendment? Where were the outspoken non-Muslim Americans who acknowledge and support their fellow citizens who are Muslim?
For sure, there are a few visible and outspoken citizens -- NYC Mayor Bloomberg foremost among them, perhaps. At one time even President George W. Bush acknowledged the plurality of faiths in this country and resisted making the War on Terror one on Islam. Our current President offers his patented "for them in principle, maybe" garbled stance, for what that's worth. And in this little backwater on the internet, there is also me. I will not stop the pastors with their bonfire. But I will stand up and be counted as someone who does something a little more brave with a book in public -- read it!
And should that offend someone, either in the abstract or in situ, so be it. Welcome to America where, for at least a little while longer, we are still free.
[Note: I credit my good friend and artist, Amanda Grove, for telling me about "National Buy a Quran Day" on 9/11. She credits Tyler Melchior with the idea. Share it if you like.]