This year, the anniversary of 9/11 will be remembered for the crackpot theology of a preacher in Gainesville, Florida, who has announced his plan to burn 1,000 copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on that solemn day. He thinks it’s “of the devil,” though he has not read it. Before the internet era, he would have preached this malice to himself and his small flock, and would not have captured the attention of the nation, Secretary of State Clinton, or General Petraeus, who has an already difficult job in Afghanistan. Apparently this malicious fantasy of Quran burning has caused great distress among Muslims whose hearts and minds are Petraeus’ concern. Go figure.
Rituals are powerful. The proposed Quran burning makes vivid the rage and anxiety still associated with the 9/11 terrorist attack, and offers an utterly incoherent response. The pastor finds the Quran to express a faith different in some respects from his own, and this he cannot tolerate; he seeks to publicly discredit it, as a way to somehow warn us of impending spiritual danger. Ironically, he also faults Islam for intolerance of other faiths. He wants, with this gesture, to discredit the faith of the terrorists and their allies, and to wound them; his proposed gesture would instead wound and discredit our progressive Muslim allies and friends, and our own sense of ourselves as a community built on fairness.
The ease of information sharing via the internet has turned an unworthy, violent fantasy into a public danger, should anyone believe that he speaks for us. Fortunately, the internet itself offers great potential for the larger community to put aside irrelevant divisions, and find its voice when it matters. Thousands have taken to the blogs, interrupting this season of political rancor, football, and economic anxiety, to comment with eloquence on a variety of sites, such as CNN’s Cafferty File. Links are also circulating to public petitions, including Thepetitionsite.com, which hosts Please Don’t Burn the Koran, and Petitionspot.com, which hosts Petition Against the Burning of the Holy Qur’an. 9/11/2010 will also be remembered for public outrage at the thought of burning any book held sacred by anyone. We do not burn books. We argue.
Healing of the community requires coming together of people who don’t have to agree on much, except that ritual burning of the Quran is not our way, and does not lead to healing from the malice inflicted by terrorists on 9/11. Community healing is promoted by people who are not just private, caring citizens, but willing to speak out to confront malice. Wish we could find a progressive Muslim leader willing to do that. Wouldn’t it be great to find a group of American Muslims whose creed explicitly supports interfaith tolerance, and values personal experience of divine love, over Sharia law? Good news. There is a group like that, and its leader is well respected by the State Department. The group practices Sufi, which is a mystical tradition within Islam, neither traditional nor out there, neither Sunni nor Shia. The name of its spiritual leader is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because he is the leader of the mosque planned for a certain site near Ground Zero. Yes, that’s the one.
What does divine laughter sound like? Just asking.
Peace, on this September 11.