Much ado lately about the douchebag Florida pastor who is going to burn a bunch of Qurans this Saturday. Inevitably, the anti-gnu atheist crowd has occasionally drawn comparisons to PZ's infamous cracker mutilation. And indeed, the analogy had occurred to me even before I heard it invoked by critics. In both cases, we are looking at the desecration of a religious symbol. If we are going to view one of them as a vicious act of bigotry and the other as a legitimate act of protest, we ought to have our reasoning clear. So I think this is worth examining.
On a purely practical level, it ought to be obvious that one act is simply far more dangerous than the other at the present point in time. At the time of Crackergate, the US was not in the process of trying to extricate itself from a foreign war involving Catholicist guerrillas and terrorists. There was no open war between a militant form of theocratic Catholicism and American universities. And if there had, one probably could have argued that PZ's actions would have been reckless. If there were a serious possibility that PZ's cracker abuse could have resulted in, say, a Catholic terrorist group bombing a university... well, I'm not saying we should self-censor out of fear, but this does factor in.
More importantly, though, is that PZ was specifically protesting something -- the death threats and over-the-top rhetoric surrounding Webster Cook's fateful curiosity about the Eucharist -- in a targeted and specific way. There was a clear message to Catholics: You can believe what you want, but what you cannot do is force the rest of us to take your symbols seriously.
The Florida pastor, on the other hand, does not really seem to have a point, other than "Islam is bad, mmm'kay?" If the protest had a specific goal -- protesting female genital mutilation, or the practice of taking child brides, for example -- then a protest along the lines of what the pastor is proposing might make sense and, though perhaps still ill-advised, would not necessarily be hate speech. (Though surely these cretins must be aware of the history they are invoking when they choose to use book-burning as their medium... Yeesh!)
And that's exactly why I get so frustrated when people leave out the important details of Crackergate. If PZ had just woken up one morning and said to himself, "You know, I really hate Catholics. I'm gonna stab myself a Eucharist!", then I think that might count as hate speech. Though even if that had been the case, the public reaction was still way over-the-top. And surprise, that's exactly the point PZ was making!
In fact, if this pastor's point was that people get way too upset about Quran abuse, then although I would still find the planned protest to be ill-advised, I would not necessarily find it hateful. Indeed, it's very silly how apoplectic people get about their religious symbols, and the Islamic reverence for the Quran is no exception. I am wracking my brain to try to think of any symbol that I hold so dear that if someone were to desecrate it I would do much more than call them an asshole. The closest I can think of is if somebody befouled a picture of my family, but that's different because a personal threat is implied.
I think the very closest I can come is an example like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. But even then, it's the captive-ish audience that is the problem. (Not technically a captive audience I suppose, but are you going to leave your own son's or daughter's funeral? Please.) If Phelps and his spawn simply planned their disgusting protests on the same day as military funerals, but across town, it wouldn't warrant much more than a shrug at the existence of yet another sick malicious fundie.
There's just no way that somebody could desecrate a symbol, that did not relate to me personally, in a venue where I was not forced to watch it, and really manage to bother me all that much.
But let's remember: That's not the point this Florida pastor is trying to make. He is simply making a blanket criticism of Islam, which due to the protest's violent overtones and undirected nature, translates to a blanket indictment of Muslims themselves. And that's when it crosses the line from legitimate critique into hate speech: When you stop criticizing the philosophy and start dehumanizing or threatening the people.
Zoooom! He’s off again!
9 hours ago