In case you haven't watched TV in the past week, a couple of really scary things are happening out there. The first is a wildfire that's burning out of control in Boulder County. As of now, 92 structures have burned, 1000 families have been evacuated, and with winds approaching 100 miles per hour, the fire is still 0% contained. Please say a prayer for the brave men and women risking their lives to save the lives of others. Update - a light rain and cooler conditions last night helped to get the fire 10% contained, but high winds and low humidity today present new problems.
But an even more dangerous thing is cooking up in Gainesville Florida, where Reverend Terry James and his congregation of 50 plan to burn the Quran on September 11 as a way to commemorate the tragedy of that day. Seriously? This is a fire that can be put out before it's even started, and I keep hoping against hope that it will be.
Religious intolerance is no new thing here in the US. Despite the fact that our earliest settlers sought refuge from religious persecution in England, even they have found a way to oppress and discriminate based on religion. Protestants waged war against Catholics in colonial Maryland, Quakers were tortured and executed in Massachusetts, Mormons were forcibly removed from Pennsylvania, and let us not forget the thousands of Native Americans who were slaughtered for their "heathen" (read: not-Christian) ways.
Travel forward in time to the mid-20th Century and you find mobs attacking Jehovah's Witnesses, the Japanese internment, and continued persecution and suspicion against Mormons and Jews.
Take another leap forward to modern day discrimination -- as of 2009, religiously motivated hate crime passed even racially motivated crimes against blacks. This is still a very real problem in the land of the free! (Racially motivated hate crime generally is still the largest category - accounting for half of all hate crime in America.)
There are striking parallels between the white supremacists and the religiously motivated Islamic Shi’a fanatics in the Middle East. Both groups transform abstract political ideologies and objectives into a religious imperative. Violence is not only sanctioned, it is divinely decreed. Hence, the killing of persons described as 'infidels' by the Shi’a or as 'children of Satan' by white supremacists becomes a sacramental act.
But I still haven't come to the danger in all of this. I think General Petraeus summed it up well when he said: "Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence." We still have thousands of American troops in Afghanistan and throughout the middle east. Do we really want to make their jobs more difficult, more dangerous, and diminish their moral credibility? Does that make any sense at all?
Already we see examples of outrage, like this rally in Afghanistan where a crowd is burning a figure of Pastor Terry James wrapped in an American flag. Imagine the scene after their holy book has actually been burned.
Now don't get me wrong - I know that free speech is important and in some ways I celebrate Dumb-Ass James' right to engage in this sickening act of idiocy. But I have to ask - how does Reverend Dumb-Ass feel about images of burning crosses? Burning bibles? Burning flags? Burning constitutions?
YES - they have the RIGHT to burn the Quran, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. It's stupid, it's irresponsible, and dangerous. But more importantly - IT'S WRONG!