Thursday, September 09, 2010

Fail Quote of the Day: PZ Myers on “Burn a Koran Day”

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BREAKING: (09/09/10 5:38 PM) – MSNBC reports that Pastor Jones has called off “Burn a Koran Day” after reaching a supposed agreement to move Park51 (the “Ground Zero Mosque”) further from Ground Zero, a deal that is currently being denied. More info to come. I will leave this post up nonetheless as it the points I make still stand.

Pastor Terry Jones
Pastor Terry Jones
[source: NY Daily News]

Well, holy crap. Despite the (relatively few, generally attitude-related) differences I may have with celebrity atheist (at least in the blogosphere) PZ Myers at Pharyngula, I never thought I’d read something at his blog that actually prompted me to churn out a Fail Quote segment, and much less for an instance where he’s just so flagrantly wrong. From his new post touching on the kerfuffle over Pastor Terry Jones and his church’s planned “Burn a Koran Day” this Saturday, the 9th anniversary of 9/11:

US President Barack Obama says plans by a small church to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 are a "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaeda.

Mr Obama said that if the Florida burning went ahead, it could endanger US military personnel serving in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

President Obama, you're a damned fool.

What are you going to do, send in the national guard to prevent Terry Jones' congregation from destroying their own private property? Will there be new legislation to list items that may not be treated disrespectfully? Shall we surrender a few more liberties because religious zealots are threatening us? Obama can do nothing and should do nothing; he accomplishes nothing by complaining about it, other than being part of the mob confirming the madness of the defenders of faith.

I was genuinely stunned to read something this distorted from the likes of PZ. We have the President saying (and backed up by US military leaders and even Interpol) that an act that would (perhaps deliberately) provoke religious extremists renown for their violent ways is a bad and stupid idea that would stoke even more anger and hatred, sentiments that would then be used to increase al-Qaeda’s recruitment numbers; a perfectly logical and commonsensical analysis. Then, PZ responds by claiming that the President wants to forcefully censor Jones and even deploy the National Guard?

Is he completely off his rocker? Or did he just really badly misunderstand Obama’s statement?

Never, in any way, shape or form, did Obama – or even anyone, as far as I can recall, Left or Right, religious or godless – ever claim that Jones and his group of bigoted instigators didn’t have the right to proceed with their book-burning, much less threaten to use physical force to stop them from offending Muslims (or anyone else). Pretty much every public voice out there declares with unanimity: Terry Jones has every right in the world to proceed, and no-one can, should or will stop him. What they’re saying is it’s a really fucking dumbass idea that will only piss people off without a goal or purpose. And pointlessly offending people is no longer an issue of free speech, but of just being an asshole.

I also strongly object to PZ’s ham-handed characterization of those protesting “Burn a Koran Day” as “defenders of faith”, especially considering how plenty of people who are against this dumb stunt are entirely godless and even anti-religious (such as I). Quite insulting, really, and I wish that PZ would think a little before writing such silly things. Not everyone who opposes acts steeped in religious bigotry is whiny religious accommodationist or whatever. For one, the reason I’m against it is, in case I haven’t made it clear yet, that it’s moronic, bigoted, has no real goal or purpose, and will undoubtedly result in increased tensions, which is the last thing we need with resentment amongst international Muslims already simmering at such high levels.

PZ also misses the mark with this next bit:

And to suggest that some guy burning a book in a remote land will incite more anti-American sentiment is absurd. We've got drones buzzing over Iraq and Afghanistan killing people with a push of a button; we've got an armed force occupying those countries; we have bombed their infrastructure into rubble. We've killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And now we're to believe that their love of the West will be suddenly devastated by a video of paper burning on youtube? Get a grip, man.

I don’t know if this sort of mischaracterization of what Obama said/meant is intentional or if it just reflects upon the fact that PZ, for all his passion and scientific expertise, is nothing of a politician. Believe it or not, anti-American sentiment is not an on-off affair where the U.S. is either loved or hated. However much it’s resented across the world (particularly in Islamic nations), it is possible for hatred towards America and its people to rise even higher than its current level. And that is precisely what Obama and military commanders like General Petraeus are warning against. If al-Qaeda, the Taliban and so forth are having such an easy time getting a hold and gaining new converts, how do you think increasing general animosity towards the U.S. will affect the people there? It would be nothing short of turning Islamist nations, especially more conservative sectors, into veritable breeding grounds for radicals.

Now, the reason this matters to me isn’t for the war effort’s chances of success, which are no matter to me; the quicker the troops come home, the better, and I couldn’t care less about whether they’ve “won” or “lost” the war, which was lost from the very first second a soldier stepped onto the ground in a battlefield that was deliberately manufactured out of the lies of the Bush administration. The reason more hatred matters is because … well, why the hell do I have to lay it out? Hatred is bad. It corrupts and harms, and directly or indirectly, leads to more harm abroad, including here, at home. And from a pragmatic standpoint: More people who want to hurt you → increased chances you’re actually gonna get hurt. It really isn’t that difficult to understand why increasing hatred is, well, again … bad.

Of course, the point is not that we shouldn’t offend anyone, much less twist ourselves and our actions to try and appease them. You have the right to offend anyone you like for any reason you like, as Pastor Jones is doing. The flip side is that everyone else has the right to call you out for being an asshole – as the whole world is doing. The right to free expression comes bundled with the responsibility required for your words and actions. Just as you can’t punch someone without expecting to be punched back, you can’t just act like an ass, especially if done so deliberately and maliciously, and not have someone else want to harm you – and possibly succeed. It’s simple cause and effect.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with what’s fair. In an ideal world, people shouldn’t have to fear for their safety just because they criticize someone or some group of people. But then, in an ideal world, extremists wouldn’t exist in the first place. This is the harsh, uncaring and unforgiving reality of the world we live in, and whether we like it or not, we must follow the unwritten rules of conduct that dictate that though you have the right to play with fire, it is foolish to do so if you don’t want to be burned.