Monday, September 20, 2010

Media Circus: The Book Burning That Never Was

In my first post on this topic, I said that what we have here is a tale of two provocations. I also said that they are not equal in weight. I covered the first and weightier provocation--that of building a new mosque at Ground Zero--in my first post. The counter-provocation, if counter it was, came when the media created a circus around an obscure Florida Church.

Pastor Jones, who preaches at rural church of 50 members, let the media know that he intended to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The mainstream media took the bait. And Pastor Jones sat back and counted off his fifteen minutes of fame. In watching the predictable reactions, one has to wonder who was taking whom for a ride to the old fishing hole.

In the more sedate newspapers here in flyover country, such a story only gets a few lines in the National Round-Up' --if it even gets that. And gets it only if the event actually occurs. It is a curiousity, not news. But the national media, ever eager to jump on anything that confirms its prejudices about ordinary Americans, worked itself into a frenzy over the bookburnings that never were. And after he had gotten a sufficient amount of attention--including interviews with international leaders, a call from the President of the United States, and a free trip to New York to act out his vision of himself as a high-level negotiator--Pastor Jones announced that the Koran burning was off. Apparently, he had gotten the attention he was looking for. Pastor Jones-1, MSM-0.

Apparently, too, the MSM succeeded in creating moral equivilency between the construction of an expensive mosque-cum-community center at Ground Zero and an obscure Florida pastor from the hinterlands threatening to burn books. This is unsurprising, because the media "elites" no longer ask if a story will "play in Peoria"; they ask if the story confirms their prejudices about the American heartland. This story did just that, allowing them to portray ordinary Americans as narrow-minded bigots that are all eager to be caught on film burning books.

For the record, most Americans are opposed to the wanton destruction of burning books, flags, or anything else. In the heartland especially, a certain polite rectitude unknown inside the beltway creates a certain restraint, and people that live in the towns of flyover country tend to be friendly to one another and the stranger within their gates. Most people in this country are not salivating to hate their neighbors; they are too busy working to fulfill their dreams, to feed their families, to educate their children, to make of their communities and towns good and pleasant places to live.

That the media was willing to fan the very tiny spark of one unimportant pastor of a small church of 50 people threatening to burn a Koran in rural Florida is telling. It is telling in the story that is not and never was. The story that the MSM was dying to find. The story of hundreds of thousands of Americans ready to take up the torch and burn Korans in great bonfires across the country. There were 50 people. And some others on the internet, not really engaged, who tried to fan the flames of the book-pyre that never was.

Also telling is the story of the reaction of Muslim clerics and leaders worldwide. The threat of rioting in the streets and violence against Americans and Christians, if the Koran was burned. In an interview with CNN, for example, he Imam of the Ground Zero mosque, Feisal Rauf had this to say:

O'BRIEN: Then why is it hard to back up and say, and now that we've done it, let's undo it, let's just say we won't. Let's pick another spot that's been offered?

RAUF: As I just mentioned, our national security now hinges on how we negotiate this, how we speak about it, and what we do. It is important for us now to raise the bar on our conversation--

O'BRIEN: What's the risk? When you say "national security," what's the risk?

RAUF: As I mentioned, because if we move, that means the radicals have shaped the discourse. The radicals will shape the discourse on both sides. And those of us who are moderates on both sides -- you see Soledad, the battle front is not between Muslims and non-Muslims . . . The radicals actually feed off each other. And in some kind of existential way, need each other. And the more that the radicals are able to control the discourse on one side, it strengthens the radicals on the other side and vice versa. We have to turn this around.

(CNN Transcripts, Larry King Live, Sept. 08, 2010, retrieved Sept. 20, 2010 from

The point here, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, is two-fold, according to Rauf. First, is the implied threat that if Rauf actually has the sensitivity to American values, manners and mores--that is if he respects the values of the country in which he lives--and moves the mosque to a more politic location in lower Manhattan, then Muslims somewhere will make some violent move against the United States. This is the threat of an act of war, placing our national security at risk. It is an veiled threat that if not made by the Imam, was at least delivered by the Imam. If the Imam knows of some substantial threat to the United States, then it is his duty as a citizen, on pain of treason, to deliver that knowledge to the government of the United States.

Secondly, Rauf is making the same claim of moral equivalency that the MSM invented for this drama. He is claiming that Pastor Jones and his misguided congregation of 50 people is morally equivalent to radical Islamists. Certainly threatening to burn the Koran is an imprudent act, and in my mind a morally offensive act of wanton destruction. But it is not a crime. It is self-expression protected in the US by the First Amendment. Jones and his church members are hardly on the same moral plane as radical Islamists who turn passenger jets into instruments of wholesale murder, strap bombs to the bodies of children to kill civilians, and have attacked the United States Navy in peacetime at a neutral port.

This game of moral equivilancy is the stock and trade of those who play the victim to get what they want. Rauf has planned an act of extreme insensitivity towards the families of those murdered on 9/11, a provocative act toward the people of New York City and the United States, who were attacked that day, but by this claim he wishes to convince us that he is the moderate by making Pastor Jones and his wingnuts the moral equivilant of trained killers who are well financed by various Islamists polities and organizations. Please! As Mark Twain used to tell us: "Saying so don't make it so."

The planned mosque is a great provocation to the people of the United States, and by his protests that he can't change its location without violence from unnamed but very real organizations in the Moslem world, Rauf is engaging in moral blackmail. And more. He not only wants to force the issue of the mosque upon us, he wants us to give our moral sanction to it in the name of tolerance. But blackmail is wrong: it is force, and a violation of another's liberty. And the threat of violence against innocent Americans and their allies the world over, people who may or may not hold any opinion about this mosque, is purely evil. To tolerate such evil in order to placate terrorists is injustice. No matter how much he protests otherwise, Rauf is not moderate, he is a spokesman for terrorism. He deserves no hearing, no sanction from us.

And Pastor Jones? He is a wiley operator who saw the opportunity for a brief moment of martyrdom by editorial, and took it. He understood well the old saying that "no publicity is bad publicity." He deserves to fade back into obscurity, as he will when the performance is over. The Koran-burning that never was became a media circus, a small provocation that was supposed to be used by the media to incite division and violence. It didn't. It wasn't even news.


Brianna said...

Have you seen the latest Latma?

"Terry Jones threatens to burn a Koran. In response, Muslims burn New Testaments and threaten revenge. Terry Jones calls the Koran burning off. In response, Muslims burn New Testaments and threaten revenge. Israel turns the clock back for daylight savings time. In response, Muslims burn clocks and threaten revenge."

Allen Cogbill said...

Pat Condell, a Brit who is also a devout atheist, fairly recently awakened to the fact that his freedoms were being stolen, and has taken to producing video monologues for a couple of years now, mostly advocating freedom, though occasionally attacking religion.

He summarizes the whole issue of the so-called Ground Zero mosque very well, but has other commentary, as well. I find his staunch advocacy for freedom refreshing, especially coming from a Brit. I wish there were more Americans with similar notions.