This is What Happens When You Play With Fire

Something in humans makes us want to hate. And when we find something to hate, we often set fire to it. But those of us who are socialized suppress those natural instincts. Instead, we find relatively harmless outlets, such as football (or soccer) for our primitive tribalism.

Obviously, the Rev. Terry Jones (photo above) is not socialized. He might not even be sane. As a pastor in the German city of Cologne, he urged parishioners to beat their children, and his “brainwashing” reportedly left some members of his flock under psychiatric care. The church finally had enough of Jones and kicked him out.

Now, this wacko plans to burn thousands of Qurans in a demonstration at his “Dove World Outreach Center” in Gainsville, Florida on September 11.

So what?

Book burning is not new. And the act of setting fire to paper with words printed on it – whatever the words might be – is not a crime.

You might remember that a while back the Pentagon seized and burned Bibles belonging to American soldiers in Afghanistan. The Bibles, printed in the local Pashto and Dari languages, were sent to the soldiers by private donors for distribution to Afghans.

So those yelps of outrage you hear from American politicians rings hollow in my ears. Especially when so many of the politicians have been whipping the nation into a frenzy of hatred against the Muslims in our midst.

Terry Jones hated Muslims long before it became fashionable. He has found it an effective way to attract a following.

That’s not so different from what American politicians have been doing over the past few weeks, ever since word got out that a Muslim community center was planned for a site two blocks away from Ground Zero.

A gaggle of American demagogues immediately seized the opportunity to whip up public support by demonizing Muslims.

What nerve, they said. Imagine those Muslims daring to build a center – a center in which prayers would be said to their god – near the hallowed ground where so many Americans perished in the Nine-Eleven terror attack.

The poison spread across the nation, triggering an outpouring of anti-mosque outrage. Heavy machinery at a mosque site in one of the more primitive American states was set afire.

So Jones saw an opportunity to ride to notoriety on a wave of Muslim hatred.

His Quran burning gesture might appeal to some people. They might figure it’s payback time: If Muslims plan to desecrate hallowed American soil, Americans are justified in desecrating the Muslims’ hallowed scripture.

Of course it’s childish. Of course it’s dumb.

And, of course, it’s dangerous. General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has warned that Jones’ gesture could spark retaliation against American troops. I don’t recall him mentioning this, but it will be a lot harder for him to “win the minds and hearts” of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan after they read the headlines about the burning of the Quran in America. And that’s supposedly the core of his mission.

Jones, himself, is likely to become a Muslim target. Remember how British author Salman Rushdie’s 1988 book The Satanic Verses set off riots across the Muslim world? Rushdie was forced into hiding after Iran’s then supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, proclaimed a “fatwa” against him.

And remember how riots erupted in many Muslim countries in 2006 when a cartoon showing Mohammed wearing a turban resembling a bomb appeared in a Danish newspaper?

I suppose Jones wouldn’t mind being the target of a “fatwa.” He might even welcome the chance to go out in a blaze of glory. Especially if it’s “God’s will.”

But the wider implications of his childish publicity stunt will be more lasting. They will  not only put Americans in danger overseas but also severely set back U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

And the blame belongs not to one harebrained Florida pastor but to the demagogues who incited xenophobic frenzy for their own political gain.

They should have known they were playing with fire.