Pastor Terry Jones protests Islamic law in Dearborn

Just a head’s up: this post is going to be slightly outside of the normal scope for this blog, but as it relates directly to the modern perspective on Islam, I felt like I needed to say something about it.

After a brief stint in the courtroom, Pastor Terry Jones of Qur’an burning fame (not to be confused with the member of Monty Python who explodes at the end of The Meaning of Life) finally staged his protest in Dearborn, Michigan on Friday.  He had originally sought to protest in front of the Islamic Center of America, but after failing to get legal permission, he instead held his protest on the steps of the Dearborn City Hall.  According to the Dearborn Free Press, 50-100 supporters turned out to hear Pastor Jones speak; however, by the sounds of it, there were easily more counter-protesters present, many of whom waved Qur’ans, Middle Eastern flags and shoes[1].

A lot of discussion has circulated around Pastor Jones’ actions, particularly whether they should be considered free speech.  For myself, I have absolutely no doubt that Pastor Jones’ protest should be considered protected speech.  However, just because it’s free speech doesn’t make it a good idea.

First of all, it’s incredibly stupid of Pastor Jones to ignore the Mayor’s and police force’s recommendations in holding the protest, as well as in going to the barrier constructed to hold back the counter-protesters and to heckle and insult them.  If he wants to have his right to free speech and free assembly protected, then the rules of common courtesy should dictate that he show the same respect to the counter-protesters.

However, I do actually believe that we have the first amendment to protect unpopular speech.  Mostly because we obviously don’t need an amendment to protect popular speech – popular speech doesn’t need protection, because people like it.  We want to allow people to voice unpopular opinions, because every now and again those unpopular opinions are actually right, and so we suffer through all of the nonsense in order to make sure the truth, whenever it does come through, can be heard.  What Pastor Jones’ did – however much I disagree with what he said – is exactly why we have the Bill of Rights, even if, in this case, I would not be inclined to believe that this unpopular opinion was actually true.

At the same time, though, I want to question the logic of why Pastor Jones held this protest.  I appreciate that he traveled to Dearborn because it has the larger per capita Muslim population in the US, but at the same time, I would argue that it’s really not his problem what people in Dearborn do.  If he really is as terrified by the mere existence of Muslims as he claims to be, then by all means, I would say he shouldn’t move there.  But as far as I can tell, his protest wasn’t even directed at anything the people or government of Dearborn had done.  It was just a protest against its existence.

Islam exists.  It’s a world religion practiced by about twenty percent of the world’s population.  According to the Pew Forum, there are 2.5 million Muslims in the US.  These figures aren’t going to change because a small minority don’t like them.  It’s just reality.

It’s not all bad news, however – as a reaction to Pastor Jones, the Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah distributed 50 Qur’ans at local bookstores as part of their Holy Week services.  According to the church’s Pastor, they wanted to make people aware of what the Qur’an really says, that “if people are curious … then let them pick up a copy on us and read it and decide for themselves what to think.”

In addition, a few months ago, another attempt to burn the Qur’an in a public park in Amarillo, Texas was foiled when a passer-by named Jacob Isom snatched the Qur’an out of the hands of evangelical activist David Grisham, apparently shouting, “Dude, you have no Qur’an!”  The news report on Isom has become an internet sensation, and I am happy to say that I have been informed by a friend that the auto-tuned version of the report has apparently become a dance hit in Cairo.  Yup, fashionable 20-somethings in Cairo are apparently getting down to “Dude, you have no Qur’an!”  If that’s not a sign of the world coming together, I don’t know what is.

[1] Another article argued that they were waving shoes because it’s a sign of disrespect among Arabs.  If it is, it’s not one I’ve ever encountered.  I would guess that actually it’s a reference to the shoe thrown at President George W. Bush by an Iraqi journalist.  But I can’t prove that.

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About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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