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The Courage Of Our Convictions | Political Waves

Editor's Note: This article covers the antics of a Florida pastor named Terry Jones, who plans to have his second annual burning of the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 incident. Thursday afternoon certain cable stations were reporting that Jones, under pressure from just about everyone, had called off his book burning. He's been saying all week that he would await the word of his god, but I don't think Barack Obama counts. Jude cautioned that there are conflicting reports and that Mercury is retrograde. Let's hope the little weasel is telling the truth. Meanwhile, last I heard, DHS and other fancy cops had turned the entry driveway to his church into a security checkpoint. The things people will do for a little attention. -- efc

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when Americans lost their sense of themselves. I'd be surprised if the majority still considers our country the 'land of the free and the home of the brave,' but I'd probably be in the minority in thinking we're more free than courageous. Deeply polarized, we take advantage of our constitutionally-protected free speech, a liberty exploited by those who limit, hate and oppose the tolerance that democracy requires. We are free to speak our hearts in this nation, and some of our hearts are very small and dark, indeed.

In a tiny church in Florida, a minister named Terry Jones plans a book burning. He intends to gather his handful of parishioners together on Sept. 11 to burn copies of the Islamic Koran. This obscure little group, which calls itself the Dove World Outreach Center, believes that Islam is the antichrist. Last year, Jones's book burning was attended by about 30 congregants and local press, including The Independent Florida Alligator. Now, thanks to the liberal use of YouTube and an uptick in hatespeak from the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, Jones's book-burning has become a current cause celebre. General Petraeus, seconded by Hillary Clinton and the White House, warns that Jones's media event presents a danger to U.S. troops. Even the Vatican disapproves, but Jones is determined. A YouTube segment showing an American tossing Korans into a bonfire will be a made-to-order recruiting video for terrorists, gasoline on the fire of global jihad. Someone from Homeland Security might have a chat with Dr. Jones in the next couple of days.

Nine years ago we surrendered freedom for 'safety' and declared war on an emotion: terror. Bush the Younger had systematically dismantled the programs and protections that Americans counted on in emergencies, but we didn't notice because we weren't expecting any emergencies. And then it happened, televised on a clear September morning. The planes came, the Towers fell. We were shocked that anyone would want to wound us, horrified that the sanctity of our shores had been breached. We looked for answers and found the easy ones, the kind of simplistic mythology we tell our children to lull them to sleep: don't worry about a thing -- America is a shining city on a hill and Daddy's got a gun.

Alas, the war on terror was not the effortless crusade we expected. And now, nine years later, we might ask the potent question that always cuts to the chase: are we better off today?

The answer to that question is so tragic that it would give liberals a hefty dose of political capital if people could remember who got us into this situation. The unfunded Bush wars, the privatizing, corruption, and cronyism that put us in such jeopardy are all but forgotten now that a black guy is in power. Some on the left might remind us that Osama bin Laden achieved what he set out to do, attacking American business interests with a canny understanding of what makes Republican corporatists tick. The myth that America is too big to fail and can forever expand its empire crumbled in the hands of the Bushies.

Those who wonder how we surrendered our courage and freedom so effortlessly need only to look at the small-minded, tribal factions, "wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross," as Sinclair Lewis described them: the book-burners among us. German poet and playwright, Heinrich Heine, warned in the mid-1800s, "They that start by burning books will end by burning men." A hundred years later his books were banned by the Reich, whose rise some say his work foretold.

We were dozing when the fear came, and it caught us unawares. That was a handy excuse nine years ago; today it's the memory-cave of those who will not let go of their anxiety and insecurity, who resist the logical superiority of cooperation over competition and refuse to hear the whispering of their better angels. The changes endured by our nation during these years since 2001 are stunning, as explored by Bill Quigley in his op/ed, The United States of Fear. Yet we still suffer a kind of sticker shock from the Bush years.

Illogically, we may punish the Democrats for their political timidity this election season. To do so will only bring on more of the sweeping dysfunction that big corporate money buys us. Incredibly, a recently-polled 58 percent of the public believes that Republicans would NOT duplicate the policies of George Bush. Meanwhile we march against mosques in Manhattan or burn books in Florida and wonder why we haven't moved farther into a civilized 21st century. We haven't learned the moral lessons of history even as they make themselves obvious in our art and entertainment, our churches and mosques. Was it only fear that kept us from hearing our higher angels, who speak for inclusion and respect with voices like these?  

Another 9/11 anniversary will come and go this weekend. If we wonder how things could have gone from bad to worse since then, we need only look back at 2001 and examine the choices we made. We are not the same people that were attacked then, we've been down the road and around the bend since. We know something is fundamentally wrong with a false religious narrative that defies our Constitution, yet we lack the courage to enforce a healthy separation of church and state. We are anguished by continued warring that serves no evident purpose, yet we lack courage to rise up against it.

We need to put aside the simplistic notions that 'safety' is worth more than freedom, that ideas can be killed with bombs or guns, or that might can make anything right. Perhaps people like Glenn Beck and Dr. Terry Jones are put in our path to awaken us, to make ethical choices so painfully obvious that we must act upon them. Democracy, it's been said, is not a spectator sport. We must gather our courage to validate only the voices for truth, peace and equality.

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