An Open Letter to the American Pastor who wants to burn the Koran
Dear Dr. Terry Jones, Pastor, Dove World Outreach Center:
On a warm late summer day at Gainesville Guitar Academy, a 15-minute drive from your church, children plunk out the sound of their favorite songs on guitars. Yesterday at the music school where I teach, I also listened to a student play guitar until his soft chords were drowned out by the shouts of demonstrators marching past. Our music school is in a majority Muslim country, and the marchers were protesting your announced intention to burn copies of the Koran on September 11. As a fellow American, one whose life is endangered by your actions, I implore you not to do this. As you provided ten reasons why you wish to burn the Koran, I will provide ten reasons why your protest is the wrong thing to do.
1. It disrespects the memory of those who died on 9/11.
The vicious thugs who attacked the Trade Center and the Pentagon almost nine years ago did so in order to widen the cultural divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Your planned protest would also accomplish this, allowing the message of violent extremists acting in the name of Islam to resonate more widely. The innocent victims of 9/11 deserve better than for you to use the anniversary of their death to commit an act of which their murderers would have approved.
2. It is not Christian.
You defend your decision with a passage from the Bible (Acts 19:18-20) that does not apply to this situation. The passage refers to "those who had practiced curious, magical arts" gathering to burn books in which they no longer believed. This is quite a different act from you choosing to burn a book in which you have never believed, and in which over one billion people still believe. Furthermore, when the passage says that the "Word of the Lord grew and spread and intensified, prevailing mightily," it is clear that this is due to the increased number of new believers, not to the act of burning books which was, in this case, an act chosen by those new believers to signify their faith.
I hope you will re-read the Sermon on the Mount, particularly the assertion that "every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:22). Your protest and the words on your website reflect anger and provoke it.
3. It is un-American.
The First Amendment protects Americans from any effort by the government to abridge our freedom of speech; it does not exhort us to say whatever comes into our heads. If the government said that you had no right to express yourself, this would be un-American, but irresponsibly exercising that right stains our hard-earned heritage of liberty and our tradition of tolerance. Book-burning is an act more typically used by dictators as a form of suppression than by free socieities as a form of protest.
4. It contradicts your message.
I have taught music around the world because I believe that it can reach out across boundaries of culture and religion with a message of peace. From the name of your church, I would assume that you shared my interest in peace (the dove is a symbol of peace) and in outreach. Your actions foment hatred instead of peace and encouraging reaching inward towards our innate prejudices rather than outward towards the possibility of understanding.
5. It reflects an unwillingness to explore the wisdom in the Koran.
How much of the Koran have you actually read? It is possible to open it at random and quickly find a passage with which most people would agree. I did this and immediately found Sura 7:84: "Commit no disorder on the earth after it has been made so good." We should all be so virtuous as to live by such words. Given the disorder that may result from your actions, I regret that you have not yet realized that this is a book that contains much for non-Muslims to respect.
6. There are other books denying the divinity of Jesus
You state on your website that you are burning the Koran because it contradicts your belief that Jesus was the son of God, yet there are thousands of books which do this, such as those by renowned atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Thomas Jefferson willfully excised all references to the divinity of Jesus from his book, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." Would you burn the Declaration of Independence, the document without which it is doubtful our ancestors would have earned for you the right to launch this ill-advised protest?
7. There are more effective ways to express your views
If you disagree with any actions by individual Muslims, by all means say so! Engage with them, write to them, discuss with them, work with them, break bread with them, agree to disagree with them. I have done this with hundreds of Muslim people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, and the United States. Only good has come of it. The method of expressing disagreement that you have chosen is too hurtful to be effective.
8. Your views reflect limited contact with actual Muslims
Your website reveals an irrational fear and loathing of Muslims. How many devout Muslims have you met? How many have you read about who were not violent extremists? I have met hundreds of Muslims and performed violin for thousands more. They are great, good, and average; they are like humanity because they are of it. None of those Muslims warrant the fear that permeates your website. I urge you to read about the life and works of Abdul Sattar Edhi to learn what a true Muslim looks like.
9. Destroying a book is always a bad idea.
John Milton, who knew more about Christianity than either of us, wrote in the Areopagitica: "As good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God's Image; but he who destroys a good Book, kills reason itself, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye." No matter what the book contains, no matter the quality, it has the right to be read.
10. You endanger American lives.
Your actions endanger my life. The vast majority of Muslims who learn about your planned protest will peaceably counter-protest, but there are likely to be some, operating under their own perverted interpretation of the religion, who will want to protest your actions by killing Americans wherever they may find them. Not just myself, but thousands of Americans in the military, in the foreign service, and doing humanitarian work in countries from Mauritania to Indonesia (where thousands of Muslims have marched in protest of your plan) are in danger.
I understand that you are disturbed by many of the actions that have been committed in the name of Islam. I understand that at this late date, you will not want to easily walk away from the attention of the international media at a time when they are happily relaying your message to the world.
Therefore, I do not suggest canceling your event, but rather, changing its form. By pure coincidence, September 11, 2010, falls during the celebrations to mark the end of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. Instead of burning Korans, I hope you will instead consider inviting Muslims to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr with you, thus giving both of you an opportunity to freely and frankly share views over a delicious meal.
Tomorrow, in spite of the continued counter-protests planned for my city, I will teach music to Muslim children. You will continue preparing for the event you have announced for September 11. I only hope that you consider an alternate form for this is event, one that is in keeping with the implications of the name Dove World Outreach Center, with the message of Christianity, and with the tolerance, compassion, and empathy that have always characterized America at its best.
Music Teacher in a Muslim Country