Please Ignore Pastor Terry Jones

Monday, 13 Sep 2010 12:37 PM

By Kathleen Parker

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Dear Muslim World,

I am writing you today as an American citizen who is deeply embarrassed by current events in my country.

First, let me say that I am not representing anyone. I can't claim to speak for anyone but myself, though I am certain that many others feel as I do.

I want to address the current controversy over the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero and the so-called "pastor" in Florida who had been threatening to burn a Koran.

I'll begin with the easier of the two: Please ignore Pastor Terry Jones. I wish we had. He may live in the U.S. He may have a building with a cross on it and call it a church. And he may know 50 or so people who care what he says, but he's nobody. His threat to burn a Koran was a desperate attempt to get attention and nothing more.

Anyone can call himself a pastor, but there's a reason Jones leads such a tiny congregation. We have a long tradition in this country of letting people speak their thoughts in public, but we don't take many of them very seriously.

We laugh at characters like Jones but figure it's better to let fools reveal themselves in the light of day than to let them fester in the dark. I know this is hard to understand. We have trouble with it sometimes, too. Freedom is a messy affair and sometimes people get their feelings hurt, but we think the trade-off is worth the aggravation.

What we hope you understand is that most Americans were appalled by Jones' proposal, too. Many of us would like for him to crawl back under his rock and stay there, never to be heard from again. Alas, our laws do not forbid stupidity.

A few decades ago, Jones would be standing on a fruit crate on a street corner, where children would point at him and be scolded by their parents: "It's not nice to make fun of crazy people." Today, thanks to the miracle of mass communication, he can command a broad, if undeserved, audience.

What our laws do not require, of course, is that we give him our attention, and that's where we have failed each other and ourselves. As a member of the news media, I am sorry we handed him a megaphone, and I apologize. Please be patient. In a few days, he will be forgotten.

Of more pressing concern, and less easily resolved, is the controversy in this country about the proposed Islamic cultural center. I understand the sensitivity, as I'm sure many of you do. When we were attacked by terrorists nine years ago, our hearts were broken. They still are.

Nevertheless, we don't hold all Muslims responsible for what happened any more than all Christians should be held responsible for what Pastor Jones has been saying. Muslims also died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. To say that an Islamic center can't be built near ground zero is to say that all Muslims are to blame. I don't think most Americans believe this even though a majority now say they would prefer the center be built elsewhere.

This can't be explained rationally because this is purely an emotional response. Obviously, Muslims have the same right to worship when and where they please, just as any other group in America. The same rules of tolerance that allow a Florida pastor to preach his message also allow Muslims to preach theirs.

We may never be able to agree on some things. That is life. But let us all agree to some terms. Let's agree not to tolerate hatred — toward Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, or any others. Let's agree not to use inflammatory language. Let's agree to call out and condemn those who would incite riot, whether it's an imam who orders the death of a cartoonist or the preacher who wants to burn another man's holy book.

Let's agree that sometimes we will disagree but that none of this makes any sense if worshiping the creator means we must destroy each other in the process. Anyone who believes in God can't also believe that his divine plan included his creation's mutual destruction.

Peace be upon us all. Or as we say around here, God bless.

Sincerely,

An American


Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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