Opinion: Burn books or kill people?

Imagine being the mother of one of the U.S. soldiers murdered last week in Afghanistan in retaliation for the burning of Korans on a U.S. military base there. First, you discover that the Korans had already been desecrated by the jihadist prisoners themselves, who purloined the holy books with what U.S. authorities described as “extremist inscriptions” meant for covert and violent purposes. In fact, that’s why the Korans were seized in the first place — they were considered a security threat.

Next, you learn that although U.S. authorities had good reason to destroy these books, they did so inadvertently. As Andrew C. McCarthy reports in National Review Online: “The soldiers dispatched to burn refuse from the jail were not the officials who had seized the books, had no idea they were burning Korans, and tried desperately to retrieve the books when the situation was brought to their attention.”

Then, after learning that your son was killed because of this American “mistake,” you read about the reaction of President Barack Obama. The president didn’t defend America’s position or make a passionate appeal against murdering innocents in the name of religion. Instead, he offered an apology to the Afghan president: “I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident. … I extend to you and the Afghani people my sincere apologies.”

No mention of the murder of your son. No public condolences to the families of those murdered.

Now, if you are the mother of one of those boys, how are you supposed to feel? The world shows its empathy for the followers of a burned holy book but seems utterly indifferent to those murdered by some of those very followers.

What am I missing here?

Can you imagine if religious Jews had gone on a murderous rampage after Palestinians destroyed Torah scrolls while desecrating Joseph’s tomb a few years ago in Nablus? Can you imagine if Buddhist or Christian or Hindu groups murdered people every time someone desecrated their religion? Would anyone apologize to the offended religious groups even though they killed people in retaliation — as we are doing now with Muslims — or would they condemn the murderers, as well they should?

Why are we so silent at this blatant double standard?

Why do we patronize Muslims by treating them so differently, as if we can’t expect the same behavior from them that we do of other religious groups? What are we saying, that they love their religion more than we love ours? That they’re more fiercely protective of their holy books? That they’re not as “civilized” as we are?

This is insulting to Muslims and to the very idea of religion. The beauty of religion is that it’s supposed to add goodness to our lives and help us value the supremacy and divinity of human life. How is our cowardly reaction to the murder of God’s children honoring Islam or any other religion?

Murder is not just a morally depraved act, it’s also a serious crime. Why are human rights groups not up in arms over this double crime against humanity and religion?

And please don’t tell me we can’t speak up because it will “trigger” the Muslim street, as if Muslims are machines that get “triggered.” How dehumanizing. Speaking the truth is a sign of respect, and in this case, the truth is this: Religious fanaticism that leads to murder is an insult to all religions, including Islam, and it must never be tolerated.

Of course, it is perfectly appropriate to protest offensive acts, whether those acts are cartoons that mock Muhammad, Moses or Jesus, or whether it’s the burning of holy books. But protesting an act and murdering people are two completely different things. If we can’t draw a big thick red line at the taking of human life, what kind of civilization are we?

In fact, I have this idea for a “performance art” exhibit that would dramatize this thick line between holy paper and human life. Let’s set up a one-day “burning station” outside the White House and burn books — not holy books, just regular books — as expressions of extreme love for human life. The portable exhibit would be called “Life Is the Holiest Book” and would include pictures and stories of the four U.S. servicemen who were murdered in Afghanistan last week for “holy reasons.”

Yes, the burning of books would be offensive to many people, myself included. But that’s the point. We need to make a shocking statement to the world that being offended for any reason whatsoever can never justify murdering people, and that the very idea of murder is the ultimate desecration of religion.

Let’s demonstrate to religious fanatics everywhere that the only thing worth being fanatic about is the defense of human life.

I can think of a few grieving mothers who wouldn’t mind burning a few
holy books if it would help bring their sons back.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.