the ny times this morning had a thoughtful article about the media reaction to the florida wannabe bookburner pastor. did the coverage of his [thankfully abandoned] plan to burn the koran today in commemoration of the 9/11 victims give him a prominence that his marginalized position didn't earn? he has a congregation of about 50; he clearly doesn't represent his own town; and no one outside of that town had ever heard of him before. in the larger scope of current US politics, he shouldn't matter. there are always fringe lunatics around; why give this one special attention? why take an insignificant preacher who is the moral equivalent of osama bin ladin without the influence that makes bin ladin a danger, and vault him into worldwide fame?
it's a worthwhile question, and a perennial one with the press. do the media cover a story, or invent one? certainly that ungodly preacher got his 15 minutes of fame, and then some.
but i'm not sure it's such a bad thing that he got so much press. as the same article noted, timing is everything. there have been other hate-mongering koran burners in the years since 9/11, and they have been duly noted somewhere in the middle of the paper or of the newscast, in a paragraph or two. there's a reason for jones' flare of publicity, coming as it does in the middle of the misnamed "ground zero mosque" controversy, and the other, less publicized, protests against mosques throughout the country.
something very ugly and very scarey is crawling out of the woodwork, and we need to know it and fight it. the economy is terrible, people are out of work, we're all scared. the mega-consrvatives are playing on that fear all over the place. despite all evidence to the contrary, they are skillfully trying to frighten us into electing not only conservatives, but fanatic conservatives, with a series of lies about our president [the black guy with the foreign sounding name], about the causes of the bad economy, about the dangers of health care and of taxing the rich. they want a scapegoat--or scapegoats. and there are all these darkskinned people in our midst with their strange god and their mysterious clothing, and they all want to kill us. their places of worship are terrorist cells; their sacred writings are the devil's handbook. we have to get them before they get us.
it's a familiar scenario. think germany; think 1930s. what happened then could never have happened. only it did.
the useful thing about pastor jones is the naked hatred of his proposed action. sympathy for victims of 9/11 makes it easy to skew the danger of what some of the survivors are doing. who can argue with a mother's grief, a husband's anguish? they are perhaps misguided, we say, but they have a point. let the imam be sensitive, and voluntarily abandon the site.
i don't argue with the genuine grief of the 9/11 survivors who object to the mosque. i do object to their logic, or to covering up their logic with compassion. we can have both, compassion and impassioned disagreement. 'islamophobia' is a good word; this is fear, irrational fear, and it can't be allowed to determine anything we as a country do. these survivors don't speak for all survivors of the attack; many have organized against their opposition. some of those, we must constantly remind ourselves, are themselves muslims.
pastor jones has no lost loved ones to justify his bigotry. there is no misguided anguish here, only a man with the soul of a nazi. let us use him, in his unambiguous foulness, as the model for what may well happen if we let it.