Thursday, August 26, 2010

American Values and
‘Burn a Koran’ Day

In an earlier post, I wrote on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” issue, about the placement of a new Islamic cultural center a mere 600 feet from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Essentially, I said that although I wished the center to be placed elsewhere, as an American I recognized that the Bill of Rights gives any religious organization the right to build wherever they have a legal right to do so. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

As reported in a story in today’s New York Times, a Christian pastor in Gainesville, Florida plans to commemorate the 9/11 attacks by holding “International Burn a Koran Day,” in which he plans to conduct a book burning to destroy copies of the holy book of Islam, the Koran.

Again, as an American, I recognize the constitutional right that this pastor has to say anything he wishes about Islam (which he clearly despises), and to conduct his bonfire. What I have to say below about this activity must not be construed as an attempt to limit this pastor’s rights, or to persecute his church.

Although I recognize this pastor’s rights to conduct his religious activities as he sees fit, I wish to express my unequivocal condemnation of the book burning that he has planned. The planned bonfire is an obscenity. I condemn the forthcoming bonfire on the grounds of both Christian values and American values.

I am a Christian (in particular, a Latter-day Saint).* Looking to Jesus as an example for the Christian faithful, I note that Jesus neither participated in nor condoned the burning of any literature at all. Even if one were to look at Muslims as enemies – a position that I find highly foolish – I would point out that Jesus said the following:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven ...

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (The New Testament, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, chapter 5, verses 44-45, 48)

Book burning is an expression of hatred, not love or blessing or doing good. It is the sort of thing that the Nazis did. Book burning has a long and sordid history; it brings to mind images of the depths of the Inquisition, one of Christianity’s darkest hours. Is this what the pastor in Gainesville wishes to associate himself with?

In terms of American values, it is important to remember that the way we Americans best deal with differences is by debating them, not stifling one side of the debate. Book burning is unAmerican. We do have a history of religious discrimination; our history has seen riots against Catholics, discrimination against Jews and against Muslims, even the sending of troops against Mormons. However, these incidents showed America at its worst. We have become a strong country by respecting differences. As we seek to become a stronger country in the twenty-first century, we must do even more to respect differences and build a united America. Book burning is just the opposite of that.

As a Christian and as an American, I apologize to the Muslim world for the planned book burning in Gainesville. As an act of apology, between Sept. 11, 2010, and Sept. 11 2011, I shall read the entire Koran (in English translation). I shall be a faithful Christian—and I shall show my Christianity by seeking to better understand those who differ from me.

Mutual inter-religious respect is On The Mark.

- - - - -

*(Yes, I am aware that there are those who do not consider the Latter-day Saints to be Christians. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the official name of the Saints' religious organization is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The Saints pray, bless the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, anoint the sick, ordain their ministers, and baptize, all in the name of Jesus Christ. One of the scriptures that the Saints revere in addition to the Bible is The Book of Mormon, which is subtitled, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Those who wish to consider this question further may consult these this video interview and this website.)

[The image of the cover of the Koran, or Quran, was created on 29 April 2005 by ~crystalina~ and obtained through Wikipedia. It is used here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attibution 2.0 Generic License.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thought for the Day:
"Be Careful What Books You Read ..."

I am hard at work trying to finish up the manuscript for my next book (more on that another time). However, I came upon the neatest quote for all the hard-reading crowd who looks at this blog. It is by John Trapp (1601-1699, pictured), an Anglican preacher whose commentary on the Bible is still read today:

"Be careful what books you read, for as water tastes of the soil it runs through, so does the soul taste of the authors that a man reads."
Words to live by. Peace to one and all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

For H. P. Lovecraft’s Birthday,
Give the Old Man His Own Stamp

Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Aug. 20, 1890-Mar. 15, 1937

I agree with Stephen King that H. P. Lovecraft is “the twentieth-century horror story’s dark and baroque prince.” King, one of the best-selling authors of the twentieth century, said that “Lovecraft ... opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me.”* Of course, Lovecraft is best remembered today for what he called “cosmic horror,” inventing a history in which to place his stories that others have named the Cthulhu Mythos, probably the most developed back story this side of Middle Earth (although far, far darker). His grim and scary work has inspired countless writers and readers, and has been graced by attention from Joyce Carol Oates and the Library of America.

Now fans of Lovecraft have an opportunity to give a little something back.

The United States Postal Service has a program, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), to take suggestions from the public regarding new postage stamps. I invite all H.P. Lovecraft fans to write a letter to the CSAC, suggesting that the U.S. Postal Service issue a postage stamp featuring H. P. Lovecraft, on the 125th anniversary of his birth, which occurs on August 20, 2015. (Yes, this assumes that neither the Mayan apocalypse nor the Return of the Old Ones occurs before that time. I do, however, try to be optimistic. Me, a Lovecraft fan? Go figure.) The Postal Service requires at least three years advance notice before a significant anniversary, so we really do need to start this movement soon.

Instructions about proposing a stamp to the CSAC, including their stamp subject selection criteria, are available here. Basically, one writes a letter, which could be so simple as a one-line suggestion sent to

     Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
     c/o Stamp Development
     U.S. Postal Service
     475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
     Washington, DC 20260-3501

Or, if your circumstances permit, you could send a more elaborate letter. I strongly suggest that you at least mention the following:
  • You suggest that they issue a stamp honoring H. P. Lovecraft, an American writer born August 20, 1890 and died March 15, 1937, in time for the 125th anniversary of his birth on August 20, 2015.
  • Tell them why Lovecraft deserves a stamp, in your opinion.
If you have the opportunity, tell the Committee how Lovecraft has the “widespread national appeal and significance” that they look for in the subject of a stamp. Even if you only send a one-liner to the Committee, it will let them know that Lovecraft is important to you. If several thousand fans do the same, that will be a statement hard to ignore.

Let’s give the Old Man his own stamp for his birthday. Acknowledging Lovecraft in this way would be On The Mark.


*Stephen King, Danse Macabre (New York: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, 2010 edition, pp. 30, 101; originally published 1981).

[The photo above of H. P. Lovecraft is the property of Brown University. It was obtained from Wikipedia, and its use here is permitted under the fair use provisions of the United States copyright laws.]

(Text Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

American Values and the Ground Zero Mosque

I am sorry to say that personal illness has kept me off this blog for far longer than I expected. (I actually do not plan to return to regular posting until around Labor Day.) However, an issue has arisen that I feel compelled to address immediately, shaky health notwithstanding.

One would have to have lived under a rock for the last couple of months to not know about the recent disputes regarding the proposed building of a Muslim house of worship about 600 feet from the site of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Islamic extremist terrorists in New York City on September 11, 2001. This is the Ground Zero of 9/11, the site of the murder of over 2,700 people by terrorists inspired by radical Islam.

My first reaction, when I heard of the proposed community center, was not exactly “no.” It was “HELL no! No bloody way! Not today, not tomorrow, not any day that ends in the letter ‘-y’!” As a boy living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1970s, I watched the Twin Towers go up, and one bright Tuesday morning, I watched on television as the Twin Towers were taken down, thousands of innocent human beings packed within them, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters condemned to a fiery crushing death because of some terrorists with razor blades.

This was a massive terrorist attack in my own home town, practically in my own childhood neighborhood; I was not myself for months afterward. All that has come afterwards—the dark transformation of American life and the America psyche, the economic disturbances—all stem from this incident, along with the planes crashing in Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. Placing a mosque near Ground Zero is an insult to many of the dead and their survivors. Imagine placing a monument to the brilliant minds behind the atomic bomb (Einstein, Teller, and Oppenheimer) -- in Hiroshima: yeah, there's a point to the thing, but not there.

And then I understood one further thing.

As an American, I am morally obligated to support the right of Muslims to build their mosque wherever it is legal to do so.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights (pictured) states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It has long been established that these aspects of the Bill of Rights—the establishment clause and the free exercise clause—are binding on all levels of government within the United States. Beyond that, the corresponding values that the First Amendment stands for—separation of church and state, and freedom of religion—are at the heart of what it means to be an American. If I can’t support the rights of Muslims, I can’t call myself a true American.

Look at it this way. Celebrating freedom of speech means nothing if I am just celebrating the freedom of speech that I like; freedom of speech only really means something if it means protecting the freedom of speech that I despise. Celebrating freedom of religion means nothing if I am just celebrating the freedoms of religions with which I agree; freedom of religion only really means something if it means protecting the freedom of religions with which I vigorously disagree.

Now, it is important to understand what I am saying, and what I am not saying. I am saying that the Muslims have a right to build their mosque wherever it is legal to do so, whether or not I like the idea. I am not saying that I want the Muslims to build there.

In fact, I don’t want them to build the mosque there. I think that it is astonishingly insensitive to many of those whose loved ones were killed by extremists.

The very name of the original project—the Cordoba Initiative—is intensely provocative. The name evokes the era of the Muslim rule of Spain, which lasted from the 8th to the 15th centuries, when Muslims had captured most of the Spanish peninsula and held it for centuries until they were repelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain around 1492; I am told that, even today, there are Muslim families in North Africa that still retain the keys to their ancestors’ homes in Andalus (Spain), and that they have every intention of returning in triumph some day. (The name of the Cordoba Initiative has since been changed.)

But life in a pluralistic democracy means that I have to find a way to live with people who do all sorts of things that are legal, even if I find them objectionable or even abhorrent. That's the price I pay for having my own freedoms.

I hope that the backers of the former Cordoba Initiative choose to exercise their rights in some other way. However, if they do not, I will have to accept that peacefully. I hope that the readers of this blog, and all Americans, do the same.

This is my position on the affair. It is also, I think, President Obama’s position, which is already being distorted by his political opponents.

In the middle of dealing with our anger over 9/11, let us not forget what it means to be American. This has been one of our major challenges as a nation over the last nine years; so far, I don’t think we have done such a great job. Maybe we can start doing a better job by moderating the national dialogue about the Ground Zero mosque.

[The photo of the Bill of Rights is in the public domain (as a representation of an official U.S. government document), and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)