Religious based hate has no place in our society. But it lives here, thrives here and sometimes its ugly face makes us all wonder where we are in the story. When I was young, some of my well spent youth was being into a punk scene listen to music that some found offensive. There rang a stream of hard truth through much of the lyrics of bands like The Offs. Everyone’s a Bigot was a song that promoted the notion that we all have a dark place where we demonize some group. Those harsh words screamed at shows are echoed in more contemporary ways. At the Democratic National Convention, The Daily Show sought out and found people willing to demonize gun owners and the religious right in the Republican Party. The worst was a Jewish delegate who went off on Evangelical Zionist Christians saying all manner of stereotypical things about how they see Jews as a means to an end. While this may be true for some, it certainly isn’t true for all. What is true is that we are comfortable with our own biases while condemning the actions of others whose biases are different in detail but not in process. This brings me to this morning.
I woke with a real sense of hope; I was attending two meetings today focused on education, one here in Indianapolis and the other in Kenya. In both cases, the groups were purposefully diverse in religion and other ways. But as my TV popped on the dominate image was the US consulate in Benghazi burning and the report that our Ambassador and members of his staff were killed in an attack. A bad moment was made worse by the news that the embassy in Cairo was also attacked. The question of why rattled in my head until I learned that the rioting that led to the murders was due to an internet movie, rumored to be released in wide distribution, degrading the Prophet Mohammad and Islam. A 14 minute trailer had been posted on an Islamist website with Arabic sub-titles meant to enflame young Muslims in the two countries still trying to build a new world after the toppling of their former dictators.
The film, whose production currently is in question, is being promoted by a man who is known for his anti-Islamic rhetoric, a Pastor named Terry Jones. Jones is infamous for wanting to publically burn a Qur’an and for staging protests outside of mosques. His hate, fed by political hacks using anti-Islam sentiment as a tool to gin up their base, almost feels like parody. Yet there he was promoting a film that incited violence that took the life of a patriot working to make a better world. Christopher Stevens, the Ambassador to Libya, was described by a friend of mine who knew him as a thoughtful and compassionate man. His work on behalf of our countries interests in the chaotic post-Gadaffi Libya was not celebrated in the media but truly showed him to be a patriot of the highest order. He died a victim of an unnecessary war fueled by ignorance.
Let me be clear. The movie maker and Terry Jones are not responsible for the deaths but they are not blameless. I am tired of the stupid meme that they were just expressing their first amendment rights. Of course they were and if someone tried to outlaw attacks on religion I would stand up for their right. But that does not free them of understanding there may be consequences to exercising their freedom. The first amendment does not protect you from being called out for your stupidity and hate. They committed no crime but they acted immorally. The film, or at least the small part I have seen, is riddled with lies about Mohammad and Islam. The only point I see for this video to exist is to cause people to rise up against an entire faith tradition. The movie is a dog whistle to those who thrive on hate and it fed an Islamist strain of thinking that leads to this kind of violence.
Ignorance and hate are weapons of mass destruction. This morning we saw more victims of these weapons. But as the day closes I still have hope. I have hope because I know there are more people who believe in a God that is too big for a single path of seeking than one that demands followers to attack all other paths. That is the best defense against these WMD.