Thursday, September 09, 2010

Your media narrative is going to kill us all

In case you've been living in a cave for the past several months, Terry Jones, relatively unknown pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center and Yosemite Sam impersonator, burst onto the world stage by threatening to burn Qu'rans on 9/11. Well, now he's cancelled that event, although he isn't clear on the reason: at first, he said he'd cancel if plans to build Park51 were scrapped, or perhaps if he got a call from the president.

Despite that, it seemed only fair to call it off, since he was told that this was a bad idea by pretty much everybody in the world, from both sides of every political and religious spectrum: from President Barack Obama to professional quitter and loudmouth Sarah Palin, to the Prime Minister of Canada; from every possible Islamic organization, to a major group of atheists and free-thinkers, to the National Association of Evangelicals and even the fucking Vatican.

The thing is, this wasn't something that should ever have been seen in the national news. This self-important pastor was a self-aggrandizing lunatic, known to create potentially newsworthy controversy, simply to increase his own notoriety. There were only fifty people in his congregation! How did he become an international headline?

It was the media who felt that his voice should be amplified, to be heard by the entire world. Terry Jones should have been ignored, except that "news" organizations, desperate for ratings, saw conflict in his story. Had he been simply overlooked, like some random racist screaming "nigger," he would have faded away as nothing more than a blip on the world radar screen.

(In a rational world, you could even ask why the burning of a group of bound pages would make anyone angry. Then again, ask PZ Myers why the "desecration" of the Eucharist would cause death threats and controversy. So we'll just take that argument as a given.)

Of course, as each voice spoke out to tell him he was wrong, Jones gained power. The President of the United States should have had nothing to say about some minor ruckus involving a redneck Florida lunatic with a bad mustache. But, by exaggerating Jones's profile, the media forced Obama's hand. (And god knows Obama seems more than willing to jump in whatever direction the media is pointing this week.)

Really, with every word Jones spewed out onto the public scene, this jumped-up Florida firebrand proved that he didn't even care about his own religion, much less the random mythology of the Middle East.

After all, he'd been denied a permit to burn anything. In order to perform his ignorant display of bigotry, Jones would have to break the law. And, just for giggles, what does the Bible say about that?
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 NIV)
Of course, if you're going to be rude enough to go to the Scripture, you should also consider words from earlier in that same book.
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (Romans 2:1-2 NIV)
But it hardly mattered that Jones was a crappy Christian; he reflected the media's narrative about the "holy war" between Islam and the western world. And even better, this was a new slant - instead of a radical imam screaming "Death to America!" this was a radical priest screaming "Death to Islam!" (Sadly, a philosophy echoed far too often these days).

So the news networks gave Terry Jones his unjustified fifteen minutes.

In the end, the problem is simple. Radical adherents to any religion are dangerous. They don't need to have their voices heard - they need to be ignored. If Terry Jones hadn't been elevated to an international stage, he would have been considered a random lunatic with a minor cult following him. Instead of a flashpoint inciting riots.

But sadly, because of the current, violently partisan political scene, where the most insane people are considered newsworthy, there's a good chance it will happen again.

The best option? A counter-protest. But a relatively peaceful one (emphasis on the "relatively"). Terry Jones wanted headlines for burning the Qu'ran, and he got them.

So, with the news media in full force, you have to wonder what the reaction have been if he was met by a small group of people with no weapons and no combative attitude. Just fire extinguishers.

People willing to spray down everybody in the neighborhood with non-toxic white foam.

Sure. There would have been some danger - these aren't just idiots, they're armed idiots. But sometimes, your only choice is to change the narrative.

It's just a thought.

Update (9/11/10): OK, so Shaw Kinawe just turned me onto this. I guess it's related...


Suicidal Jane said...

The Prime Minister of Canada is a wise man. I mean, he's Canadian!

Diogenes said...

And how sweet is it that Terry Jones' high school classmate was Rush Limbaugh!

Nameless Cynic said...

Ah, Janie - you and your unexplainable love of anything from Canadia.

Yo, Dio! Haven't seen you in an ice age or two! How's it hanging?

Diogenes said...

School's back in session,so I've been a bit preoccupied. And the extraordinarily high level of rightwingnut bullshit is wearing me out....