Arrest This Man

And his little Dove, too. With predictable ghoulish clarity, the American media is goading the Reverend Terry Jones to follow through with his Koran bonfire on September 11th, while politicians (both kinds) and religious leaders of all stripes are urging him not to do it.

Of course, there is no story if he doesn’t do it–and media hate that. And if it’s called off he will be called a coward for capitulating to the “supporters” of a religion he has t-shirted as “of the Devil.” Jones has stated that if Jesus was alive he would light the first match. And he has said, as all cultic leaders do, that a gunfight with the police wouldn’t faze him and his followers: “We’re prepared to die for what we believe in.” Echoes of another Jones, another catastrophe.

Mr Jones is all the usual cultic suspects rolled into one. He is a gay-basher, a hate-monger, and a crusader for the old time religious value of intolerance.

He founded the Dove World Outreach Center as a front for his hate-inducing sermons and grandstanding.

He is a Christian Triumphalist with a clear millennial vision, which he saw previewed on Septmber 11, 2001: the first fiery signs that the Antichrist was entering the world. He considers the pastors and priests organizing “prayer” and loaves of bread protests around him “lily livered Christians” for failing to stand up to the the threat of Islam. –Although it is not clear why, if Islam betokens the end-time, Mr Jones would want to oppose it: in his theology anyway, it’s the last act in a very big plan wrought by God himself.

And what do Gainesville officials do? Besides praying and dissuading, they have denied Mr Jones a burn permit. Perhaps the next recourse might have been for him to order a hundred porta-potties to the parking lot of the Church?

But no, Jones says the burning will go ahead as planned. There’s something, as every Klansman knows, about a fire.

Meanwhile, we are all missing the point and the President of the United States is missing an opportunity. The same president who personally intervened in a squabble between a fumbling Harvard professor and a Cambridge cop when the former locked himself out of his house is staying away from this one.

Despite the fact that the country is in wars with Muslims all over ther world, both hot and cold, and that the burning of Korans is likely to be seen as the most vicious symbolic attack on the Islamic faith since Urban II called the First Crusade.

There will be riots, there will be murders and bombings, there will be dead Americans and others. All because one undereducated self-ordained cowpoke took refuge in the First Amendment’s free expression clause.

Loaves of bread, prayer marches and picket signs–“good religion” vigorously expressed–are not going to have an effect on this donkey of a man so deeply out of touch with modern religion that he may as well be Osama bin Laden’s cavemate.

Mr President: You are a lawyer. You know the Constitution. You know the difference between hate speech and incitement. You know the line is thin, but that once it is crossed the damage cannot be undone.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes. During my time in Pakistan, in 2009, the mere rumour that some Christians had “desecrated” pages of the Koran led to disaster.

Four women, a man and a child died as Muslim militants set fire to Christian houses in the town of Gojra. Two men died later of gunshot wounds. Houses were burned and streets strewn with debris as people fired at each other from rooftops. There were bloody riots throughout the country. Then it was “revealed” that the rumours which led to the unrest were false and probably started by some children.

But Mr Jones is real. He will use real matches and real (if doubtless inexpensive) copies of the Koran. This very dangerous man has publically announced his intention to flout the law and to cause riots, even gunfights. He has already cried fire–real fire–in the crowded theater of global religious tension.

Mr President: Arrest this man. Do not turn this discussion over to political theorists, Constitutional talking-heads and interfaith tweeps.

If the dignity of Henry Louis Gates was important to you and the chance to be seen defusing a “racial situation,” this is infinitely greater and a thousand times potentially more harmful.

Arrest him without delay. Deploy the National Guard. Surround the Church. Be seen to be doing something courageous in this instance.

Your top general, not known for emotionalism, has already announced the consequences on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. But it will spread–you should pardon the expresion–like wildfire. You will have let it happen.

You will be criticized, but your critics won’t prevail in this argument: you are trying to prevent loss of life. You are not trying to save Korans.

If you do not arrest this man, Christians in Pakistan, Lebanon, and corners of the Islamic world will be in jeopardy. Some will be killed; churches will be torched.

If you do not do this, American-Muslim relations, already lying in the dust will suffer an unimaginable blow. And Muslim Americans will consider you weak and treacherous.

Please, Mr President: show us this man in handcuffs and a U.S. marshall doing his sworn duty before Saturday.

Thank you.