By Ben Goddard - 04/06/11 10:35 PM EDT
I don’t know what god Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center worship, but it is certainly one who doesn’t appear in my Bible and has no role in my universe. Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., pastor of a tiny flock of fundamentalists, surfaced from the Florida swamp a year ago to threaten burning a pile of Qurans on Sept. 11. More reasonable voices persuaded him that nothing would so dishonor those Americans who died on that date than the burning of books — any books. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates apparently got a message through to the fundamentalist preacher that he would be putting the lives of American soldiers at risk were he to go through with his act.
He backed down. But it seems he so relished the 24 hours in the media spotlight that he conspired to stage a “trial” of the Quran, complete with a Christian convert from Islam as a prosecutor, an imam as defense attorney and himself as judge. “We had a court process,” Jones later said. “We tried to set it up as fair as possible, which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult.” The Quran, of course, was judged guilty of endorsing and promoting violence. The verdict — to be soaked in kerosene for an hour and burned.
Unfortunately, we are seeing far too much of that hate — and its companion, fear — in our America. An isolated example was the attack of the “evil” Paul Gauguin painting at the National Gallery of Art on Friday. A woman reportedly yelled, “This is evil” while trying to pull “Two Tahitian Women” from the wall of our national gallery. Now, I confess to being a fan of Gauguin, and Tahiti is one of my favorite spots on the planet. Combine Gauguin’s painting with Tahiti’s gentle, magical culture and you have me. But even if I disliked the artist and his subject matter, I would be repelled by the twisted theology that makes partially unclothed subjects “evil.” A painting cannot be “evil” — it just is.
This disturbing bubbling-up of hatred was driven home to me over the weekend when a dear friend and business partner was viciously attacked within walking distance of my home in Washington. He is a talented, charming and gracious creative partner who contributes much to the business that is my day job.
After dinner with friends at the W — one of our city’s better hotels, located only a few blocks from the White House — he and a couple were strolling toward a cab, enjoying what has passed for spring evenings in our nation’s capital this year. Four large, muscled young white males made a crude comment about the lady of the couple with my friend. Now, my partner is of Persian extraction but was born and raised in London. He demurred in what was, I’m sure, the best Queen’s English that their comments were no way to speak to a lady. The four didn’t hear the British accent — all they saw was an Omar Sharif lookalike. They attacked with fists and boots and curses — making clear they thought the “Arab prince” had no place on the streets of Washington. In a matter of seconds it was over and the angry little mob ran off. But they left behind the ugly smell of hate in America.
One can argue over whether the founding fathers intended to create a “Christian nation” or not. But I don’t believe they ever intended that we be an extremist nation — especially one that preached hatred of other religions and other people. I despair at the messages some seem intent on sending to the world and, even more important, to our children. My America is not the one of piney-wood pastors, those who find art “evil” or that little mob on 15th Street.
Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org