The Photo That Didn’t Make Headlines

Two weeks ago, eight prominent American imams prayed in front of a sculpture at Dachau commemorating the six million Jewish dead.   Isn’t it odd how nobody paid any attention?

This week of Rosh HaShana, Eid el-Fitr, and 9/11 seems a good time to run it on The Accidental Theologist:

Burning Jesus

The most effective way to deal with the two-bit Florida ‘pastor’ planning to make a bonfire of Qurans on 9/11?  No, not string him up by his heels.  Something far more effective:  Ignore him.  Pay no attention.  Zip.  Nada.  Nothing.

But that won’t happen. The old TV newsroom adage is “Flames lead.”  A fire, an explosion, a bombing – all are ways to improve ratings, occasions to appeal to the arsonist apparently latent in the visual mind.  In the incendiary anti-Muslim atmosphere carefully built up over the past few months by ultra-right-wing bigots, no “self-respecting” newsroom director will dream for a moment of holding back.

Never mind that General David Petraeus warns that such an event could place American troops in more danger than ever.  Hey, if Americans die because of this, that’s even more news!  So there they are, all the news directors, salivating at the prospect of a huge, hot weekend:  the festive end of Ramadan and the solemnity of Rosh HaShana on Thursday and Friday followed by 9/11 on Saturday (and, just to add a bit of sentimental spice to it all, Grandparents Day on Sunday).

So the heat is on and the bigots are out in force.  The latest to wave his slimy flag:  Marty Peretz, owner of The New Republic and self-appointed champion of any right-wing Israeli government:

Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims…  So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Let’s not go into the ghastly vision of the state of Peretz’ gut.  Enough to say that white-collar bigots like him provide the gasoline for blue-collar nutcases like pseudo-pastor Terry Jones, a pathetic crackpot right out of a William Burroughs heroin nightmare, whose fifty followers (yes, all of 50) apparently believe that a dove is a bird of prey.

Peretz would never burn a Quran himself, of course.  He might get his hands dirty that way.  Might even burn them.  He leaves that to the gun-totin’ pastor, who has apparently never read the ‘red-letter words’ of the Gospels – the actual words of Jesus.  Ignorance is ecstasy for Terry Jones, who is blithely unaware that he might as well be burning Jesus.

But then that’s what Christian bigots do – they burn the cross.  On other people’s lawns, that is, prior to lynching them by the light of bonfires.  It’s what fascists did just a few years before, using ovens instead of bonfires.  It’s what Catholic clerics did in the Spanish Inquisition, roasting people alive on spits.  As the poet Heinrich Heine wrote: “Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people.”

Could media restraint really hold this back?   The question is moot, because it won’t happen.  When I lived in and reported from Jerusalem, I saw American newsmen shove people to the ground to get a good shot in the aftermath of a bombing.  I saw them practically shouting for joy when there was a terrorist attack which would land them a front-page story or a lead-off spot on the nightly news.   Other people’s disasters were their chance for the limelight.  So they won’t hesitate to help make a nutcase like Terry Jones into an international name, to place naïve American soldiers in danger, and to make Christians the world over targets for retaliation.

All for ratings, all for vanity.  A bonfire of the vanities indeed.


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