Burning the Koran: Who Does it and Why?

The sad story of the Florida pastor who wanted to burn copies of the Koran is well known. The minister stirred up protests and disapproval before the fateful day, and after having inflamed the monsters of hatred, abstained from carrying out the final act. It is fair to think that one who wants to set fire to books might one day expand the idea from book- bonfires to witch-burning. As seen a number of deaths occurred during the worldwide protests.

Instead of a moment of tolerance the date of 9/11 became a moment of division. Those who oppose the building of a religious center (a probable mosque) near Ground Zero because of the 9/11 tragedy do not blame terrorist groups or single individuals linked (probably) to particular groups within sectors of the governments of certain countries, but rather they blame a religion that, like others, has given identity, laws, and a way of life to millions of people. It is a well-known fact that before the Muslims arrived to America similar accusations which denied rights had been applied to Indians, Jews and Catholics.

The debate on the subject has fallen to the lowest of levels, with insults against the Muslims (e.g.: Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief of the New Republic, writes: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims." So at this point, one of the most authoritative New York Times columnists (Nicholas D. Kristof) poses the question, "Is this America ?" In fact, these attitudes have nothing to do with America's history of freedom and rights including the freedom of religion.

It is obvious that groups and individuals fostering hate are behind these attitudes of intolerance that foster hatred in order to build neo divisionism (ethnic, religious, racial, cultural, geographic...). By means of these neo-tribal divisions there is an attempt to destabilize democracy, reduce or even destroy democratic accountability, that is to say, the centrality of law and the responsibility of the individual. These divisions are based upon fear and are used to building or expanding privileges and at the same time impeding the extension of rights to others.

This is the logic of Al-Qaeda. It does not see religion as an expression of civilization and a subtle choice of conscience, but as an absolute ideology, where the law of blind obedience rules and humanity is fractured into religious tribes. Moreover, certain regimes do not recognize democratic legitimacy and in so doing they nourish the clash of civilizations to foster illegitimate power. Instead of putting under pressure citizens living in democracies and thier religion , the public opinions gattering with International institutions should ask reforms in the arab-Islamic world.

Much remains to be explained about the instigators of 9/11 but there are few doubts about the executors of the attack: they came from specific areas and countries. Yet to blame the whole Islamic world for the acts of a few individuals is like blaming the entire democratic European civilization for the behavior of Nazi skinheads and criminal groups.

The majority of victims of these very few terrorists acting in the name of Islam are mainly Muslims. The monster or terrorism that threatens stability and security could be defeated only by full respect for the law, not only by punitive justice (law) but also by distributive justice in order to eliminate the social situations where terrorism rises and thrives . In order to understand the point of the problem one must distinguish between the religious message of Islam and Islam in politics and history.

Islam was born in a primitive society. Along with a religious message, it had to give administrative rules and combine spiritual and secular aspects. The religious message of Islam is tolerance and the Koran forbids imposing faith with force: "in religion there is no coercion" (2,256). Jihad is substantially a war against passion leading to purification. It is not historically true that Islam has always imposed itself through the force of arms. Christian Armenia has peacefully lived with Islamic neighbors for centuries. Thus only politics and interests define the positions and not religion which is exploited and simply plays an instrumental role.

The Pastor's intention was condemned not only by the Islamic world, but also by public opinion, by Western chancelleries , by governments and by the Obama administration. President Obama, conscious of the dangers neo-divisionism presents to democracy has stated: "Koran burning will boost terrorism" . General Petraeus aligned with President Obama has declared: "Burning Koran endangers troops" . A question arises: if burning the Koran was not endangering American troops around the world by giving boost to terrorism, it would be okay?!

This debate seems to be a door that turns around an irrational pivot and opens onto the darkness where the light of reason fails and politics become sectarian. These vicissitudes are dramatic in every aspect, and show the pressure that democratic and enlighted civilization is receiving from anti-democratic secterianism. This way of acting substitutes democratic cohabitation with an "Animal Farm" where the rights conquered in light of democratic civilization will be transformed into concessions.