Tolerance must be a two-way street

What should we do to deal with people like Pastor Terry Jones who threaten to burn the Koran?


Having US President Barack Obama and other members of the administration publicly and privately plead with them, as was the case with Jones, is foolish and counterproductive. Never reward bad behavior. When this current dingbat Jones is out of the limelight, we can be sure there are others who are waiting to step into his shoes and get telephone calls from the White House and the Pentagon.


Then there are the talking heads in the media. Last week on MSNBC''s early morning show, "Morning Joe," I heard the guests propose that the President do whatever it takes, legal or not, to shut the pastor up or remove him from the scene. One speaker, Pat Buchanan, proposed that President Obama do what President Truman did to a steel company during the World War II era - remove the company''s president during a strike and take over the company. Buchanan added, in effect, so what if a court two years later finds that the action was illegal and sets it aside - as it did. After all, he conveyed, the emergency had been dealt with.  Wrong. The President should not knowingly violate the law to establish leadership or anything else.


I suggest that the President call the leaders of Muslim countries and ask them to explain to their people that in the United States, we truly have free speech and that burning revered objects such as the flag is an act of free speech. Further, President Obama should bring to their attention that, although the US population is 70 percent Christian, Christians do not riot when someone commits an act of sacrilege or blasphemy. For example, when one artist placed a crucifix in a vat of urine and another splattered a painting of Mary, Mother of Jesus, with elephant dung, there were peaceful protests and boycotts, but no violence against the artists or those presenting the art to the public.


Then, I suggest the President proclaim a day of meditation and teaching respect for all religions and with his Cabinet and the clergy of the major religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - make a pilgrimage to a church, synagogue and mosque in Washington, DC, or hold a joint event.


As the President has often said, we are not at war with Islam. The vast majority of Muslims are decent people who mean us no harm. But we should not be afraid to call Islamic terrorists and all other terrorists by their rightful names, which his administration regrettably is unwilling to do, whether out of fear or misguided notions of political correctness.


Just as it is important for the President and other political and religious leaders throughout the nation to stand up, speak out and fight the ugly face of hate - whether it be directed at Muslims, Christians, Jews, women, blacks, homosexuals, etc. - it is incumbent on Muslim political and religious leaders to denounce fellow Muslims who kill or support the killing of other Muslims and Westerners in the name of Islam. There are significant numbers of Muslims who still applaud the terrorist act of 9/11 and the deaths of near 3,000 innocent people, and revere al-Qaeda and bin Laden.


We also cannot accept discriminatory and repressive practices being carried out in parts of the Islamic world in the name of Islam or Islamic law (Sharia). Witness, for example, the recent death sentence by stoning carried out on a couple in Afghanistan. A New York Times article of August 16th reported:


"The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped, according to Afghan officials and a witness. The punishment was carried out by hundreds of the victims'' neighbors in a village in northern Kunduz Province, according to Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by telephone. Even family members were involved, both in the stoning and in tricking the couple into returning after they had fled."


Witness also the denial of an education to girls in a number of Islamic countries, with the horror magnified by the use of poison gas in Afghanistan in an effort to close girls'' schools. The Times of August 31st reported:


"Blood tests have confirmed that a mysterious series of cases of mass sickness at girls'' schools across the country over the last two years were caused by a powerful poison gas, an Afghan official said Tuesday... But he emphasized that how the gas was delivered - and even whether the poisonings were deliberate - remained a mystery... Many local officials had dismissed the cases as episodes of mass hysteria provoked by acid and arson attacks on schoolgirls by Taliban fighters and others who objected to their education."


Of course, religions like Judaism and Christianity which are thousands of years old, at one time engaged in outrageous actions which would be deplored today. For example, the concept of an eye for an eye was given up eons ago in the Jewish and Christian world. Not so in some Muslim countries. Recently, as reported in The Times of August 19th, in Saudi Arabia, the literal concept of an eye for an eye was invoked. The article reported:


"A Saudi Arabian judge has asked several hospitals in the country whether they could damage a man''s spinal cord as punishment for his attacking another man with a cleaver and paralyzing him, the brother of the victim said Thursday."


We also cannot accept that an act of blasphemy permits an Islamic court or member of the clergy to issue a death warrant, directing all Muslims to kill the blasphemer. That has happened on several occasions, the most prominent being the death sentence imposed on the writer Salman Rushdie, who has needed the protection of British law enforcement authorities ever since. A more recent example is the death warrant issued by Islamic clergy at a Danish cartoonist who lampooned a number of religious figures, including Mohammed.  Riots and deaths occurred in Muslim countries because of the publication of the cartoons. Probably out of fear of the repercussions, the great New York Times refused to republish the cartoons. Did Muslim leaders and clergy denounce the worldwide Muslim reaction? I believe not.


These and many other issues must be addressed by the American-Muslim community and Muslims throughout the world. The US is not at war with Islam. But, on occasion, it appears that a wayward part of Islam has declared war on Western civilization.