02 April 2011

Ignore the Man from Florida

It is said - and I believe it is true - that I order to be offended, one has to choose to be offended.  Or, to put it another way, if a person chooses to not find offense, he doesn't.  However, some things are quite hard to ignore and exactly what those things are vary from person to person, from culture to culture.  Many Americans find it offensive when someone burns their flag  As part of that group, I understand why: the burning is a statement of contempt bordering on belligerence.  But upon further analysis, if burning a flag or any other symbol is the limit - in a practical sense - of action, then it is essentially an empty final act where the symbol becomes more important to the one destroying it than to the one intended to be offended by the action.

I write this as a backdrop for consideration of two days of what have been variously called protests and riots in Afghanistan which have left about 20 people dead and many dozens injured.  These protests, deaths (including two beheadings), and injuries are in response to a stupidly foolish man in Florida - half a world away - burning a Koran.  Never mind that this Florida man (whom I refuse to name - he deserves not recognition but rather our collective deepest apathy) and his stupid act are impotent.  Many Afghanis are offended; enough, it seems, to kill those around them and behead UN workers.

Take a step back from both the Florida man and the rioting Afghanis, and one wonders why the two pay any attention to each other.  The Florida man is either incapable or unwilling to make his mark by reading, analyzing, and arguing against the book he burned, and so the strongest statement he is able to conjure in his head is to burn it.  His act may be symbolic, but it is also empty.  The ideas and beliefs he feels he is destroying - however symbolically - are not touched.  If he were worth his salt, he would pen numerous criticisms of the book he finds so repulsive and then perhaps he might accomplish something meaningful.  But I suspect nothing will come of the Florida man other than his vacuous act.

News agencies, and people in the West by extension, will pay attention to the rioting Afghanis because people are being injured and killed.  But it seems to me that their acts are just as impotent and empty as the Florida man's.  And what's more, the Afghani's acts seem more self-destructive; one might expect most of the injuries (if not most of the deaths) have been inflicted on Afghanis by Afghanis.  And for what?

At the risk of injecting a Christian verse, "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven."  And this would seem a season for Afghanis and all Muslims to join Americans in ignoring a stupid, impotent man from Florida.

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