Another Sept. 11 is behind us, leaving something new and disturbing, a dark spawn to examine with plenty of careful soul-searching.
That legacy is the reflexive, lockstep process by which an American citizen, Terry Jones, was simultaneously depicted and denounced as a raving lunatic for even conceiving of his plan to burn copies of the Quran to mark the ninth anniversary of demonstrably Quran-inspired attacks. In society's fearful fervor to distance itself from Jones, there was evidence of that same politically correct lie that has plagued us from Day 1: that there exists no logical and discernible connection between what the Quran commands and what happened on 9/11. Thus, Jones' lawful, harmless symbolic stunt making the connection -- burning copies of the Quran at his Florida church -- became a paralyzing taboo, and Terry Jones was demonized with impunity, even by many who defended his free-speech protections and constitutional rights.
It's not that his plan required hosannas, ovations or even a Cracker Jack prize. But there was something alarming in the rush of invective that prefaced even arguments in the man's defense. In these apparently obligatory denunciations, there was something very nearly dehumanizing -- and particularly when the name-calling could be heard as sympathetic vibrations to the violent explosions of outrage over Jones that brought death and destruction to Islamic lands including (so far) Indonesia, Afghanistan and India.
Even with the Constitution on his side, Jones was in effect stripped of equal standing in the eyes of his fellow citizens. Little wonder, then, that his bank actually called in his church's mortgage; his insurance company actually canceled his church's policy; and his Internet server actually pulled the plug on his website -- all repercussions of his planned 9/11 demonstration. Inside of a week, Jones achieved a state on nonpersonhood that exceeds that of most convicted criminals, despite the fact that the only law he contemplated breaking was Islam's.
Jones' state of disgrace was perhaps never more apparent than during a live appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Co-host Mika Brzezinski, worked up over the "blood" Jones personally, as she believed, would have on his hands, cued panelist Jon Meacham to deliver to Jones, standing by live, an honest-to-goodness New Testament homily on forgiveness -- an MSNBC first? -- and to appeal to him as a "fellow Christian" to drop his plans. Jones' reply? He was never permitted to open his mouth.
"Well said, Jon Meacham," said Mika Brzezinski as Meacham's sermon ended. "And Pastor Terry Jones, we appeal to you to listen to that. And we don't really need to hear anything else, so thanks."
So thanks? Talk about potted palms. The irony here is that Jones-the-person was increasingly objectified as a dangerous "nut," while Quran-the-object that commands jihad was increasingly enlivened with a uniquely inviolate status. Which brings us to Derek Fenton. On 9/11 Saturday, Fenton tore pages from a Quran and lit them in front of the planned Ground Zero mosque. According to New York Daily News sources, Fenton said, "he wanted to stand by (America) in a tea party kind of way" by exercising his "right to protest." Police ushered Fenton away but released him without charges.
Come Monday, it was a different story. Constitutional rights aside, New Jersey Transit fired Fenton, ending his 11-year career with the agency for burning those Quran pages (and on his own time), an act which, again, violated not America's law, but Islam's.
Fenton's story repeated itself almost exactly in Australia where, also on Monday, Alex Stewart, a Queensland University of Technology employee, was placed on "indefinite leave" after satirizing mass Quran hysteria in a YouTube video -- now censored -- in which he smoked pages from both the Bible and the Quran.
And on Wednesday, the Seattle Weekly (rather calmly) announced the planned disappearance of its cartoonist Molly Norris, she who once called -- in a cartoon -- May 20 "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." The paper wrote: "On the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, 'going ghost': moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity."
"Wiping away her identity"? For a cartoon? But this is exactly what Western civilization itself is doing. And that's why all you hear, past those echoing denunciations of the Florida preacher, is silence.