I'm struggling lately with how I can respond to Terry Jones' planned Qur'an burning. Can I respond? I understand there's probably nothing I can do to stop it, but I still want to do something.
I ask myself the same questions about Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church—a hate-cult based in Topeka, Kansas. I hear about their protests and slogans, and it makes me angry, it makes me want to do something. But I quickly realize there is probably nothing I can do to fix Fred Phelps. And there's nothing I can do to change Terry Jones' mind.
Probably the most annoying thing about these kinds of people, is that they are fringe members of our society who don't really represent anyone. And yet, they get air time and publicity because of their sensationalism. They feed on that attention, leading them to be more and more sensational, which just hurts more people.
So what is the right response? I know they just want attention, so do I disappoint them, and ignore everything they say or do? Do I stop clicking on the links to stories about Fred Phelps and Terry Jones? Do I write CNN and FoxNews asking them to stop giving these guys the attention they want so badly? Maybe not. As much as my gut tells me that this is the logically acceptable response, perhaps there is value in putting these ugly people right where they want to be. Maybe some good that can come from plastering the ugly face of intolerance in America all over our TVs. There could be something beneficial about recognizing that these attitudes still exist, that these kinds of people can spring up in our own back yards. People like Terry Jones and Fred Phelps can help us evaluate who we are, where we are, and where we are going. I have to be honest, as much as I would like to pretend that the Qur'an burning has nothing to do with mainstream America, as much as I want to say this Terry Jones guy is an unimportant fringe member of Christianity, I have to admit—that's not necessarily true. And while I would like to pretend like America today is vastly different from the Taliban-controlled parts of the world—as much as I would like to pretend that we are immune from such radical and violent intolerance, people like Fred Phelps and Terry Jones serve as frightening reminders that we are much closer than I'd like to think. The Taliban might be a radical muslim organization on the other side of the world, but unless we admit that the same kind of organizations can spring up in Topeka Kansas, we won't be able to prevent people like Terry Jones and Fred Phelps from becoming movements. So, maybe we should keep right on giving them all the attention they want; and keep allowing their intolerance to appear as violent, as ugly, and as unappetizing as it really is.