Friday, February 24, 2012

The Price Of Freedom

Politics and religion -- to paraphrase David Bowie -- are like fire and gasoline.  They seem to be unavoidably attracted to each other, but incendiary when combined.  Incendiary like say, I don't know, when you burn copies of the Koran.  Before I get too far into this, let me say for the record, yes, this was a stupid and insensitive action.  However, this incident has more shades to it than the popular media are willing to paint.

The most obvious starting point is the overall context.  Although details on the whole incident are murky, the burning itself doesn't seem to be a calculated statement by the soldiers, but rather that they were disposing of items confiscated from detainees.  Also, it's difficult to determine the actual extent of the burning.  When you flash the words "Koran Burning" in the media, it evokes images of truckloads of books dumped into a blazing bonfire, lighting up the night.  That does not seem to actually be the case.

Depending on where you fall on the religio-politico spectrum determines your ability to chain logical arguments together (clearly in evidence in Rick Santorum's campaign for president).  That's the only explanation I see for the logical conundrum that comes out of the religious extremist view on the sacred nature of every single copy of The Koran.  It's one thing to believe it contains the word of God, another to assume God's printing them up himself.  As a manufactured item, is the book sacred while its component parts are not?  The paper, the ink, the entire supply and printing pathway?  Why is it an affront to God when the book is burned but not offensive to him in any way when a suicide bomber could be killing those very men and women who printed and distributed it?  (Of course, I'm guessing most suicide bombers are incinerating their own copy of the Koran when they touch off the explosive and where does that leave the holy martyr?)  Beyond that, I find it over the edge of sanity to claim a book is sacred, while casually dismissing the value of human life.

To give an analogy that may help illuminate how far off the reality chart the fanatics are: imagine I barbecue a whole bunch of sacred stuff in my backyard including a Bible, a Koran, the American flag, a copy of Bambi, etc.  Then, the reaction I get is that US Senators, on the floor of Congress, insist the army be dispatched to my door and call for private citizens to kill me.

Thankfully, that's not the way America works.  Our freedom is is a guarantee that I can burn whatever I want as long as I'm not violating local fire codes.  I can't imagine the circumstances under which I'd ever be moved to burn a book or a flag, but the point is that it's my choice.  The price of that freedom is tolerating those you don't agree with.  Until that tolerance exists, freedom is bound as surely as if with iron shackles.

Tolerance does not imply agreement.  I tolerate Republicans, but rarely agree with them.  I would never willingly trample someone's religious beliefs, but at the same time I cherish my right to speak freely in dissent.  American soldiers are steeped more deeply in freedom than most, since they fight for it every day, so the actions that are so abhorrent to the fanatics can not be evaluated solely through the eyes of those fanatics.