Note: I’ve just discovered that Christopher Hitchens wrote a post about Jacques Chirac in 2003, called “The Rat That Roared”. I’ve never read it, but it is kind of a strange coincidence, since I quote Hitchens in this post. It’s so hard to be original these days.
I love the internet. I love checking in with my friends on Facebook every day. I love being able to access research materials easily. I love reading blogs, finding good music, and watching videos of preternaturally cute babies. I realize, though, that there is a dark side to the internet. Porn, for instance. It’s not victimless, it’s not harmless, and the ready access on the web has damaged countless lives.
This week we’re seeing another feature of the internet’s dark side: things that should be of no consequence become hugely important. Like Terry Jones. Terry Jones is a little man. In a world in balance, Jones would have influence over only the handful of people who – for reasons that escape me – attend services at his Dove World Outreach Center. He would remain a speck, a peon, a tiny, vainglorious corruption of the word “pastor”. But that’s not enough for Terry Jones, and the internet lets him have it otherwise. He must have been so disappointed when the media turned their attention away from him last fall, after he canceled his plans to burn a Koran. He must have missed hearing presidents and army generals and religious leaders pleading with him, must have missed the film crews camped outside his church, hanging on his every word, the whole world wondering – will he or won’t he?
I look at Terry Jones and I’m reminded of a Dr. Seuss character, Yertle the Turtle. The ruler of a small pond, Yertle declares himself “king of all I can see. But I don’t see enough. That’s the trouble with me.” So Yertle concocts a plan to elevate himself, because:
This throne that I sit on is too, too low down.
It ought to be higher!” he said with a frown.
“If I could sit high, how much greater I’d be!
What a king! I’d be ruler of all that I see!
As anyone who has read the story can tell you, Yertle’s plan works (for a while), but only succeeds at great cost to his subjects. If only the cost of Terry Jones’s plan was confined to his subjects – er – congregants! In all the world, they are perhaps the only people besides Jones who should suffer the consequences of his actions, because they attend to him willingly. But the world isn’t that sensible.
On March 20, Terry Jones held a mock trial of the Koran, found it guilty of whatever charge he pulled out of his…hat, and had it burned in his church. Jones didn’t start the fire, technically (one of his lackeys did the deed), but he certainly set things burning. Most American media outlets tried to ignore the event, but things in Afghanistan went south after an almost criminally irresponsible statement from Hamid Karzai. Given the high sign by their president (don’t tell me otherwise – the man may be corrupt, but he’s not stupid), the usual mob took to the streets. It was, as Christopher Hitchens writes:
The same old dreary formula: self-righteous frenzy married to a neurotic need to take offense; the easy resort to indiscriminate violence and cruelty; the promulgation of makeshift fatwas by mullahs on the make; those writhing mustaches framing crude slogans of piety and hatred, and yelling for death as if on first-name terms with the Almighty. The spilling of blood and the spoliation of property—all for nothing, and ostensibly “provoked” by the corny, brainless antics of a devout American nonentity, notice of whose mere existence is beneath the dignity of any thinking person.
How many people are dead now, as a result of these riots? 20? 30? Seven UN workers lost their lives, as well as several of their Gurkha guards. Two of the UN workers were beheaded. And, naturally, Terry Jones has denied any responsibility. No, of course, he wasn’t in the streets with a gun. He wasn’t beheading anyone himself. But he wanted the attention of the world at any price, and he got it.
And now I’m reminded of another Dr. Seuss story: Horton Hears a Who. The microscopically small Whos must scream their lungs out to be heard and recognized. When they are heard, their lives are saved. Here, in the real world, a man who should remain microscopically small screamed his lungs out to be heard, demanding that the world listen to him. In this case, however, the result was not the saving of lives, but violence and murder.
And once again, it’s all done in the name of religion; in the name of God, who holds human life as sacred. There’s plenty of blame to go around here. It’s almost as if Jones and Karzai were trying to pad their applications for the Evil League of Evil. And the mobs….what can I say? It’s going to be an awful shock to realize, someday, that what you claim was a defense of God’s honor was actually a horrible, reeking offense to Him.
I just keep thinking how tragic it is that Jones’s plan worked. There’s an awful fatalism to how these things compute in the internet world. Evil in. Evil out. Terry Jones glows in the spotlight and pretends he thinks the loss of life is a tragedy. He doesn’t. Like Yertle the Turtle, he savors the view from his elevated throne, built on the bodies of those who died in Afghanistan.