Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Paper and Cloth

Trey Smith

I am sure you've heard the reports from Afghanistan about violent protests taking place all over the country as the result of some US troops burning Korans. As Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out, it involves a lot more than that. This latest incident is merely a trigger for a decade of grievances.

But what I'm going to focus on in this post is how people get up in arms when someone else tramples on one of their beloved symbols...like books and flags. As Greenwald sees it,
...it’s perversely fascinating to watch all of this condescension — it’s just a book: who cares if it’s burned? – pouring forth from a country whose political leaders were eager to enact a federal law or even a Constitutional amendment to make it a criminal offense to burn the American flag (which, using this parlance, is “just a piece of cloth”). In fact, before the Supreme Court struck down such statutes as unconstitutional in 1989 by a 5-4 vote, it was a crime in 48 states in the nation to burn the flag. Here is what Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in dissent about why the Constitution permits the criminalization of flag burning (emphasis added):
The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. The flag is not simply another “idea” or “point of view” competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas. Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence, regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have.
Might one say the same for Muslims and the Koran?
It's interesting how people view symbols. Ours are hollowed and yours are silly. Ours are to be protected at all costs, while you shouldn't get your panties in a wad if we inadvertently desecrate one of yours. We behave this way and so do you. In many ways, the symbols themselves become more important than the principles they supposedly represent.

In this country, burning a flag is a protected form of free speech, but, if you decide to burn one, that doesn't mean people won't attack you. Depending on the local police department, they may stand by as you get pummeled. So, this flag that supposedly represents freedom is used as a prop by many who would deny you your freedom to dissent!

Another thing our flag is supposed to represent is religious freedom -- the right to worship any god or no god of your choosing. The state is neither to promote nor castigate particular religions.

One of the reasons we say we are in Afghanistan is to provide these people with a taste of the American ideal. Yet, both in Afghanistan and here at home, many Americans want to deny Muslims the right to practice their religion and to seek to protect THEIR religious symbols. In the eyes of far too many of my fellow citizens, our cloth trumps their paper and they have no right to complain.

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