P. Z. Myers Jumps the Shark
Ever since P. Z. Myers of the site Pharyngula got kicked off his campus’ Web site for “Crackergate,” where he nailed a consecrated communion host to a board, he’s been in denial that desecrating people’s sacred symbols is juvenile and offensive. His latest weird devotion to that cause puts him in bed with the wacko Quran burner from Florida, Terry Jones. It’s a post called “Setting the Koran on fire, vs. setting personal liberties on fire.” Some sample quotes:
It’s just a frackin’ book, people.
I am simply astounded at the catalog of high-ranking personages who are contributing to this new frenzy of foolishness.
US President Barack Obama says plans by a small church to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 are a “recruitment bonanza” for al-Qaeda.
Mr Obama said that if the Florida burning went ahead, it could endanger US military personnel serving in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The plan has also sparked condemnation from Iran, the Vatican, NATO and the top US Afghan commander.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “disgraceful”.
On Monday General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, had warned troops’ lives would be in danger if the church went ahead with its bonfire.
President Obama, you’re a damned fool.
And to suggest that some guy burning a book in a remote land will incite more anti-American sentiment is absurd. We’ve got drones buzzing over Iraq and Afghanistan killing people with a push of a button; we’ve got an armed force occupying those countries; we have bombed their infrastructure into rubble. We’ve killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And now we’re to believe that their love of the West will be suddenly devastated by a video of paper burning on youtube? Get a grip, man.
And seriously, this whole silly contretemps would have evaporated if a few people learned to shrug their shoulders and react rationally instead of feeding the fury with Serious Pronouncements and Reprovals.
Well, he’s absolutely right. It is irrational. It just happens to be a fact that symbols have power for a lot of people, whether we like it or not. And desecrating the Quran sends a lot of Muslims, even those who hate the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hamas and the like, into paroxysms of fury. Myers knew that perfectly well when he desecrated a communion host and Jones knows it perfectly well about burning the Quran. And everybody who burns American flags knows it. You never see anyone burning a state flag in protest, do you? It’s a form of sadism. You get to enjoy your target’s impotent rage, secure in the knowledge that they can’t retaliate.
Obama is not a “damned fool” and neither is Petraeus. They know what impact Jones’ calculated desecration will have even in places like Morocco and Indonesia, where we have no military presence at all. And just think of the Philippines, where an already vicious Muslim insurgency controls large areas of the south.
Of course, when it suits Myers’ philosophy, symbols are just perfused with significance. I just did a quick search of Pharyngula and got 38 hits for “Confederate flag” as a symbol of racism, oppression, etc. There were even a few mentions of “Burn a Confederate Flag Day.” And the Confederate Flag is a symbol of racism to many. To innumerable others it’s mostly a symbol of babes, NASCAR, beer, and having a rowdy good time.
Myers is tracing the same sad arc as James Dobson, only in the opposite direction, and faster. When I saw James Dobson’s series “Focus on the Family” in the 1970’s, he struck me as amiable and fairly rational, and for good reason. He still had ties to a secular institution, and had to adhere to secular professional standards. As he moved into full-time advocacy, surrounded only by sycophants who held the same beliefs, his messages became progressively more shrill and paranoid. When I first visited Pharyngula a few years ago, some of it was over the top but there were also a lot of pretty level-headed posts on bad science and the sorry state of science education as well. But every time I visit the site, the good pieces become fewer and the shrill tone gets worse. As he spends more time on the atheist speaking circuit, with his views reinforced more and more by people who think like him, and any challenges shouted down, he becomes more and more the same kind of shrieking harpy Dobson has become.