The Koran at Fahrenheit 451

By the end of the week, the air was so thick with pieties about the need for tolerance and respect for all creeds that one yearned for the Rev. Terry Jones, mutton chop whiskers akimbo, to rescind his last minute cave-in, stiffen his spine, then toss those Korans into the burn barrels outside his Gainesville church in Florida and torch them on this year’s anniversary of 9/11.

Jones announced  on Thursday that he was canceling his Koran burning plan after getting a pledge  that the scheduled Muslim center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan would be moved. When it turned out there was no such pledge Jones hinted he might just reach for the kerosene can after all.

It’s not surprising Jones blinked. The entire world court of enlightened opinion had borne down on this former hotel manager, now senior pastor at the Dove World Outreach Center and its modest congregation, which does – on the evidence of videos of the church’s proceedings – boast of some young female members of whom many a beleaguered Anglican parish would be only too proud to have raising their arms in ecstasy next to the altar.

Take Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state. “It’s regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Fla., with a church of no more than fifty people can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get, you know, the world’s attention,” Clinton said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, a favored venue for the elites debating homicidal policies around the world. Clinton concluded, “It doesn’t in any way represent America or Americans, or American government, or American religious or political leadership.”

This is the same Hillary Clinton who has spent much of her term as helmswoman of the nation’s foreign affairs demonizing Iran and threatening it with nuclear obliteration, during which uncounted millions of Korans and the people clutching them would turn to cinders.

And here was U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman imploring Jones to reconsider: “I appeal to people who are planning to burn the Koran to reconsider and drop their plans because they are inconsistent with American values and, as General Petraeus has warned, threatening to America’s military.”

This is the same Lieberman who is the most sedulous U.S. lobbyist for the interests of Israel in Washington, D.C. Has Lieberman warned Israel that its planned law to force every Palestinian to swear explicit allegiance to the Jewish state, hence the tenets of Zionism, is inconsistent with American values, and thus might prompt him to reconsider his approval of America’s annual disbursement of $3 billion to Israel’s collection plate?

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Jones’ plan “idiotic and dangerous.” Would Holder call the action of his Democratic predecessor as  attorney general, Janet Reno, in ordering the  federal onslaught that led to the incineration in 1993 of the Branch Davidian church in Waco “idiotic and dangerous”? The Justice Department has always defended Reno’s action, even though it prompted the blowing up of the Murrah Center in Oklahoma City – until the 9/11/2001 attacks, the most deadly act of terror perpetrated on American soil.

And here was Gen. Petraeus making what is described as an unusual – for a member of the military – intervention: “Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan – and around the world – to inflame public opinion and incite violence.” Petraeus can only advise Pastor Jones, who has the constitutional freedom to dispose of the Koran as he thinks fit, consonant with local laws pertaining to public bonfires. He can, however, suspend by a simple order the lethal Predator onslaughts that regularly blow to pieces civilian groups in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region, inflaming public opinion and leading invariably to escalation in violence.

For their part, Afghans demonstrated in Kabul in anticipatory protest at Pastor Jones’ plan. They denounced disrespect for the Koran. But we also learn from earnest proponents of religious tolerance and interconfessonal amity that the Koran promotes respect for the Bible, (though not, of course, the Christian claim of the divinity of Christ – a view also held by followers of Judaism, whose Talmud locates Christ in hell for all eternity, boiling in excrement). What did the indignant Afghans say when, in early August of this year ten members of a Christian medical team – six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton, three women among them – were gunned down by the Taliban who claimed they were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who screamed he was a Muslim and babbled some verses from the Koran. The group were members of the International Assistance Mission, one of the longest serving nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan, registered as a nonprofit Christian organization, apparently not proselytizing. So, what if they were?

Pastor Jones, a good old boy with a nose for a headline, aroused the fury of the American establishment, which has, as a matter of regular imperial maintenance, promoted the murder of millions across the world in the name of “American values.” Modern Christians, fusionists of the all-get-along school deplored Jones and started reading the Koran in church to show their broad-mindedness. But many Evangelicals thought Jones was on track, though they mostly won’t say so publicly. As a Southern Baptist said to me last week, “Alex, they say that Christianity is tolerant. But Christ drove the moneychangers from the Temple. He didn’t tolerate them. A line has to be drawn, just like Jones is doing.”

And if the line isn’t drawn by Pastor Jones, Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kan., the church that pickets funerals of American soldiers to spread its message that God is punishing the country for being tolerant of homosexuals, has promised it will pick up the Zippo if it falls from Jones’ nerveless hand.

What better symbol than Jones of what should have been America’s overall resilience in the aftermath of the Muslim attacks of 9/11/2001: an assertion of one of the greatest of American values, as embodied in constitutional provisions for free speech. These freedoms matter most when they are under duress. Amid the duress after 9/11/2001, the Constitution was trashed by the same leaders who now decry Jones. The same President Obama who  denounced Pastor Jones for planning an act “completely contrary to our values as Americans”  is defending the “extraordinary renditions” of the Bush era with “state secrets” rationales just endorsed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Read the tortures inflicted on those men rendered by US government agents to  Egypt and Morocco, and judge for yourself whether Obama has any standing to preach to Jones about “our values as Americans.”

My hope had been that on the other side of the road from Pastor Jones’ burn barrels, or on some piece of property volunteered by the mayor of Gainesville, a gay man, there would have been other barrels, into which could be tossed by their opponents the Bible, and kindred sacred texts such as the Talmud, plus Bacon’s Advancement of Learning, Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, and Das Kapital. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature of the crucible, in which ideas and principles survive or die.

Body Parts, Bio-Piracy  and Israel’s National Forensic Institute

Our latest newsletter, now available to subscribers, features an extraordinary special report by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1996, she has been involved in active field research on the global traffic in human organs, following the movement of bodies, body parts, transplant doctors, their patients, brokers, and kidney sellers, and the practices of organ and tissue harvesting in several countries – from Brazil, to Israel to the  United States.

In our newsletter Scheper-Hughes describes  the tissue, skin, bone and organ harvesting conducted for many years at Israel’s National Institute of Forensic Medicine, under the aegis of its former director and current chief pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss. Long before Donald Boström leveled allegations of organ-harvesting from Palestinians in the Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet, in August 2009, causing furious accusations of “blood libel,” Scheper-Hughes had already interviewed Dr. Hiss and had on tape the interview that forms part of her report here.

Scheper-Hughes says her purpose is to refute the controversial official statements of the Ministry of Health and the IDF that while there may have been irregularities at the National Forensic Institute, they have long since ended. To this day, she says, they have failed to acknowledge, punish, or rectify various medical human rights abuses, past and present at the National Forensic Institute. While many of the allegations are widely known, the testimony by Israeli state pathologist and IDF (reserve) Lt. Col. Chen Kugel has never been published in English and his allegations are known only within Israel. Dr. Scheper-Hughes invited Dr. Kugel to speak publicly on this topic in the U.S. on May 6, 2010.

There are two lawsuits ongoing in Israel at the present moment concerning the Forensic Institute and Dr. Hiss. One concerns alleged abuses against the dead bodies of Israeli citizens. The other concerns Rachel Corrie, a U.S. citizen who was killed in Gaza in 2003 while protesting the demolition of houses. Scheper-Hughes cites transcripts of court proceedings showing disturbing  irregularities in  Corrie’s autopsy conducted by Dr Hiss.
Scheper-Hughes’ article, I should also mention, takes care to note Dr. Kugel’s description of his former mentor, Dr. Hiss, as a man who saw himself as willing to take great personal and professional risks “to serve a noble end… to help the war-wounded victims of terrorist attacks,” with his actions “as something sublime, or even heroic, as a modern-day Robin Hood.”

I urge you to  subscribe now!

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.