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As Atrios, in his usual, inimitable way tweeted the other day:  

if i promise to pee on a bible can i get every network to camp outside my door? #notgoingtopeeonabible

How to deal with a despicable figure like Radical Cleric Terry Jones, who is, in approximately equal measure, vicious bigot and attention whore?  Like Fred Phelps, it is not enough for Jones to hate, he has a sociopathic need to be recognized for his hate.  In normal circumstances, such a figure is best scorned and ignored, and it has been utterly infuriating that this sideshow lunatic bigot has gotten exactly what he wanted, an international platform for hate, his own 15 minutes of infamy.  (In the end, of course, he could back off, mission already accomplished.)

As attention was draw to Gainesville, it was no longer possible for his neighbors to remain silent, and many in and around Gainesville began to recognize the necessity of speaking out loudly and clearly against the hatred in their midst.  The "cancellation" (or "suspension") of this hateful act does not, needless to say, change the importance of their having done so.

For several years, Jones and his parishioners have been trying to provoke their neighbors by sporting their infamous "Islam is of the Devil" t-shirts in public places.  They managed to manufacture a scandal last year by sending several teenagers to public schools wearing these shirts, which they were quite understandably told had to be changed or turned inside out.  (Teaching their children Hate is, of course, a central part of their mission.)  Several women from the church, often pushing a baby carriage, are routinely seen wearing these shirts on the University of Florida campus -- where most students and faculty have learned to ignore and avoid them, since any kind of fruitful engagement is simply impossible.  Anti-Muslim bigotry is not, by the way, Jones's only fetish, as his Church also displayed "No Homo Mayor" signs in the run-up to municipal elections this past spring.  Fortunately, Craig Lowe, a solid progressive who is, yes, openly gay was elected anyway (and has been an outspoken voice for tolerance and a visible face at the interfaith unity rallies this past week).

It is because the limited local recognition that Jones has gotten for his aggressive hate has clearly not satisfied his megalomaniac cravings that he has manufactured the current scenario, and the production clearly could not have unfolded more perfectly for him than it has.  Cable news, alas, absolutely lives for this kind of manufactured controversy, and the rest of the media was unsurprisingly not at all far behind.  It is the misfortune of Gainesville, a mostly progressive university town, which, politically/electorally speaking, represents a deep blue oasis in red, southern conservative North Florida, to be drawn against its will into the international spotlight as the ground zero of bigotry, to share not of its own volition Jones's 15 minutes of infamy.

And so, knowing that it is, ideally, infinitely preferable simply to refuse to notice this rodeo clown of hate, local citizens have realized, correctly, that it is long past that point, and that is incumbent upon them to speak out against this bigotry, to repudiate it loudly and distinctly, so that all (who will listen) know that Jones and his small cult of followers stand alone:

Larry Reimer, the minister of the United Church of Gainesville, said since the plan to burn the Quran has been reported internationally, local clergy have to condemn it loudly.

"Silence in the face of their statements can be misconstrued as agreement, and I think it's important for all of us to speak up," Reimer said.

There have been a series of ecumenical unity gatherings over the past week, including a number of local Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy, Mayor Craig Lowe, and others, attended by hundreds of people, including one on Wednesday afternoon.

"We gather together today to reinforce our common belief that God loves all of us," the Rev. Louanne Loch, the rector at Holy Trinity, said in her opening remarks. "We gather together today to reinforce and pray for one another and stand against those who would lead us along a path of hate and fear. We stand together as brothers and sisters in peace and with love for all human beings. We stand together as a community to demonstrate that one small group of people bent on promoting hatred and misunderstanding does not represent the people of Gainesville or the people of this nation."

Mayor Lowe added

"Our community is too strong and our values are too deeply rooted for a very small fringe group to undo the progress that has been so hard fought, and that is why it is so encouraging to see so many people here today to reinforce the solidarity that is within our community and across all faiths and beliefs."

"We can be a place that demonstrates the dignity in rising above provocation by reaching out in solidarity with our neighbors," he said.

Jim White at Firedoglake posted video of a press conference from last week, that is also worth watching.

Islamic Studies faculty at UF also added their protest, in an op-ed published the other day in the Gainesville Sun, "The World is Watching"

We are appalled that the city of Gainesville has now gained international attention as a symbol of hostility and hatred towards Muslims because of the plans of the Rev. Terry Jones and his small group of followers at the Dove World Outreach Center to burn the Quran, the holy text of Islam, on Sept. 11.

We ask Mr. Jones and his followers to reconsider their proposed actions and refrain from undertaking this divisive and incendiary deed.

We call on the university community and the citizens of Gainesville, and especially on university and community leaders of all faiths and backgrounds, to unequivocally condemn this action and to express their solidarity with those who are targets of this hatred.

And a UF student had this creative approach to countering hate:

Janice Dees, a 22-year-old English major, said she wanted to turn the Gainesville church's "Islam is of the Devil" message into something positive. She has handed out silicone wristbands with the message "Islam is of the Heart" printed on them this week at UF's Turlington Plaza.

"I wanted to re-appropriate their message ... and turn it into a message of love instead of a message of hate," she said.

The final word should, however, go to the Islamic Center of Gainesville:

The Muslim community of Gainesville joins people of faith from a great variety of religious communities as well as countless civic organizations and the citizens of Gainesville to stand together in affirmation of one another and condemnation of acts of violence, intolerance and hatred.

We will show our city, the nation and the world that Gainesville lives the faith of love and care for all people across the barriers that far too often divide us.

Peace. Namaste. Shalom. Assalamu alaikum.

-- Stu

Originally posted to sdf on Fri Sep 10, 2010 at 04:56 AM PDT.

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